Searching for Beta Readers

Things are moving along at a fast clip (finally) with edits on my 7th Casey Holland mystery, tentatively titled, Man in a Gold Satin Thong. If the title piques your curiosity or makes you smile, then I’m on the right track. Although there’s a murder in this story, this 24,000 word novella explores a lighter aspect of Casey’s security work than in the previous novels.

I’ve been fortunate to find two beta readers, but I’m looking for two more, especially those who are fans of amateur sleuth mysteries. It’s not necessary to be familiar with the series as each book works as a stand alone. Hopefully, the story says enough of Casey’s professional and personal life to not leave new readers confused.

For those of you who are uncertain about the role of a beta reader, it’s basically to read the manuscript to provide an overall impression of the book, and to point out where there might be some confusion, repetition, or a lag in the pace. In other words, it’s not a line by line edit, looking for typos, grammatical glitches, and so forth.

The book will be available in PDF format this week, and I’ll provide a short list of questions to use as a guide, but I’ll certainly welcome all comments. I’m hoping to have feedback back within three weeks, so I can get cracking on the changes. My goal is to publish the book this year, but that will depend on beta readers responses and later, my editor, plus the jacket designer’s schedule.

If you are interested reading the book this month, please email me directly at debra_kong@telus.net

Thank you!

Tough Times in the Publishing Industry

Image from Pixabay

We live in unsettling times, not just because of the pandemic and climate change devastation, although they certainly play key roles. Lately, much has been written about the uncertainty and new challenges facing the publishing industry. By publishing industry, I mean indie and traditionally published authors, publishing houses of all sizes, distributors, and bookstores.

An article from IG Wealth Management, which focuses on the situation here in Canada, reports that supply shortages in paper, ink, and glue have hampered the ability to make books. Also, what used to take weeks to produce and ship now takes months and at a much higher cost.

One result of the shortages is that successful books which have sold out aren’t getting their second print runs. Nor are new releases being shipped in time for the Christmas market. Transportation challenges, which you’re likely aware of, further diminish the prospect of full shelves.

This means that bookstores, distributors, publishers, and authors are not going to make the money they would have under normal conditions. If you’d like to know more from the perspective of well-known Canadian publisher, Dundurn Press, please read the important article HERE.

As a geographically large country with a small publishing community stretched thousands of miles apart, distribution has long been a challenge for Canadian bookstores, but as this article clearly shows, things have become much worse and aren’t likely to improve quickly.

Another article from Friesen Press, which addresses some American issues, also stresses the lack of supplies, right down to printing plates. As stated in this article, paper production was becoming a major problem before COVID, as a significant number of paper mills have shut down in the U.S. over the last 5 to 10 years. Things have now reached a point where paper is being rationed to publishers. You can read more HERE.

The last print run I did was just over a year ago, when I had 100 copies printed of The Opposite of Dark locally. There were no issues with shortages at that time, but I wonder if this is still the case.

These challenges now force publishers, large and small, to be even more careful about releasing new books and assessing print-run size. What hasn’t been said yet, but which I sense from anecdotal information, is that publishers, and perhaps agents, are far less likely to take on new authors right now.

Of course, I know of a number of Canadian mystery authors who are releasing their latest titles this fall, but they signed their contracts a while ago and their publishers likely know how many books they can reasonably expect to sell in various formats.

A new author trying to break into the market is a huge uncertainty. Think about it. Even if publishers come across a fantastic author with a surefire blockbuster, how will they print enough copies to meet the demand? And what will they have to charge for those books to break even?

Some of you might think, well ebooks and audible books can step up, and I agree. But based on articles I’ve read (and I’m sure some of you have seen them) over the past couple of years, print still sells, especially at Christmas. It’ll be interesting to see what the stats show for 2021 and 2022.

Writers have had to endure a variety of challenges for many decades, but we keep creating and find ways to adapt under changing conditions. We might not have enough paper, ink, glue, or truck drivers, but we have plenty of ideas about how we can pivot and perhaps even help make things better.

Thanks to author Julie Ferguson, for forwarding me the IG Wealth Management and giving me the idea for this important topic.

Celebrating Jacqui Murray’s New Release!

I’m delighted to announce that prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray has just released the second book in her Dawn of Humanity series, Laws of Nature. Jacqui writes about time periods that few authors tackle, and she does it beautifully. Have a look at today’s quick Q & A for insights on the time period Jacqui explores:

  1. What is Lucy’s relationship with animals?

Lucy and her kind considered animals the alpha in their environs. They believed them like themselves—able to plan, make tools, and evaluate circumstances—and treated as respected equals, maybe even superior because of their strength and dominance. Because of this attitude, animals and man thrived together.

