Still Researching, For a Good Reason

Two weeks have flown by since my last blog, but as you from the previous post, life’s been a whirlwind. Our sunny fall weather has officially become a drought, but as you’ll see from the photo, my hubby’s managed to find some beautiful fall leaves. While he’s been experimenting with photography, I’ve been focusing on editing, which is both calming and challenging.

A few days ago, I learned about an intriguing writing contest called the Unchartered Novel Excerpt contest. This contest was recommended by a writing colleague whose agent is the judge. You can submit anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 words of your work in progress and the key is to choose something exciting to attract attention. It took some thinking as I have several big moments in this 122,000-word manuscript.

I wound up choosing two consecutive scenes that contain action, dialogue, and address the heart of the story. I’ve been working on this section a great deal and will be submitting the piece this week, I hope. If you’re interested in learning more about the contest, and I apologize for the late date, click HERE. They aren’t just looking for fantasy, but mysteries and horror as well. There’s also a good FAQ you can read on the home page for more information. I’ll do a little more research before I hit the submit button.

Research for my urban fantasy has been the other focus lately. Although I’ve read plenty of novels in this genre and books on Wicca and magic, I now find myself needing to read more on shamanism. One of the key characters in my fantasy is a shaman of mixed ethnic backgrounds, however, his shamanic training came from North American Indigenous cultures, and therein lies the problem.

After reading a number of articles about the need for sensitivity and the reluctance of publishers to touch anything even remotely Indigenous, particularly here in Canada, I’m reworking the character and focusing on Celtic shamanism, which is my ethnic background.

I found an amazing book on the topic that speaks to me on a level I hadn’t anticipated at all, but that’s something to reflect on later. At the moment, I’m looking at the issue from a writing/researching perspective and have compiled pages of notes. This particular character doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but the ones he does have are crucial and will necessitate some rewriting in the next draft.

The more I work on this book, the more I learn, and the more things need to be changed. Have you found that the longer you work on a project and the more research you do, the extra number of drafts you create? This whole process would be so much easier if I were writing a novella.

I was listening to the great novelist John Irving on CBC Radio this weekend. He’s 80 years old now and is about to release his latest novel. Wow! The interviewer asked him if he has another novel in the works, and he replied that he does, but it’ll be much shorter. He doesn’t have the time and energy for months of research anymore. I can totally relate to that!

Title Chosen, and Knock Knock on Sale!

I want to thank those who provided feedback on the pending title for my upcoming Casey novella. Your comments were invaluable! I cut and pasted all of them on one page, along with the potential titles, so I could carefully review everything, and I made a decision.

The title will be A Gold Satin Murder. The title is shorter than the original, eliminates the controversial ‘thong’ word, offers intrigue, and fits with the type of titles already in the series. Won’t it be interesting to see what the jacket designer comes up with?

To help on that end, the designer always asks me to share examples of covers I really like in my genre, so I’ll start researching that soon. The cover will need the transit theme that appears on each book in the series, but I want the colors to be lighter than they are in the last two books to reflect the lighter tone of the story.

I’ve just wrapped up the changes suggested by my beta readers, and the book’s off to the editor shortly. It’s hard to believe I’ve finally reached this point, but there is still work to be done before a launch date is set.

Meanwhile, in my ongoing experiment with BookFunnel promotions this year, I have a new $.99 promotion, this time for my fifth Casey Holland mystery, Knock Knock at $.99 for the month of March. This is a big event, with nearly 100 authors offering ebooks for sale. Based on the promo organizer’s description, authors need not offer their books at a special price. I have, but that’s just me.

Note that this event is for mysteries, suspense, and thriller stories, although I did notice a couple of cozy titles thrown in. This organizer is also offering other perks, which you’ll see when you click the link HERE. One of them is a chance to win a $250 Amazon gift card!

Here’s the book blurb for Knock Knock:

When a home invasion kills senior Elsie Englehart, security officer Casey Holland is devastated. Part of her latest assignment is to watch over elderly bus riders in an area frequently targeted by a group of thugs. Determined to keep others safe, Casey escorts an elderly man right to his home, only to come under attack by an armed intruder.

Hospitalized and angry, Casey struggles to regain control of her life, despite interference from family and colleagues, and the postponement of her wedding. Yet another home invasion compels Casey to take action, but at what cost to her health and her relationships?

Seeking Input on a Title

Before I start today’s topic, just a reminder that two BookFunnel promos are still live until February 27. One is an offer for free ebook excerpts, samples, and books that are primarily suspense and thriller mysteries. The link’s HERE.

The other is a collection of mystery authors offering full ebooks at discounted prices. Casey Holland mystery #4, The Deep End, is included in this group for $.99. The link can be found HERE.

Pixabay Image by Gerd Altmann

As mentioned in an earlier blog, thanks to great feedback from beta readers I’ve diligently been working on another round of edits these past couple of weeks. My only dilemma is the mixed opinions about the book’s title, which I’ve tentatively titled Man in a Gold Satin Thong (trust me, this piece of clothing is part the story 😊). So, I’m seeking your feedback on the title that most grabs your interest. This novella has a lighter tone than the previous books. To help you decide, here’s the blurb I’ve come up with so far:

Transit cop Casey Holland has never met a bus passenger like the charming artist and exotic dancer, Eduardo. When he’s charged with murder, his friendship with bus driver Lily erupts into a legal mess that could cost Lily her job and custody of her son. Convinced of his innocence, Lily begs Casey to help find the real killer before her life implodes.

Lily’s not only a coworker but a friend, so Casey agrees ask a few questions. Those questions lead Casey and her best friend Kendal to a troupe of strippers calling themselves Man Cave. While the men are busy peeling off their clothes, Casey’s peeling back layers of secrets and betrayal. Nuttier and more raucous than her usual investigations, the risk is just as deadly.

