Category Archives: On Writing

12 Crime Lab Tidbits

by Vinnie Hansen

In March, I visited the Santa Clara Crime Lab because hey, that’s the kind of thing crime writers do on a lovely spring day.

My husband, Danny, went along. He enjoys police info, too. I guess you better if you’re married to a mystery author.

We were disappointed to learn that we would not be able to traipse about the lab. Even though the event was advertised as a “virtual” tour, when Danny and I visited the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, our guide led us right up to the line of weapons waiting for rifling tests. But that was many years ago and our group consisted of just Danny, Cara Black and me.

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

Criminalist Cordelia Willis

The Santa Clara Crime Lab presentation drew over 20 sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime as well as a whole class from a local college. I was glad that criminalist Cordelia Willis did not try to herd such an unwieldy flock.

But even if there were only a few of us, we could not have entered the lab. Our very breath could contaminate DNA evidence!

Instead, we congregated in the training room for slides and an informative talk.

Here are a dozen fun facts from our two-hour stint:

  • The bane of criminalists: lawyers, lawyers, lawyers, and EMTs who trample evidence.
  • CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) has two parts, the usual one we think of which contains info only from criminals, and another part for unidentified persons, used to match bodies to missing people. The criminal and victim parts do not mix.
  • Red Bull is the drink of choice for burglars (and a nifty way to collect DNA).
  • Thirty is the magic number when a murderer stabs his victim.
  • A slice on the perpetrator’s hand is common in stabbings because the knife handle gets slippery. (Think O.J.)
  • Cordelia worked on a cold case where DNA evidence was taken from 22- year-old semen.
  • If a body is inside a structure, the police have to get a search warrant to call in the lab.
  • Digital/multimedia evidence is most backlogged. One case might yield 15 cellphones!IMG_1418
  • Bullet rifling is unique to each individual gun, but (sigh) many bullets get smooshed and can’t be tested.
  • BUT, cartridges can be compared via the firing pin impression.IMG_1420
  • Gun shot residue disappears quickly — no sense testing after 8 hours.
  • It’s blood spatter, not blood splatter.

Have you ever wondered how much of CSI is true? What’s a question you would like answered by a crime lab? 

 

Posted by Vinnie Hansen.

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Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover. If you saw the cover in the last post, you’ll notice the new iteration is slightly different. What do you think?

LostartStreet

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

To Write or Not To Write Short

by Kassandra Lamb

Someday is Here! book cover

I’m guest posting today over on Janice Hardy’s wonderful site for authors: Fiction University. So thrilled to have this opportunity!

I’m talking about the pros and cons of writing short stories/novellas vs. full-length novels. Please hop on over and check it out!

To Write or Not To Write Short:

Short stories, novellas, novels—what’s the best route to go as a fiction writer? Are there advantages to writing short?

This is a more complicated question than it may seem to be on the surface. There are several factors to consider:

● The definition of a short story vs. a novella
● The appeal of writing short for the author
● How readers feel about short stories and novellas vs. full-length novels
● The benefits of shorts for authors
● The bottom line: how much can you make off of shorts?

In order to give you more than just my take on writing short, I surveyed several authors from various genres. I’ve included their experiences along with my own… Read More

Honolulu Havoc: The Pros and Cons of a Conference in Paradise

Left Coast Crime 2017 convened in Hawaii. The allure is almost too obvious to mention. There’s—well—the setting, the elaborate Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki. Warm weather, sunsets on the beach, Diamond Head in the distance.

Beach in front of hotel.

Beach in front of hotel.

For many attendees the conference was a great excuse to escape a March roaring in like a lion. Almost every participant I talked to had extended his/her stay. Sisters in Crime Guppy President, Jim Jackson, and his wife, Jan Rubens, planned a month in Hawaii! Even Danny and I, who hale from temperate Santa Cruz, stayed a week. A conference in a vacation destination clearly entices writers to take a break.

The Hawaiian flavor permeated the conference from the POG (pineapple, orange, guava) juice served in the hospitality suite to the braided leis given to each award nominee at the reception—held outside on the Great Lawn. Toastmaster Laurie King literally let her hair down, releasing her famous bun into a cascade of silver. As we strolled around in our muumuus and shorts, Ghost of Honor, Earl Derr Biggers, and his creation Charlie Chan, haunted the setting. The first panel I attended, Real-Life Experience: Authors Tell All opened with free mimosas. Now there’s a ploy to get people to talk.

