Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Review Quandary – or is it a Quagmire?

There was a time when a book review was a scholarly piece. It might analyze structure or parse theme. Contemplative endeavors, the reviewer filtered the words through their own experience, but wrestled with what the author attempted to convey. While I occasionally encounter a thoughtful analysis of a novel, more often authors – or their publicist – parse reviews for the perfect sound bite in order to create a marketing piece.

Purchased reviews—marketing bits—have been around since storytelling moved from oral to written form, but recent articles have reacted to the discovery as if it were major news. Amazon’s bots have jumped on the issue and with programming known only to them are combing online reviews for (paraphrasing here) reviewers with a financial interest in the product. No one was sure if there was an implied payment arrangement or simply a lot of back-scratching going on.

Do reviews matter? Do they influence your buying patterns?
When I shop in a bookstore or wander the mystery section in the library, a title, a cover, a favorite author makes me pause and read the jacket blurb. If the blurb strikes my interest, perhaps that’s sufficient but sometimes I’ll read the first page, especially if the author is a new “find.” But I never read the cover quotes or page(s) of review extracts.

Online, I find browsing difficult. Not to pick on Amazon, but clicking on the mystery section tends to bring up the usual suspects. Once I drill down into new-to-me author territory, reviews actually start to matter. It’s fairly easy to dismiss the best-friend hyperbole (it’s the best book ever!) and the trolls (1-star, no text). But I notice whether a book has been reviewed.
What about you? What’s your impression of reviews in general? Amazon’s new policy? Their impact on your buying patterns?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Assuming an identity

I don’t belong here. 

Everywhere I go, there’s a little devil on my shoulder that says: you don’t belong here. It’s been there for as long as I can remember. It is gentle but firm. It says, you don’t quite fit in. Or, you’re not really welcome. At work it says: you’re not smart enough, how did you get this job? At the gym it says: you’re not man enough, and everyone is staring at you. At a party: you’re not cool enough, and what the hell are you wearing? At the beach: you look like a pale piece of spaghetti in swimming trunks. At family gatherings, who let you in? 

I’m actually thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to expressly stipulate in my will and testament that the phrase “I don’t belong here” be inscribed on my tombstone. The feeling is such an integral part of who I am that I can’t help but think it’s embedded in my genetic profile — innate and codified in every living cell in my body. 

I know that sounds a little crazy, but I do have proof: my mother.

My mother, Blaize Clement, was the well-loved author of the popular Dixie Hemingway Mystery Series published by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. Her first full-length mystery, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, appeared in bookstores in January of 2005. It was an instant favorite among readers and critics alike. Every year there followed another installment in the series, with more and more loyal readers, more rave reviews, and more glowing letters from fans. Everywhere Blaize went, she impressed people with her confidence and poise, but only her best friends knew that there was a side of her that felt like a perpetual outsider, always observing from a distance, never quite fitting in. It was this funny mix of characteristics that I think made her a keen observer of life and an excellent writer. She died of cancer in July of 2011, so we’ll never know to what literary heights she might have flown had she been given more time, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what, she would always have felt like the odd man out. Like a pretender. Like she didn’t belong. 

Which brings me to here and now. Shortly before my mother passed away, her friend and editor at St. Martin’s Press, Marcia Markland, called with a question: would I be interested in continuing the Dixie Hemingway mysteries? I was mortified. My mother was ecstatic. Dixie lives on. Now, a little more than a year later, here I am with an agent, a publishing contract, and a new book out in July of 2013, writing about what it’s been like to step blindly into the world of mystery-writing and pick up where my mother left off. It’s been an amazing, humbling, and life-changing ride, but do you see how I might feel like I don’t belong here? 

People most often want to know if it’s been hard to recreate my mother’s voice and style. Usually I say it’s been as easy as pie, but in all honesty that’s only partly true. I hear my mother’s voice all day long. I hear the cadence of her conversation, her mild southern accent, her slightly irreverent humor, her stubbornness, her wit, her laugh. She poured herself into her books and, most notably, into the character of Dixie Hemingway, and since the books are written entirely from Dixie’s point of view all I have to do is transcribe that voice down on paper and my work is mostly done. The difficulty has been that I feel like a trespasser in the world my mother created, a cat-burglar in the House of Dixie, snooping about and touching things that aren’t mine. I know how fiercely and passionately my mother loved Dixie and her family of characters, but I also know that I can’t do them justice if I don’t make them fully mine.

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend Bouchercon, the annual conference for fans, authors, agents, booksellers and publishers of mystery fiction. For most of the first day, I beat a straight path through the hallways. I brooked the crowds with purpose. I walked from ballroom to conference room and back again without lingering too long, lest anyone think I didn’t know what I was doing. I even wore my black-framed nerd glasses so I’d look like a real writer. Turns out, I was wasting my time. I can’t imagine a more generous and supportive group of people. Everyone I met went out of their way to make me feel welcome, from writers to fans, bloggers to bookstore owners, and publicists to librarians. I made friends I’m sure I’ll have for the rest of my life. And whenever I worked up enough courage to admit that I felt like I didn’t quite fit in, I always got the same response: “Oh yeah. Me too.”

