Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Bitter Sweet Release

GEM OF A GHOST, the third book in my Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series, just launched. It’s also my 11th published novel, my 14th written novel.
You’d think the release of an 11th book would be ho-hum. You know, old hat by now. But it isn’t. I get just as excited now as I did with my others. The only exception might be the publication of TOO BIG TO MISS, my first published novel. Like the birth of a first-born child, nothing could surpass the anticipation of seeing that book in print and on book store shelves and available from on-line retailers. The first time is always the first time, whether we’re talking books or losing one’s virginity.

But this release is bitter sweet.

As most of you know, Diana James, wife of author Darrell James and my manager, died suddenly on January 10th from a pulmonary embolism. With the exception of my first few Odelia Grey novels, Diana played a major part in the releases of my books. She set up most of my book signings, designed my bookmarks, put out my newsletter, set up radio and blog interviews, contacted reader groups and libraries, and did everything she could to get the word out on new releases. She even read my draft manuscripts and made suggestions. Every book signing to promote GEM OF A GHOST over the next several weeks was set up by Diana, and each one will constrict my heart.

A few literary PR people have recently contacted me asking if I was looking for a new publicist. It seems cruel to me that they are already circling. But, times are tough and they need to make a living, just as I do. I’ve decided not to hire anyone at this time. I will go it alone, as I did before Diana and I hooked up, at least for a while.

GEM OF A GHOST has received some rave reviews, including the following starred review from Library Journal, which arrived just days after her death.

"Jaffarian’s welcome third entry in her paranormal series … sparkles as brilliantly as the story’s haunted diamond. Incorporating historical interest with likable characters and steady suspense, she also makes paranormal activity seem plausible. One of the best cozy authors for light chatter and low-key humor, Jaffarian is currently juggling three series with aplomb! "

Diana would have been pleased. She loved GEM OF A GHOST, and thought it was one of my best.

Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Creative Passion

Cricket McRae


Last Saturday a friend and I went to see an exhibit of Dale Chihuly glasswork. It was small, at least for a Chihuly exhibit, from a private collection. Still, with five of his famous chandeliers and dozens of pieces from the Venetian series, I can only imagine how much that collection is worth!


I have a particular love for Chihuly’s work, and was delighted to find the small theater showing a documentary that chronicled a week-long “blow” that brought together the primary players in each of the visionary’s different series. For an hour and a half, we watched as they created examples of what Chihuly refers to as Cylinders, Baskets, Seaforms, Macchia, Venetians, Putti, Persians, Niijima Floats, Ikebana, Fiori and Pilchuck Stumps.


As soon as the movie started I realized the blow had taken place in the hot shop of the Tacoma Glass Museum. Four years ago I sat in one of those red theater seats and watched another glassblower create amazing pieces.

And years earlier, one of the half-dozen times I’ve attended the summer open house at the Pilchuck Glass School outside of Stanwood, Washington, I was lucky enough to witness Chihuly actually working with glass. He was one of the founders of the school in 1971, but since he lost vision in one eye in 1976 he rarely works directly with glass. He’s the designer, the (big!) idea guy, and the work is carried out by other amazingly talented glassworkers.


Reading this I realize it sounds like I have a latent desire to learn glasswork. I don’t, but I do find the medium utterly fascinating. The molten liquid seems to be almost alive. It behaves organically in the hands of skilled artisans. When cooled it’s solid and fragile all at once. And Chihuly’s vision, implemented via precise teamwork, just blows me away.


So, no, I don’t want to blow glass. I am, however, incredibly inspired by it – by the beauty of the work itself and by the passion that is so evident in the faces and movements of the people I’ve seen working with glass. They are completely present to the process, to each movement, and to each other. Seeing passion like that in any creative endeavor fills my writing well and even primes the pump. It reminds me that art is intensely valuable in its own right.

I hate that I forget that sometimes. Do you? Or are you lucky enough to carry that awareness with you at all times? What acts or products of creativity particularly inspire you?

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to respond to comments, as today I’m flying south to be further inspired by snorkeling in blue-green water and whacking at a golf ball on a course that wends through an Audubon wildlife sanctuary.

Putter in one hand, camera in the other…

Monday, January 30, 2012

Switching Gears

by Kathleen Ernst

My third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, has been delivered to Midnight Ink. I’ve also sent copies to content reviewers so that by the time my production editor has a clean copy for me to review, I’ll be ready with their feedback.

Red Pencil

It takes me a year to write an adult mystery. Since Chloe is a museum curator, the plots include historical themes and elements that require some research. The Lightkeeper’s Legacy has two timelines—one in the 1980s and one in the 1800s—and so was more complicated to plot and research than my previous mysteries have been. I spent a lot of time immersed in the story.


I’ve also been juggling a couple of projects, so finishing Legacy in time to meet deadlines was a bit intense. I ended up spending a week with my laptop at a monastery so I could work without interruption. There were moments when I dreamed of hitting “send” so the manuscript was---at least for a while---someone else’s baby. I had thoughts of all the things I’d been putting off: having coffee with a friend, excavating piles and files in hopes of finding the surface of my desk, actually cooking dinner.

As soon as the manuscript was delivered, though, I got itchy to work on the fourth Chloe book. I want to keep to the book-a-year cycle if I can. I also had ideas circling in my head that needed to be captured before they flew away. I missed the main characters, and wanted to get back in touch.

So alas, my desk is still largely buried, stacks of reference books cover much of the floor, and I’m still not cooking and baking as much as I’d like. I am, however, having a lot of fun tiptoeing into a new story. This one will be set in a new location, so I’m getting to know a different environment. Aside from Chloe, her mom, and cop Roelke McKenna, the cast will also be new. So many possibilities to consider!

Writers – do you take a break between books? Or do you dive right into the next? Readers – do you appreciate series that generally add one new book a year? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Please visit me at http://kathleenernst.com to learn more about my mysteries for adults and young readers.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Writing is Rewriting

By Joe Moore

I just finished the first draft of my new thriller, THE BLADE, co-written with Lynn Sholes. This is our sixth novel written together; this one coming in at a crisp 92,500 words. Now that the first pass on the manuscript is finished, the rewrite begins. As E.B. White said in THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, “The best writing is rewriting.”

Some might ask that if the manuscript is written, why do we need to rewrite it? Remember that the writing process is made up of many layers including outlining, research, first drafts, rewriting, line editing, proofing, more editing and more proofing. One of the functions that sometimes receives the least amount of attention in discussions on writing techniques is rewriting.

