World Elephant Day

My babysitting duties are in full swing, which has been great fun so far. Ellie’s started dancing to songs in one of her musical books. Thursday to Sundays are my days off, which also means catching up editing, blogs, book reviews, and other things, so these week’s blog is a short.

My World Wildlife Fund calendar reminded me that today is World Elephant Day, so I thought I’d share a link for further information on how to protect these beautiful creatures before it’s too late. You can find it HERE.

World Elephant Day began in 2012 and is acknowledged every August 12th. All elephant species are in danger, and given the state of the world these days, I’m going to focus more on how I can help the environment. Donating and writing about are just two of those things.

The Challenge of Fictional Voices

Photo from Pexels-Pixabay

I used to read a lot of cozy mysteries. In fact, they launched a lifelong love of mysteries…Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayer, and so forth. As the years passed, I found plenty of new cozy authors whose protagonists were bakers, bookshop owners, and artisans, among other things. The plots weren’t overly complex and there was usually only one subplot, but part of the attraction of cozies is that they’re light, fun reads, and sometimes I need that.

Whenever I came across an author I really enjoyed, I tried another of the individual’s series, but it usually proved to be a bit of a letdown. The reason for this was the protagonist’s voice. That character sounded identical in vocabulary, tone, and favorite catch words to the previous series’ protagonist. I felt as if I was reading the same book. For some readers the similarity might be okay, but I wanted a little more. What I’ve learned from firsthand experience, though, is that doing more isn’t easy.

Many of us create protagonists that are composites of people we’ve come across in our lives. These characters might also be completely fictional, however, the phrasing, word choices, and reaction to situations, are often drawn from our own background and experiences. As a starting point, that’s fine, but do we want to spend our entire writing lives creating the same protagonist?

Maybe the answer’s yes for some, particularly if you’ve created a complex, multi-faceted character; however, I’m trying to create something different from what I’ve done before, especially now that I’m working in a separate genre. It’s been challenging. All those notes I’ve made about unique and hopefully memorable characters don’t always fully appear on the page until a few rewrites later, and even then I still wonder.

One of the many things I admire about Agatha Christie is that although Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are both intelligent, thoughtful, and introverted, they’re very different characters, beyond Hercule’s accent.

I read somewhere, quite some time ago, that authors (regardless of genre) also tend to focus on the same theme in their work. They focus on a certain type of character, a certain type of problem, which is tackled from different angles with every book. Have you noticed this? Is repetition in characters’ voice and theme a problem for you as a reader? As a writer?

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.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Discoverability

Pexels photo by Darlene Alderson

Discoverability is one of the indie author’s biggest challenges and it’s often an uphill climb. Big bookstore chains and stores like Costco don’t often feature indies. The good news is that there are always other opportunities to sell your books. The other day, for example, I found a list of recommended free promotion sites, and thought why not list at least one of my books? And that’s where the trip down the rabbit hole began.

One of the first sites I clicked onto, invited me to list my Amazon Author Central page, which I bookmarked quite some time ago. That’s when I discovered that all of my books except The Opposite of Dark had disappeared from that page. Also listed, was an old blog site I hadn’t used in years. My Author Central page wanted an up-to-date RSS feed to link my blog, which I didn’t have, so I went to WordPress and figured out how to do that. Next, I discovered that I actually had two Author Central pages, so I contacted Amazon to figure out how to fix this. The solution was simple, as Amazon merged the two pages for me.

It was a lot of clicking and searching to prepare for just one listing. On the upside, though, my Author Central pages is up to date. Note to self: check in on these sites more often. How many of you list your books on sites then eventually forget about them? I’ve now started a list of all the sites where I’m listed, which I probably should have done ages ago.

I also listed my Casey Holland series on Google play this week, which took a bit of time, although once I got into the rhythm after a couple of books, entering the metadata, blurb, bio, etc. went much quicker. I have no idea if Google Play will result in any sales, but every time I sign up with a book promotion site the option to add Google Play’s link is available. Apparently, they apparently have over a million subscribers, so who knows?

Needless to say, this week I spent more time on marketing than writing, which is not the balance I want. In June, the emphasis needs to be on writing and editing or I’ll never get anything finished.

Exploring Pantser and Plotting Approaches to Fiction

Anyone looking for how-to tips on novel writing is bound to come across the old debate about whether to outline a book before typing a single word or to just sit down and write. I’ve experimented with both and have found that what works best for me is somewhere between those options.

When I wrote my first mystery, I didn’t create an outline. I simply faced the blank page and wrote down whatever came to mind. This is the pantser method, although I didn’t know the term way back then. Many times I had to go back and fill in the plot holes and logistical issues.

For the second book, I decided to spend more time plotting the novel first by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline. It became important to know who was killed and why before I started writing. Now, this sometimes changed once I got into my second and third rewrites while sorting out the story’s development. It’s also why I believe that flexibility with outlines is important.

