“The Pain and the Sorrow”: Historic Fiction at its Best

The Pain and the Sorrow

The Pain and the Sorrow is a western which takes a true historic tale and crafts the details to the in a way that makes Loretta Miles Tollefson’s rendering not only plausible, but probable. Her background as a journalist is evident in every historic detail included, and in the Author’s Note at the end, she offers up the discrepancies in the reported facts and her reasoning for the choices made as she crafted the details into this heart wrenching New Mexico legend to make it come alive. It gripped me and I didn’t want to put it down. I couldn’t wait for the story to unfold.

From the view point of a young New Mexican girl, the story takes on a feeling of sadness in addition to the unbelievable horror of the originally reported events. Charles Kennedy offered food and lodging to weary travelers in the mountains of New Mexico for a price, but Charles had a temper and a lust for money, and those who stopped there didn’t always leave. Charles was an old west version of a serial killer. So claimed his young wife, Gregoria, when she appeared in a saloon in Etown one night after walking ten miles in the bitter cold to get away from her abusive husband.

A western with a female perspective, attention to the historic details, a story that compels me to keep the pages turning and characters that make me care. What more could this reader want? I give The Pain and the Sorrow five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

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Ask the Authors: Final Answers

Books and Coffee

We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out.  Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.

I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.

Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.

The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?

Cynthia Vespia: 

1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends

2. Characterization is key

3. Have fun with world building

4. Think outside the box

5. And of course show don’t tell

Chris Barili

1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.

Janet Garber: 

1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.

2. Work on making the language sing.

3. Submit like crazy

4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.

5. Don’t ever give up!

 

Art Rosch: 

One, be yourself.  Write to please yourself.  There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.

If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain.  Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice.  I pay special attention to writing my villains.

Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything.  Emotion is the fuel of story.  Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes.  The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization.  All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction.  What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil.  Things aren’t always simple.

A good book has three attributes.  It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring.  I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight.  Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.

That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.

Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.

Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.

Carol Riggs: 

1. There ARE no rules.

2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.

3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.

4. If you truly love to write, never give up!

5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.

Margareth Stewart: 

1. Write. Don´t stop.

2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.

3. Craft your stories.

4. Be humble. Be proud.

5. Keep it up.

P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living: 

“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author. 

Jordan Elizabeth:

  1. Never give up on your dreams.
  2. Write what you know.  Write a book that you would want to read.
  3. Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
  4. Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.

DeAnna Knippling:

1. Read.
2. Study what you read.
3. Practice what you study.
4. Get what you practice published.
5. Honor the people who read what you published.

The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.

Emotions

The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?

Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.

Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.

Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.

Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling.   Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles.  You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation.  If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught.  Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable.  So…be a psychologist.

Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).

Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.

Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.

Jordan Elizabeth:  I rely on my own experiences when writing.  Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart.  If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud.  If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.

DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion.  You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”

If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.

Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.

The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.

Reader Ken Hughs said:

Lots of excellent advice there.

I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:

Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?

How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.

Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.

DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing.  Huzzah!  Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.

To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:

  • Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers).  When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.”  Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project.  Any element of a story can have pacing.
  • Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
  • The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
  • I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
If you can handle the things Mr. Hughes brings up, you’ll be doing well indeed 🙂

Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.

Action

Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?

Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.

Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.

Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.

Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies.  They’re great for offering templates for action sequences.  Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters.  I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer.  Does this look reasonable?  Can my characters do this-and-that?

In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan.  It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs.  There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation.  A mini-climax occurs early in the scene.  But it doesn’t end there.  A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers.  Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears.  The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold.  This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.

Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.

Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.

Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.

Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.

Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write.  I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind.  Pacing falls naturally into place.

In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting,  where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)

Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art RoschChris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia VespiaMargareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet GarberChris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.

I have two follow-up questions for this segment: 

Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.

Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.

Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.

Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture.  It takes money to market books.  I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income.  I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books.  I did the same at Amazon.  An author can publish digitally for free.  I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.

I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon.  I have no illusions about getting sales.  I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.

Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.

Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.

Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.

Jordan Elizabeth:  Both (except for Kistishi Island.  I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print).  I like having a combination of formats.  Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook.  I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems.  Print books are great for book signings.

DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes.  See writing rule #5.  I really ought to be working on audio as well.  Readers should be able to read conveniently.

Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?

Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.

Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.

Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.

Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great.  There’s all the support and information you need.  Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.

Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.

Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.

Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.

Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace.  I can’t speak to the ease of use.

DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use.  I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers?  Are the readers happy with the experience?”  Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers?  Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting?  Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”

I’ve dropped a number of publishing platforms that don’t adhere to these things, or at least stopped using them directly, but approach them through other distributors.  [Cough] Barnes & Noble [Cough]

Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.

In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.

For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform.  Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.

Book Reviews

The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?

Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.

Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.

Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault.  I must have social media halitosis.  There are billions of people who don’t know about me.  I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet.  I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox).  That’s Mark Dawson.  He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to.  He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.

Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.

Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.

Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.

Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews.  I haven’t had luck that way.  I usually reach out to bloggers.  Most of the time, they are willing to review.

Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.

DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely.  I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model.  What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table?  Not as many as the authors themselves had brought.  I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”

I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid.  At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more.  Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies.  I have an ARC list.  Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers.  At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that.  Go for it when you see it.  But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.

Don’t put all your eggs in a basket that’s essentially just moving piles of email addresses around, or reviews that you have to pay for (and that Amazon will delete as soon as they get a chance), begging for reviews from your writer-friends (which screws up your also boughts something fierce), or whatever short-term solution everyone is chasing at the moment.  Play the long game, take advantage of what you can when you can, then drop back into your long game.
Believe me, I know how freaking slow this all goes.

 

In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.

Book Sale

The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?

Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.

So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.

Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.

Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.

Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.

Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events.  The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents.  Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts.  Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation.  You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.

DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople.  I am not.  That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything.  I’m learning.  But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se.  If a sale comes out of it, great.  And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!”  To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things.  Interesting things.  Gossip.  Rumors.  Scandalous lies!  And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk.  I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down.  That’s it.  I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.

To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.

It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.

Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers. 

Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.

Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!

I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.

 

 


Ask the Authors: Genre Differences

genres

 My first semester in the M.F.A. program at Western, we were assigned to write an excerpt in a genre outside of that in which we normally write. I was assigned the western genre, and while I’d never really written much in the western genre, I learned from that exercise that I was pretty good at writing westerns, and that excerpt became part of my first published novel, Delilah. Now I’m working on the sequel, and even though the western genre is not as popular as it once was, I enjoy writing westerns, and for me, that may be more important than how many I sell. (But, how many I sell is important, don’t get me wrong. I want ton be a best seller as much as the next author.) I could never be a literary writer. Hell, I can’t even read all the way through some literary novels. While I have a knack for the western genre, I also have available Last Call, which is a sci-fi short and my paranormal mystery, Hidden Secrets. I guess that makes me a multi-genre author.

Today Ask the Authors is going to talk about some of the genres and what makes them different. We’ll also look at what kind of things we do differently when writing in more than one genre, regarding the writing process, research and marketing. Without further ado, let’s see what our panel members have to say.

Which genres do you write?

DeAnna Knippling: Most of them.
Jordan Elizabeth:  My books are all young adult with a touch of fantasy.  Some of the books involve fantasy creatures.  Others feature ghosts.
Carol Riggs: I write mostly fantasy and science fiction. However, I approach those genres with a light touch; I think they’re more accessible to a wider range of readers that way, rather than saturated (high) fantasy or hard sci-fi.

Tim Baker: I really don’t know what my genre is – or if I actually can be placed into only one. Generally speaking I write fast-paced, tongue in cheek, semi- humorous crime novels. I have also taken that description and coupled it with supernatural themes. My latest novel is pretty much a suspense-thriller, but it is still fast-paced with very small doses of humor.

For the purposes of this segment – let’s just say I write crime novels.

Cynthia Vespia: I write speculative fiction for adults and teens. For those who don’t know what speculative fiction is, it is  a broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. Often described as the ‘What if?’ genre, speculative fiction is distinguished by being based on unusual ideas and elevated imagination.

I write a combination of urban fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, supernatural, paranormal, superhero, and dystopian. Which is why I started to go under the umbrella of speculative fiction because it encompasses all of that. I’ve dabbled in horror, and I’m trying my hand at space-opera, but those aren’t my main genres.

Janet Garber: I’ve written and published in multiple genres: journalism, non-fiction book, book and movie reviews, essays, short stories, novels, poetry, sci-fi/spec, humor. About the only thing I haven’t tried yet is screenwriting.  I’ve also got a number of children’s stories and I would love to put them together in a book someday.

Chris Barili: I write in every genre. I think the story and the characters dictate the genre, so rather than starting out to write a fantasy novel or a western short story, I set out with a character and a problem and let things go from there. With the acceptance of a story of mine to a new crime fiction magazine, I have now sold fiction in all the major genres: Fantasy, SF, Horror, western, romance, and crime. I write most of my stuff in the speculative fiction genres of fantasy and horror. In the end, a story’s a story, no matter the label we stick on it.

Follow-Up for YA authors: You write YA, but you write different genres under that umbrella: steampunk, fantasy, maybe even sci-fi. To my way of thinking your genres should be labled YA steampunk, YA fantasy, YA sci-fi, YA romance, etc… You may not have the answer for how this practice of clumping all the genres under one YA umbrella came about, but what are your thoughts on it?
Carol Riggs:  Here’s my off-the-cuff answer to that:

I think clumping everything under just “YA” is pretty limiting and doesn’t tell the reader much info. Technically, as many editors and agents point out, YA is simply an age category, for readers 12-18 (and up) and involves main characters who are usually between the ages of 14 to 18. The actual GENRE is a dividing into things like steampunk, fantasy, sci-fi, historical, graphic novel, etc. But it’s very handy to have labels like “YA steampunk” because then you get the age category listed as well as the genre.