There are a number of stages in the rewriting process. Starting with the completion of the first draft, they involve reading and re-reading the entire manuscript many times over and making numerous changes during each pass. It’s in the rewrite that we need to make sure our plot is seamless, our story is on track, our character development is consistent, and we didn’t leave out some major point of importance that could confuse the reader. We have to pay close attention to content. Does the story have a beginning, middle and end? Does it make sense? Is the flow of the story smooth and liquid? Do our scene and chapter transitions work? Is everything resolved at the end?

Next we need to check for clarity. This is where beta readers come in handy. If it’s not clear to them, it won’t be clear to others. We can’t assume that everyone knows what we know or understands what we understand. We have to make it clear what’s going on in our story. Suspense can never be created by confusing the reader.

Once we’ve finished this first pass searching for global plotting problems, it’s time to move on to the nuts and bolts of rewriting. Here we must tighten up our work by deleting all the extra words that don’t add to the reading experience or contribute to the story. Remember that every word counts. If a word doesn’t move the plot forward or contribute to character development, it should be deleted.

Some of the words that can be edited out are superfluous qualifiers such as “very” and “really.” This is always an area where less is more. For instance, we might describe a woman as being beautiful or being very beautiful. But when you think about it, what’s the difference? If she’s already beautiful, a word that is considered a definitive description, how can she exceed beautiful to become very beautiful? She can’t. So we search for and delete instances of “very” or “really”. They add nothing to the writing.

Next, scrutinize any word that ends in “ly”. Chances are, most adverbs can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence or our thought. In most cases, cutting them clarifies and makes the writing cleaner.

Next, go hunting for clichés and overused phrases. There’s an old saying that if it comes easy, it’s probably a cliché. Avoiding clichés makes for fresher writing. There’s another saying that the only person allowed to use a cliché is the first one that use it.

Overused phrases are often found at the beginning of a sentence with words like “suddenly,” “so” and “now”. I find myself guilty of doing this, but those words don’t add anything of value to our writing or yours. Delete.

The next type of editing in the rewriting process is called line editing. Line editing covers grammar and punctuation. Watch for incorrect use of the apostrophe, hyphen, dash and semicolon. Did we end all our character’s dialogs with a closed quote? Did we forget to use a question mark at the end of a question?

This also covers making sure we used the right word. Relying on our word processor’s spell checker can be dangerous since it won’t alert us to wrong words when they are spelled correctly. It takes a sharp eye to catch these types of mistakes. Once we’ve gone through the manuscript and performed a line edit, I like to have someone else check it behind us. A fresh set of eyes never hurts.

On-the-fly cut and paste editing while we were working on the first draft can get us into trouble if we weren’t paying attention. Leftover words and phrases from a previous edit or version can still be lurking around, and because all the words might be spelled correctly or the punctuation might be correct, we’ll only catch the mistake by paying close attention during the line edit phase.

The many stages making up the rewrite are vital parts of the writing process. Editing our manuscript should not be rushed or taken for granted. Familiarity breeds mistakes—we’ve read that page or chapter so many times that our eyes skim over it. And yet, there could be a mistake hiding there that we’ve missed every time because we’re bored with the old stuff and anxious to review the new.

Spend the time needed to tighten and clarify the writing until there is not one ounce of fat or bloat. And once we’ve finished the entire editing process, put the manuscript away for a reasonable period of time. Let it rest for a week or even a month if the schedule permits while working on something else. Then bring it back out into the light of day and make one more pass. It’s always surprising at what was missed.

One more piece of advice. Edit on hardcopy, not on a computer monitor. There’s something about dots of ink on the printed page that’s much less forgiving than the glow of pixels. And never be afraid to delete. Remember, less is always more.

How do you go about tackling the rewriting process? Any tips to share?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


This week I’m winding down a month-long blog tour to promote the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll. Since the last weekend in December, I have been the guest blogger at 27 different blogs, with six more to go. I dubbed my tour the Sit on Your Butt Book Tour because all of my interaction with readers has been while…well, sitting on my butt. As exhausting as it was to come up with 33 different posts over the course of a month, a virtual tour sure beat driving hours and hours from one book store to the next and hoping that someone showed up.

There are many benefits to a virtual book tour. For one thing, I can do it while wearing my Disney jammies and fuzzy slippers. I’m not constantly filling my tank with gas at close to $3.50 a gallon, and I’m not racking up toll charges on my EZ-Pass account.

However, what I like most about a virtual tour is the interaction I have with readers. I once did a book store signing where in the two hours I was there, exactly two customers entered the store. One wanted to buy a newspaper (the bookstore didn’t sell newspapers,) and the other was looking for a gift for a birthday party her kid was going to attend later that day. Needless to say, neither of these customers was interested in my books.

On a virtual tour many readers pop in to say hello and comment. Do they then buy my books? I don’t know. But that’s a whole lot less stressful than sitting at a table with a pile of unsold books.

The virtual tour is also a lot more fun than trying to engage shoppers at a bookstore. I swear, these people must think that they’ll get sucked in by my “author ray” and be forced to buy a copy of my book! People go out of their way to avoid making eye contact. When I approach them and try to engage in conversation, half the time they act as if I’m a stalker for merely smiling and offering a friendly hello and a bookmark.

I’m a shy person by nature. Putting myself “out there” has never been easy for me. So it takes a lot for me to step out of my writer’s cave and psych myself up for these events. Over the years, I’ve become much better at faking an extrovert personality, but it’s still hard for me.

Except when I can go incognito.

Years ago, I had a friend who made mascot costumes for sports franchises and various companies. Once at a design conference, she needed someone to dress up in one of the costumes for a talk she was giving. Since we were rooming together at the conference, guess who got elected? That’s right, little ol’ shy moi.

I had a blast!

No one knew I was under that red kitty costume. It was a totally liberating experience for an introvert. And that’s what a virtual book tour is for me. This month has been tiring, but it’s also been fun. And a lot less stressful than sitting for two hour stretches at a bookstore.

Maybe next time I’m asked to do a bookstore signing, I should dress up as a giant red kitty.

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. Death by Killer Mop Doll is a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

That's What I'm Talking About, He Said

By Deborah Sharp

I've been drafted to teach a class on dialogue next month, and I've been thinking that writing good dialogue is as much about what you don't do as about what you do. Sure, it's important to:

LISTEN to the way real people speak (but leave out all the boring uhms, ers, and repetition when you turn everyday speech into dialogue)

READ ALOUD your dialogue (but don't delude yourself that choosing labored tags like John roared or Mary screeched makes you sound more clever than using the perfectly adequate, and not nearly as distracting, word ''said.'')