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As usual, the conference gave me an opportunity to see writing buddies from other parts of the country and to meet and read authors new to me, like Maia Chance who participated on the Eye to Eye With the P.I. panel with me. I am thoroughly enjoying the first book in her series, Come Hell or Highball. Our panel was moderated by my crime writing idol, Allen Eskens! As moderator, he read a book from each panelist. He liked  Black Beans & Venom enough to give me this blurb, “It is the mark of true talent for a writer to be able to deliver her readers completely and believably to another world, and in Black Beans and Venom Vinnie Hansen has done just that. Set in the vibrant and gritty back streets of Cuba, this cat-and-mouse hunt for a missing woman is full of intrigue, suspense and authenticity.I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable read.” That alone was worth the price of admission.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

Me with Allen Eskens. Check out his thrillers. The first is The Life We Bury.

So what could possibly be wrong?

It’s difficult to organize a conference in a place where one poached egg costs $4.25! Compare the room-rate of $209-$249 a night to that for next year’s LCC in Reno–$82. And the room-rate in Honolulu didn’t even include room Wi-Fi or parking, both part of the package in Reno.

The time and expense of getting to Hawaii and staying in Hawaii clearly lowered attendance. Quite a few authors appeared on three different panels, good for them perhaps, but not as stimulating for the audience. And maybe its just my guilty conscience speaking, but I feel tourist distractions pulled attendees away from conference events. Usually the Liar’s Panel, a perennial favorite, packs the room. Not so this year, in spite of a stellar line-up–Rhys Bowen, Donna Andrews, Lee Goldberg, Parnell Hall, Catriona McPherson.

Finally, Honolulu isn’t my idea of paradise. It’s a bustling city, thick with tourists. Danny and I took a morning off to follow the ant trail of people up Diamond Head. I’m glad we did it, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

View from Diamond Head through edge of pillbox.

The Sunset Pillbox Trail on the North Shore, where we spent our first few days on the island, was much more satisfying. On that hike, we encountered only a few locals, the vistas were just as spectacular, and the brightly graffitied pillboxes were more interesting than the structures atop Diamond Head.

Pillbox on North Shore.

Pillbox on North Shore.

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I have no regrets about attending Left Coast Crime 2017, but look forward to the more economical Left Coast Crime 2018. If I win enough at blackjack, it may not cost me a thing. 🙂

 

 

What’s the best or worst conference you’ve attended conferences? What made the conference that way? 

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Posted by Vinnie Hansen. Vinnie is a retired English teacher and award-winning author. Her Carol Sabala mystery series is set in Santa Cruz, California.

Her forthcoming book, Lostart Street, is a stand-alone novel of mystery, manslaughter and moonbeams.

Here’s a sneak peak at the cover:

LostartStreet3

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

 

 

 

A Peek Behind the Curtain: How We Come Up with Book Covers

by Kirsten Weiss

While cover design is certainly not the most stressful part of the book publishing process, it has its quirks. A good cover doesn’t tell the story, but it does need to do three things:

  • Grab the reader’s attention and make them curious about the story

    Bound cover

    Thumbnail size on Amazon

  • Tell the reader what type of story they’re buying – funny mystery, spooky suspense, lighthearted romance.
  • This information needs to be easy to identify when the reader is looking at a thumbnail sized image.

That said, I’ve made my share of cover mistakes.

Exhibit A: What Type of Story is This?

The image on the left, below, is the original cover for the first book in my steampunk series, Steam and Sensibility. I was pleased with it. Corset. Gears. Fog. It’s San Francisco steampunk! I thought the font was a little too much, but that was what the cover designer came up with, so I went for it, thinking all was well.steampunk covers

Except when I attended a steampunk convention, a lot of people asked me if the novel was erotica. Ooops!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against erotica. But that definitely wasn’t what the book was about. So I switched to the cover on the right – also clearly steampunk, but with a magical flare.

Exhibit B: Contrast Issues and Originality

Another miss, but for a different reason, was the first cover (below left) for The Metaphysical Detective, the first book in my Riga Hayworth series of supernatural mystery.Riga covers

The contrast is low (which is not such a good thing when people are squinting at a tiny icon on Amazon), but it looks suitably gloomy and mysterious.

Except…

Since there are seven books in this series, I wanted original artwork that had more of a “series” feeling. Hence the new cover on the right. It’s got slightly higher contrast, and it’s original art. I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but I haven’t gotten around to changing it.

Exhibit C: Try, try, again…

hoodoo detective coversEven when you’ve got a great cover designer, there are typically several iterations before the cover is just right. In fairness, cover designers don’t know what’s in the author’s head. You have to provide them with samples of what you want, and even then, things can get tricky.

And for The Hoodoo Detective (book 6 in the Riga Hayworth series), above is proof that my cover designer has the patience of a saint.

(I ended up with the cover on the bottom right).

Exhibit D: Just right!

