Thursday, August 14, 2014

Outlining: The Best Friend You've Never Met

by Grant Blackwood

For better or worse, stubbornness comes as a standard feature in a writer's brain. It's like that mysterious undercoating for your new car. You can tell the dealership you don't want it, but you get it anyway.

In my case, stubbornness was that welcome hand at my back, pushing me along. Stubbornness also kept me unpublished for more years than I care to think about. Stubbornness kept me away from outlining.

I wanted to be one of "those" writers, the kind that flies by the seat of his pants, churning out fantastic stories by simply dumping his imagination onto paper. Nine long years into the process I realized I wasn't one of "those" writers. I needed a plan for my novel, so I turned to outlining. And the first book I outlined got published.

Consider this analogy: A woodworker decides to build a beautiful armoire. He drives to the hardware store, grabs random boards and handfuls of nails, then returns home, dumps his supplies on the garage floor like a piles of pick-up-sticks and starts hammering away. What are the chances he'll end up with the armoire he envisioned? You know the answer. Had the woodworker followed a plan his chances of succeeding would have skyrocketed. The same goes for a writer tackling a novel — arguably a much more complex project than an armoire.

Let's look at why I resisted outlining and why most writers do:
  • Outlining is too formal, too restrictive.
  • Outlining will suck all the fun out of the process.
  • Outlining will rob me of the journey of discovery.
None of these are necessarily true. Let's look at what an outline can be:
  • A page of bullets highlighting the most critical parts of the story.
  • A mini-story that runs from five pages to forty pages.
  • A loose flow chart of scenes and chapters.
  • A formal outline with roman numerals and letters.
An outline is whatever you want it to be. It's simply the blueprint or roadmap of your story containing things like:

Character motivations and goals
  • Plot points large and small, from beats that drive your scenes along to pivot points that take the plot in a wholly different direction.
  • Bits of characterization or setting that further immerse the reader into your story.
  • Brief descriptions of a character's arc.
The benefits of outlining your story are myriad: It lets you identify small mistakes you can fix without having to rewrite hundred of pages; it lets you see the flow of your plot, from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end; it helps you smooth out continuity issues (imagine a twisting row of ten thousand dominos) that would otherwise turn into untamable monsters on page 500. (Forgive the mixed metaphor); outlining trains your mind to be an "on the fly" planner so in later years you can in fact be one of "those" writers.

Fear not outlining. To use yet another more literary metaphor from Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, outlining is every writer's Boo Radley, that scary neighbor that turns out to be your best friend.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Briggs Tanner series, (The End of Enemies, The Wall of Night, and An Echo of War) Grant Blackwood is also the co-author of the Fargo Adventure Series (Spartan Gold, Lost Empire, and The Kingdom) with Clive Cussler, as well as the co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller, Dead or Alive, with Tom Clancy, and the new thriller, The Kill Switch, with James Rollins.  A U. S. Navy veteran, Grant spent three years aboard a guided missile frigate as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer. Grant lives in Colorado, where he is working his own standalone series starring a new hero.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

August Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in August, which means debut releases. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Carrie Stuart Parks - A Cry From the Dust (Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins Christian) August 12, 2014

In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist. In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day—but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life. But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
As evidence of a cover-up mounts—a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church—Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs.
Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself?
In A Cry from the Dust, Carrie Stuart Parks utilizes her own background as a celebrated, FBI-trained forensic artist to blend fact and fiction into a stunning mystery.

Richard Torregrosso - Terminal Life (Oceanview Publishing) July 1, 2014
Luke Stark, a Special Forces veteran, returns home from his second tour in Afghanistan to learn that his wife has been mysteriously murdered and his son has disappeared. These tragedies, in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, push him over the edge. He has also been diagnosed with an incipient form of cancer, but he forgoes treatment, a decision that is akin to a slow suicide. Although he languishes in a shelter, he wears an impeccable suit, an eccentric characteristic that sets him apart from his fellow down-and-outers and just about everybody else. He is nicknamed, somewhat ironically, The Suited Hero.
Revenge and the search for his son spark a kind of rebirth in him that is as cathartic as it is brutal. This leads him into the dangerous world of illegal prescription drug distribution, where nobody in this gripping mystery crime thriller- not even some family members-is who they appear to be.

