Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do I need Social Networking?

by Bonnie Calhoun
The $64,000 question is…do I have to spend time on social media to market my books effectively?
The exact and emphatic answer to that is an unfortunate YES. For those of you who just aren’t technologically savvy, I’d say it’s time to learn. There are a million children out there who would love to show you that they know something that you do not. So grab a neighborhood kid to get you started, if you need to!

Seriously though, no one form of marketing is the end-all be all. There are multiple parts to the whole, and the further we move into cyberspace, the more the parts multiply exponentially. If you are looking for a negative response so that you don't have to do any one part of the marketing book signings, speaking, interviews, teaching at conferences, social media, blogging...etc...then just don't do it. It sort of sucks all the fun out of writing if you don’t enjoy what you are doing.

It's your choice. But in this day and information age NOT doing social media is really not an option. We have to do it to stay connected and relevant. Now the question of HOW MUCH to do it depends on you and the balance you are trying to maintain so that you actually have time to create new books.

EVERY marketing survey or study has proven that your name...or product name needs to be seen or heard numerous times to be an effective marketing tool. There are studies that say 3 times are enough for your product to have been seen to be effective; others say 12 to 15 times is necessary for maximum effectiveness.

The magic number depends on the size of your market share, how much other noise there is from competing products, your brand influence, how much money or time you are willing to spend on marketing, and the time frame you are working in.

So in essence…your success depends on how much you want to put into it, to get the maximum out of it. You choose.

Bonnie S. Calhoun is an author with Abingdon Press, with her debut novel Cooking The Books to be released in April 2012. She is also the owner/publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine. Visit her website at, Facebook at or Twitter at

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thrillers vs. Mysteries

by Jodie Renner

Until fairly recently, most readers were more familiar with mysteries than thrillers. Mysteries of all sorts (cozy, hardboiled, suspenseful, etc.) are still going strong, but thrillers make up more and more of the bestsellers these days. How exactly do thrillers differ from mysteries, anyway? Both are fiction stories involving criminal activity, catching the bad guy(s), and at least one murder.

The main difference seems to be in the delivery—how they are told. Mysteries are usually more cerebral, for readers who enjoy solving puzzles, whereas thrillers appeal more to the emotions and a yearning for excitement, a desire to vicariously confront danger and defeat nasty villains. A mystery, especially a “cozy” one, can unfold in a leisurely fashion, but thrillers need to be much more fast-paced and suspenseful.

David Morrell, author of 28 thrillers, explored the difference between mysteries and thrillers several years ago. His detailed description included this: “Traditional mysteries appeal primarily to the mind and emphasize the logical solution to a puzzle. In contrast, thrillers strive for heightened emotions and emphasize the sensations of what might be called an obstacle race and a scavenger hunt.” (David Morrell,

James N. Frey, author of HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER  and HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY, among other “damn good” books on writing, says, “In the United States, mysteries are not considered to be thrillers, though they share some common elements.” Frey describes the differences like this:
“In a mystery, the hero has a mission to find a killer.
In a thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.”
Frey goes on to elaborate, “a thriller is a story of a hero who has a mission to foil evil. Not just a hero—a clever hero. Not just a mission—an ‘impossible’ mission. An ‘impossible’ mission that will put our hero into terrible trouble.”

According to International Thriller Writers, a thriller is characterized by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

ITW defines thrillers as a genre in which “tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world.”
Part of the allure of thrillers, they say, comes from not only what their stories are about, but also how they are told. “High stakes, nonstop action plot twists that both surprise and excite, settings that are both vibrant and exotic, and an intense pace that never lets up until the adrenaline-packed climax.” (Source: James N. Frey, HOW to WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER)

I asked some friends, clients and colleagues what they thought the main differences were between these two genres. According to thriller writer and friend Allan Leverone, “The definition I like best is this: In a mystery, the crime has already been committed, but the hero and the reader must figure out by whom. In a thriller, the crime (at least the biggie) hasn't been committed yet, but the reader knows who the bad guy is; the question is whether he can be stopped.”

