Sunday, January 30, 2011

When Do You Write?

Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending the colorful history of her native Kentucky with her love for mystery fiction. But instead of talking about the post civil war time period today, she’s talking about the time of day she composes her fiction, and maybe when you should too.

Me, I’m a weekend writer. At least, most of my writing gets done on the weekend. During the week I can do research, send out promotional material, organize my notes, or edit chapters, but the writing is almost impossible for me without an uninterrupted block of time. That usually boils down to the weekend.

It isn’t that I never try to work through the week, but after spending nine hours at the office, another commuting, and then coming home to cook dinner and do whatever else has to be done… You get the picture. My brain just doesn’t have much creative energy left at the end of the day to be productive with my novel.

Confining my writing to the weekend wasn’t a problem when I first started writing short mystery. I have fond memories of quiet Saturday mornings sitting at the computer in my bathrobe writing murder and mayhem. Nothing is quite as relaxing as sipping a hot cup of tea and listing to the birds sing outside my window while I composed dastardly plots.

Then Circle of Dishonor got published. It didn’t take long to discover that authors have lots of events that they need to attend on the weekend. Instead of looking forward to a quiet Saturday at my computer I’m off to a book fair, convention, or signing. Now I have to balance writing weekends with promoting weekends. Oh yes, I do still have a family. Sometimes they expect a sliver of time.

I am always torn between working on my current manuscript and promoting my novel. What’s a weekend writer to do? I’m trying to learn to write while on the road. I’m getting better at writing in the evening. Mostly, I’m missing those quiet Saturday mornings when my spouse was sleeping in and I could have four or five hours of uninterrupted writing time.

Learn more about Gwen Mayo and her work at

Friday, January 28, 2011

Simple Sales Tracking

Canny writers track their book sales to see where and when their marketing efforts have been successful.  A few I know pay for Bookscan data.  But now seems to have made that unnecessary with their free Author Central option.

By signing up for this service you can see weekly updates of your print books' sales as reported by Nielsen BookScan.  Also, the “Sales by Geography” chart displays these sales across a U.S. map, shaded according to geographic distribution.  It’s kinda cool to see where you’re being read.

While BookScan is the industry standard for tracking print book sales, it doesn't report every single book sold (they estimate they catch about 75%.)  However, it’s the best source available and plenty good for spotting trends.  Besides, through Author Central you have access to this data for free.  Amazon updates the sales data every week by midnight Thursday night.  You can always see the most recent 4 weeks of sales.

I find it interesting that BookScan relies on retailers to voluntarily report sales.  More than 10,000 retailers do participate in BookScan’s point of sale tracking including Borders and Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book Company, Hastings, Target, Follett College stores, Buy.Com and, of course  Wal-Mart and Sam's Club are not included, nor are libraries sales.

When you go to Author Central you’ll see all your books listed (if they’re available on Amazon that is.)  The “All Books” view shows total copies sold of your entire list.  To see copies sold for an individual book, you just click on the orange triangle to the right of the “All Books” header to select an individual book.  Then if you want you can scroll down to the Sales by Week from BookScan bar chart to see copies sold of individual formats, such as your hardcover or paperback formats.
You’ll also see “BookScan Highlights" and “Amazon Bestsellers Rank Highlights” displayed.  BookScan Highlights give you a summary of your print book sales, and how they’ve changed from the previous week to the most recent week.  The Amazon Bestsellers Rank Highlights show the best ranked edition of all your books, and that book’s change in rank since the day before.

One cool thing about the bar chart in Sales by Week is that if you hover your mouse over the different sections will display the copies sold for that format.  Similarly, hovering over the map will show how many sold in that area. 

Actually, I think this whole deal is pretty darn cool and have had a lot of fun fiddling with it.  But ego aside, this data DOES have serious uses for writers who do their own marketing. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

20 Acclaimed Authors and their Unique Writing Rituals

Masters is an excellent resource for those who want to reach that level of higher learning.  To my surprise, they turn out to be a great resource for author inspiration too.

 I don’t usually recycle other people’s blogs but a recent post on seems to fit our theme here.  I often say that every writer’s process is different.  Their article explored some of the habits well-known authors fell into for inspiration.  As they said, whether you want to pen a Pulitzer winner or just finish your homework, a comfortable writing routine can help to boost creativity and encourage productivity.  These strategies may not work for everybody, but they do offer some interesting options.