And a special announcement for an alumni Debut Author:

Cathy Perkins - CYPHER (Red Mountain Publishing) August 12, 2014
Cara Wainwright thinks life can’t get tougher when her mother's cancer becomes terminal—until she returns home from the hospital and finds a courtyard full of police officers and her houseguests dead.

Greenville, SC Detective David Morris, is unsure if Cara is the suspect or the intended murder victim. As he searches for insight into her family, their mounting secrets, and the conflicting evidence from multiple crimes, his attraction to Cara complicates his investigation. Is the lure need, manipulation—or real?

While David pursues forensic evidence, Cara pushes for answers about her father's possible involvement, for at the center of the mystery stands Cypher—the company her father built and will take any measures to defend.

When the assassin strikes at the heart of the family, Cara and David have to trust each other and work together to stop the killer before he eliminates the entire Wainwright dynasty.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writing about an Unloved Era

by Kay Kendall

In the opinion of Alan Furst, he was a hack writer until he found his grand passion, and pursuing it made all the difference. Beginning in 1988 he wrote his way to becoming the now-acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of 13 spy novels.

Furst concentrates on the years 1934 to 1942, when Hitler and the Nazis looked unstoppable. Asked if he would ever show his reoccurring characters coping in the immediate post-war period, he scoffed. “Absolutely not,” he answered—since after the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, the mood changed among the anti-Hitler forces. Victory became assured, seen only as a matter of time. Lives were no longer lived on the very edge of defeat. Furst has no interest in that.

Write where you find your sweet spot, he said, and do not waver.

People read endless thrillers about World Wars I and II and the Cold War. Bestselling authors John le CarrĂ©, Philip Kerr, and Jacqueline Winspear place their mysteries against backdrops of great turmoil and danger provided by these wars or their tortuous aftermath. They inspired me to find my own sweet spot in the decidedly unsweet years of the Vietnam War—fraught with political and social upheaval.

Because decades have passed since the war ended in 1975, I felt readers would be interested in seeing that period treated historically.

Thus motivated, I set my debut mystery Desolation Row in 1968 among the draft resister community in Toronto, Canada. I knew the subject of draft resistance was problematic, but I felt compelled to
explore it anyway, choosing the point of view of a young Texas bride who followed her husband into exile.

What has surprised me is how deep the antipathy is to the late sixties. Since my book was published last year, I’ve heard many sentiments like this—“Living through that ugly time was enough, and I never read about it.”

When I dropped into the Mysterious Bookstore in New York City during my first ThrillerFest in 2013, I talked to a longtime bookseller there. He nodded sadly and confirmed my opinion. “The Vietnam War era is a tough sell,” he said. (His attire pegged him as an aging hippie.)

Yet there are people still suffering the aftershocks of the war itself—the wounded warriors and their dear ones whose psyches and/or bodies are scarred by fighting in that war in Southeast Asia. Their injuries are so deep and often still so raw that I am reinvigorated to persist in writing about the era.

I don’t think you should glaze over history, try to forget about it, or pretend it never happened. That way lies real danger. I have discovered, however, that readers most directly traumatized are relieved to discuss it. For them it is necessary, therapeutic.

So I was heartened when I heard Alan Furst’s advice: it’s imperative to stick with the subject that “turns you on”—to use a term from the benighted 1960s. I will not forsake those years merely because they are vilified by some. I only wish it were not so.

Who knows? Perhaps a few more of my historic thrillers will succeed in showing readers how fascinating that time was. Rock on, everyone, rock on.

In 1968 a young bride from Texas uses her CIA-honed skills to catch the real killer when her husband lands in a Canadian jail for murdering the draft-resisting son of a United States senator. “Desolation Row hooked me on page one,” says thriller author Norb Vonnegut. “Kay Kendall is one author who knows how to burrow into your heart."

Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Growing up during the Cold War, she gew excited when an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) was installed near her hometown in Kansas. A fan of historical mysteries and the brilliant spy novels of John le Carré, she set her debut mystery during the Vietnam War, a key conflict of last century not already overrun with novels.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don’t Do This: The 3 Most Common Medical Mistakes Writers Make

by D. P. Lyle, MD

The Quick Death: No one dies instantly. Well, almost no one. Instant death can occur with heart attacks, strokes, extremely abnormal heart rhythms, and cyanide and other “metabolic” poisons. But trauma, such as gunshot wounds (GSWs) and blows to the head, rarely cause sudden death. Yet, how often has a single shot felled a villain? Bang, and he drops dead. In order for that to occur, the bullet would need to severely damage the brain, the heart, or the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord. A shot to the chest or abdomen leads to a lot of screaming and moaning, but death comes from bleeding and that takes a while.