And then, sometimes, the cover designer nails it right away…

At Wit's End coverThe cover to the right is for a cozy mystery coming out in June, 2017.

What does this cover say to you? And what do you think makes a great book cover?

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked overseas for nearly twenty years in the fringes of the former USSR, Africa, and South-east Asia.  Her experiences abroad sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.

Sign up for her newsletter to get free updates on her latest work.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

3 Reasons Why a Sleuth Can Never Take a Vacation

by Kathy (K.B.) Owen

Ah, the chance to get away from it all. Our sleuth (amateur or otherwise) is more than ready to leave the bustle behind and relax, dig her toes in the sand, perhaps sip a cool beverage beside the water. Not a care in the world.

Nope. Not gonna happen. The mystery writer is there to ruthlessly yank that illusion away. Bwahaha. 

Why so heartless? Because vacationing is the perfect occasion for mayhem and murder. Here are three reasons why:

State of mind.

No one wants to deal with unpleasantness or disruption while on vacation. And a dead body can be plenty disruptive, as Hercule Poirot found out during his aborted vacation in Christie’s Death on the Nile. Conflict, a key ingredient to any story, increases when our expectations are flouted and we are caught unprepared. A detective’s fellow vacationers would rather be sipping margaritas than answering uncomfortable questions.

The journey.

Henry M. Stanley and party standing on back of train at Monterey, California, March 19th, 1891, porters standing at side of car. Library of Congress.

Trains, planes, cruise ships…great opportunities for chaos and conflict, as strangers are forced to travel together in tight quarters. Tempers flare. Small annoyances turn into big grievances. Moreover, who are these people? What troubles have they brought along with them?

Mystery writers have long turned to such a setting. I couldn’t resist it myself in the fourth book of my Concordia Wells Mysteries, Unseemly Haste, which is set aboard a cross-country sleeper car in the summer of 1898. There may have been a dead body or two, but you’d have to read it to find out. *wink*

The locale.

There are a couple of elements to consider in this category. One is the incongruity between, say, a paradise location and a grisly murder. Everywhere one looks–the swaying palms, the gentle breeze, the gorgeous sunsets–indicates peace, contentment, serenity. Except for the grisly body one has just stumbled upon.

Just a sunset, no body. Photo by K.B. Owen.

Another consideration is the “fish out of water” aspect of being in a strange place. We are completely dependent upon the local hosts who are the only ones familiar with the people, backstories, customs, and overall workings of the community. Misinformation–or outright lying–can make for some wonderful twists and turns to the mystery. Who knows what secrets lurk in paradise?

So, there you have it: our poor, overworked sleuth cannot catch a break.

Any other reasons you can think of as to why a vacation spot works so well for a mystery? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of detectives and vacations, I’d like to announce a new release!

 Missing jewels…a haunted inn…a long-held secret…

Penelope Hamilton Wynch, one of the few female operatives employed at the Pinkerton Agency in 1886, is sent to the Adirondacks to investigate the mysterious happenings at Schroon Lake Inn, newly renovated to cater to New York City’s upper crust on summer holiday. Rumors of ghosts are bad enough, but when expensive jewelry disappears, the owner’s livelihood is at stake. A woman’s touch is needed.

Pen’s boss, William Pinkerton, thinks he has given her the perfect cover. She is to play the part of an eccentric spirit medium, eager to experience the purported ghostly manifestations.

Unfortunately, her cover will not remain intact for long, and there are those watching who do not want the secrets disturbed.

Available for pre-order now, goes live March 1st! Just $0.99

 Order from Kindle or iBooks

Until next time,
Kathy

Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 6 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Where The Research Takes Us: How To Kill Your Characters

Kass here to tell you about today’s guest blogger, cozy mystery writer Gilian Baker, who is about to release her debut novel, Blogging Is Murder (which I review below).

She will entertain us with a fun little post on how to kill one’s characters (I swear, the FBI is going to come knocking any day now).

First, let’s get to know Gilian a bit…

Gilian BakerGilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines.

Disclaimer:  Do NOT try this at home, folks! This post is for entertainment purposes only.

Researching How To Kill Your Characters

by Gilian Baker

I love to plot murder! Yeah, that’s not a sentence you read every day, but it’s true. In my first cozy mystery, Blogging is Murder, the murder victim is poisoned with hemlock.

Why hemlock when there are so many new, man-made chemicals available?

I’ve just always wanted to kill someone off with an old-fashioned plant. And when I started researching the properties of hemlock, I knew I had the perfect murder weapon for my first mystery with my protagonist, Jade Blackwell, amateur sleuth.