For example, Victor Hugo – author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, forced himself to write by stripping down. He told his valet to find the sneakiest hiding place possible and place his clothing inside. Hugo hoped this ritual would prevent him from leaving home and encourage tighter focus on the task at hand.

Former Poet Laureate and author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou wakes up at 5 AM, heads to a nearby hotel with legal pads, a bottle of sherry, a deck of playing cards, a Bible and Roget's Thesaurus. Per her instructions, hotel staff members remove all the art and photos from the room's walls.  Before leaving in the afternoon, Angelou usually completes between 10 and 12 pages during her stay, which she edits later that evening.

C.S. Lewis   kept an incredibly obsessive schedule. He allowed himself short, periodic breaks, but otherwise planned every minute of every day in order to maximize productivity. A rigid series of rules dictated everything from appropriate times to take a beer to when visitors were allowed to stop over.

Many believe that Benjamin Franklin was the first to import a bathtub to the United States.  When it came time to read and write, much of the Renaissance man's time was spent soaking in a leisurely bath.

 William Wordsworth wrote several odes to his faithful canine companion. Though anecdotal, some think the Poet Laureate would write while walking his dog.  It is said that he would recite ideas out loud, and when a poem was met with barking or agitation he took it as a sign that revision was necessary.

These are just four of the 20 fascinating writing rituals recounted in the article I read.  You can see them all at  May as well learn from the best, right?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part (with apologies to Tom Petty)

Sarah Glenn wanted to grow up to be Kolchak, but would settle for Scully.  She did, however, grow up to be a talented novelist and in today's blog she shares one of the most moving moments in any writer's life.

Recently, I received the most exciting news an author can get: my first novel had been accepted by a publisher. The contract came, was signed, and the manuscript was sent for final edits. I was told not to expect it back until January. Several other books had been accepted and needed edits as well.
Wonderful! I had time to plan. I began setting up my marketing strategy. I checked my email in case I had early news. I researched reviewers and places to guest blog. I checked my email again. I created a Facebook fan page for myself, which made me feel rather presumptuous but it's what marketing gurus say you should do. Oh, and I checked my email.
Waiting is something every professional writer has to do, and it doesn't matter which field you're in. Reporter? You may have a set deadline, but you're dependent on sources to call you back, for council meeting to start, etc. My journalism class went downtown to see a high-profile trial that involved a local socialite. The day was long and little was truly said.
Short story writer? After you submit your story, you wait on a reply, whether by snail mail or email. The technology has gotten faster, but the decision-making process hasn't. Some editors go, "Boom! I like your story, it's in." Other editors, especially ones for anthologies, wait till the submission period ends and choose stories from a pool of manuscripts. I had two last year that were accepted on the day I sent them. I have others I won't hear about until March.
Books require the greatest patience of all. You query prospective agents, and you wait. Then, you wait a little longer. A quick response is undesirable, since it is almost guaranteed to be a rejection. If you get an agent, you wait while she shops your manuscript around. She gets to wait too, if that makes you feel any better. Sending it around yourself? See above for why waiting is good. Oh, and be sure the publisher takes unsolicited manuscripts, because many don't reply: they simply discard them unopened.
Accepted? Time to wait for the edits, to see the cover art, and for approval to go to print. After this comes the most exciting (and terrifying) wait of all - to receive the first hard copies of your book.
What do you do with yourself during this time? A conscientious author (and workaholic) would work on other writing projects. I deal with a lot of angst and my Muse hates angst. I rely heavily on crossword puzzles, mystery novels, and Mafia Wars to relieve my need for resolution.
Oh, and I check my email.

Sarah Glenn's first novel, All This and Family, Too, comes to you soon courtesy of Pill Hill Press. She can hardly wait!  Follow her advancing career at h

Friday, January 14, 2011

How Mystery Readers Choose Books

In my opinion, no writer's organization supports its members quite as well as Sisters In Crime.  I belong (sort of a "Mister" in crime) in part because they work hard to give me the intel I need to understand the mystery novel market.  Recently Sisters in Crime-commissioned a comprehensive report called “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age" - - and made it available to everyone on line. 
This wonderfully detailed report gives a solid overview of the mystery/crime fiction book-buying landscape.  It not only tells you who buys mystery books, but where they buy them, which ones they buy and why they buy those particular books.  Most of the in-depth analysis is done by PubTrack , the book sales analysis division of Bowker.  If you write books in this genre, you need to dig into this report if you want to structure and direct your marketing efforts well.