The One-punch Knockout: You’ve seen and read this a million times. The hero socks the bad guy’s henchmen in the jaw. He goes down and is apparently written out of the script, since we never hear from him again. It’s always the henchmen, because the antagonist, like most people, requires a few solid blows to go down. Think about a boxing match. Two guys that are trained to inflict damage and they have trouble knocking each other out. And when they do, the one on his back is up in a couple of minutes, claiming the other guy caught him with a lucky punch. Listen to me. Only James Bond can knock someone out with a single blow. And maybe Mike Tyson. Your car-salesman-turned-amateur-sleuth cannot.

The Bleeding Dead: Your detective arrives at a murder scene a half hour after the deed. Blood oozes from the corpse’s mouth and from the GSW in his chest. Tilt! Dead folks don’t bleed. You see, when you die, your heart stops and the blood no longer circulates and then it clots. Stagnant or clotted blood does not move. It does not gush or ooze or gurgle or flow or trickle from the body.
Don’t make these mistakes in your manuscript. I know. It happens all the time, and often readers and viewers don’t notice. But some do. Some cringe. Some walk away from the story. Some will not purchase your next book. That’s never a good thing. So get it right. Your readers expect it.

ORIGINAL SIN—a new Samantha Cody thriller
Dr. Lucy Wagner was on top of her game. The only cardiac surgeon on staff, a new pediatric cardiac unit dedicated to her, and an impeccable reputation not only put her at the apex of the local medical
pyramid but also garnered a few powerful enemies. Such is the nature of jealousy and greed. Turf wars can get ugly. Still all was good until the day old John Scully, the spiritual founder and leader of a local snake-handling church, died on her operating table. Fainting spells, nightmarish dreams, and patient after patient succumbing to some violent psychosis followed, putting her career, and her life, in jeopardy. Aided by long time friend and ex-boxer, ex-cop Samantha Cody, Lucy must reach deeply into her family’s past and into her own soul to find the strength to confront old and very powerful forces she never knew existed.

D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, and USA Best Book Award nominated author of both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he is the co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. He invites you to visit him at his website:; blog:; or Crime and Science Radio: 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Buddhism for Novelists

by John Burley

Around the time when I was finishing my first novel and embarking on the arduous road to publication, my wife began taking an interest in Buddhism. “It says here there are Four Noble Truths,” she advised me, offering some tidbit of impractical wisdom.

To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. I was distracted, agonizing over how long it was taking to secure an agent, to edit the novel down to a reasonable length. I was submerged in the agony of decimating some of my favorite chapters and leaving them twitching in the dust, all for the sake of a more marketable product. “The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering,” Lorie quoted, but I was in my own private hell and not listening.

Eventually, I was lucky enough to find an agent who was enthusiastic about my work. But the pain didn’t stop. “The manuscript is still too long,” he told me. “You’ve got to cut out another fifty thousand words.” Impossible, I thought. It’ll destroy everything I’ve worked so hard to create. But I wanted the book to see the light of day, and so I picked up a machete and went to work on it, lopping off appendages and major organs until I barely recognized the massacred thing in front of me.

 “The Second Noble Truth is that suffering arises from attachment to desires,” my wife read to me one evening. I barely heard her as I sat there mourning my novel, knowing how altered it was from what I’d originally intended.

And so it went. We cut the length of the story almost in half, signed with a publisher, and the first thing the editors said was, “The pacing lags in the middle. The whole middle third of the book needs to be re-written.” I fumed in silence, continued to circle the drain of my creative demise.

“The Third Noble Truth is that suffering ends only when you let go of your desire,” Lorie reminded me, but I was too far gone for platitudes.

I re-wrote the middle section of the novel, did what my editors asked—not because I thought they were right, but because I was in too deep now and there was no other way. It was a dark and difficult crossing. And what I discovered on the other side was this: The story was much better because of it. My agent and editors had helped me make the novel stronger, not weaker. Despite my resistance, they’d saved me from getting swept away in the current of my obstinacy and inexperience.

“The Fourth Noble Truth is that freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path,” Lorie quoted that night as I climbed into bed. “It’s about changing the way you see things, changing the way you think. It’s not sufficient to simply believe. You’ve got to have enough faith in the process to walk the path.”