John Clement spends his time between New York City and Sarasota, Florida. The next book in the Dixie Hemingway Series, The Cat Sitter's Cradle, will be out in July, 2013.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Let’s Get Social: Practical tips for writers

Let’s Get Social: Practical tips for writers
By Collin Kelley

When I signed a contract with Vanilla Heart Publishing for my mystery trilogy (Conquering Venus and Remain In Light are out now, the third book is coming in 2014), I knew upfront that I would be playing a large part in promoting my novels. 

Today, many small presses require their authors to actively engage in promotion and even authors selected by the “big six” publishing houses are finding that they have to organize readings, signings and media coverage of their books.

Using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Red Room has become second nature to me. I’ve even guest lectured on social media for writers at literary festivals and at Worcester College at Oxford University in the UK. 

Yes, having to do your own PR distracts from the writing, but I’ve found it’s all about time management. Give yourself a half hour each day to engage on these sites, but don’t “oversell” your work. More on that in a moment.

An easy first step to building an audience for your forthcoming book is to post a sample. Six months before Remain In Lightdebuted, I posted the first four chapters on Scribd ( and then linked it around to Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and my blog. In 24 hours, more than 100 people had read the chapters. 

Similarly, when I decided to explore self-publishing an eBook of short stories in the Amazon Kindle Store, I put one of the stories from Kiss Shot on Scribd and social literary site, Fictionaut ( As of this writing, more than 3,000 readers have sampled my work on these sites and I know it’s led to sales. If you have a website or blog, you can also post sample chapters there. It’s easy and free!

The best tip I can give for new authors about to dip their toes into social media is don’t be frightened and start slowly. When I guest lecture and lead classes on social media the most asked question is, “What do I do once I’m on Twitter and Facebook?” 

I recommend setting up a Facebook page for your book, so that you can be more direct in your promotion and sales, but you don’t want to “hard sell” your book. The goal is to build community, so help other writers promote their books, find topics that relate to your books and interests, post funny YouTube clips – you’re selling yourself as much as the book and readers want to get to know authors, so let them into your world.

If you go on Facebook and constantly post “Buy My Book” it’s going to turn people off. The same applies to Twitter. If you want to engage on Twitter, become a source for good links and information, re-tweet links and information from your followers, and let your interests and personality shine through.

Cultivating and building community on social media sites takes time, so work on it daily, but don’t let it become a distraction from your art.

Collin Kelley is the award-winning author of the Amazon bestsellers Conquering Venus and Remain In Light, which was a finalist for the 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction. His poetry collections include Better To Travel, Slow To Burn, After The Poison and the forthcoming Render (2013, Sibling Rivalry Press). His just-published eBook of short stories, Kiss Shot, is available exclusively in the Amazon Kindle Store. 

Find out more at 
And follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Releases

Happy November and Happy Thrilling Thursday. The first of every month we will feature members of our Debut October 2012. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

A.J. Colucci - The Colony (Thomas Dunne Books) November 2012

A series of gruesome attacks have been sweeping New York City—three men are found dead, their bodies nearly dissolved from the inside out. The culprit is deadly new species of ants, with razor sharp claws and flesh-eating venom. The desperate mayor turns to the greatest ant expert in the world, Paul O'Keefe, and his brilliant ex-wife Kendra Hart. When the ants launch an all-out attack, Paul and Kendra must hit the dangerous, panic-stricken streets, in search of a coveted queen. It's a race to unlock the secrets of this indestructible new species, before the President nukes Manhattan.


Anna Lee Huber - THE ANATOMIST'S WIFE (Berkley)

Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her husband, Lady Darby has taken refuge at her sister's estate, finding solace in her passion for painting.

But when her hosts throw a house party for the cream of London society, Kiera is unable to hide from the ire of those who believe her to be as unnatural as her husband, an anatomist who used her artistic talents to suit his own macabre purposes. Kiera wants to put her past aside, but when one of the house guests is murdered, her brother-in-law asks her to utilize her knowledge of human anatomy to aid the insufferable Sebastian Gage-a fellow guest with some experience as an inquiry agent. When Kiera and Gage's search leads them to even more gruesome discoveries, a series of disturbing notes urges Lady Darby to give up the inquiry. But Kiera is determined to both protect her family and prove her innocence, even as she risks becoming the next victim...


Jamie Michele - An Affair of Vengeance (Montlake Romance)

Undercover agent Evangeline Quill knows the dangers of getting personally involved in her cases. But this one is unavoidable: someone murdered her parents, and she’s sure she knows the killer. To hunt him down, she’ll need evidence…and someone to lead her straight into the murderer’s lair. Enter handsome and elusive Oliver McCrea, a man with ties to the criminal world.

Although McCrea wears a tough outer shell, Evangeline senses something vulnerable beneath his wounded, golden gaze. He’s the one man she shouldn’t want, but she’s never been big on resisting danger. McCrea knows he should turn Evangeline away, but there’s something about her that calls to the man he used to be before the underworld disintegrated his humanity.

Evangeline is determined to draw out a killer, and McCrea’s going to stay right by her side to keep her safe. But will their passion lead to love…or death?


Cathy Perkins - Honor Code

In a small southern town where everyone knows each other’s business, veteran detective Larry Robbins must solve the disappearance of eighty-year-old widower George Beason.

When evidence arises that Beason may have left town on his own, it would be easy for Robbins to close the case, but his gut instinct tells him more’s at stake. As he uncovers clues about Beason’s deceased wife and his estranged daughter, Robbins must untangle conflicting motives and hidden agendas to bring Beason home alive.