For example, in this study I learned that women buy 68 percent of all mysteries and more than half of mystery buyers are more than 45 years old.  Another r31 percent of mysteries are bought by 18-to-44 year olds.

A series of graphs showed that 48 percent of mystery buyers live in the suburbs.  27 percent of them are in rural areas, leaving 25 percent in cities. 

Geographically, 35 percent of mysteries are sold in the South, 26 percent in the West, 20 percent in the Midwest and 19 percent in the Northeast.

To my surprise, 39 percent of mysteries are sold in brick-and-mortar stores, and more are borrowed from the library (19%) than sold online, although mysteries sell better on line than any other kind of fiction. and if you REALLY want to focus your marketing, the survey has lots of demographic data, and a lot of feedback on what makes someone by one mystery instead of another.

If you’re a mystery writer, you should first join Sisters In Crime to support their efforts, then click into this survey to see how you can make your novels appeal to the people who read mysteries.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are you ready to be a published author?

Maryland novelist B. Swangin Webster started writing in middle school and says she’s still amazed at how “life-like” her characters become. They all vie for her attention and will “talk” to her at the most inopportune times.  Her novels, “Let Me Just Say This” and its sequel, “And Again…Let Me Say This” deal with the real-world issues confronting 21st century women.  Like her books, Webster is encouraging and inspiring, as her guest blog will make clear to all of you starting on the road to publication.

Ok, if you are reading this blog, than you are one of the elite people who want to know what I mean by this.

Being a published author doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for royalty checks to start coming to your mailbox. Being a published author means the real work now begins.

If you are a published author you do know what comes next, don’t you? No, well it means that the hard work must now begin. Oh, you thought writing your novel, editing, proofing and designing your cover was hard work, well you haven’t seen anything yet.

Let me ask you a few questions.

Have you started your website? Have you dedicated at least one email to ONLY author related items? Have you signed up for Google alerts on your name/book name? Do you have your marketing materials? Have you contacted book stores about possible signings?

No? Well what are you waiting for? Being an author; especially a self published or author published by a small publishing house (that would mean you didn’t get a half million dollars to write your book) means that all of these things should already be done, or at least half way done.

See being a published author means, that as soon as you answered no to two of those questions, you should have called your friends or whomever you share your excitement with and said, “I need you to help me set up a website, book signing, or where can I buy stuff with my book cover on it”

Let me digress for one second. Did you see me say, call your friend and say I need you TO DO….no, I said, you need to ASK FOR HELP. Do not turn your duties as an author over to someone, unless you are paying a publicist. Being a published author means you must take this opportunity to brand yourself, market yourself and TALK about yourself to anyone that you come into contact with. And for goodness sake, don’t whisper that you are an author….say it loud and proud.

Now, if you have answered YES to all of those previous questions, then you are an author.

So I will ask again, are you READY to be a published author?

Keep up with B. Swangin Webster’s writing career at

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Back on the Blog

After a low-production ending to 2010 I’m back in form, writing and promoting at the level I like.  I have big plans for 2011 and hope you’ll come along for the ride because I need your help.

As regular readers know, this blog is intended to be very interactive.  It’s all about the life we authors live: what it feels like to be a writer, our successes, failures, challenges, and triumphs.  It’s a place for non-writers to get a feel for what it’s like to have this disease where you have to commit thoughts to paper in order to stay alive. 

It’s also a place for tips and ideas that can help writers do what they do better.  We can share our experiences, our ideas and our opinions of what works and what doesn’t.  I’m happy to share all that I know, and I hope you feel the same.

I intend to post to this blog twice a week, every week in 2011.  But I don’t want this blog to be my voice droning on about me.  So this is my official invitation to all of you out there who have been bitten by the writing bug.  I’m looking for guest bloggers to chat about anything that fits the theme as described above.  I prefer a fairly short piece, in the 400 word ballpark, but it’s a generous ballpark. 