“Right,” I said, turning out the light. And, at last, I was at peace.

THE ABSENCE OF MERCY (William Morrow, 2013)
When a teenager is discovered brutally murdered in the woods of a small Ohio town, medical examiner Dr. Ben Stevenson becomes entangled in an investigation that will force him to uncover the dark secrets of his seemingly quiet community and ultimately to confront a truth that will haunt him forever. With its nerve-fraying plot twists and eerie portrait of suburban life, The Absence of Mercy is psychological suspense at its best.

John Burley grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. He attended medical school in Chicago and completed his emergency medicine residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma in Baltimore. He currently works as an emergency medicine physician at an urban trauma center in the San Francisco Bay area. His debut novel, The Absence of Mercy, was honored with the National Black Ribbon Award in recognition of an author who brings a fresh voice to suspense writing. You may visit John at

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Rules of the Fire Swamp

by Thomas Sweterlitsch

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably just published or are about to publish your first novel: Congratulations!

My debut hasn’t hit the shelves quite yet—so while I can’t write about being a published writer, I can write what I’ve learned being an about to be published writer. In my case, I’ve been about to be published for about 18 months, from the moment I signed my contract to the moment when my debut novel will see daylight. The single most important thing I’ve been doing with that time has been to work on my second novel. And, yes, second novels are more difficult to write than first novels—but in addition to the specific struggles inherent with second novels, there are a few traps that the about to be published writer can easily fall into (I’ve fallen into all of these traps, by the way).

Here are my Rules of the Fire Swamp:

1.) Stop Googling yourself. Ask yourself “how many times did I Google the phrase ‘your name’ + ‘writer’ or ‘the title of your book’?” before your contract. Probably the answer is zero. That should be the approximate number of times you Google yourself now. Yes, you’ll gradually see your name resulting in more and more hits, and yes, it can make you giddy the first time you find someone writing about your book, but in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Googling yourself can unwittingly become a significant part of your routine as you check the 20th search page, the 25th…the 35 th. Instead, take that time to write your second book.

2.) Don’t read early reviews. In fact, maybe don’t read any reviews. Some of my earliest reviews came from participants in programs that give away a free ARC in exchange for their honest review—while I understand the utility in this, especially for an unknown writer like me, this does mean that anyone can be among the first (and permanent) voices talking about your book on-line. Seeing those five star reviews can be thrilling. If you get a negative review, however, your day—and possibly your week, or month—is wrecked. Oftentimes, if you click on the negative reviewer’s profile, you’ll find that just before demolishing your book, they were ridiculing the packaging of Slim Jims or deriding the texture of paper towels. There’s nothing you can do about it. So just…stay away. Stay far, far away.

3.) Social media? Set limits. The first thing you’ll hear about promoting your work is to establish your social media platform. I do think it’s important to have an inviting web presence to welcome and interact with fans of your work—but try not to confuse being on social media with your job as a writer. (In fact, I just spent ten minutes reading an article about drunken Taylor Swift fans vandalizing her Rhode Island beach house…Ten Minutes. Why? Why did I do this???).

It is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ash. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the 'lucky ones' who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she ... and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Thomas Sweterlitsch lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter. He worked for twelve years at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is his first novel. Visit him at or on Twitter: @LetterSwitch

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Debuts

It's the first Thursday in July, which means debut releases. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

M.P. Cooley - Ice Shear (William Morrow/HarperCollins) July 2014  

As a cop on the night shift in Hopewell Falls, New York, June Lyons drives drunks home and picks up the donuts. A former FBI agent, she ditched the Bureau when her husband died, and now she and her young daughter are back in upstate New York, living with her father, the town’s retired chief of police.

When June discovers a young woman’s body impaled on an ice shear in the frozen Mohawk River, news of the murder spreads fast; the dead girl was the daughter of a powerful local Congresswoman, and her troubled youth kept the gossips busy. Though June was born and raised in Hopewell Falls, the local police see her as an interloper—resentment that explodes in anger when the FBI arrive and deputize her to work on the murder investigation. But June may not find allies among the Feds. The agent heading the case is someone from her past—someone she isn’t sure she can trust.

As June digs deeper, an already fraught case turns red-hot when it leads to a notorious biker gang and a meth lab hidden in plain sight—and an unmistakable sign that the river murder won’t be the last.