Mystery and romance writer Terry Odell says, “The best definition I’ve heard is that in a mystery, you're one step behind the detective, since you don't know anything until he does. In suspense, you're one step ahead, because you know things that the detective [or hero] can't know.” This is especially true when we get into the viewpoint of the villain.

My friend, suspense-mystery and thriller writer, LJ Sellers, tells me she recently read that in a thriller, the villain drives the story, versus mystery, in which the protagonist drives the story. Good one!

And finally, another good friend and colleague, thriller and horror writer Andrew E. Kaufman says, “Here's a less conservative, completely off-color definition, coming from a less conservative, completely off-color mind: A thriller is like mystery on Viagra. Everything's more amped up, fast-paced, and frenetic. A good thriller should keep your heart racing, your fingers swiping at the pages, and your rear on the edge of its seat. Of course, those lines can be blurred. Many authors straddle the fence between the two. Nothing is in black and white, and gray is a beautiful color.”

I used to read a lot of mysteries, and still do from time to time, but in the last few years I much prefer the pure escapism and “pulse-pounding suspense” of thrillers. Who are your favorite thriller writers? My top three would probably be best-selling authors Lee Child, Sandra Brown and Robert Crais, but I love and read so many more.

How about your favorite thriller characters? For popular series, I especially like Jack Reacher, Joe Pike, Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum—and the two hunks in her life!
Then there are the fast-paced mysteries that seem to straddle both genres. For suspense-mysteries, I love LJ Sellers' page-turning Detective Jackson series. And maybe I should put Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar stories and Robert Crais’s Joe Pike and Elvis Cole stories into the hybrid category of suspense-mysteries, too. What do you think? Are there any other novels you like that have elements of both?

Copyright © Jodie Renner, January 2012

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA. Check out her website at
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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reversal Expectations


by D.L. Sparks

As a romantic suspense author and a lover of suspense, one of my favorite writing tools is the reversal of expectation (RoE.) It is a storytelling device whereby the author makes the reader believe one thing about a character, then flips the character into someone the reader does not expect. Stephen King did it in SECRET WINDOW, SECRET GARDEN. In the novella we are introduced to author Mort Rainey, who is accused of plagiarism. We learn at the end, at the reversal, that Mort has split personality disorder and has been accusing himself of not just plagiarism, but unexplained murders. Screenwriter Clark Gregg pulled off the reversal of expectation perfectly in the movie “What Lies Beneath”. Kindhearted, university researcher Norman Spencer is concerned for his wife, Claire. She suffered post traumatic shock after a car accident and was also experiencing empty nest syndrome. However, the RoE was that Norman actually murdered the young co-ed and was now trying to kill his wife. To me this movie was the epitome of reversal of expectation.

However RoE is something that many will try but only few will be able to pull off expertly. Here are two things to consider:

1. Using the reader’s expectations to your advantage

This tool in the craft of writing is definitely something that needs to be worked on and perfected. So many times you will hear someone say how they figured out an ending before they finished a book or movie. Mastering RoE would be one way of thwarting any similar storytelling disappointments. But the good thing is that because most stories are bred from the same formula, you can convince your reader that they are about to travel down a familiar road, then hook a quick left when they least expect it.

2. Timing the Reversal of Expectation for the big Aha!

RoE is best suited for the climax or peak of a novel. It usually adds to the intensity and gets your readers' attention and hooks them in so you can bring your story full circle. One of the things I love to hear as a writer is, "I did NOT see that coming!" But even with the "aha!" moment it still has to make sense to the reader or they will feel unsatisfied and duped. In "Secret Window" it was very believable that a writer could have shut himself off from the real world to the point of becoming a recluse, thus becoming a victim in his own mind. In "What Lies Beneath" Harrison Ford's character had everything to lose, so he had to stay true to his story. Viewers even sympathized with him, thinking his wife was losing her mind, never straying from the original plotline the writer intended. And not realizing they were being set up for the big "Aha!!" moment.

How do you use Reversal of Expectation to wow your readers?