Dark Western Fantasy

Dark Western Fantasy

Each genre has certain elements which readers pick up a book expecting to find within the story. Romance tropes are probably some of the most familiar: there are two characters, they often start out disliking one another, to spite all odds they fall in love, but there are obstacles to overcome for them to be together, and of course, there must be a Happy Ever After. These are the elements of romance, and without them we don’t have much of a story. This is what romance readers expect to get when they pick up a romance novel. Its what they want, and if you don’t deliver, your reader following is liable go find another author who does.

I’m sure you’ll all recognize the tropes for the western genre as well: you have a lone character who stands up for what’s right against high odds, and must battle against the environment to complete their journey. There is a certain time period in history in which the western must occur, after (1700s?). I optioned to go against a trope of the genre when I made my protagonist female, but by giving her a romantic interest, I crossed over into the romance genre, therefore widening my audience scope. Let’s see how our panelist handle the tropes of their genres.

What are the more well-known tropes of your genre(s)?
Tim Baker: Tropes? Wow – I had to look up what a trope was!! So you basically mean clichés? This is difficult for me to answer because, as I said, I don’t neatly fit into a set genre, but as far as crime novels go I guess the biggest tropes would be the hero with the deep dark secret in his past, or the villain who is hell-bent on avenging an egregious wrong perpetrated upon him by “the man”. There is also the ever-popular femme-fatale as well as the buddy concept, where two characters are thrust together against their will and have to work together…then end up being best friends.
Cynthia Vespia: In every genre the readership of that specific genre is expecting certain elements to be included, which is what drew them to the genre in the first place. It is the job of the author to deliver those expectations. Whether its pacing, character, or story there are certain approaches to each genre. I’m just aware of including those elements while I’m writing a book.
Janet Garber: My female protagonists tend to be slightly neurotic, soulful, fighting for their lives in one way or another. My villains are like dementors, sucking all the air and light and creativity out of everyone they come in contact with. It’s easy to love the hero or heroine and detest the villain. I will say that usually I’m too soft on my characters, don’t let loose on them as much as I should, and insist on happy endings. I guess I write the kind of stories I want to read.
Chris Barili: Since I write in all of them, this would take most of the rest of the day for me to answer, but tropes are kind of outdated now in many genres thanks to the crossover between them. Urban fantasy, for example, has different tropes than fantasy or urban adventure kinds of stories.
Horror.Women.Parnormal Romance

Horror, Women’s Fiction and Paranormal Romance

How much do you think about the tropes of your genre while you are writing?
DeAnna Knippling: Hmmm…I study the tropes, but I don’t think about them much, other than when they annoy me.   I try to focus more on what the reader actually wants to feel, although I might get excited about some set piece that I want to include, especially for my ghostwriting projects.  “I get to go to Paris!  I don’t want to take people to the Eiffel tower…but we are TOTALLY going into the back of this cafe and making crepes.”  Stuff like that.
Jordan Elizabeth: I don’t while I’m writing.  I don’t really think about them at all until someone makes a comment in a review.  I’ll read it and think “huh, I guess so?”
Carol Riggs: I basically know the tropes and I know some people are eager to see those tropes; it’s part of the genres. However, I like to be original and if I do include a trope, I try to put a fresh spin on it. I do this mostly when outlining my novels before I begin, but also when I’m considering a plot twist.
Tim Baker: I think about them constantly because I try to avoid them. I try to make my stories and characters as “real” as possible.
Chris Barili: Consciously – not at all. Subconsciously, my experience reading across genres helps a lot. They tend to insert themselves once the story gets rolling.
Crime Novels