Lori Rader Day -The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books) July 8, 2014

For Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic--until a student she'd never met shot her. 

He also shot himself. Now he's dead and she's back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can't let go: Why?

All she wants is for life to get back to normal, but normal is looking hard to come by. She's thirty-eight and hobbles with a cane. Her first student interaction ends in tears (hers). Her fellow faculty members seem uncomfortable with her, and her ex--whom she may or may not still love--has moved on.

Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago's violent history. Nath is a serious scholar, but also a serious mess about his first heartbreak, his mother's death, and his father's disapproval.  Assigned as Amelia's teaching assistant, Nath also takes on the investigative legwork that Amelia can't do. And meanwhile, he's hoping she'll approve his dissertation topic, the reason he came to grad school in the first place: the student attack on Amelia Emmet. 

Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

Teri Anne Stanley - Deadly Chemistry (Entangled Ignite) June, 23, 2014

Some chemical reactions generate too much heat…

Former undercover cop Mike Gibson has been lying low, working as a maintenance man to put his troubled younger brother through college. But when a beautiful scientist enlists Mike’s help to repair the damage done to her lab by a group of vandals, Mike finds that his, and his brother's pasts, are about to be brought to light.

Laura Kane was happy having a secret crush on the hot maintenance man at Tucker University, but when the drug she was studying is stolen, Laura has a chance to get to know Mike in person. The problem is, he seems to know more about what's going on than any maintenance man should. But then the drug turns up in the wrong hands, and Mike and Laura have to decide if their own chemistry will help, or hinder, the race to save innocent lives.

Thomas Sweterlitsch - Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Putnam Adult) July 10, 2014

"Simultaneously trippy and hardboiled, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a rich, absorbing, relentlessly inventive mindfuck, a smart, dark noir...Sweterlitsch's debut is a wild mashup of Raymond Chandler, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, and, like their work, utterly visionary." --Stewart O'Nan, author of "The Odds"

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.  

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past.  Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive--a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.  

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene--the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he's convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive--his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Witness Impulse

by Nancy Allen

I’m a Witness Impulse author. I still get a surge of pride each time I say so. Witness released my debut novel, The Code of the Hills, as an e-book on April 15 of this year, and the paperback release followed on May 20; so at this point, I’ve had some time to espouse my association with the HarperCollins imprint. But “the new” hasn’t worn off yet (as we say in the Ozarks); and it’s still hard to believe my good fortune. When I signed with Witness, I landed in a fabulous environment.

My novel is a legal thriller set in the Missouri Ozarks, following the struggles of a young prosecutor as she fights to convict a man charged with the crime of incest. It was my first novel, and I wanted what all authors want: to see it published, to hold it in my hands, and to have my story reach as wide an audience as possible. Witness made all of my hopes for the book a reality.

My literary agent, Jill Marr with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary
Agency (a veritable angel with wings—but that’s another story), submitted it to Trish Daly, an editor at HarperCollins who was part of Witness, HC’s new mystery and suspense imprint. Trish loved the book, and had a feel for the characters and the setting, and an understanding of the themes, that blew me away. When Trish and I went to work on editorial changes, it was a pleasure, the most satisfying artistic collaboration you can imagine. We shared a vision.

Witness also provides publicity and marketing support. My publicist is Andrea Hackett; she sent out press releases, arranged national radio interviews, and set up a blog tour. But I wanted to be a part of the process; and as a team effort, we obtained book reviews in major Midwestern publications, local TV, a spot on NPR Morning Edition, and a piece in the Village Voice. Our marketing director will be doing retail promotions for The Code of the Hills this summer. All of this assistance has been golden; Witness has empowered me and my novel in ways I could never have achieved if I was going at it on my own.

In a recent visit to New York, I had the chance to meet these women face to face: my editor Trish, my publicist Andrea, the Marketing Magnate, Dana Trombley, and our editorial manager, Emily Krump. And though it was a bit daunting for a gray-haired hillbilly like me to encounter all that big-city flash and dash, they were just as nice as pie, and made me feel like one of the family. So: If I had it to do all over again, would I pick Witness Impulse as the home for my debut novel—my baby? Oh hell yeah. In a New York minute.