  1. Prehistoric fiction sounds boring.

Not at all. I used to call the Man vs. Nature trilogies “prehistoric thrillers” because the stories share many traits found in that genre—flawed super-heroes, death-defying events, a small group entrusted to save the world despite impossible circumstances. If you like thrillers, you’ll like these prehistoric fiction trilogies. The stories aren’t about grunting cavemen who beat their enemies with clubs. It’s about the evolution of what makes us human—culture, art, body adornments, religion, decision-making, problem-solving, and more. The trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, and this story specifically deal with the nascence of those characteristics. Without claws, sharp teeth, and thick skin, we relied on our developing big brains to outsmart enemies. That’s what I focus on.

And, unless you define “boring” as spending most of their daylight searching for food, fighting for their lives, and sleeping, their lives weren’t boring either. Those “needs”—the lowest in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—consumed most of their time but not all. They possessed curious minds (which arguably, Boah’s pre-Homo genus and Ump’s proto-wolf kind lacked), asked questions, wondered why, and made decisions based on thoughtful consideration rather than instinct. Both Lucy’s and Xha’s kinds are hundreds of thousands of years from discovering the beauty of art, music, poetry, and abstract concepts but because their brains were evolving the ability to handle those advanced concepts, I show how some of them might have begun.

Here’s the book’s summary:

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Click Here to see the Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/gbyA9rDSy9k

The book is Available (print or digital) at:Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Connect with her on Social Media:

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:  http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:  https://jacquimurray.net

How I Spent My Break

If you’re looking for free mystery and suspense novels, I have one more BookFunnel promotion I’m taking part in this summer. This one ends on August 1st and there are nearly seventy authors participating. My Casey Holland mysteries, Deadly Accusations (#2) and Beneath the Bleak New Moon (#3) are also free, but only through BookFunnel’s newsletter campaign till Aug. 1. You can find the whole roster of books HERE.

I’m not sure that writers truly ever stop writing, even while on holiday, but I sort of managed it. I didn’t look at my urban fantasy for eight days, which became kind of difficult after four or five days. The thing is, when your mind is relaxed and all is quiet, ideas pop up.

This is how I found myself working on characters and an outline for the paranormal mystery I’ve mentioned in the past. It was great fun exploring ‘what-if’ concepts and creating characters. It was even more fun coming up with ideas for monsters. I’m trying to stay away from old familiars like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, at least with this book. Creating monsters is a whole new challenge in my writing life, but I’ve read a couple of good books on the topic.

Speaking of reading, I read a terrific how-to book called Mastering Your Mystery by Cheryl Bradshaw. She goes through the basics of writing a crime novel, but takes it further in the second half of the book by offering helpful advice on marketing, publishing, and promotion. I especially liked that she went the extra mile to provide a list of awards and competitions to submit to, and a list of sites to help promote your work. Although I’ve read my share of how-to books, I always find that reading these books sparks ideas for current projects.

Last, but definitely not least, I spent a great deal of time with little Ellie, who’ll soon be one year old. Last week, she learned to crawl up a couple of steps and had her first ‘swim’ in the lake with her mom and dad. I’m always amazed by the astonishing changes during a child’s first year of life, and can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.

She’s hold a favorite new toy, a bowling pin.
She loves her food.

Taking a Break

Pexels photo by Vlada Karpovich

Summer’s well underway here in the Vancouver area with temperatures soaring as high as 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week. As near as I recall, Vancouver hasn’t experienced this in the 60+ years I’ve lived in the west coast.

I have a basement office, which helps, as does the fan by my feet. The oven stays off these days, which is fine because I have a few slow cooker recipes that’ll get us through. I can edit in the morning, but by two in the afternoon, I started to wilt, although that’s fairly normal for me, anyway. Temperatures are easing slowly, thank goodness, as the city’s experienced a high number of heat-related deaths.

Meanwhile, my hubby and son are starting a two-week vacation tomorrow, so we’re taking time off to spend with family. I had my second vaccine on Sunday, a Moderna this time; the first was Pfizer. There were fewer side effects the second time around, which is good news. There’s nothing like having a mild fever during a major heat wave. I’m looking forward to visiting with friends again and entering a store without a mask, which will be optional (depending on the situation) as of July 1st in our province.

I’ll check my emails, but basically, I just want to take it easy, enjoy some downtime, and read books. What I’ve learned from vacations is that when your mind is relaxed and the to-do list is empty, story ideas tend to pop up, so I’ll keep a notebook nearby. Earlier this year, I began compiling notes for a new series I’m really excited about, but I haven’t opened the file folder in over three months. Perhaps, it’s time. We’ll see.

I’ll be back at it in a couple of weeks, revved up and ready to go!