Ten books later, I still outline with those key questions in mind, but primarily just for the first third of the book. For the middle section, or second act, I jot down key elements and plot twists that I want to happen. By the last third, there’s almost no outlining as the story is set up to reach a logical conclusion, hopefully one with a twist.

When I began my writing my urban fantasy, I decided to try the pantser version again. Despite the pitfalls, it just felt important to free myself and let the ideas and connections unfold without direction from an outline. Before I started writing, I did a lot of thinking though, and did have four main characters in mind and a good idea of what the book’s theme would be. On this sixth, intense draft I’m going through now, I’m still working on nuance issues and connections that I wish I’d thought of in earlier drafts. Would outlining have helped with that? I don’t know.

After reading every draft, I make notes along the way, which probably sounds familiar to you authors out there. The further into the edits I get, the more I need to check my notes, which is what happened this week. To ramp up the excitement, I introduced another element, which forced me to go back five chapters and rewrite the scene, which created a domino effect for most of the remaining chapters. Despite going back, I’m still moving forward with my improvements, so that’s a good thing. I just wish I’d been a little faster at picking up on the nuances and connections. Thank goodness I’m not writing to deadline or I’d be really hooped.

When I was writing essays and articles twenty years ago, outlining key points was essential, as was giving careful thought to the message I wanted to convey. If I return to nonfiction, outlining will be essential. Should I get around to writing a second fantasy, there will definitely be more outlining but who knows how much?

There are a number of online quizzes to help you determine if you’re a pantser or a plotter, but really the best way to decide is to try both. So, I’m curious about my author friends out there, which method do you use, or have you got a completely different method?

Pondering the Trade Paperback Question

Back in 2015, I parted company with my publisher and got the rights back to my four Casey Holland mysteries and cover art. It was an amicable arrangement and I purchased unsold stock at a really reasonable price. Until COVID, I was selling copies of those four books at various craft fairs, festivals, and other events until COVID.

I ran out of stock on the first book, The Opposite of Dark, so I reformatted the book to match the formatting I did for books five and six. What I didn’t do was create a paperback version on Amazon. Given that my publisher sold few print books through that venue, I never seriously considered this option. In fact, the vast majority of indie authors I know sell few print books on Amazon.

As I suspected, the book cover art that my publisher gave me no longer fits. With my formatting, the font is slightly larger to make the text more readable, but it also adds 40 pages to the book. After discussion with a colleague and some fiddling with my daughter’s help, the cover still won’t fit. It looks like I’ll need to have all four covers reformatted by a professional, which I’m hoping my jacket designer can do.

I haven’t reformatted the other three books yet. I’m down to between 50 and 100 copies of each book, which will last a couple of years or more, depending on how soon craft fairs reopen. Honestly, though, reformatting is a finicky, time-consuming process, especially when I’m busy editing new work and marketing my ebooks. So, now I’m wondering if it’s worth the time and effort to redo the print books now, when I won’t need them for some time and they’re not likely to sell on Amazon. The thing is, I don’t plan to sell at craft fairs indefinitely. I’ve done it for seven or eight years now and, on some levels, I’m ready to wind down that part of my writing life.

I’m curious to know if those of you who are authors consider it essential to have a paperback version of your books available on Amazon and other platforms?

Progress and Nostalgia, an Uneasy Mix

Last week, British Columbia’s lower mainland enjoyed an unusually warm, sunny week. I used the opportunity to walk through my neighborhood and a little way beyond. I live in Port Moody, a city of just over, 33,500 people, one that’s rapidly growing. We’re about about a half-hour drive east of Vancouver, faster if the many traffic lights work in my favor, and share borders with Burnaby and Coquitlam. I’ve lived in this beautiful, mountainous area at the end of Burrard Inlet for over thirty years, and I’ve seen some changes. But when Vancouver’s SkyTrain, our above ground, light rail transit system came to Port Moody four-and-half years ago, things began to change. They’re now changing at a head-spinning rate.

I live in a 40+ year old home a quiet residential street, a 7-minute walk from the local SkyTrain station. So, I guess it’s no surprise that there are four major developments under construction within five minutes of my house. I don’t oppose the six-story rental units because people need them, but as you’ll see below there are also concrete condo towers being crammed onto fairly small lots.

There’s another tower being built behind one of them

These changes and COVID isolation have made me nostalgic for the past lately. So, I thought I’d share some of the structures that represent fond and/or poignant memories. All of these locations are within walking distance of my home. The photo below is a small part of the recreation center where I facilitated writing workshops until last October. It’s also where I brought my kids when they were toddlers to their first play sessions. I miss facilitating.