To uncover the truth, she'll have to break the code of the hills … In the Missouri Ozarks, some things aren't talked about … even abuse. But prosecutor Elsie Arnold is determined to change that. When she is assigned to prosecute a high-profile incest case in which a father is accused of abusing his three young daughters, Elsie is ready to become the Ozarks' avenging angel. But as Elsie sinks her teeth into the case, everything begins to turn sour. The star witness goes missing; the girls refuse to talk about their father, who terrorizes the courtroom from the moment he enters; and Elsie begins to suspect that their tough-as-nails mother has ulterior motives. To make matters worse, Elsie receives gruesome threats from local extremists, warning her to mind her own business. While Elsie swears not to let a sex offender walk, she realizes the odds—and maybe the town—are against her, and her life begins to crumble. But amidst all of the conflict, the safety of three young girls hangs in the balance ... A powerful debut, with the haunting atmosphere of Winter's Bone and the page-turning suspense of Alafair Burke's thrillers. 

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She’s tried over 30 jury cases, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. The Code of the Hills is her first novel.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unveiling the Mystery of Marketing

By Pamela Crane

Been there, done that. I’ve been on all sides of the publishing coin—worked as an in-house editor for traditional houses, edited for self-published authors, self-published my own book, and traditionally published a book. So for you fellow writers, I know how grueling and frustrating the publishing industry can be!

If you can write a book in a week and hit the NYT best seller’s list the first week your book hits shelves, then this article isn’t for you. This message is for the feast-or-famine writers, the ones trying to make a living writing but can’t figure out what’s holding them back. Over the course of my editing and writing career, I’ve learned a few things and am here to share some insights based on my publishing venture with my psychological thriller The Admirer’s Secret.

My biggest word of advice is to consider your book an investment. You gotta give some to get some…I’m using that dirty word here: Money. I can imagine you flinching as I say that, but the worst thing that can cripple your book is poor editing and a mediocre cover. I’m an editor and even I paid another editor to edit The Admirer’s Secret. As the author, you’re too close to your work to do it justice. So do yourself a favor and save up the cash before you plan to publish and do it right, because the goal is to earn back what you’ve spent and then some. You can’t do that if critics spread the word about the low quality of your book. Set a budget for what you can spend and pay out to get a beautiful, quality book.

Assuming you have a good story, quality edit, and eye-catching cover, how do you spread the word? It’s the publishing world’s greatest mystery, like discovering the Ark of the Covenant. I remember when one publisher I worked for bought several thousand of their own books to manipulate sales needed to hit Publisher’s Weekly best-seller status. But not all of us can afford to spend $40,000 on our own books! So here’s some affordable ideas that have worked to sell The Admirer’s Secret:
  1. Get reviews. I don’t care how embarrassing it is to beg for reviews—do it! And do it about 6 months before your book release.
  2. Try Amazon’s KDP for three months. The gist is that you make your book exclusive to Amazon for 90 days and you get 5 “Free Days” where you give the book away for free to help boost your rankings. Spread out those free days over 3 months—2 free days one month, 2 another month, and 1 the third month. Publicize the hell out of those free days on your Facebook groups so that you get plenty of downloads. I hit #9 in my genre in actual income-producing sales after my first free day, so I can tell you it works.
  3. Give BookBub a shot. It costs money, but they give your book coverage with their huge following.
  4. Consider a book blog tour. While I didn’t see a significant number of sales from my blog tours, it got my name all over the Internet. A small price to pay to get exposure.
  5. Autographed book giveaways are always a treat for fans. Goodreads hosts drawings for free print copies, and you’re sure to win a few new fans this way.
  6. Enter contests for Indie publishing, such as Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award and Los Angeles Book Festival Award (among countless others you can find online). The submission cost is minimal considering what winning an award could do for your book.
Before your eyes start to glaze over, I want to emphasize the biggest sales factor: Keep writing, keep publishing. Books sell books, and the cross-marketing gives you twice the chance of sales. I know it’s hard to justify writing and spending money on another book if one isn’t selling well, but remember—this is an investment. Keep investing and eventually you’ll see results.

Pamela Crane is a North Carolinian writer of the psychological thriller The Admirer’s Secret and wannabe psychologist, though most people just think she needs to see one. She’s a member of the ITW, ACFW, and EFA, and has been involved in the ECPA, Christy Awards, and Romance Writers of America. Along with delving into people’s minds—or being the subject of their research—she enjoys being a mom and riding her proud Arabian horse, when he lets her. She has a passion for adventure, and her hopes are to keep earning enough from her writing to travel the world in search of some good story material. Visit her at or follow her on Facebook at .