I Read Canadian Day

Today in Canada, we’re celebrating a day of reading Canadian books for young people. I’ve already seen terrific Facebook posts by Canadian children’s authors, Darlene Foster and Eileen Holland to promote exactly that. As stated on the I Read Canadian website, its purpose is to “raise awareness of Canadian books and celebrate the richness, diversity, and breadth of Canadian literature. You can read more about it HERE.

When my kids were in school, reading was a high priority in elementary and middle schools, but it dwindled somewhat in their high school years. When I was in school, oh so long ago, the majority of our required reading was by American or British authors. It’s great to see that more Canadian schools and libraries are reaching out to local authors.

Some of the books I love are Darlene’s, who many of you know through her WordPress blog. I also want to give a shoutout to children’s author Eileen Holland, whose two children’s books found a home with a Canadian publisher a couple of years ago. If you have school age children in your lives and you’re looking for good reads, please check them out.

Darlene can be found HERE and Eileen can be found HERE

There are many other great children’s authors, but a google search will help you find many more. And if you know of any, feel free to share their links with others.

As it happens, I’m also reading a Canadian mystery author this week, named Winona Kent. Although Lost Time is written for adults, it’s still Canadian and Winona is another terrific author who deserves attention. Canadian books and Canadian authors have been working hard to raise their profile over the years. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that the number of Canadian publishers has risen all that much recently. Our country is a small market, so we have to work hard to gain a little attention. But we’re a tenacious lot with plenty to say. It’s always a thrill to find new exciting authors, not only here in Canada, but everywhere. 😊

How Can You Tell When the Year’s Nearly Over?

Before I start this week’s discussion, I now have links to the Writers in Our Midst event tonight at 7 pm. PST. The show will be live streamed on Facebook at Port Moody library’s FB page HERE. You can also access it directly from the library’s website HERE.

So, how can you tell if the year’s nearly over? It’s because the best books of 2020 lists are showing up everywhere. While I always find the lists interesting, they’re also a little discouraging as it becomes quite clear that I can and will never keep up on my reading.

I read about fifty books a year. After an active day, most of my reading is for pleasure, although lately I’ve been reading and studying a number of nonfiction writing-related books. I have read the work of several authors on the New York Times bestseller list (divided into categories), which you can find HERE. I just haven’t read their latest offerings.

It can certainly be argued that bestselling books don’t necessarily mean best written book. The Washington Post has chosen to name the top 100 books for 2020, books that stood out for them (HERE). Since I’m not a subscriber I couldn’t see all of the article, but I was able to get a look at their thriller and mystery category (HERE) up to a point. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see the fantasy list of novels at all.

When it comes down to it, I don’t feel overly guilty for not reading all the recommended books. I spend a lot of reading indie authors (I’m woefully behind on that as well) along with the big names. I also post short reviews because I like to showcase authors who deserve more attention.

I don’t know if I’ll post my own ‘best of’ list this year. I did so at the half way point this summer, but we’ll see. I’m curious to see any you will create a best of the year list. If you are, I’ll definitely be taking a look at them!

New Ideas, More Time, So Why Not?

I know that many writers have registered for November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and are diligently working on their stories, pushing themselves to achieve their 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. I’m always so impressed with those who take on this challenge.

I’ve never registered for this annual event, not only because of my day job but because I usually spend every weekend in November selling my books at Christmas craft fairs. But I’m retired now and this year the craft fairs have either been cancelled or moved online. I should have registered for NaNoWriMo but online courses and reading print books on writing and marketing have swallowed up most of my afternoons. I’ll be finishing up the last book in a few days and have nearly reached the point where I’ll be putting the focus back on writing new work.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve been making notes on two different projects since early summer and it’s time to get going. So, I might well be starting my own version of NaNoWriMo in early December and going straight through till the end of January or longer before I turn the focus back to marketing. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see what happens, but it feels like a good way to spend these gloomy winter days where socializing is discouraged.

I still intend to take at least one day off a week to visit my granddaughter who’s about a 45-minute drive away, and sure, there’ll be a Christmas tree to put up and gifts to wrap, but all of this gives me something to look forward to these last few weeks of 2020.

How about you? Are you planning any creative, productive, feel-good activities for the rest of the year? Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo and, if so, how’s it going for you?

Two Great Books For Writers

Now that the rainy season is here in British Columbia, my afternoons of yard work are pretty much over, so I’ve rejigged my daily schedule to reserve more time for reading and online learning in the afternoons. Maybe I’ll do more editing as well. Heaven knows there are still plenty of changes to make in my urban fantasy.

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve reading a fair bit on self-publishing and marketing over the past month. I’m also investing my time on great books for writers. One of them is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans, which is a great guide for anyone who’s writing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. What I really like about this book is the way he makes the reader think about why a monster should appear in one’s story. What is its purpose? How and when it should appear? He even provides a checklist of questions as we come up with new and innovative scary creatures. There’s plenty in the world to frighten us these days, and tapping into what scares us most is a good start to creating fictional monsters.