A newer, larger part of the complex is to the right

Right next door and sharing the parking lot, is Port Moody’s city hall and library, where I’ve done readings, attended launches, presented workshops, and launched one of my own books. I remember when this structure was built. Until COVID, it was bursting at the seams as more people come to our city. I haven’t stepped in the library for over a year.

So many fond memories of the library, on the left side of this building.

The lovely building below is actually a seniors’ retirement home, but the top floor is the hospice where my mom spent the last month of her life. I remember the kindness of the staff and the inviting atmosphere of the lounge, where the larger windows face out onto the street. As you can see, there are plenty of trees around. Mom loved looking at the trees through the window in the room she rarely left.

The lounge winds and building entrance are behind the blossoming tree.

Last but not least, is my friend Julie’s former townhouse complex before she moved to the BC interior. I remember many great critiquing sessions with talented, inspiring colleagues. Julie’s now lives much closer to her family and has certainly enriched the writing community in her area. I know she reads this blog, so shout-out to Julie! See how much the trees have grown around your townhouse?

Port Moody loves its trees!

As you have gathered, I have mixed feelings about my area and about the prospect of leaving it in a couple of years time. We will be moving to a quieter part of the lower mainland, not yet invaded by progress on this scale.

I write about Port Moody in some of my books. In 2008, I published a mystery called Fatal Encryption which depicted scenes of my city. The final confrontation between villain and hero takes place in an empty parking lot at Rocky Point Park (a much-loved landmark) during a stormy November night. By the time the book was published, half of the parking lot had been replaced by a restaurant. Maybe I’ll try to incorporate more scenes of Port Moody in my work as it is now, because tomorrow will look quite different, and one day I fear I won’t recognize it.

Rethinking Audiobooks

Pexels photo by Stas Knop

Back in January, one of my goals was to create audiobook versions of my mystery novels. I began reading up on the topic and one information source, in particular, caught my eye. In fact, information from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is making me rethinking my strategy because this is where I first learned of Audiblegate.

Some of you might be familiar with the term, but Audiblegate apparently stems from an author pressure group known as TERM, The Equitable Rights Movement. They created a campaign known as Audiblegate after determining that there were consistent and significant discrepancies on royalty statements from Amazon with regard to their ACX platform. Of particular concern was Amazon’s “easy exchange and refund” program. They discovered that Amazon was paying for customer refunds through authors’ share of royalties and not their own resource fund, which wasn’t stipulated in the contracts.

This is a simplified version of events and there’s much more to this story. Rather than repeat it all, I encourage you to check out the full background story HERE. There’s also a great piece by a writing colleague from my neck of the woods, Colleen Cross. As a professional accountant and mystery author who has several audiobooks on the market, Colleen’s been digging into the accounting side of things and made some troubling discoveries. Please read her piece on “Should You Sell Your Audiobook Rights?” HERE.

While Amazon has made some improvements and adjustments to their refund program (though not nearly enough for some) they haven’t compensated authors for lost royalties. If you are interested in keeping up to date with developments, check out the Facebook page that’s been set up to address this issue HERE.

Upon further reading, my takeaway is that all is not lost as far as deciding whether to venture into audiobooks. There are several other publishing options with good distribution that don’t involve Amazon at all. One of these is Findaway Voices, a company that works with Draft2Digital. D2D already lists my books for sale via Kobo, Nook, and Apple, among others. Still, I need to do more research on Findaway.

This Audiblegate saga isn’t over, but it does demonstrate how careful we have to be when starting a new venture. Things become sticky when key players either change the rules or don’t clearly spell out the rules in the first place. Meanwhile, if any of you have published audiobooks, I’d love to hear about your experience.

More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.

One Promotion Done, Another Underway

Happy April, everyone! I’ve never been a fan of April Fools Day, so no pranks will be found here.

Today launches the start of a brand new promotion I’m taking part in. In a bid to find more newsletter subscribers, I’ve joined a group of 50 other authors, and all are offering free mystery/suspense ebooks if readers sign up to their newsletter. The promo lasts until May 9th , which provides ample time to find great new reads. I have no idea how this event will go, but if I don’t try I won’t have my answer either. The link to all of the offered ebooks is HERE If the link doesn’t work, please let me know!!

Last week’s series promotion on Freebooksy went well, I think. Of course, when you’re trying something new there’s nothing to compare it to. But I sold a couple of hundred ebooks and wound up ranking #52 in the free Kindle books category and #5 in the women sleuths category. This is a rarity for me. I had just over 2,000 downloads on my featured day, but Amazon and other outlets are keeping The Opposite of Dark free until April 5th, and sales are still trickling in. Perhaps the most important part of this exercise is that I improved my discoverability, which is wonderful.

A year ago, I gave no thought to promoting an entire series, or a newsletter, for that matter. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and taking some risks. One of the best parts is that I’m learning a lot and by sharing my experiences, I’m hoping it’ll help with your strategizing too.