Crime Novels

Even when writing fiction, there’s a certain amount of research required, and the type of research may depend on the type of story you are writing. For the western genre, I did quite a bit of research into Colorado history and the old west in general. For Delilah, I also researched specific details, such as the different types of rifles available during the timeline of the story and the attributes and features of each, and how long it takes to travel certain distances on horseback or by wagon. For other genres, these details would be of no interest, but other things would be more relevant, so the type of research will vary between genres. Our panel members write a wide variety of genres. Let’s Ask the Authors what kinds of things they research.
What kind of research do you do for your genre(s)?
DeAnna Knippling: I’m trying to tackle the top 100 books in a genre before I try to write in it.  Sometimes with the ghostwriting I get overcome by events.
Jordan Elizabeth: I try not to research fantasy creatures, because I want mine to be original.  The only research I’ll do involves historical content.  Many of my stories flash back to a time in history.  Escape From Witchwood Hollow follows three girls.  One is in the 1600’s, one in the 1800’s, and one in the 2000’s. 
Carol Riggs: It really depends on the book. The sci-fi genre demands more real, science-related research. For instance, for my latest sci-fi I researched things like assault drones, concealed carry laws, hoverboards, pepper spray, and how to get over or through a barbed wire fence. For fantasy, I find myself often researching medieval kinds of things—what hut roofs are made of, how fast horses travel, etc.
Tim Baker: I’m not big on research. I try to write stories that don’t require it, or require very little. Most of my research consists of observing life.
Cynthia Vespia: It depends what type of story I’m writing. Most of my research is for location, weapons, or mythology like monsters etc.
Janet Garber: I would say I’m light on research. Mostly I draw upon people I’ve encountered casually, places I’ve passed through, choices I could have made. The road not taken.  It always intrigues me that decisions we make at certain times in our lives have such long-lasting results. No wonder we obsess about doing the right thing.
Chris Barili: Genre research is just plain reading. I try to read across a broad spectrum of genres. I’m currently reading a crime novel, Dead Stop, by my friend Barbara Nickless. Before that, I was reading a zombie anthology edited by Jonathan Maberry. And on my TBR pile I see SF, fantasy, romance, and a weird western.
Margareth Stewart: I do lots of research – on time, place, suitable names for characters, historical data, language and how people relate to one another. As I read various genres, every piece of information is important. Besides, when I am writing a new genre, I read the top writers of that field to figure out their style. For writers, I should say research is the beginning and the final proof  we are in the right direction. It makes our writing real – to a point that sometimes readers even inquire me: “Have you not met Pierre (main character of Open)? Don’t you tell me he is not real?”. It is unbelievable – our ability to make up stories and a fiction world.
Steampunk.Knippling and Elizabeth

Steampunk

What came to be The Great Primordial Battle, Book 1 in the PfG series, was my thesis project, so it had detailed planning. I had so much detail that it couldn’t all be contained in one book. I had outlined the story, and charted out so much backstory and extremely complicated lineage for my characters, and since my characters can appear in different personas at different times, I charted all of those too. In fact, I had so  much detail, I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one book, and I had to restructure the whole thing into a four book series. I had never done such detailed research and planning before. Although I did do a lot of research for Delilah, the plotting wasn’t nearly as detailed and or complex. Whether that is due to differences in genres, or to multiple POVs vs single POV, I cannot say. Perhaps both make their contributions.
With all the different types of research that comes with writing in each genre, we have to wonder about other differences. Do we go through the same writing process when crafting a science fiction story that we do to create a romance? Don’t forget too, that we can have a story that falls into one genre with elements of other genres intermixed, such Jordan Elizabeth’s Treasure series, which is steampunk with a western style setting, or a story that crosses genres like Chris Barili’s B.T. Clearwater paranormal romance, Smothered, or my Playground for the Gods series, which is science fantasy. Let’s see what our panel members think.
If you write more than one genre, in what ways does your writing process differ for different genres?
DeAnna Knippling: Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, headphones on ears?
Carol Riggs: With both fantasy and sci-fi, I get to use my imagination a lot, which is why I love those genres. I adore making stuff up. In general, I make up less stuff for sci-fi, because the tech and world details are more rooted in science and reality.
Janet Garber: Much of my work is humorous. I love to do a story with  echoes of Twilight Zone and scary stories (no gore though. I abhor gore). My serious fiction tends to concern itself with identity, coming of age, women who are trapped in one way or another and fighting to break free.
Chris Barili: The process itself remains the same, but how much time is spent on things like world building, character sketches, outlines, and so on varies a bit based on genre.
YA Fantasy and Science Fiction