PhotoBest selling Author D.L. Sparks’ fast paced suspense novel THE LIES THAT BIND(Urban Books, 2010) landed on the bestsellers list of Black Expressions Book Club magazine, embraced by readers as far away as London and France. Ms Sparks has been voted one of the Top 25 Most Influential Black Fiction Writers on Twitter and is also a contributing writer to Rag ‘N Riches Magazine‘s, where she runs a relationship column. Visit her at

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January 2012 Debut Authors

Happy New Year and Happy Thrilling Thursday. The first of every month we will feature members of our Debut Authors Program. We are excited to announce that three members have books releasing in January 2012.

Nancy Bilyeau - THE CROWN (Touchstone) January 10, 2012 (I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy for The Big Thrill this month. Read our interview here.)

When Joanna Stafford, a young novice, Dominican nun, learns her cousin is about to be burned at the stake for rebelling against King Henry VIII, she makes a decision that will change not only her life, but quite possibly the fate of a nation. Charged with a mission to find a hidden relic believed to possess a mystical power that has slain three Englishmen of royal blood in the last 300 years, Joanna and a troubled young friar, Brother Edmund, must seek answers across England. Once she learns the true secret of her quest, Joanna must finally determine who to trust, and how far she’s willing to go to protect her life, her family and everything she holds dear.

Cathy Perkins - THE PROFESSOR - Carina Press - January 23, 2012. (Cathy also has interviewed at The Big Thrill here.)

Someone is murdering women on South Carolina’s college campuses: three women, three different schools. The Governor’s order to State Law Enforcement Agent Mick O’Shaughnessy is simple: make it stop. More political maneuvering diverts Mick to nearby Douglass College. There, instead of another dead body, he finds Meg Connelly, grad student and faculty adviser for the latest victim.

Determined to finish her master’s degree, Meg doesn’t need anybody’s help – including her estranged family – to succeed. There’s something irresistible about Mick, but the last time she let someone get close to her, she lost everything except her self-respect.

As the investigation heats up, so does their relationship. But Mick’s interest in Meg doesn’t just endanger her heart—it puts her in the sights of the killer.

Jeremy Burns - FROM THE ASHES - Fiction Studio - January 17, 2012 (Jeremy will be featured in next month’s The Big Thrill.)

Graduate students Jonathan and Michael Rickner, sons of eminent archeologist Sir William Rickner, are no strangers to historical secrets and archeological adventures. But when Michael is discovered dead in his Washington, D.C. apartment, Jon refuses to believe the official ruling of suicide. Digging deeper into his brother’s work, he discovers evidence that Michael was murdered to keep his dissertation research buried. Joined by Michael’s fiancĂ©e Mara Ellison, Jon travels to New York where he uncovers the threads of a deadly Depression-era conspiracy – one entangling the Hoover Administration, the Rockefellers, and the rise of Nazi Germany – and the elite cadre of assassins that still guard its unspeakable secret. Finding themselves in the crosshairs of the same men who killed Michael, Jon and Mara must navigate a complex web of historical cover-ups and modern-day subterfuge, outwitting and outrunning their all-powerful pursuers as they race through a labyrinthine treasure hunt through the monuments and museums of Manhattan to discover the last secret of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., before their enemies can bury the truth – and them – forever.

Congratulations, authors!

If you are a debut thriller author and would like to join our program, you must first be a member of International Thriller Writers (ITW.) The International Thriller Writers is an honorary society of authors, both fiction and nonfiction, who write books broadly classified as “thrillers.” This would include (but isn’t limited to) such subjects as murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, adventure, and myriad similar subject areas. Visit to join.

The International Thriller Writers membership includes some of the world’s best-selling authors: David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Lee Child, Sandra Brown, Clive Cussler, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson and many, many more. All of these authors’ careers began with their first book. Browse the ITW Debut Authors’ pages on this website and check out The Thrill Begins blog to discover the best-sellers of tomorrow. The ITW Debut Author Program, under the aegis of the International Thriller Writers, seeks to support our first-book members through the publication process by providing a friendly, interactive community for the purposes of networking, mentoring, promotion, and camaraderie. To apply for membership after you’ve become an ITW Member, please contact Al Leverone.