Stephen King’s book On Writing, was published twenty years ago and has been recommended to me numerous times, so I finally bought a copy and am just over halfway through the book now. I’m really enjoying his unique and candid approach which, as the title reflects, is more of a memoir in the first half than a how-to book. The book is filled with anecdotes from his childhood, teen years, and early married life, when he first wrote Carrie, a character he’s never really liked, by the way. Out of those experiences, are terrific writing insights and tips, which I’m jotting down.

If you’re stuck indoors and looking to improve your writing, these books might help. I’ve also started reading The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The introductory pages have already given me ideas for a paranormal series I’ve been mulling over for several weeks. The ideas are coming along, faster than I can write and edit them, but that’s not a terrible place to be!

Welcome Children’s Author, Eileen Holland

Today, I’m delighted to host children’s author Eileen Holland. As members of the same critique group, Eileen and I have known each other for years, and I was thrilled when her publisher launched Eileen’s first Sophie Trophy novel last year. The second in her series, Sophie Trophy Too, was released this spring. Eileen’s written a piece that I think many authors can relate to. Enjoy!

Sophie Trophy Too

Writing Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too: Cultivating Scenes While Drifting Off to Sleep                                                                                                                

As the author of Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too, I’m often asked how I came up with my story ideas.

I was teaching in Coquitlam, B.C. one day when two girls cried out, “Mrs. Holland, a spider is lowering itself into your hair!” I stepped away just in time, and the class roared with laughter.

Nights later, I was in the transitional phase between wakefulness and sleep when I realized that a funny book could be built around that spidery moment. This time, the spider could actually land in the teacher’s hair. And it could be Sophie’s friend’s Show-and-Tell spider terrorizing the teacher. Sophie could fixate on things, like saving teachers in peril—and spiders in peril, too. Sophie could struggle at school, her imagination and good intentions misunderstood. Young readers would recognize her. There are students like her in every class. Her foibles would help them realize that everyone has issues. Her big heart, humour, and honesty would help them warm to her.

Resisting the urge to succumb to sleep’s call, I flicked on the light and searched the drawer of my bedside table for paper. Unearthing a ratty NHL calendar page, I scribbled down several scenes. It’s lucky I did, or Sophie Trophy would never have been written.

There’s a reason the daily writing we do resurfaces in our thoughts as we drift off to sleep. Most of our daytime distractions take a back seat at bedtime: texts, emails, appointments, dislodged buttons, meal planning—the list is lengthy. Scene directions considered earlier in the day—the very design of sentences, paragraphs, and dialogue in order to build tension in our stories—sally forth from our subconscious as our waking moments dwindle. Barry Gordon, John Hopkins University professor of neurology and cognitive science explained what happens in Scientific American:

“The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously…. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time…. Although thoughts appear to ‘pop’ into awareness before bedtime, their cognitive precursors have probably been simmering for a while.”

When my search for a theme for Sophie Trophy Too started, I realized falling asleep one night, that there was a way Sophie could get into mischief in every corner of the school. I envisioned a flashlight-crazed Sophie making shadow puppets … in the staffroom closet! The next morning, minutes prior to awakening, I imagined the principal, Mr. Homework, discovering Sophie’s flashlight antics … in the medical room. Both times, I groggily jotted down the scenes before they faded from memory. The storyline about a new student in Sophie’s grade three class came later. Sophie is certain they should be friends. But every time she tries to get to know her, disaster strikes in hilarious ways.

Due to my sleep-aided writing skills, I had two precious book-starter scenes anchored as I faced the morning. The day’s writing hours beckoned.

Eileen HollandEileen Holland is the author of Sophie Trophy (Crwth Press, 2019, ages 7-9, short-listed for the 2020/2021 Chocolate Lily Book Award), and Sophie Trophy Too (Crwth Press, 2020, ages 7-9).  

Sample Chapter of Sophie Trophy Too: https://www.crwth.ca/product/sophie-trophy-too-by-eileen-holland/

Amazon.ca: Sophie Trophy Too:   https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Sophie+Trophy+Too&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Sophie-Trophy-Eileen-Holland-ebook/dp/B089G8WZHW/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Sophie+Trophy+Too&qid=1595883305&s=books&sr=1-1

Sophie TrophyAmazon.ca: Sophie Trophy:   https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Sophie+Trophy&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss_2

Kobo Kobo: Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too both available at: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/search?query=Sophie+Trophy

BC bookstores with copies of Sophie Trophy and Sophie Trophy Too on their shelves:

Western Sky Books (Port Coquitlam) https://www.westernskybooks.com

Kinder Books (Coquitlam) https://kinderbooks.ca;

Vancouver Kidsbooks https://www.kidsbooks.ca;