Whenever I post a guest blog I will add your book cover (or your photo if you aren’t published yet) and the web link of your choice (your web site or where to buy your book, etc.)  I’ll also add a bit of an intro so if there’s something specific you’d like me to say, send it along.  Otherwise, I’ll pull info from

I hope to post stuff that we all can both enjoy and learn something from.  If you look thru last year’s posts you’ll see just how diverse these posts can be.  I’m not eager for “Here’s what my new book is about” articles, but if you’re talking about how it feels to get that first book out there, what special research you had to do to write it, what you went thru to get it published, or the cool new idea you had to market it… well, there are lots of acceptable excuses to promote your book here.

So, put your thoughts and feelings into a guest blog, send it to me at or thru a Facebook message and become a part of our little support community.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Murder in the Family

Rosemary and Larry Mild plot murder together, as a husband and wife should, but instead of getting jailed they get published.  Of their latest novel, Cry Ohana, one reviewer said "The authors write with such eloquent detail, you can almost feel the island breezes and see the breathtaking scenery. This is an uplifting story of family and love, as well as an extremely suspenseful novel with a very satisfying ending.”  I thought you'd like to hear how they do it, in their own words.

We work at dueling computers in our home office in Severna Park, Maryland. But only seven months of the year. During the winter, we write back-to-back in our Honolulu apartment, on the island of Oahu. Honolulu is our second home so we can spend time with our daughter, Chinese son-in-law, and two college-bound granddaughters. They live deep in a rain-forest valley behind Diamond Head. Huge mango and avocado trees surround their house. They have to be quick about snatching the ripe fruits off the ground. Otherwise, the feral pigs get there first in the middle of the night.

How does the actual writing process work? Rosemary says: “Larry conjures up our plots and writes the first draft. Then it’s my turn. I breathe life into the characters, intensify scenes, sharpen the dialogue. Sometimes I throw a new trait into a character. In Cry Ohana, Larry created a gentle, no-stress romance for Leilani and Alex. But I’m a combative sort, so I made her feisty to give her scenes more conflict. Of course, changing a character has consequences; it can actually derail the plotline, so I have to watch out.”

Then, with sleeves rolled up, we “negotiate. Here’s our typical scenario.

Larry: You cut that whole paragraph! It’s cruel, operating without anesthesia.

Rosemary: Just a little judicious pruning, dear.

Larry: But it took me hours to create those metaphors. 

Rosemary: It’s too much already. Less is more.

Larry: Talk about overdoing. Your description of Mrs. Raggs goes on for a whole page and she’s just a walk-on.

Our jousting is short lived. We resign ourselves to the compromises required. Maalox helps, too. We relish the writing process, but we have to take Stephen King’s advice: “To write is human. To edit is divine.” And Harlan Coben agrees: “If someone tells me he doesn’t rewrite I don’t want to party with him.”

Cry Ohana was our first foray into fiction. We slaved over it for so long it was in danger of growing a beard. The hardest part was to stop writing it. Every winter we’re on Oahu, we become more local and find more good stuff to share. But according to Lawrence Block’s basic rule of fiction, every word must further the plot. Rhapsodic tangents slow the momentum and bore the reader. So . . . in the late ’90s we stowed the manuscript of Cry Ohana on a shelf to age, cure, whatever.

In 2001 we introduced our mystery series with Paco LeSoto, a dapper retired detective, and Molly Mesta, an eccentric housekeeper/cook. Molly whips up the English language in her own special stew that the authors call “Mollyprops.” She’ll criticize a villain for his “defecation of character.”

In Locks and Cream Cheese, mayhem erupts in a mansion on the Chesapeake Bay. Hidden rooms, locked doors and dead bodies embroil Black Rain Corners in scandal. Paco and Molly expose the mansion’s lurid secrets—and fall in love.
In Hot Grudge Sunday, Paco and Molly are married. They’d rather smooch than sleuth. But conspirators and thieves derail their honeymoon bus trip out West. Not even the Grand Canyon can suppress the out-of-control passions and quest to kill.

Boston Scream Pie returns readers to historic Annapolis and southern Maryland. Young Caitlin Neuman hires the sleuths to decipher her nightmares of a lethal car crash. They lead to a harrowing tale of twins and two families plagued with jealousy, hatred—and murder.

Learn more about the Milds and their writing at