Here are a few of the questions I had to research to determine if hemlock was a viable murder weapon for the story:

  •  Does it grow wild in Wyoming? (The setting of the series)
  •  Where is it found there?
  •  What parts of the plant are poisonous?
  •  Why would Jade’s friend, Liz write about hemlock on her blog, The Wise Housewife? Is it still used in herbal remedies? What ailments was it historically used for and what is it used for now?
  •  How does it kill? What are the symptoms of the poisoning?
  •  Is it still poisonous when dried?
  •  When does it grow?
  •  Is it frost hearty? Or is it killed off easily by a heavy frost?

I researched some of these questions before I wrote much of the story. But other questions didn’t occur to me until the plot developed, and I needed to know. For example, I was considering adding a freak snowstorm to add tension to the last third of the book. It’s not uncommon to get snow in Wyoming eight months out of the year, so that could work.

I’d written a couple of chapters that included light frosts overnight, which worried Jade since her spring bulbs had already come up in her garden. But wait! Would even a light frost, let alone a big snowstorm kill hemlock that was growing in the wild? If so, how would the murderer get fresh hemlock to kill their victim? Did I want to change the plot so the killer used dried hemlock?

You see how plot twists and new ideas for where to take the story impact the research that needs to be done. In this case, I had to go back and change the entire setting to a later time in spring to avoid overnight frosts. That meant rewriting those scenes where Jade worried about her spring bulbs.

detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Detail from The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (public domain)

I bet you want to know the answers I found in my research, right? After all, who doesn’t want to know more about hemlock? Okay, to satisfy your curiosity, here are the answers.

  • Does it grow wild in Wyoming?
    Yes, in fact it grows wild in most states in the U.S. There are many types of hemlock and most regions have the right conditions for several types to grow.
  • Where is it found there?
    It’s found most anywhere, but it likes a damp climate. During a wet spring, ranchers have to keep an eye out for the plant in their pastures. It’s one of the most poisonous plants to humans, but also to cows, horses and other animals.
  • What parts of the plant are poisonous?
    All of it.
  • Why would Liz write about it on her blog, The Wise Housewife?
    It is still used in herbal remedies, but only in minute doses and only in the hands of a skilled alternative therapist or homeopath. It was historically used for a wide range of ailments, including bronchitis, mania, anxiety, epilepsy and asthma. The Greeks also used it to put criminals to death.
  • How does it kill? What are the symptoms of poisoning?
    Hemlock affects the central nervous system so that the brain continues to function, but the person can’t move. They are paralyzed, but aware of what’s happening to them. It eventually stops their heart.
  • Is it poisonous after it’s dried?
    Yes, for up to three years.
  • When does it grow?
    In the spring.
  • Is it frost hearty?
    No, it’s not. That’s why I had to change the setting of the book and forgo my inspired idea of a freak snowstorm.

But I’m sure I’ll be able to find another way to use that idea in later books. 🙂

If you want to find out who exactly gets knocked off with hemlock and whodunit, well I’m afraid you will have to read the story.

book coverBlogging Is Murder, A Jade Blackwell Mystery

Former English professor Jade Blackwell’s promising new career as a blogger falters when she learns of a hacker who is controlling her friend and fellow blogger Liz Collin’s business remotely. Then the hacker is found dead, and Liz is thrown in jail.

Determined to help her friend regain her life and livelihood, Jade teams up with Liz’s reluctant lawyer to get Liz off the hook and out of jail. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she has felt living in the quaint Rocky Mountain hamlet of Aspen Falls.

Available on AMAZON

Posted by Gilian Baker. You can connect with Gilian on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter or at her website. Blogging Is Murder is the first book in her Jade Blackwell series.

Kassandra Lamb’s review of Blogging is Murder:

This is a very good debut cozy mystery. The pace is lively and the characters likeable. (I particularly enjoyed the quirky elderly neighbor of the murder victim.) The twist at the end was unexpected but plausible.

I also enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a professional blogger. I had no idea how much work was involved in that business. I’m looking forward to reading more of Jade’s adventures and getting to know the residents of Aspen Falls, Wyoming. Four out of five fingerprints!

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We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

by Kassandra Lamb

For the writers among our subscribers, I’m over at The Write Stuff today, talking about some of the best ways to make descriptions of settings and characters as efficient as possible. I’ve included some interesting info I learned as a psychologist and college professor, about how people process input through their senses.

8 Tips for Short and Sweet Descriptions in Fiction

hand painting

A few deft strokes often will suffice.

While editing the book I’m releasing tomorrow, and especially while trying to pare down the scenes that beta readers and my editor said were dragging, I truly came to appreciate the importance of a finely honed description.