BREAK UP long blocks of dialogue with action (but resist the urge to info dump by crafting a passage like this:

"I can't take this anymore.'' Jennifer crushed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray, even though she'd promised James she'd quit smoking two months before. She lit another, took a deep drag, and thought about all the times she'd begged her own mother to quit smoking, the mother who had died of cancer when Jennifer was still in high school. "I want out, James.'' )

MAKE SURE all your characters don't sound the same (but don't over-rely on tricks such as misspellings to denote dialect, verbal tics, or filthy words that are going to end up annoying readers by the end of Chapter 1.)

PACK your dialogue with emotion and power (but not by using adverbs to tell -- not show -- how your characters speak, Deborah said passionately.

I'll keep you posted about the dialogue class. It's Feb. 4 at Murder on the Beach mystery bookstore in southern Florida. The bookstore is sponsoring an annual series of classes called Author Academy, at $25 per student. It seems like a genius move by the store to bring in paying customers in this ever-evolving biz. But that's a topic for another blog post.

Writers, what's the best advice you ever received about dialogue? Readers, what puts you off about badly written dialogue? Who do you consider some of the strongest dialogue-writers in the business? If you've read/written a good column or post on dialogue, add the link to your comment so others can benefit.

The Lost Boys

by Jennifer Harlow

Since we're all a fan of mysteries and crime here, I wanted to
share the biggest, most horrifying true crime story in recent history. Here is a truly true, dark crime story. Once upon a time, in our terrible times...

In 1994 in West Memphis, Arkansas Chris Byers, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch, three eight-year-old boys vanished one evening from their neighborhood. The next day after an exhaustive search the boys were found hog-tied naked, beaten, and in one case missing genitals along a creek bank in the Robin Hood hills wooded area. Needless to say the community and country were shocked and upset by this. The case received worldwide attention, especially after rumors of Satanic cults spread. There was precious little physical evidence at the scene, and with the intense pressure on the police to solve it, the police latched onto the cult motive to explain this senseless crime. They zeroed in on local eighteen-year-old troublemaker Damien Echols, known for listening to heavy metal music, wearing black, and having an interest in the occult. The police dragged in seventeen-year-old Jesse Misskelley Jr. for a twelve hour interrogation where he implicated both Echols and sixteen-year-old Jason Baldwin. The boys were arrested. Cue the relief of a nation.

It should have ended there. They had a confession, an apparent motive, even what they thought was the murder weapon found near Baldwin's home. The jury convicted all the teens, Baldwin and Misskelley got life and the apparent ringleader Echols death. The case should have been forgotten, except that a documentary crew had been following the case from the very beginning, getting interviews with both victims families, police, and the accused. Through their movie Paradise Lost, airing on HBO, the country had a front seat to an obvious miscarriage of justice that robbed not only three little boys of rightful justice but three other boys of twenty years of their lives. A rightful uproar began.

I believe in our justice system. I obviously write about officers of the law, and even seriously considered becoming one, but know that the system isn't perfect as it is run by humans. But watching the documentaries, and doing a little research of my own to fill in some blanks, it pressed my nose to just how imperfect it can be when you add intense pressure, mass hysteria, media bias, and just plain incompetence. These boys were convicted before they even went to trial, which never should have happened had the police done their jobs instead of going for the easy answer.

They made several mistakes in this case, and it was not the first time. At the time of the murders the West Memphis Police were under investigation from the state for theft so they refused help. The crime scene was not handled well either. The bodies were not removed in a timely manner for proper forensic examination. The scene was trampled on and the creek wasn't drained in a timely manner either to retrieve more evidence like the boys clothes. Footprints were not taken before a million people walked through it. And the possibility that the boys didn't die at the scene was never discussed though there was no blood anywhere at the creek. The boys neighborhoods were never canvassed, which would have led to a witness who later stepped forward and said she saw the boys with Branch's step-father, the apparent last person to see they alive. He wasn't even questioned in connection to the crime or looked at. (He has since become the prime suspect as his DNA was found in the bindings of one of the boys, was the last to see them alive, fits the FBI profile done of the murderer, and had a very violent history. Plus everyone knows 9 times out of 10 a person is killed by someone close to them. Guess the WMPD missed that day in class). And the coroner wasn't much better. He put in his report that the wounds on the boys came from a knife and that was what was used to emasculate one of the boys. It has now been proven that those wounds were done postmortem by animals. It was a clusterf**k of epic proportions.

The only real evidence was the confession, which was keeping with the quality of the rest of the investigation. Misskelley has a low IQ, this has been proven, as has the fact that those with lower IQs are known to be more susceptible to coercion and false confessions. There have been studies on this (see Dixon-False Confessions). But putting that aside this was a a boy of 17, grilled for twelve hours by men who needed to resolve the case. When he did confess, he got all the details wrong, like what time the boys died (when all the teens had alibis), and what the crime scene looked like. On the tape (of which 11 hours prior to the confession is "missing") you can hear the police leading Misskelley to the correct answers eventually. Any detective worth their salt would realize the kid knew nothing but pressed on anyway. This was the only real evidence of their guilt. The alleged knife was never directly tied to any of the teens, there was no physical evidence they were ever at the scene or even knew the boys, and though there were witnesses who said Echols boasted he committed the murders (who later recanted),they admitted they only heard part of the conversation. But what really pushed the case over the edge was the mass hysteria about cults.

In the early 90s Satanic cults were all the rage. In therapy sessions across the country people were unrepressing memories of their loved ones raping and ripping out their unborn babies to sacrifice to Satan. The media ate it up, as they often do with the sensational. Apparently in every town there was a cult worshiping Satan, and West Memphis was no different. The rumors had been swirling for months, and one name was always attached: Damien Echols. He loved wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, drawing pentagrams, and acting violent. The cuts on the bodies and gelding of Byers was "proof" this crime had Satanic overtones. (Baldwin just had the misfortune of being Echols best friend. Guilt by association.) And at the trial a "doctor" spoke about these cults. I use quotes because he got his degree from an un-accredited, mail order college without taking a single class for this doctorate. (The same judge who let this "expert" testify also turned down every one of the subsequent appeals from the West Memphis Three. I am never going to Arkansas. Ever.) With time, and the media feeding us new hysteria after hysteria like pedophiles and Anthrax in all our mail, this Satanism uprising was later disproven. Several police agencies sent the FBI cases they thought had Satanic overtones and not a one was proven to have said overtones. And those repressed memories have also been proven to for the most part to have been kind of implanted during hypnosis sessions by overzealous therapists. (A lot of that going around.) But the same media machine that got them convicted also sort of saved them in the end.