YA Fantasy and Science Fiction

Different genres appeal to different audiences, so it really helps to know who you’re writing for and which markets you should aim your advertising and promotional efforts at. I believe it also can affect which categories your book appears in on the Amazon rankings, but that’s an area that I am still in the process of learning about, so I’m not in the position to partake in that discussion yet. But, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the experiences of our panel members.
How do you think the marketing and promotion for your genre(s) differs?  
Jordan Elizabeth: I know erotica is easier to promote.  People eat it up like candy.  Young adult fiction is harder.  Most of the ads and newsletter swaps go to adults, not teens.  Usually that’s okay, because adults enjoy young adult fiction, but its hard to market directly to teens.
Carol Riggs: You’re marketing to different audiences, people with different tastes. The kinds of promo images for fantasy and sci-fi will be greatly different than for a contemporary novel or a romance novel, for instance. The websites and places you might promo on would be different. There are different conventions a writer could tap into and attend (or speak at), such as Comic Con or a sci-fi convention.
Obviously, each book’s Amazon categories are different, to give best visibility to a title. I haven’t done so, but I could select different conventions or even different book stores to do signings at. I think posters and images are strong things to use, and can draw people across a room to you and your book. This means your images (especially book covers) need to capture the genre well.
Tim Baker:  I don’t think it does. I am not marketing my genre – I am marketing my books to anybody who can read – as I’m sure other authors do as well. I understand that all genres have a core audience, but those people will be there regardless of your marketing techniques. It’s the rest of the people we should all be trying to reach.
Cynthia Vespia: Marketing and promotion is very specific for each genre and that’s due to the readership. I feel as though romance and erotica have a really large readership, where some other genres may not be as large. For example westerns aren’t that popular any more so if that’s the genre you’re writing in then it might feel a little tougher. Because I write in the fantasy realm alot I found I can cross-promote with alot of commercial vehicles such as different conventions, movie/TV tie-ins, etc.
Janet Garber: Journalism is easy in comparison to other genres. You get an assignment to do an interview or column or essay, submit it on the deadline and usually see it published very soon afterward. At that point you let your fans know the article has come out. All other genres: it’s a question of experimenting with getting the word out on your website, blog, facebook, etc., running ads perhaps, doing book signings and readings in bookstores and libraries. It’s trial and error until you figure out what works.
Margareth Stewart: Oh, places may vary, but strategies remain the same – creating connection to all possible readers. Different readers are found at different places – we have to search for them. A good example is what I did for “Open/Pierre´s journey after war”. I sent book release and marketing material to WWII discussion groups in the internet. I also placed articles about it in War Blogs and I still keep constantly trying to find people who are interested in WWII. We – writers – have to develop the ability to create connections with people who are related to our topics and genres (all the time).
Dark Fantasy.Western Steampunk

Dark Fantasy and Western Steampunk

If you write in more than one genre, what do you do with your marketing to tap into the different audiences?
Janet Garber: Since I used to be a serious person, a business and career writer, and still am occasionally, I attend annual conferences in my field, contribute to LinkedIn, try to network a bit with other professionals. I will have a new novel coming out which is not humorous, not about HR or the corporate world and I’m wondering just how I will promote it. It definitely falls into the Women’s Fiction rubrique and thematically ties into some of the stories I have written and published. I hope I get some brainstorms about how to promote it when it’s ready for publication!
One of the biggest pieces of advice I hear as far as genres go is to read everything you can get your hands on in the genre you’re planning to write. This, not only helps you to know the tropes for your genre, but also makes you familiar with what is already out there. It doesn’t seem like genre makes a lot of difference when it comes to the writing process, but it does affect the types and amounts of research we must do, and the markets we aim advertising efforts toward. Be sure and drop in next Monday when our panel members will discuss the business end of writing. It should be a great segment, so don’t miss it.
 

If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.

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‘Tis the Season to be Thankful

HAppy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is upon us, and I always try to take the time this time of year to reflect on events over the past year and discover all I have to be thankful for. Although my life has been crazy busy in the most recent past, I want to share here all that I am thankful for, because you shoud never take your blessings for granted. So, the first thing I am thankful for is my Writing to be Read platform, because it allows me to share what’s on my mind.

You may have noticed that the posts on Writing to be Read have tapered off of late, and of course, you would be correct in saying so. The fact is, Writing to be Read, has gone through many changes over the past year or so, and it looks like there may be more in store in the near future. Both Robin Conley and Jeff Bowles have had to step away due to life issues. Life happens to the best of us, so we can’t fault either of them, only hope that their life issues turn out to be the good kind, the kind that takes them both onward and upward to bigger and better life experiences, so we can be thankful for them. And I’m thankful for the time we were blessed with their talent and their content.

Teacher, Teacher

I’ve had my own life issues, of the good kind. At least, they’ve been good for me and I am thankful for them in this season which is for the giving of thanks. When I went back to school for my Master’s degree, I never would have guessed that my next career move would bring me back to Western State Colorado University on the teaching end of the system. By a stroke of luck, that’s just what happened, and things have been moving pretty fast for me. I didn’t realize how much time I’d need to grade papers, but it’s a lot. As a result, my posts here, on Writing to be Read has suffered. I haven’t had the time I need to write, let alone read books for review from an already backlogged que. It was fortunate that I had sent out the interviews for the Book Marketing series before I morphed into Professor Booth. I already had a lot of that series in place, so you maybe didn’t notice my absence quite so much while it ran, even as my regular book reviews began to taper.

Over the past few weeks since the series ended, I’m sure you’ve noticed a lack of content, (one week there wasn’t even one post), which is unusual, since over the past couple of years my content has run fairly steady. And now you know why it hasn’t been lately. But I’m thankful for the wonderful opportunity which has taken my time away from Writing to be Read, even if I’m not so thankful for the lack of content and the drops in the number of visitors to the blog.