Aside from the title mentioned above, here’s another list I’ve come up with.

The Gold Satin Murder

The Satin Thong Murder

A Gold Satin Killer

The Gold Satin Lover

As readers and book buyers, do any of the above grab your interest, or do you think my original title works best? Titles are so hard to come up with, aren’t they? And thanks for your help!

Blending What You Know with Research in Fiction

Author, Jacqui Murray, wrote a great blog recently called ‘How To Write What You Know’, which you can find HERE. Jacqui started writing stories based on things she knew, but her desire to write fiction set in prehistoric times made research essential, and even then some things had to be left to her imagination.

I’ve read many other articles about the value of research, as well as cautionary tales about overdoing it. Although I like research, I’ve never wanted to spend huge amounts of time embroiled in it. I chose, therefore, to set my mysteries where I live in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland, which made detailing specific locations easy. The few scenes set in Europe in my first Casey Holland mystery, were all places I’d visited.

Some of my plots are inspired by actual events that have been well documented in local newspapers, such as street racing which appears in #3 Beneath the Bleak New Moon and attacks on bus drivers, which appears in #6 The Blade Man. Casey Holland mystery #4, The Deep End, however, is the one that draws most heavily on my own experience.

Back in the day, while studying criminology, I spent a year volunteering inside a youth detention center. I met all kinds of residents, some serving a sentence, others awaiting trial. The youngest was twelve years old, the oldest seventeen, including a boy who’d stabbed his mother over 40 times. I learned a lot about the juvenile justice system then, and about teenaged girls who only wanted their mother’s love and attention, and got neither. I learned about lockdowns and suicide attempts, and the importance of boundaries between residents, staff, and volunteers. I kept journals from those days and used snippets of those entries to incorporate in this book. I also spoke with a man who’d just retired as director of a newer detention center, to discuss changes over the previous twenty-five years.

The Deep End is part of this month’s BookFunnel event and is now on sale for $.99. Other great suspense and thriller novels are available through that site, which can be found HERE.

Here’s a short blurb:

MPT transit officer Casey Holland’s first volunteer shift at Fraserview Youth Custody Center turns deadly when the center’s director dies from heart failure. But all is not as it seems, and there are rumors that his death was no accident. Life soon becomes perilous for residents, Casey, and her best friend, Kendal. — “Well-crafted book with lots of teasers”-Night Reader”

How about you? Do you also blend what you know with research in your fiction? I’m curious, how much time do you spend on research, and is it before, during, or after you’ve written a couple of drafts?

Unexpected Goals, Who Knew?

First, thanks to those who volunteered to beta read my Casey Holland novella. I truly appreciate your taking the time to read the book and offer comments.

Last week, while I was sitting on the floor with my granddaughter and not really thinking about anything, ideas started popping into my head. Some of the ideas had occurred before but I’d dismissed them as too much work. Something’s now telling me that 2022 is the time to get moving. A couple of the newer ideas occurred after attending an online publishing workshop a few days ago.

One of the earlier ideas I dismissed came from an online course from marketing guru and author, David Gaughran. He advises re-doing covers on older books and sprucing up book blurbs prior to launching a marketing campaign for a new book in the series. I need to do this for the first four books in my series, as the covers were designed by my former publisher. I also have decided to use IngramSpark to make print books available to libraries etc., another idea I’ve put off for a long time.

When I acquired the rights to the cover art back in 2016, I didn’t realize until much later that the resolution was too low to publish on Amazon. Unfortunately, I had a lot on my plate back then, so only ebooks are available.

I’ve been using Draft2Digital for platforms aside from of Amazon, but one of the new ideas (again from the workshop) is to add PublishDrive to the roster, as they apparently have a larger audience in other countries than D2D does. If any of you have experience with PublishDrive or IngramSpark, especially pitfalls to avoid, I’d love to hear them.

Lastly, for those of you who might not have picked up a copy of the third book in my series, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, this book is now on sale until February 8th for $.99. I really enjoyed researching this book, as I learned a lot about street racing, legal and illegal, for my story. The book can be found through the BookFunnel link HERE:

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.

Clearing Out Information Overload

The other night, I was browsing through one of my bookmarked file folders on publishing and marketing. It was a shock to find nearly 200 articles going back to 2013 and I wound up deleting plenty. Some links no longer worked. Some of the information had been saved more than once at different time periods, and some was simply irrelevant now.

A number of how-to articles bragged about how easy it is to self-publish. Hmm. While writing and producing a book might not be rocket science for some, it’s incredibly challenging for others. For me, production is a months-long process that requires a lot of attention to detail.

I was also struck by the contradiction in marketing strategies. Again, many of the articles and blogs made their ‘5 steps to successful marketing’ sound simple. Some articles recommended getting on as many platforms as possible. Others said don’t bother with social media at all, just create a website and a mail list. As I write this, I’m still trying to sort through the articles which resonate with my current needs.

One thing is clear. The number of how-to articles on self-publishing and marketing articles is mind boggling. If authors are confused and overwhelmed, I get it. Because I have a clear understanding of my objectives, my budget, and the time it takes me to write, produce and market a book, I’ve also become more realistic and less patient with the ‘5 easy steps to self-publishing’ guides.

I imagine many of you are inundated with information on social media or blogs popping into your inbox. I’d love to know if you find any publishing or marketing articles that have been especially useful for you. Or are you paring down like I am?

Making the Most of Writing Time

Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.

I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.

Loves her scrambled eggs and veggies

I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.

These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.

Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.

This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.

On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