Paradise Lost came out in 1996, two years after the teens were convicted. (Part 2 came out 2000, Part 3 2012). It created an uproar of support for the teens. Organizations to gather money for their defenses and expert witnesses popped up all over the place and celebrities like Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp helped spread word of this miscarriage of justice. The DNA was found and tested, the animal aspect was uncovered, and even proof that the foreman of the jury who convicted Echols and Baldwin introduced evidence he learned from outside sources not in the trial (Misskelley's confession wasn't admissible in the Echols/Baldwin trial as he refused to testify against them)which was the only real reason the jury voted to convict. None of this would have happened if not for the movies, everyone involved said so. So maybe the media can be used for something other than making me feel bad about my body so I'll buy their products and freaking us out about stupid things like bird flu so we don't pay attention to the raping of our country from large financial institutions. (Climbing off my soapbox now.)

After the DNA evidence against Terry Hobbs was uncovered (Stevie Branch's step-father) in 2010 the WM3 lawyers went about getting another appeal with the original trial judge, and for the millionth time he refused the appeal so the lawyers went to the State Courts. They overturned the judge's veto of that specific appeal and granted the defense an evidentiary hearing for 12/11, which could finally result in a new trial for the WM3. Coincidentally? (yeah, right) the trial judge went onto the State Senate and a new judge was appointed to the hearing and out of nowhere a surprise hearing was ordered. The men were offered to take an Alford plea, where they still proclaim their innocence but plead guilty so under the eyes of the law they're still murderers but get out of prison. They also cannot sue the state of Arkansas. But August 19, 2011, after eighteen years in prison, the men walked out free men. People speculate, and I agree, that the reason for this was that the DNA evidence would pave the way for a new trial in which none would be convicted again and then could sue the state for millions. (Since they are under the law guilty the Son of Sam law, in which a convicted murderer cannot profit from their crime, still applies so they can't accept money for movie deals, etc.) But to be free they took the deal, as any of us would. The men still do have the chance through more appeals to get the conviction overturned and get another trial, which is what all three want (and deserve.)

So, why you may ask, did Ms Jennifer Harlow just spend two hours writing this post besides her being an obvious true crime buff? Why is this so interesting to her? Three reasons. Since I moved around a lot as a child I was always the outsider. No one ever really picked on me, but I also wasn't included in a lot of activities. My friends and I in high school called ourselves "ghosts," which actually I've come to see the advantage of. (People leave you alone so you can do whatever you want. Freedom. More on that soon.) But I also had friends who were considered outsiders. I went to high school during the Columbine era, which was quite similar to the Satanic era in terms of who was considered potentially dangerous. If you wore all black or an overcoat you were under suspicion. That's what happened with Echols especially. You were different, therefore something was wrong with you. I've never felt like I fit in really with people, so I can relate.

Reason two for my interest. Someone once asked me what my life's philosophy is. I have two basic tenants that I use to guide my life: freedom and fairness. I give people their freedom to do whatever they want as long as it doesn't negatively impact other people. And fairness, where the same rules should apply for everyone equally especially under the law (which is why I'm big on gay rights and a feminist). This case hits on both. These boys were denied their freedom not only of expression (being a Goth and enjoying heavy metal music) but actual freedom. And it wasn't fair these teens were targeted for being different, for liking what the masses deemed odd or not mainstream. But life in nowhere near fair. I just try to do my best to turn that tide in small ways.

And the final, most important reason for this is justice. Forgetting the WM3 for a second, what about those three little boys? If it wasn't the WM3, then the real killer is still out there. As far as the law is concerned the case is closed. There's no reason to re-open it. Until the WM3 gets a new trial and are acquitted nothing will be done. Which is why they need this new trial, to not only be vindicated and clear their names but to find the real killer. (To donate to the defense fund please visit www.wm3.org as all proceeds will go to this goal.) Then and only then will justice be done.

I realize this post is biased. There are still some out there who believe the WM3 are guilty, and you are entitled to that opinion (see? I do try to put my money where my mouth is). I just ask those of you who do to do what I did and what you should always do. Examine all the evidence before you in an unbiased mind before coming to conclusions. Maybe that guy at your school who dresses in all black isn't a freak, he likes poetry and art films. Maybe women who aren't a size 2 aren't lazy and ugly, they're genetically predisposed to having curves and are still worthwhile. Maybe you shouldn't listen to the talking heads about politics and research the issues and candidates for yourself before getting into that voting box. In other words, THINK FOR YOURSELF. Use empathy to put yourself in someone else's shoes before you shun or wreck their lives. If people had in the case of the WM3, then maybe this miscarriage of justice would never have happened. Three teens wouldn't have lost 18 years of their lives. I just hope that justice prevails in the end, but I doubt it. That isn't the world we live in sadly. Fairness just happens in fairy stories.

And nobody lived happily ever after... The End.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Secret Promo Tip Is…

by Alan Orloff


question marksI’ve been busy the past 21 months. In that span, I’ve published three books with Midnight Ink (DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, KILLER ROUTINE, and DEADLY CAMPAIGN). I’ve also published two ebook originals, writing as Zak Allen: THE TASTE and FIRST TIME KILLER.

Along the way, I’ve done a fair amount of promotion and marketing. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you which methods work best and which are not worth the time or money.

Yes, I’d like to, but I can’t. Because I don’t have a frickin’ clue.

We’ve all heard the witticism, “Fifty percent of marketing is effective, you just don’t know which fifty percent it is.” I think I’d settle for twenty-five percent.

For each book, I had bookmarks made. Lots of bookmarks. (Did you know that ordering 2000 is only a little more expensive than 1000? And that 5000 is only marginally more expensive than 2000? I do.) I even got bookmarks for my two ebooks, irony be damned. But do those bookmarks translate into sales? Beats me. People seem to like getting them, and they’re pretty, and they describe my books, so on the off chance they don’t end up in the trash…

What about book signings? I’ve done them and sold some books. But there’s a limit to how many you can do. Radio interviews? Did a couple, unclear results. Blog tours? Yes to those, too. They seemed to be good for gaining exposure, but again, did they move the proverbial needle? Who knows?

Postcard mailing? Cable TV interview? Book club visits? Google AdWords? Tried them all. Data inconclusive.

What about conferences, book festivals, library panels, and the rest of those personal appearances? They too, seemed to broaden my exposure, but I certainly couldn’t justify the expense based on the sales at the events.

Facebook? Twitter? Yes and yes. Do I think they’re a good way to get your name out there and connect with other readers and writers? Absolutely. Do I think it all translates into sales? Murky.

If only Oprah were still on the air.