And, I am thankful that even as I dig myself out from beneath a mountain of essays, life on the writing front continues, almost without me, but not every endeavor can be a success. The Halloween release of my short “A Turn of the Tables” in the HallowErotica anthology was a bust. The publisher of the anthology got cold feet and backed out at the last minute. I didn’t mind that things didn’t work out, so much as I minded the fact that all the contributors had already been pounding on the promotion pretty hard. As short on time as I’ve been, I ran the Excerpt, and did social media promotion for the blog and the release event on Facebook, and I really felt like it had all been time wasted. But, you know what they say, “S**t happens”. I’d already had a few doubts about the quality of the publication, so it’s probably all for the best. I am thankful for the learning experience it provided, and it’s prompted me to consider more seriously doing a short story collection of my own. I think I’m going to go for it. At least that way, I will have control of the publication and promotion details.

The Collapsar Directive

I’m also thankful that the above mentioned experience is so unlike my foray with Zombie Pirates Publishing, which I can only say has been a pleasure all the way. You may remember that my short science fiction story, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”’ appeared in their Collapsar Directive anthology last August? No? Well, it did and they did a bang up job on the publication and promotion of the anthology. It was a class A piece of work, featuring stories by some very talented authors.

But now, I have another story, “The Devil Made Her Do It”, coming out in December in their next anthology, Relationship Add Vice, now available for preorder, and I’m really excited about it. The story is about a straight laced home town girl who finds herself unexplainably drawn to a strangely magnetizing man. I just finished with my part of the edits, because all contributors take part in the editing and promotion processes with ZPP, and once again, there are some really excellent stories in this collection. It makes me proud to know my work will be featured in a quality anthology. ***Warning: Shameless plug ahead*** The release date is in December, right before Christmas, and they’d make great Christmas gifts for all your literary friends.

Relationship Add Vice

In the more distant past, I am thankful for finding a publisher for Delilah. It’s been an interesting experience and I learned a lot from it.  The book is now available in both ebook and paperback. I’m also thankful for the wonderful reviews the book has received. In September, I got a royalty check. It wasn’t a lot, but it made me smile. People are reading my book. That’s so cool. I am definitely thankful for that.

Delilah and Horse Web Cover - Copy

I started to get the sequel to Delilah down on the page, getting only a short way into the second chapter before professordom took its toll. I’ve been working on it, writing a sentence at a time if it’s all the time I can find to write. I am always thankful for every spare minute I can find to write. Although I haven’t had a lot of time to actually work on it, the plot line has been simmering in my head, and is close to being ready to emerge, so stay tuned for updates. I do have the first three chapters. And as always, I’m thankful that I’m able to put words to page in a meaningful and entertaining way.

And of course, I’m thankful for my readers. That’s why I’m offering a free promotion of my short story, Last Call to coincide with the Cyber-Monday 2017 promotional event on November 27, which Sonoran Dawn Studios is hosting on Facebook. One more thing I am thankful for is my friend, D.L. Mullen, who runs Sonora Dawn Studios and acts as my P.A. and cover designer, helping me with a lot of my marketing needs. Her help has proved invaluable. I don’t know how I would do it wothout her.

Last Call Diner with Mug2 200

Of course, this was only a reprieve to jot this blog post down. There’s always more grading to do, and I need to get to it, so I need to get this posted. Academic writing is historically a pretty stiff and rigid class, nothing a student would label as fun. I have tried to incorporate interesting material into my course with the help of Dr. Mark Todd, English professor, author, and paranormal investigator, and from the looks of my students’ most recent drafts, I think I may have captured the attention of many. Although the course is pretty structured, I’m finding that academic writing has more in common with writing fiction than I had previously believed. No matter the inkwell your writing springs from, the rules of good writing always apply. Maybe I’ll talk about that in my next blog post. I hope you’ll join me.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

 

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Book Marketing – What Works? (Part 6): Interview with author Chris Barili

Barili and Books

In Part 1, of Book Marketing – What Works?, dark fantasy author, Cynthia Vespia, shared her insights in social media vs. face-to-face marketing, and we heard from co-authors Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd in Part 2. We’ve also about how they launched a digital media marketing strategy which they’ve found to be effective. YA author Jordan Elizabeth talked about her street team and social media marketing experiences in Part 3, and in Part 4, author Tim Baker talked about branding.

Today, I have the privilege of talking with my friend and cohort, author Chris Barili. I have reviewed all of his books here, on Writing to be Read: The Hell’s Butcher series and it’s prequel, Guilty, and his paranormal romance, Smothered. As a hybrid author, Chris walks both sides of the publishing line with works published independently, as well as a work published with a traditional publisher. Like many of today’s authors, Chris may be the picture of the prototype for the author of the future. Many authors who have been traditionally published successfully are now looking at the independent publishing route, because authors still left with bearing the bulk of the marketing and promotional burden.