Descriptions in fiction are important to ground the reader in the setting and allow him/her to visualize characters. But they can also bog down the pace and bore the reader if they are too long, and can be jarring if they’re in the wrong spot.

Read More…

 

Making the Case for Indie AND Traditional Publishing (For Writers and Readers)

by Kassandra Lamb

I envy writers under thirty. Not for their youth, but because they have never known a publishing world where indie publishing wasn’t a viable alternative.

But I’ve heard even some younger writers make comments that indicate they think indie is what you do if you can’t get a traditional publishing contract. In other words, it’s a second choice.

Actually, for some of us, it was a first choice.

And sadly there are a few traditionally published authors who like to judge indies from the other side of the fence. (See Part I of this series: Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage.)

For the newbie authors out there (or those considering jumping the fence), I will try to spell out the differences between the two paths. Also, I want to mention the pros of each for readers, the most important people in this whole arena!

I will try to be balanced, but I’ll warn you all up front, I am biased toward the indie path, since that’s the one I chose. To help counter that bias I’ll let trad publishing go first. And I’m trying to stay positive by focusing on the “pros” of each (the cons are mostly implied).

K.B. Owen, one of my sister authors here at misterio press, generously offered the graphic she developed for a presentation on publishing she gave recently. It gives us a great jumping off point.

chart of pros of each

(Chart created by K.B. Owen (c) 2016)

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING PROS

Validation:  The author can feel confident that their story idea is worthy and that their writing is good. Trad publishing gives it the stamp of approval of the industry.

For the reader, this means the odds are good that you will enjoy reading this book, that it will abide by the expectations for its genre and will only have the good kind of twists and turns, not the kind that leave you thinking “Huh?” or have you dangling off the edge of an unexpected cliffhanger.

Access to Experienced Professionals:  You don’t have to find your own cover artist, editor or proofreader. The publisher provides all that. They prep your book for publication while you are writing the next one.

For readers, this means you usually won’t find any major plot holes or other writing faux pas and the typos will be minimal. (I say “usually” because I’ve found more typos in recent years in all books, indie and trad-pubbed, but then maybe I’m more sensitive to them now that I’m writing and publishing fiction myself.)

Visibility/Publisher Promo:  Visibility is probably the traditional publishers’ greatest “pro.” They have the ins with the retailers, the distribution networks, etc. that make it easier for readers to find a new author. They especially have an advantage in the distribution arena, as indies have to struggle to get their books into physical bookstores. They fall a good bit short, however, in the promotions area (more on this in a minute).

bookshop interior

Photo by Bahrain International Airport (The Bookshop @BIA) CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Readers don’t have to go searching for new releases in bookstores or hope that their spam filters don’t keep them from seeing their favorite authors’ newsletters announcing said releases. Traditionally published new releases are more likely to be on the front displays in brick-and-mortar stores and front and center in the promos by online retailers.

No Upfront Costs/Author Advance:  The publisher shells out for cover art and editing. The author pays nothing, and may even get paid upfront via an advance (although these are not as sure a thing as they once were, and are usually small for new authors).

This means readers usually see well-designed covers and good editing.

INDIE PUBLISHING PROS

Creative Control/Flexibility:  This is one of the big advantages for indie publishing. You may have to find your own editors and pay them, but if you don’t like the changes they advise, you don’t have to accept them. Likewise, you find and pay your cover artist but don’t have to live with a cover you don’t like.

Related to this is flexibility. The writer doesn’t have to beg the publisher to correct typos that readers have pointed out. You can go in and upload a corrected text file yourself. (But you have to do this; not some worker at the publishing house.) You also control where the book is sold, how much it’s sold for, whether or not it is discounted, etc. And you can change things up to discover what works best for your books.

sculpture - "Modern Book Printing" on Berlin Walk of Ideas

“Modern Book Printing” sculpture on the Berlin “Walk of Ideas” (photo by Lienhard Schulz, permission by Scholz Friends Sensai, agency of Walk of Ideas, CC BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

For the reader, this means more innovation—new ideas, new writing styles, etc. Writers aren’t producing what their publishers and editors want; they’re producing what they think you the reader wants. And you let them know if they’re right via your reviews. But it can also mean crappy books with poor or no editing.

Books Get To Market Faster:  In traditional publishing there is up to a two-year lag from the day the contract is signed and the date of actual publication. That’s a long time to wait to see your baby in print and to see money coming in for your efforts. Most indie authors can write, polish and publish a good book in about six months. This means you have readers and royalties sooner instead of later, and many indies find that they can publish more books in a year this way. (I average 3 per year.)

More books means more visibility, more readers, more royalties.

For readers, you’re getting books based on this year’s trends, not those of two years ago. And your favorite indie authors are probably releasing new stories more often.