Oh well. Maybe writing another good book is the key.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Lois Winston will be taking part in the Space Coast Writers' Guild Conference at the International Palms Resort and Conference Center in Cocoa Beach, FL Jan. 27th-28th. FMI: http://www.scwg.org/conference.asp

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Land of Song

I have just returned from ten inspiring days in Ireland, which strikes me as one of the best possible places for a writer to begin a new year. I was there for Stonecoast in Ireland, a very full week of writing workshops, classes, presentations, readings. I was also there because I have wanted to go to Ireland for a long, long time, and what better excuse than a working visit?

Yes, I played tourist a bit as well. I rode the commuter train along the coast to Bray for a quick look at the landscape. I spent a full morning hiking the cliff path to the lighthouse at Howth (photo below) and around the town and harbor. As a group, we visited the Joyce Tower in Sandycove and the Yeats exhibit at the National Library, and went to see Roddy Doyle’s version of Gogol’s satirical comedy "The Inspector General." Wonderful stuff for writers.

At the Irish National Museum in Dublin I ogled the bog men, whose remarkably well preserved remains remind us of our mortality and also our biological link to the past. As a mystery writer and (in another lifetime) a folklorist, I was fascinated to read that at least two of these men are thought to have been sacrificed to fertility gods more than two thousand years ago. Regardless of their age, human bodies remind us of our own mortality and we can’t seem to help but wonder how people died. The complex emotions that death and violence evoke are a big reason so many of us read, and write, about murder. We have a good notion of what these people looked like in life, what they wore, even what they ate and what ills their bodies suffered. All that is fascinating, but here is what I really wondered as I gazed at the face in the glass case: what did you sing about? whom did you love? What passions motivated your life, and death?

For seven very full days I participated in workshops, classes, and seminars with ten other writers, and in the evenings we went to readings at the Howth Yacht Club. Irish novelist and memoirist Hugo Hamilton and Irish poet Paula Meehan gave master classes, joined us for pub dinners, and gave powerful readings. American-Irish poets Theodore and Annie Deppe, who coordinate the program, also gave readings, as did a wonderful group of American writers – playwrite and novelist Michael Kimball; poets Jessica de Koninck, Adeeba Rana, Patty France; fantasy writer Karen Bovenmeyer; prose writers Cynthia Kraack, Jennifer Wade, Erica Vega. And me. It was exhilarating!

So now I’m back home, settling back into the normal routine. I’m busy as always, touching up this and that as we send Drop Dead on Recall, my first Pets in Focus mystery, down the production line, and writing book two of the series. I’m also working on a few other projects (I always am!). I’m walking the beach and walking the dogs. And I’m processing, slowly and lovingly, the magic that comes of travel to places that are not home where, if we look closely and connect with the people around us, we find that home is bigger than we thought.

Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Almost Paradise

Greetings from sunny, stunning Playa Del Carmen, Mexico where everything is beyond as promised at whereveritwasibookedthistripfrom.com.  Our resort is lovely.  The staff is friendly and first rate.  The margaritas, delicious Mexican fare and fun have been flowing.  Everything has been thought out and delivered, from the extra towels poolside to the authentic evening turn down candy.  Other than one afternoon of rain, we’ve not only enjoyed sunshiny breezy days, but the ocean really is that crazy, azure blue I seriously believed was colorized for marketing purposes.   My husband and I will even be having our “free” massages in the morning and, to top it all off, we’ll be leaving with our family photo and complimentary frame.

In a word, and other than that bit of friendly attempted strong-arming to get us to buy into whatever they’re calling timeshares these days, it’s paradise.

Frankly, that’s the problemo.

I had this grand plan where I’d spend the morning soaking up the sun and enjoying the sheer getting away of it all and, while the kids and hubby frolicked in the ocean, pool or anywhere but where I was, every afternoon lounging on my partial ocean view balcony overlooking the jungle filled with Mangrove trees.  Laptop in tow and clear, vacation brain in gear, page upon page of brilliant writing would follow.  This post would flow like the mariachi music emanating from the enormous courtyard of our hotel.
Note to Self: Lay off the Margaritas.

Note to Self Two:  Don’t believe the hype about vacation productivity.  That’s why it’s called a vacation.


There Has to Be an Easier Way

by Shannon Baker

Why is writing a novel such a messy enterprise? Maybe it’s not for everyone but for me, it’s like eating an overstuffed taco. You know, the kind where you take a bite and tomatoes plop onto the plate, guacamole smears your nose, juice slides down your wrist and the tortilla shatters, scattering lettuce and cheese all over the table.

This whine is from an accountant who plots on an Excel spreadsheet. I hate messes and redundancy and wasting time. I spend quite a bit of time plotting a novel before I ever type a word onto the screen. But one thing I’ve discovered about novel writing is that no matter how detailed my plots, gaping holes appear like a Flagstaff city street in the spring thaw. Not only that, but characters that begin as figments of my imagination take off on their own and change my carefully laid plans.

That’s why I treat my first draft (not-so-affectionately called Shirty First Draft after our critique partner misspoke Natalie Goldberg’s famous title for bad drafts) as a lark. I do no editing, just write as if the hounds of hell nipped at my heels. I know I will have to make extensive rewrites as I realize what won’t work and/or I get inspired by better ideas.

I finished that Shirty First Draft as the year drew to a close. Some issues nagged at me. So on December 31st, I took MWET (Man With Endless Tolerance) to a sunny patio at a pub and plied him with beers all afternoon while I told him the whole story of my book. I could do this, because I’d written the plot, chapter by chapter, in Excel and printed it out. He listened and drank and drank and listened and drank and drank.

“Here is where I think I need to pump up the danger. And here is where I need a big twist.” I pointed out the weaknesses as I identified them and where I needed his creative mind.

He nodded and ordered another beer. I allowed the book to steep in his mind, hardly bugging him… more than a few times a day. FOR A WEEK!

And then he started. “The villain should…” I answered, “That can’t happen because…” And he said, “Change that to…” And I said, “If she did that, then she couldn’t… and that would change and then the end wouldn’t…” This went of for some time, days, actually.

It turns out, he was right. My Excel spreadsheet tilted and I had to change my method to a cork board and sticky notes, and notebook paper, and napkins and anything else handy. I even stopped at a grocery store to beg paper and pen during a walk because I had one of those idea attacks and feared I’d forget the brilliant twist.

Now, despite my careful planning and writing for a couple of months ago, I’m finally ready to start writing the real book. Messy, redundant, and 80,000 words waiting to be tossed. But this is the book I want to write. I hate that I can’t force my mind to be more organized and well, that I’m just not smarter than I am. But if this is the process that brought me to a better book, in the words of New Age gurus and those way more in tune with the Universe than I, I need to honor it.