Unlike the enthusiasm of last week’s guest, contemporary and historical romance author Amy Cecil for social media marketing strategies in Part 5, Chris doesn’t find it very productive, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

Chris: I am a hybrid author, so I have two stories. The first is my traditional publishing journey with Smothered as B.T. Clearwater. That book was my MFA thesis, and when I finished it, I didn’t know what to do with it. Got no replies from a couple of major romance publishers, so when Winlock/Permuted press held a contest for their new supernatural romance line, I entered and I won! About four months later, the e-book hit the virtual world, and this past July, Simon and Shuster did a limited print run of 450 copies.
The second story is my self-publishing journey with the Hell’s Butcher series of novellas. I wrote Guilty, the pre-quel, as an assignment for my MFA, and submitted it to a themed anthology. While the editor praised the story, it didn’t quite fit their antho’s theme, so it was rejected. And rejected. And so on, until I finally got the idea to write a novella series based on Frank becoming Hell’s Marshal. Knowing there wasn’t much of market for novellas, and that weird westerns a smaller market anyway, I decided to self-publish. That meant hiring a professional editor, a cover artist, and a formatter, but I did it! There are three books in the series and more to come!

Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Chris: Readers of Smothered might not guess that I’m a guy? LOL. I think most wouldn’t guess that I have Parkinson’s Disease, as I try hard not to mention it in my writing. I do slip in the occasional hand tremor or other symptom, but I don’t mention the disease itself.

Kaye: You recently ran a free promotion, where you offered Guilty for free for a limited time. I’ve often wondered about the logic behind that type of thing. How does offering your book for free help increase book sales? Or does it?

Chris: I offered Guilty for free in hopes of pulling readers into the series, so they’d buy books one and two. Did it work? I don’t think so. I gave away something like 55 or 56 free copies of the book, and sold 13 paid copies. And while sales have been steady since then, I don’t think the free giveaway had anything to do with that.

Kaye: You’ve participated in book release events on Facebook. How did that work for you?

Chris: Not a fan. I have yet to see significant sales tied to online functions like that for any of my books. However, I know authors who swear by Facebook promos like blog takeovers, release parties, and so on. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but they never work for me.

Kaye: What works best to sell books for you, as far as marketing goes?

Chris: Hard f**king work. My highest paid sales month was October of 2016, when my good friend Amity Green and I decided to have a contest and see who could sell more books by Halloween. We used Amazon marketing campaigns, Facebook boosted posts, and our own social medial blitzes. We were pimping and fluffing and promoting our books like crazy. She ended up beating me by six copies, but that remains the most lucrative sales month for me, and I believe it is for her, as well. Problem is, you can’t maintain that pace of advertising for long, if you have a job/life.

Kaye: You have a traditional publisher for Smothered. How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your book in comparison with what you do for your Hell’s Butcher series, which you self-published?

Chris: A little marketing. Winlock/Permuted had me do a blog, which I need to resume, and they tasked me with finding podcasts and reviewers. I’m still working on both of those items. For Hell’s Butcher books, I do it all. I pay for the cover, the editing, the formatting. All of it.

Kaye: Do you participate in KDP Select on Amazon? One of the requirements for the KDP Select platform is that you must agree not to use any other platforms, giving Amazon the exclusive. Do you feel this program is conducive to selling books?

Chris: I do for now, but I am dropping it as soon as Guilty is through it at the end of October. I don’t see a benefit. I’m getting it out there on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and so on.

Kaye: What do you do for cover art on our self-published books? DIY, or hired out, or cookie cutter prefab?

Chris: I contract Michelle Johnson of Blue Sky Design. Look her up on Facebook. She offers a deal where she does the e-book cover, paperback wrap for Createspace, Facebook cover and profile, and Twitter cover and profile at a reasonable price.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent vs. traditional publishing?

Chris: Independent gives you more control, but requires a lot more work and usually won’t sell as well. Traditional is less work, but you also have less control and make much lower royalties.

Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Chris: Self-publish and go tradition. Hybrid is the future of authorship.

Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

Chris: I am an avid mountain biker, and I do martial arts, both of which are fun and help me fight my disease. I also like to read, of course.

I want to thank Chris for being here with us on Writing to be Read and sharing his thoughts on marketing from both sides, independent and traditionally published. If you’d like to know more about Chris Barili, B.T.Clearwater or his books, visit his Amazon Author Page.

Be sure and catch Book Marketing – What Works? next week, when independent author DeAnna Knippling will share which marketing strategies have worked for her.