The Admirer’s Secret :
Westfield, New York—both home and prison to Haley Montgomery, a woman crippled by the death that hovers over her. After the loss of her father and best friend, Haley grapples with the loneliness of her small-town existence. But when her solitary life is upended by the man of her fantasies—the handsome, charming Marc Vincetti—her dreams quickly twist into a nightmare. A secret admirer’s eerie love letters threaten to uncover Haley’s dark past, unraveling a haunting childhood secret that consumes her. Soon the quest for the letters’ source sends her on a dangerous personal journey that could cost her life. As the layers of her troubled existence peel away, everything Haley thought she knew about love, and herself, testifies to the brokenness that lurks within the human psyche. A “masterfully written, raw psychological suspense novel.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Not-So-Thrilling Debut Surprises

by Robert Rotstein

Writing my debut novel? Exhilarating. It’s what I’d wanted to do for years. Navigating the byzantine world of the publishing business? Not exhilarating, but I’ve practiced entertainment law for some time, so those arcane agency and publishing contracts weren’t all that daunting. Trolling for blurbs? Scary, but eventually some generous, talented authors said yes.
Only when my book was actually launched into that vast sea of published print did I discover that I’d harbored some misconceptions.

Surprise No. 1: Not everyone you know is going to want to buy your book, even your friends. Because I’ve always loved books and admired authors, I assumed that everyone else does, too—or at least that they’d admire me for writing one. Not necessarily. There are the nonreaders—more and more lately—who simply aren’t so impressed with your accomplishment. Others think they’re doing you a favor by reading your novel—not buying it, reading it. I heard this more than once (and I’m not talking family or close friends): “You wrote a book? Cool. Send me a copy.” Depending on my mood, I’d either smile or say, “It’s available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.” Then there was the friend, an aspiring writer himself, who graciously bought my book, but later reported, “I’ve lent my copy to five friends, and they all loved it.” “How nice,” I replied, while clenching my jaw and thinking, Why didn’t you tell them it’s available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon?

Surprise No. 2: Posting on social media doesn’t automatically mean massive sales. My social-media-savvy son warned me. Maybe it was an age thing, but I’d hoped that all my Facebook friends would share my release date, that they’d tell their friends, and they’d tell their friends, and … Corrupt Practices goes viral. Nope. Many Facebook friends and Twitter followers are also authors, hawking their own books. And those friends and followers who aren’t writers didn’t necessarily buy my book (see Surprise No. 1).

Surprise No. 3: You might not draw big crowds at your book signings. You will if you’re the next Lee Child or Gillian Flynn, but most of us aren’t. Bookstores expect you to bring your own crowd. My first reading was well attended, but not by strangers—kind of a second Bar Mitzvah (“Friends and family, today I am an author.”) Another reading/signing took place on a Sunday afternoon so sweltering that the city streets were empty. At the tiny bookstore were my then wife, my son, my sister, my niece, and my eighty-eighty-year-old mother. In answer to my question about their most successful events, the bookstore manager said, “Michael Connelly. Lines out the door and down the block.”

I asked for it.

I drank wine, bought books, and read to my family. Strangely, it was relaxed, serene, all about the words and not about impressing an audience—ultimately, my most gratifying appearance. That wonderful day was a reminder of why I became a writer in the first place.

Attorney Parker Stern, still crippled by courtroom stage fright, takes on a dicey case for an elusive video-game designer known only as “Poniard.” In Poniard's blockbuster online video game, Abduction!, a real-life movie mogul is charged with murdering a beautiful actress who disappeared in the 1980s. The mogul—William "the Conqueror" Bishop—has sued for libel. Now it's up to Parker to defend Poniard in the suit. When key potential witnesses die prematurely, Parker begins to feel as if he's merely a character in a violent video game himself.

Robert Rotstein is a writer and attorney who’s represented many celebrities and all the major motion picture studios. He’s the author of Reckless Disregard (Seventh Street Books, June 3, 2014), about Parker Stern, an L.A.-based attorney, who takes on a dangerous case for a mysterious video game designer against a powerful movie mogul. Reckless Disregard has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. His debut novel, Corrupt Practices (Seventh Street Books), was published in 2013. Visit Robert at

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