For my accountant brain, though, I’ve taken the new plot from that nightmare of a corkboard and translated it neatly into Excel.

What is your plotting process? Does anyone have a surefire way to avoid massive rewrites? If not, have you learned to honor your creative mess or do you fight it?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Remembering Dr. King


by Vicki Doudera

I’m five years old, a precocious little blonde girl who wears smocked dresses and saddle shoes, meeting my father at New Jersey’s Newark Airport as he returns from a business trip. He gives me a hug and I smell his Old Spice. Then he notices someone attracting a crowd and pulls me by the hand. “Come here,” he says to me. “Come and see this important man.”

The dark-suited circle of tall people parts and I’m looking into the face of a smiling black man. My father says something to him, he nods, and then we’re walking away from the crowds and back to my mother.

”Who was that?” I ask, trying to match my father’s long strides.

“Martin Luther King, Jr.,” he says.


Of course, I had no idea that Dr. King was a Nobel Prize winner, nor that he’d won Time’s “Man of the Year” for 1963, nor that he’d given a speech to 200,000 at the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom.  It was many years before I realized the significance of that chance encounter in the busy terminal. But I did know one thing: I’d looked into the man’s face, and, young as I was, I saw something there that gave me hope.


“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

Who can listen to those lines, or read King’s ‘Mountaintop’ speech or his letter from the Birmingham jail and not feel awe? A third-generation Baptist minister, King was a truly gifted orator, but he was also an incredible writer.

Today we honor this man’s accomplishments, letting his words remind us that our pens can be mighty instruments of peace. They can be used to affect positive change in the world, and persuade others to open their hearts.

women build vicki,  mom and lex

In the spirit of Dr. King, in what ways do you use your words – and your time -- for good?


Vicki writes the Darby Farr Mystery Series featuring a crime-solving, deal-making real estate agent. She serves as President of her local Habitat affiliate, Midcoast Habitat for Humanity.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Darrell James will be signing and discussing his debut novel, NAZARETH CHILD, on Saturday, January 21st, 2:00-4:00 pm, at Barnes & Noble, 5130 E. Broadway, Tucson, AZ. (phone: 520-512-0758). Stop by to hear about the making of the novel and enjoy refreshments with all.

Robin Allen will attend the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX, January 20-22, 2012. Robin will spend Saturday (1/21) at the PopUp Stage for Mystery Day at ALA, and will participate in the first panel, "Don't Mess with Texas Authors" from 9:00AM-9:45AM. On Sunday (1/22), Robin will be signing books in the Midnight Ink booth from 9:15AM-10:15AM.

Also at the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX, Midnight Ink will be holding a drawing for signed copies of Lois Winston's Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun and Death By Killer Mop Doll, as well as the handcrafted mop doll shown in the photo. Stop by the Midnight Ink booth (#1459) on January 20th to register. The drawing will take place at 7pm during the opening reception.

In addition, Lois Winston will be part of panel (along with Nancy Martin, Tom Straw, and Clare Toohey) presenting The Funny Side of Crime, sponsored by Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter at the Mid-Manhattan Library on Thursday, January 19th at 6:30pm. The library is located at 40th St. and 5th Ave. The panel takes place on the 6th floor. FMI: 212-340-0837.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Wild Ride!

Last week on Friday, January 6th, the Kindle ebook version of Deadly Currents, the first book in my RM Outdoor Adventure mystery series, was the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal, on sale for 99 cents, a $9.00 discount from its normal Amazon price, for the short space of 24 hours. Man, was it a wild ride!

How did it happen? Publishers can submit books to Amazon for consideration for the Kindle Daily Deal in a three month period. Amazon selects which books they are going to feature on each day during that period and selects the price they are going to sell the books for: $.99, $1.99 or $2.99. My Midnight Ink editor asked me if I was willing to have Deadly Currents submitted to the program. My answer was, "Heck, yeah!"

After a few weeks wait, my editor notified me that Amazon had selected Deadly Currents for January 6th. We didn't know what price they would put on it, and wouldn't know until the actual day. So, I prepared myself to help promote the sale. Most of the promotion, of course, would be handled by Amazon, but I could help by alerting my personal contacts.

I sent out an email newsletter to my subscribers the day before, telling them about the sale. I spent a couple of hours on the morning of January 6th alerting my Facebook and Goodreads followers, other social networks, my yahoogroups, and my Goodreads and Facebook groups. I also notified my critique group and book club and personal friends, though many of them already had copies of the books. I asked everyone to help spread the word to their mystery-reading friends.

Then I sat back and watched the book soar through the ranks throughout the day. When I first logged on in the early morning, its rank was already in the low five digits. Soon the rank was down to four digits. When it dropped into the hundreds, I started to get really excited. But the wild ride was far from over!

By the time I went to bed that night, Deadly Currents had reached the rank of #3 in the Kindle Store, #1 in Amazon's Mystery, Thriller & Suspense list (ahead of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo), and #1 in Amazon's Literature & Fiction list (ahead of The Help). What a sale!

At the end of the next day, Deadly Currents was still in the top ten of all three categories, and lingered there for awhile before starting a slow slide. Also, Google Alerts started popping up, showing all of the websites that had announced the sale. The exposure that the sale brought me was worth much more than the royalties I gave up, I'm sure.

All I can say is thank-you, Midnight Ink, for making such an astute move! Both my publisher and I hope that once readers read Deadly Currents, they'll develop an appetite for the RM Outdoor Adventure mystery series and line up to purchase copies of the second book, Wicked Eddies, when it is released in May.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Are You a Joiner?

Cricket McRae

I am an only child. According to Dorothy Rowe’s definition, I am also an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or always socially awkward, but instead that I trust my inner world more than what’s “out there,” my internal take on things more than what others say.

The other day someone asked if I wanted to join her yoga group. “I’m really not much of a joiner,” I responded.

It’s me, not you. Honest.

Seriously, I liked the person who invited me. Would have felt comfortable enough sweating and contorting and falling over in front of her. I’m not only not shy, I’m not particularly proud. But I’m not a joiner. I’ve always thought that about myself, so it must be true.

Except …

I belong to not one, but two active writing groups.