Paid Promptly/Better Royalties:  This is the other biggie for indie publishing. Traditional publishing royalties often lag behind by six months or more, and royalty reports may be sketchy or hard to decipher, so you’re never quite sure if you’re getting all that is due you. Indies get paid within a month or two, depending on the distributor, and they get to keep all of the royalties less what the distributors keep. This is between 35% and 70% depending on the distributor and the price point, versus 17-25% (more often 17 and one has to pay their agent out of that) for trad-published books.

Readers, indie-pubbed books are almost always cheaper. At 65-70% royalty from distributors for ebooks, these authors can make more money even at lower prices (and most of them would rather sell more books for less each).

Retain All Rights/Stays In Print:  Yes, trad publishers can provide greater visibility for the new author, but if that book doesn’t sell up to their expectations within six months, it’s almost always taken off the shelves. And then the author may have to fight to get the rights back to their own work. Indies have to work harder and often have to wait longer to get some traction, but their work is available forever, and they retain the rights.

For readers, this means that when you discover a new-to-you author, you can still get your hands on all their works, no matter how long ago they were published. (I recently discovered a great writer, only to find that all but one of her books were out of print, the one I’d just read.)

WHAT’S THE SAME FOR BOTH

Both indie and trad-published authors have to write great books in order to be successful. And they need to work with experienced professionals (cover designers, editors, etc.) to make sure their books are truly the best they can be.

AND they both have to do the bulk of their own promotions. Unless you are already a well-established, well-known entity, publishers will spend little to none of their marketing budgets on you and your book. You have to establish a “brand” and develop a social media presence, buy ads, etc.

Whatever path a writer chooses in order to get their books out there, judging or sniping at each other is uncalled for. We are not competitors. Books are not like toasters or refrigerators. Consumers don’t just buy one every few years.

Books are consumable items for readers. The main challenge is getting their attention in the crowded market today. Granted, that market has been made much more crowded because of indie publishing.

But putting down other authors doesn’t make your books rise to the top. Only great writing, hard work, and a good bit of luck will do that.

Dawn Whidden and Kass at Bell Christmas Festival

A selfie with an author I now call a friend, Dawn Kopman Whidden, at Bell, Florida’s Christmas Festival. Most folks who stopped at our table bought a book from each of us, because books are not toasters!

I much prefer the attitude I’ve encountered in most authors, a more comrade-in-arms approach. Because we’re all in this crazy business together!

Your thoughts on this, authors? Readers, do you care whether a book is traditionally or indie published?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses.)

Creativity, Sensitivity, Laziness and Courage

by Kassandra Lamb

Please note that this is not a post about the pros and cons of indie vs. traditional publishing per se (I will cover those in a later post). Rather this post is about the “between a rock and a hard place” spot where new writers often find themselves as they explore how to get their words in front of readers’ eyes.

The indie vs. traditional publishing controversy was resurrected in December, 2016, by a Huffington Post article with the rather obnoxious title, Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word? by Laurie Gough.

Quite a few indie authors immediately responded with some eloquent replies. And then the Alliance of Independent Authors published their New Year’s post: Successful Indie Authors 2016: Part One.

These two posts, along with the responding comments, represent the two sides of this controversy, but I noted that one thing was missing from the discussion. Indeed, I have never heard this point made during debates about the issue.

Creatives are, by definition, sensitive souls.

Van Gogh

One of Van Gogh’s self portraits, this one with a bandage where his ear once was. Creatives’ sensitivity sometimes leads to madness. (public domain)

It’s a cliché really—the tortured artistic poet/painter/musician/actor/author who drinks too much, uses drugs, suffers for their art with an angst-filled life, etc.

But like all clichés, this one has a kernel of truth at its core.

So why would we require that these sensitive souls endure months or years of rejection before they are allowed to show their work to the world?

The author of the Huff Post article calls literary agents and traditional publishers the “gatekeepers” of the written word. Indeed, that term is bandied about a lot in the world of trad publishing. The implication is that they are saving the unwashed masses of readers from bad literature by carefully vetting new works of fiction.

In addition to the implied insult to readers, the reality is that all too often these days agents and publishers are not always as concerned about the quality of a story as they are about whether or not they think it will sell.

That’s not just my perspective; I’ve heard agents say this at conferences. With regret in their voices, because they know good stories are being rejected and good writers are being discouraged by those rejections.

No one deals well with rejection. And the more important an achievement or some aspect of ourselves is to us, the greater the blow to our spirits if it is rejected.

During my twenty-year career as a psychotherapist, I wrote and published multiple professional articles. I had more than one editor tell me that my ability to string words together in a coherent and interesting way was well above average. (I mention this only to point out that I had good reason to believe I was a good writer.)