 

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An Adventure in Social Media Marketing

Delilah and Horse Web Cover

In my post, It’s All in the Packaging, I interview cover designer, Dawn Leslie Mullan and I issued a plea for your help and support as the cover art for Delilah made it to the second round in a book cover contest on Facebook. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it into round three, but I want to thank all those who took the time and went to the effort to vote. Delilah has a great cover that fits her story, and I appreciate everyone who jumped in a tried to help us win. I also want to thank DL Mullan for providing such a great cover and Robin Conley for nominating it.

Although I have participated in release parties, it was my first experience with an event like this on social media, so I learned a lot from the experience. I think there are several reasons why we didn’t make it to round three. The promoters of the event were romance authors, and many of the covers we were up against were romance covers, especially the ones which got the most votes, which leads me to believe romance readers were the majority of the audience attending this event, so I considered it lucky that I was able to get the votes I did. Again, all those that voted, whether from my previous blog post, or from my massive marketing campaign to gain votes, you guys are great, and greatly appreciated.

I also learned what not to do when hosting an event like this. The event promoters laid out a set of rules for voting, which had participants clicking and liking various pages, and although the rules were laid out, it seems several of the participants failed to do so, because in later rounds, new “Rules” posts were put up, saying those who failed to follow each step would not be counted. Also, at the end of round two, they announced that hearts did not count as votes, only ‘likes’, but this was not stated at the beginning, so anyone who had someone who loved their cover enough to give it a heart was disqualified.

I think these events should be made as easy as possible to participate in. Think about it. We’re asking people to take time out to go to a page and vote, or play silly games to win prizes in the case of release parties. The games should be fun, or at least funny. The prizes should be something that will be viewed to have some value. And voting should be quick and easy, only taking a few minutes of their time. And for heavens sake, if someone does accept your invitation and attends, or votes for you, show some appreciation and thank them. I know I do, and it keeps readers coming back for more.

I was happy that the cover for Delilah made it to round two, and disappointed that it didn’t go to round three. Maybe next time. Although, I am wondering how effective these social media events really are. A couple of authors I’ve talked said they’ve participated in release parties, but haven’t seen any real increase in sales from them. That could be partly because they are attended mostly by other authors, so we may be playing to the wrong audience there.

I’d be interested in hearing from other authors who participate in these events. I’d like to know how beneficial they really are. Do they bring in sales of your books? Or are they a waste of time? If you’d like to weigh in, leave a comment here, or contact me at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

 

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There’s No Escaping Hell For “Hell’s Butcher”

Hells Butcher Series

I had the pleasure of reading the Hell’s Butcher series by Chris Barili, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher. This series is refreshingly different, a combination of western, speculative fiction and super hero, and somehow, it all works.

Frank Butcher has been appointed Hell’s Marshal, sent back to the land of the living on the trail of killers escaped from hell, bent on wrecking havoc and changing history to aide in the rise of the south. In Hell’s Marshal, Frank and his posse of walking dad and their coyote guide are after the renegade soul of Jesse James before he can revive the confederacy and rise up once more against the union.

They travel on a stage pulled by hell’s steeds, which never tire and move at incredible speeds, and they carry weapons with the power to send souls back to hell, where they belong. But, it isn’t easy to pursue their prey in bodies that have been dead a long time, causing extra difficulties to the chase. The coach is driven by a mortal man with special gifts and they’re joined by an orphan boy with the power to see souls raised from the fiery pit.

In Hell’s Butcher, John Wilkes Booth is the renegade soul, back to build an army to finish the government takeover, the conspiracy around the assassination failed to complete, and Frank and his posse must send them back. In a chase filled with misdirection, and battles with demonic souls inhabiting living bodies, there is no way to triumph without further damning the posse members’ souls.

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I absolutely love these story lines and must say these books are well crafted. Barili does a smash up job of drawing the reader into his world, where condemned souls can walk among the living. My only problem with these books is the fact that Frank doesn’t seem to change much. Guilt and self-loathing are Frank’s fatal flaws as the protagonist, and although it doesn’t necessarily be resolved, there should at least be some evident change by the end of each story arc.  Even by the end of the second book, although he reasons that people should not have to suffer for things they’ve done due to circumstances beyond their control, yet he still resigns himself to whatever punishment the judges dole out, feeling he deserves it, unable to apply the lesson to his own situation, and he is unable to forgive himself.

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Both books in this series, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher are entertaining tales with refreshingly original story lines. Each book could be stand alone stories. Regardless of the one glitch found in the protagonist’s character arc, they are fun reads that keep the pages turning. I give them both four quills.

Four Quills3

GuiltyIf you like the Hell’s Butcher series as much as I did, you’ll want to be sure and grab the prequel, Guilty, which is now also available. Guilty tells the story the events in Frank’s life that brought him before the judges and put him in the position to serve as Hell’s Marshal. This book offers insight into Frank’s character, so we can see where all that self-loathing comes from, drawing the series together and giving it cohesion. It is a different, but wonderfully entertaining story line. I give Guilty five quills.

Five Quills3

 

 

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.