As a mystery writer I’ve naturally joined Sisters in Crime, and when the local chapter closed I continued as a member of the Puget Sound Chapter near where my Home Crafting Mysteries take place. I belong to Mystery Writers of America, Pacific Northwest Writers, Northern Colorado Writers, and will soon be a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

I belong to three alumni organizations – one professional and two related to education. I’m on Facebook and Twitter. I’m a member of seven yahoo groups. A lurker, generally, but still – I watch and see what’s going on with everyone and pipe up on occasion. I joined the Inkspot blog years ago, and have also joined the gazillion bloggers out there with my own blog. In two weeks I’m launching another one.

So no, I’m not a joiner – at least when it comes to yoga. But perhaps there is something about being involved in the writing community that keeps me sane. Yes, the Facebook and Twitter are for promotional purposes, but they are also fun. I like the connection. I like communicating directly with readers. And I enjoy the blogging far more than I’d anticipated.

Writing is a solitary business for the most part. As much as I sometimes wish I was writing instead of promoting or connecting or networking, in truth those things balance out the long hours perched behind my desk, and I genuinely enjoy the human contact. Even working in a library or coffee shop are solitary, though sometimes it’s nice just to have other people around.

As long as I have my white noise app and ear buds, mind you.

Are you a joiner? A loner? A bit of both? As a reader, do you share your (usually solitary) reading experience with others in book groups or by posting reviews or participating in Goodreads discussions?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Policewoman, Pin-up

My Chloe Ellefson series is set in the early 1980s. I’ve blogged before about the way television shows like Cagney and Lacey and T.J. Hooker portrayed women officers. While finishing Chloe #3, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, I got a new glimpse of women officers of the time.

Police Product News cover A scene called for one of the male officer characters to empty his mailbox. Always on the look for tiny tidbits that will make in-the-know readers smile and nod, I did a quick eBay search for police-related periodicals of the day. All I wanted was a title, but when I came across the August ‘82 of Police Product News: The Law Officer’s Magazine, I had to have it. (Seriously, could you resist those guys on the cover?)

I had no idea I was buying a magazine with a centerfold.

Policewoman pinup 82

Based on the Letters section, the inclusion of a policewoman pin-up was the subject of ongoing controversy. A female reader had previously written to object to the “practice of using sexuality as a means of selling your magazines.” Another had evidently claimed in an earlier issue that the centerfolds existed because “majority rules…”, which I assume referred to the fact that forces were at that time predominantly male.

In response, a male sheriff from Pennsylvania wrote, “The centerspread is just an extra in a fine magazine to brighten up a dull day or night for officers.”

A male officer from Washington State added, “I believe that a few people are too sensitive to the centerfolds. …I’m glad the profession is opening more to women. There are certain areas of public relations that women can handle that prove a little difficult at times for men. …My wife is a police officer and I have seen her control subjects verbally who would have probably kicked my bucket no matter how nice I would have been.”

The magazine’s main content clearly offered a variety content-rich and helpful articles for officers. I’ve only seen the one issue, so I don’t know how long the centerfolds continued.

As a novelist it’s not my job to pronounce personal judgment, but to observe and consider how my characters might feel about the pin-ups. My cop, Roelke McKenna, has a less-than-ideal relationship with a female deputy sheriff named Marge. Marge can come across as officious and pushy. I think I’d like to explore the working relationship between Roelke and Marge, and their perspectives on the role of female officers, in a future book.

Want to weigh in? Were the centerfolds disrespectful? Fun and harmless? Offensive because, as far as I know, only women were chosen? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And a blue-light special: Amazon has chosen to feature Old World Murder, the first Chloe Ellefson mystery, throughout January. Kindle downloads are just $1.99!




Friday, January 6, 2012


Lois Winston will be signing copies of DEATH BY KILLER MOP DOLL at Curves, 299 South Ave. East, Westfield, NJ on January 11th from 8am - noon. FMI: 908-232-3200.

Robin Allen will attend the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, TX, January 20-22, 2012. Robin will spend Saturday (1/21) at the PopUp Stage for Mystery Day at ALA, and will participate in the first panel, "Don't Mess with Texas Authors" from 9:00AM-9:45AM. On Sunday (1/22), Robin will be signing books in the Midnight Ink booth from 9:15AM-10:15AM.

Book Pirates.... ARGH!

Yesterday Elysia Gallo, the senior aquiring editor for Witchcraft, Pagan and Magic books for Llewellyn, was alerted to a site that had several Llewellyn titles available for free download.  As a response, she wrote one of the best blog pieces I've read about pirating books and who it really hurts - the author.  I am reposting here with her permission.  You can also check out the original blog and the comments left there at http://www.llewellyn.com/blog/2012/01/myths-about-pirated-books/.  And while Elysia's post talks about Wiccan and Pagan books, the principles apply to all published works.

Today I got five emails from authors all alerting me to a website that had 32 of our books and an equal number of other publishers’ books on it, scanned in and uploaded as PDFs for anyone to freely download. If it sounds like harmless sharing to you, please read this post and educate yourself on pirating.

First, the background: people loves to steal our books. Libraries and bookstores have claimed for years that some of their most frequently stolen stock are the religious books – anything from the Bible to those on witchcraft and magic. Whether this comes from a belief that all sacred knowledge should be free, a desire to hold onto a book containing so much wisdom (or so many exercises that can’t all be gotten through in the three-week lending period!), or, in the case of witchcraft books, concern that others in their small community might find out that the reader has an interest in these topics, and thus be “outed,” it’s always seemed a little strange anyway. If you’re specifically looking for a book on spirituality, doesn’t that imply that you’re trying to make yourself a better person? In that case, why start off on the wrong foot by stealing a book?

With this pattern having been in place for years, it should shock no one that in the digital age this would quickly translate over to stealing spirituality ebooks in any form. The music industry has wrestled with illegal downloads for years – we all know there are file sharing programs and sites that easily circumvent established means of distribution.

The website I was sent multiple times today is a repeat offender. I won’t post a link here because I don’t want to drive traffic to her site. Let’s just say that she has a nifty little disclaimer about how she got all these PDFs of ebooks off the internet (presumably absolving herself of responsibility, having not scanned them in herself) and that as far as she knows they are not violating anyone’s copyright. And if she is in error, to please let her know. (I guess there was something about the COPYRIGHT PAGE of each of our books that she failed to understand.)

Llewellyn, Red Wheel/Weiser, and other publishers have notified this person, by writing to the email address listed on the website, several times. And yet that notice is still up, and our books are still there for illegal downloading. So today (after the very first email I received) we sent a DCMA takedown notice to her ISP, and hopefully those pages of her website will be removed soon. [Update: it looks like it's working. I'll check again from home, and again tomorrow.]

But since I kept hearing about it all day, regardless of our invisible-to-the-outside-world actions (which are things we deal with every day, incidentally), I wanted to post a few thoughts for you all to consider and hopefully discuss.


“It doesn’t cost them anything to make an ebook, so why should I pay for it?”

This one I’ve also heard for legal, paid downloads, except in that case it goes “It doesn’t cost them anything to make an ebook, so why should I pay a normal book price for it? It should cost only $1.99/[insert your own price here]. I mean, I even had to buy a device to read it in the first place.”

Here’s the thing. First of all, an author wrote that book. They spent hundreds of hours researching, writing, editing, proofing, revising, communicating with their publisher, and in many cases, teaching, lecturing, writing a blog, marketing, etc. in order to have their good name in the field, in order for their manuscript to be desirable for publication. So that’s one person that should be paid for their effort.

Secondly, multiple people are involved in publishing a good book:
  • the editor who carefully selects, acquires, contracts and develops it (that’s me, in this case),
  • the editors who copy edit and proof it (the production editor, layout designer, and proofreader),
  • the marketing team that writes the back cover copy, web copy, catalog copy, and so on,
  • the cover designer who created a cover,
  • the publicity team that sends out a press release, galley, or review copy to your favorite Pagan podcaster,
  • the accounting staff who send out the royalty checks and pay our bills,
  • the IT department that converts our book files to ePub formats and keeps our websites and servers running.
These are all fixed costs, whether the book comes out in print or digital (unless the author is self-published, in which case he or she can have more control over the pricing of the book and also gets to keep more of the profit). If you add a print release (not digital-only) then you can add the sales staff, customer service, and the warehouse crew. Basically the only thing you’re taking out of the entire equation by downloading an ebook is the cost of paper, printing, and distribution (trucking, shipping, etc.), and the people who make sure the physical copies get sent to the customers, whether those are bookstores or people. So are you still so convinced that your ebook should only cost a dollar? Or nothing?

“It’s the same as borrowing a book from a library, or from a friend.”

Um, except for the fact that the library bought a copy of the book, or your friend bought a copy of the book. (Even libraries that now do digital lending.) And that they have a finite number of copies (physical or digital) that they are able to lend out at any given time – not a file that can be downloaded over and over again in the blink of an eye by complete strangers all over the world.

Let me put it this way – surely you would lend $10 to a friend in need. But would you put up your PayPal account details on the internet for the world to see with a note that says “hey, feel free to borrow ten bucks”? If you did, I’m guessing you’d go broke immediately, unless you have some very deep pockets.

“But publishers have very deep pockets.”

Maybe some do – but I’ve never worked for a publisher that does. We’re talking about Pagan books here. It’s a niche. We hope to sell 5,000 copies if the book is to be successful. (And, not to shake your confidence in the system or anything, but some of our books only sell hundreds of copies and we don’t make a dime.) We are not selling Harry Potter here! We are not flying our authors around on world tours or taking them out for three-martini lunches! Being an independent, midsized publisher in a small field is not a license to print money.

Here is a great quote to illustrate the situation, written by Colin Robinson, who formerly worked for a large New York publisher:

Books have always been a low-profit item and in recent years margins have been shrinking even further. Publishers now regularly give bookshops a 50 per cent or even a 55 per cent discount on the retail price. The distributor that warehouses and delivers the book will typically take 10 per cent of what remains, or more if you are a small publisher; 15 per cent goes on production (printing, paper, typesetting). Add another 10 per cent for the author’s royalties and the publisher is left with 10 per cent to cover promotion costs, rent and office expenses, wages – and profit. No wonder it’s called the gentleman’s profession.
“But authors have deep pockets.”

While you wait for me to stop laughing, did you notice the author’s royalty in the quote above? It’s not much, and it can actually be even less depending on the genre, the format of publishing, and a variety of other factors. Authors don’t have deep pockets either – they cannot afford to give you their book for free. If they could, they would! (And some actually have, just as many musicians are now releasing their music and letting their fans decide what to pay for it.)

Most authors support themselves with full-time jobs in addition to writing and enriching their communities. The very few who don’t work a “day job” have to tour and teach constantly to make a salary to live off of. Some even sell potions, spells, or courses on the internet to add a little income. And yet they still provide plenty of free content on their websites, blogs, facebook pages and other media. They are more than willing to share – up to a point. If they approach a publisher to publish their book, it means, by default, that they want to get paid for it. It has value. So do them a favor and buy their book if you appreciate their work and want to make sure that they continue to write for, communicate with, and teach the community in the future.

“But it’s all over the internet anyway…”

Go ahead and read all the free blog posts you want. Learn about Wicca by putting together information from ten different websites. Go ahead and search for that certain spell you need on Google. Not sure what to do for next month’s full moon? Just type it into the search box. Go onto the Internet Sacred Text Archive or Patheos and learn about the world’s religions. These are all perfectly valid ways to get information. There are TONS of free resources on the internet – ones that are given freely by their creators. (Perhaps because they have ad revenue they can rely on. Perhaps they just do it out of the goodness of their heart.) So why do people even feel the need to download whole books in the first place? By wanting to download a book more than you want to read a website or blog (etc.), you are admitting that it has a certain value that is greater than what you can browse for free. The sum is greater than its parts. So please, pay for it.

“But I’m poor, I can’t afford to buy these books myself…”

See the above list of free resources. And visit your local library.

“But I wasn’t even sure I would like it, so why pay money on it?”

In today’s book-buying world, that is no longer an excuse. You can get previews of just about any books online, either at Amazon, GoogleBooks, or the publisher’s own website. You can browse reviews from other readers on GoodReads or other retailers’ websites. You can visit the author’s website or blog and see if you like their writing style or agree with their ideas. You can ask your facebook friends if they ever read the book and would recommend it.

“Information should be free!”

I totally agree, to a point. Information is what permeates the very fabric of the universe; information is as basic and integral to life itself as light, and so far no one is charging for light. Information is heady and exciting. Hermes/Mercury, the god of communication, is also the god of tricksters and thieves, so it’s not unreasonable to expect he’d be encouraging illegal downloads.

However, he is also god of merchants – trading, bartering, and yes, paying for goods and services. If you step back and look at the big picture, information is just a type of energy. And energy is never static, it must be exchanged. Money is also a form of energy – it’s how our minutes and hours of toiling away at something we might not always like get converted into poker chips we can trade in for things we like better. Therefore, it’s not only acceptable to use the energy of money in exchange for the energy of information – it’s divine. Like the universe itself, you are keeping energy in balance, in motion, in an unbroken chain, just as it likes.

Thanks for listening to my rant today. Please, feel free to discuss in the comments… I’m curious to hear your opinions and thoughts on this matter.