During that same time period, I wrote the beginnings of several novels, plus quite a few shorter stories, all of which ended up in a box labeled “fiction” when I retired and moved to Florida.

I’d considered trying to get my fiction work published many times during those twenty years. What stopped me was not doubt in my abilities as a writer. No, each time I was stopped by the reality of how much rejection I would have to endure before I managed to find a publisher.

statue of baby taking first steps

Karl Hulstrom’s statue, First Steps in Stockholm, Sweden (photo by Bengt Oberger CC-BY 3.0 unported, Wikimedia Commons)

For writers, our works are our children. We build them from scratch, their bones leaching sleep and sanity from us as surely as a growing babe in the womb leaches nutrients from his mother’s system. Then we spend weeks, sometimes months, putting flesh on those bones—editing and fine-tuning every scene, paragraph and sentence.

And then we are expected to send these innocent babes out to strangers, requesting that they please, please let our children live?

And when those children are beaten with a club and sent back to us, we are expected to dust them off and send them out again to even more strangers.

I’m sure this gauntlet of rejection has kept many a good writer besides myself from even trying to get their work published. Having our “children” abused and tossed out into the cold again and again is often more than we can even stand to think about.

I’m also sure that many agents and publishers are trying to be good gatekeepers, but when I think of the traditional publishing industry as a whole today, the image that comes to mind is not of someone standing beside a gate, checking the quality of the work produced by those who wish to pass through it.

Rather I see a dam, an artificial barrier stopping up the flow of creativity, allowing only a limited trickle of new authors’ works to pass through.

Yagisawa Dam (public domain)

Yagisawa Dam (public domain)

Five years into my retirement, I had finally finished one of my novels and polished it to the best of my ability (with the help of many beta readers and a professional editor).

I took a deep breath (several actually) and sent out my first batch of query emails. And then ran to the bathroom to throw up. The thought of the inevitable round of rejections literally made me sick.

This was the summer of 2011. After I had rinsed out my mouth and stumbled back to my computer, I asked myself why I was going through this. Life was too short, especially at my age, to intentionally torture my soul this way.

That summer, I started checking out this new trend of self-publishing ebooks that seemed to be getting a foothold in the publishing industry. That summer, I also met Shannon Esposito at a writers’ conference, and while other authors were schmoozing with the agents and editors at the obligatory after-conference cocktail party, she and I were huddled in a corner conspiring.

I’ve never looked back.

The end result of that conspiring was misterio press, an indie press that operates as an author cooperative. Today, my sister authors at misterio and I are each others’ gatekeepers. After each author’s work has gone through the beta readers, editing, etc. process, we read and critique each others’ stories to make sure we are producing the best quality mysteries we possibly can.

Misterio press is the best of both worlds for our authors, and we believe for our readers as well. They get top quality mysteries at indie prices.

Ironically, several of our authors have been approached by traditional publishers, and two of them are now “hybrid” authors. I haven’t been approached and I’m not sure what I would do if I were.

I suspect I would turn them down.

Those traditionally-published authors who look down their noses* at indies often imply (or outright say) that we are taking the lazy way out or that we lack the courage to submit our work to the “gatekeepers.”

Do not judge until you have walked a mile in our shoes. I have never worked harder in my life! And believe me, it takes a lot of courage to go it on one’s own. We sink or swim on the merits of our writing, and our final judges are the readers.

(*Note: This is not the majority of trad-pubbed authors. And if you are an author who has taken the traditional path, I’m rooting for your success! Each of us has to choose the way that works best for us.)

Book publishing today has essentially gone the same route as the music industry, toward empowering artists to reach out to their listeners/readers directly rather than having the control over their careers resting with big companies.

It’s a brave new world for authors and I am glad to be a part of it!

Your thoughts on the indie publishing revolution?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Binge Reading – No, It’s Not What You Think

by Kirsten Weiss

Call it the age of Netflix.

It’s spoiled us for the wait – no longer do we have to hang on an aching seven days to find out what comes next on our favorite TV show. With shows produced by Netflix, we can now binge watch the entire season over a weekend. (And yes, I’m guilty of this – Longmire! Stranger Things!).

So when I heard about “binge reading,” I decided to take the plunge with my new Doyle Witch cozy mystery series. Fortunately, my patient editors at misterio press were willing to take this journey with me, because a lot ended up happening in a short span of time.

Witches of DoyleThe concept is simple – launch all the books in the series at once.

As a reader, binge reading was nothing new to me. How many weekends had I spent curled up with a good book, closing one cover only to open and devour the next in the series?

My Kindle made the process easier. I didn’t have to go to a bookstore or wait for a book to arrive in the mail. Instant gratification! Push a button, and it arrives on my screen.

Now some people may not care for binge reading. They may prefer to savor a story a bit after finishing it, before plunging on in the series.

One of my editors at misterio reminded me about this old commercial:

 

But my witch cozy mystery trilogy seemed to fit the binge model well. Each novel in the Doyle Witch cozy mystery series is a self-contained murder mystery (and romance). But there’s a paranormal mystery too, which arcs across all three books, making the trilogy akin to a TV “season.”

(And if you’re one who likes “anticipation,” by all means spread out the reading of these stories. But they’ll all be there waiting for you when you’re ready.)

As a writer, the process of launching everything at once was more stressful than I’d expected. I was never one for keeping my powder dry. Having to sit on the first two books while waiting for the third to be completed was… irritating.

It also made the stakes higher. Many more months of work were riding on a single launch date. The only feedback I got on the books was from my editors – champions, to be sure. But what if readers didn’t like the series I’d spent so much time writing? (No pressure there.)

kitchen witch courseMy launches are usually chaotic, but having the materials prepped for the first two books well in advance made this one smoother. I had teasers. I had quotes. I had covers.

But I also ended up spending so much time thinking about the launch, that I made more work for myself. A friend suggested putting spells at the back of the books (instead of the ubiquitous recipes).

I squeezed out a 5-day free Kitchen Witch course to promote the series.

I developed a supplementary novella that fits between books 1 and 2. I even wrote a companion book of poetry, Tales of the Rose Rabbit. This did not get launched with the other books because of a last-minute brainstorm to add illustrations, and is due out some time in December.

 

The complete package

That said, I’m happy I did it all – I’m thrilled with the total package of books and supplementary materials.

What about you? Are you into binge-watching/reading or do you prefer to anticipate and savor?

Here’s a bit about the books themselves:

Bound: Book 1 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

Bound cover

Bound by magic, bound by love, bound by murder…

The Bonheim triplets live seemingly ordinary lives, hiding their magic from the neighbors in the small, mountain town of Doyle, California. But when a body is found in big sister Jayce’s coffee shop, Karin, the practical one, is determined to prove Jayce innocent.

A murder isn’t the only bizarre event in Doyle. Why are hikers vanishing in the nearby woods? Why are some people cursed with bad luck and others with good? And why is Karin’s magic the weakest of the three sisters’?

As Karin digs deep to uncover the truth and regain her magic, her family is thrown into peril. Will her power return too late to save the people she loves the most, or will it be the cause of disaster?

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-15-0  ~  Available at:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Ground: Book 2 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

Ground cover

Her magic flows from the earth…

Jayce Bonheim is on the sheriff’s radar and not in a good way.

Always the reckless one of her triplet sisters, Jayce is trying to turn over a new leaf. No more wild partying. No more one night stands. But when someone leaves a dead body in her pickup truck, her resolve to become the sensible sister is sorely tested.

Caught in a web of love, murder, and magic, Jayce must clear her name and discover who is behind the curse that holds her family and town in thrall.

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-18-5 ~ Available at:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Down coverDown: Book 3 in the Doyle Witch Cozy Mystery Series

The answers lie below…

A shamanic witch and a poet, Lenore Bonheim hides in the world of books to escape reality, which for her includes seeing ghosts and forecasting death. But when her employer and friend dies under suspicious circumstances, she must use all her skills – magical and mundane – to find the killer and save her two sisters and her town.

As the three sisters pull together to stave off a growing menace, Lenore must discover what it means to be in this world and of it.

Spells included at the back of the book!

ISBN: 1-944767-20-7 ~ Available on:    Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

Spirit on Fire, A Doyle Witch Mystery Companion novella

Spirit on Fire coverWhat happens when a fictional character writes a romantic novella about a shaman and a fire demon? All hell breaks loose.

When fledgling witch, Karin Bonheim, began writing her paranormal romance, she never could’ve anticipated the world she created would bleed into her own…or the danger it would bring.

A companion novella of romantic suspense to the Witches of Doyle trilogy, this novella takes place between books 1 and 2 of the Doyle Witch cozy mystery series.

ISBN: 1-944767-21-5 ~ Available on:

Rose Rabbit cover

Amazon    Kobo    Barnes & Noble

And coming in December:

Tales of the Rose Rabbit (Poems)

~ preorder on Amazon now ~

Posted by Kirsten Weiss. Kirsten worked for fourteen years in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. She is the author of the Riga Hayworth Metaphysical Detective urban fantasy/mystery series, the Sensibility Grey steampunk mysteries, the Rocky Bridges mysteries and the Witches of Doyle cozy mystery trilogy.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )