Saturday, June 28, 2014

Five Hundred

Scott D. Parker

I walked away from a job yesterday. I have a new one lined up in a week so I’m not making making as big a leap as our DSD buddy, Russell, but it’s still a step into a new direction.

One thing that is going to change is the amount of personal time I have. Violins playing, I know, but I’ve been working from home for 3.5 years now and it’s a huge deal to give it up in favor of other benefits. With the old job, I was able to wake up at six and write for a couple hours before before “commuting” down the hallway and go to the day job. That’s gone now, so I’ll need to find other moments in the day to write.

That will also make my writing time have to be more efficient. My biggest challenge, to date in my fiction writing career, is my efficiency. Last summer, I was a writing machine...because I knew where I was going. The past couple of projects have started with a great first half but then got bogged down in the middle. Everyone knows the muddy middle is the hardest but it’s even more difficult when you don’t know how to get through it. That’s my major hurdle to overcome this summer: practice.

More efficient writing to adjust to the less time I have to write. Okay, but what, you ask, does five hundred have to do with that? Well, since you’ve kept reading down to paragraph four, I’ll tell you. After I walked out the door for the last time, I headed over to Office Depot. I wanted to buy my own mouse that was the same model as my old work mouse. (It’s a Lexar M310 if you want to know.) While there, I saw the package of 11x17 paper. I love paper that size and use it when I start writing down ideas for a story. I start with a pencil, finely sharpened, and just start brainstorming an idea. I did it most recently at the beginning of this month when I laid the groundwork for my current yarn. Now, it’s  filled with notes and arrows and cross-outs and all sorts of mind-mapping type things.

The astute reader will no doubt have put two and two together to figure out where I’m going, but I’ll spell it out nonetheless. As I practice more efficient story creation and practice more efficient use of my personal time to write, I’d like to have a goal: five hundred ideas. One per 11x17 page in that package. Some stories will take more than one page and others only one so the number probably won’t be five hundred, but I think you get my idea. Dream big. Dream bold. And have a plan.

I want to spin tales out of those five hundred pieces of paper. A year from now, how many will have been filled? Two years? Five? Ten? It’s one of those times when blank paper is a thrill.

How do you create your stories?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Taking the (freelance) Plunge

By Russel D McLean

For those of you paying attention, I have been lackluster recently  here at DSD. For that I can only apologise. My day job, since the move, had been taking up a lot of time - far more than I ever expected and far more than it did back in Dundee - for a whole variety of reasons. Also my paid writing gigs were increasing and as much I love DSD, the money had to come first. What we all know is that sooner or later something has to give, and you may remember my last post was all about giving up the day job to go freelance. I'm there, now. Which of course has meant that my first week of freelancing has been spent with the world's worst cold and my body just shutting down after months of sticking it out for the sake of the day job. Its reacted like I'm on holiday. But the good thing is that there is still stuff I can when I'm sick. So between pills and potions, I've been reviewing and editing and working at a pace that suits my recovery. Its an advantage and a good one. But before you think the new life is all sweetness and light, let me assure this was not a decision entered lightly. I'm going to learning as I go but I at least have a sort-of-maybe plan for what lies ahead.

Here are some of the many things that I spent months thinking about before taking the plunge:

 Money, Money, Money

You do not become a freelancer without some kind of backup plan. Not unless you're absolutely certain of what you're doing. For the first few months I know I'll be running at a loss. I hope (hope hope) that enough work will start to come in as the months go one to start to make it up. But I waited until I had a small amount of money behind me and also checking with the Literary Critic that at least one of us will be able to make the bills in any month. We have financial plans in place. You have to think ahead to the eventuality that some months are going to be very tight indeed.

(death and) Taxes

With an employer, your taxes come off automatically. Self employed people and freelancers need to think about taxes and NI and how to pay all that. I find my head thrown so I have sought out a reputable accountant to help with this.


I know some people who have, but I do not   recommend just jumping into this full time without getting some experience first. I chased up leads part time for years before realising that I was getting enough work to make a go at making freelancing a reality. Make the connections. Chase the leads. Get the jobs. Know that this is what you want to do and what you can do. Because once you're in, you're in all the way.

Chase Those Jobs

You do not have the jobs come to you. For a long time I used to wonder about why, despite people loving my reviews online, I wasn't getting those paid gigs in the papers. I would write query letters and get little to no response. That started changing when my queries became more specific. I didn't just say, "I writes guid reviews, d'you'se have anything going?" - - I chased specific editors with specific reviews. I said, "This book could be interesting and I am the guy to review it for reasons XYZ" In other words I sold the content of what I wanted to do and I sold myself. I did the same with the interviews I wanted to do. I secured the subject in potential first and then approached editors with the pitch. Its all fine and well saying, "I think an interview with Bill Gates would be great," but if you can't get a hold of Bill Gates you can't rely on the editor being able to do it for you.

Don't Think in a Straight Line

I want to make a living from writing. I thought for a long time that all I could do was write fiction. I thought that sooner or later that Big Deal would appear and make my world a better place. I couldn't get my head out of being a fiction writer. And then I started to branch out. I thought about reviews and how to monetise those and realised I had to go where people were paying. So I followed that up. I turned my hand to a different kind of interview (scripted inteviews - q and a's - are good for blogs and fanzines and so on, but if you want to get paid bucks for interviews, you need to develop a narrative interview style which I discovered was very tricky but incredibly rewarding). I sought out freelance jobs with small publishers. I pursued paid chairing/interviewing events via libraries and festivals. In other words I considered my skill set and then set out to exploit in every way I could. even ways I'd never usually think of. Sometimes I have still hit a brick wall but by opening myself up to different ways of using my particular talens I have found a lot of varied and interesting ways of keeping the income coming in. Some of it I will never get credit for, but that's okay. I have the cheque.

Stop Underselling and Get Paid

Too many writers do things for free. We need to get paid. There are some situations - perhaps, such as this blog, which I and the rest do for love - where payment does not enter into it. But the truth is, people forget that writing - good writing - is an art, an effort, a skill. Its not lugging bales, true, but then not everybody is able to write well and those who can should be paid accordingly. But we do so much for free unnecessarily. Because we let people get away with it. Because we too fall for the trick of undervaluing our own skill set. I'm not quite at Harlan Ellison's stage yet (and he's done a few things I disagree with) but this rant is very much on the, ahem, money:

(I hope he was paid for that interview!)

Be Open to New Ideas

A few months ago before I seriously thought about the idea of quitting the day job, someone approached me to something I'd never done before. Its an editorial thing and while my name will never appear on it, I got paid. But it wasn't something I'd thought about doing before because I'd never considered myself to have experience in the area. Except I did. Everything else I'd done pointed towards an ability there. So I took the job and damned if it hasn't led to more work and more fun. You have to be open to doing things you didn't expect to do. This isn't nine to five any more. You can make your own hours, but you have to be flexible, open and adventurous.


There's lots more going on and I've only just started at this full time. But I'm looking forward to it all. I'm having a blast already and I'm getting more time work on my own fiction as well (which does pay) as well as time to think about DSD columns, too. Something I haven't been able to do in a long time. I hope to have news about other projects soon, but in the meantime if you want me, I'll be in the cave of solitude, drumming up some work...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Let them talk

I’ve written a few blog posts about my experience with certain things - from agents, revisions, social media, dealing with reviews and more. But I realized late last night that I’d forgotten a very important one: Publicity.

This is doubly important to me, because I'm a publicist by trade. For over a decade, my job has been to promote authors/creators and their work through interviews, book reviews, book events, conventions and the like. It’s a fun job - and allows me the chance to be around creative people and help get the word out on books I love. I mostly do publicity in the world of comics and graphic novels, but I think there are lessons that can be applied to our world, as mystery writers.

So, here’s a peek inside a publicist’s brain, and a few hints as to how you, the author, can help get the word out on your book when the time comes.

Say hello. Big publisher or small, chances are high that your publicist is swamped. Once the deal is locked in and you know when your book is coming out, find out who your publicist is and reach out. Don’t send a list of demands, suggestions or marketing ideas. Just offer to meet for a cup of coffee or to talk over the phone to introduce yourself. Eventually, the conversation will veer toward your book, how to promote it, etc. But get to know the person first and allow them to get a sense of you as an author, so the publicist can figure out what to do. Plus, it adds some humanity to a job that is very often done just through email or conference calls. If your publicist is good, they’ll take you up on it.

Pool your resources. Know a reporter at Paper X that’s been bugging you to review your book or interview you? Have a list of contacts/bloggers/fans that will review all your books whenever they come out? Great! But tell your publicist. They can help coordinate the press and, most importantly, time it properly. A good review does squat if it doesn’t hit at the right time - either right as the book is coming out or around big events (book tour stops, conventions). A publicist will always appreciate you making their job easier, and they’ll remember that when they have to do extra work on your behalf.

Ideas! As noted earlier, publicists are busy. At small companies, it’s often 1-2 people handling all the publicity for the entire line. Some small publishers don't have a dedicated publicity person (!). At bigger companies, publicists are spread thin handling dozens of books or numerous imprints. It’s a 24-7 job that doesn’t allow a lot of room for a personal life or, ha, sleep. So, when an author - after the introductory phone call, natch - has some realistic ideas about promoting their book, they usually see this as a good opportunity. Plus, it gives you a chance to actually influence how your book is promoted - which is cool, assuming you have a somewhat collaborative publicity person. Go in with ideas that are both realistic and relevant to your work. Don’t expect them all to be approved and be open-minded. Odds are, you’ll come to a greater solution together. Collaboration is the fun part of the publicity stage - you finally get to talk about your work, as opposed to sitting alone and creating it.

Don’t go rogue. This is related to my last point, but merits its own slot. It’s bad for to unload in a public forum, especially the press, about any internal issues you’re having with a publisher/publicist/etc. If it’s someone who published you long ago and you’re being vague and maybe someone can figure out what you’re talking about - that's up to you. I, personally, would just keep gripes private. Your call, though. 

If you have an issue with your current publisher or with how your book’s been promoted, talk to your publicist or publisher directly and professionally. Don't emotionalize it, either - it's easy to be labelled "difficult," and if your points are clear and fact-based, it's much harder to be tabbed as such. If that’s not working, bring in your agent. Airing your dirty laundry in public makes everyone look bad and doesn’t help improve the relationship that still needs to work to promote your book.

Make yourself available. “Why hasn’t my book gotten enough press?” I’ve heard that a few times over my career, and the reasons are usually pretty clear: sometimes books don’t resonate with people. It’s the harsh reality of timing, coincidence and the universal consciousness. Some things just don’t click. It’s up to your publicist to help combat that. Every publicist is different, but we all have methods to fight a case of the blahs - but we need the author’s help. Were you free to do that interview your publicist asked you to do? Did you do that signing? Were you up for the radio or blog tour? No? That’s probably part of the reason why your book isn’t getting any press. Realize that once your book is out or about to hit, you need to be available to do whatever they ask (within reason) in terms of promotion. It shows you’re a team player and that you’re invested in making the book a success.

Now, if you have done everything you’ve been asked to do and you’ve suggested things that you feel are valid (“This blogger wants a review copy” or “This reporter called me and wanted to interview me”), then you have grounds to complain. Publicists, like anyone else, come in all sizes. Some are great, some are not-as-great.

Hope this helps! Please share your own experience in the comments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Word of Thanks and Free Books

by Holly West

After my mini-breakdown about marketing and promotion last week, I pulled up my big girl panties, which, incidentally, have become a whole lot bigger since I started writing full-time, and got to work. That's usually the answer for me when I get bogged down by annoying details. Head down, chonies up, and figure out what my next step forward is.

In this case, I started with blurb requests. I made a list of authors that might consider offering blurbs for Mistress of Lies and began crafting my emails. By the way, fellow DSDer Alex Segura wrote a post about blurb etiquette awhile back and it's a good one.

My first request was met not only with an affirmative response, but a whole lot of other valuable information as well. Here's where I need to acknowledge Jeri Westerson, whose latest Crispin Guest novel, Cup of Blood, drops on July 25, 2014. I love the Crispin Guest series because, like my Mistress of Fortune series, it's hardboiled historical fiction. It's called "medieval noir" for a reason.

Having benefitted from the kindness of authors numerous times since I started on this path, I'm still sometimes bowled over by their generosity, and such is the case with Jeri.

Suddenly, asking for blurbs (and reviews) didn't seem like such a terrible task. My fear, you see, was that if I asked my author friends for blurbs and they said no, it would somehow change our relationship, make it awkward in some way. Now I understand that it's an accepted part of the business. Sure, I already knew that on some level, but it never quite sunk in. Now I'm asking for blurbs right and left, so watch out. You might be next.

Really, what Jeri did for me was unravel the puzzle a little bit. Sometimes, that's all I need, just a little push in the right direction.

My next step will be asking for reviews from book bloggers and websites across the Internet. My biggest mistake when Mistress of Fortune came out was relying too heavily on the relationships I'd established on social media to sell the book. Sure, social media is a valuable asset, but it's only a piece of the puzzle (and boy, this all puzzles me much of the time).

And now for the free books.

With beach reading season upon us, Dana King is making four of his books available for free on the Kindle from June 25-29. Here's the rundown:

A Small Sacrifice
Nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Indie PI Novel, it's the story of Chicago investigator Nick Forte, who is asked to clear the name of a man who has been publicly vilified as the murderer of his young son. Forte learns, while Doug Mitchell might not be guilty, he's no innocent, and the circumstances place Forte and his family in jeopardy.

Grind Joint
Named by the LA Review of Books as one of the fifteen best reads of 2013, Grind Joint is the story of what happens in a small, economically depressed Pennsylvania town when someone gets the bright idea of solving their financial woes by building a low-roller casino. The local cops find themselves up against more than they bargained for when the Russian mob takes an interest.

Worst Enemies
The first of the Penns River books, the story of what can happen when someone takes the scenario of Strangers on a Train way too seriously. Detectives Ben Dougherty and Willie Grabek have to solve two murders organized by a person who is close to both victims, yet operates at some distance.

Wild Bill
A standalone tale of FBI Special Agent Willard "Wild Bill" Hickox, who's ready to retire but wants to put the cherry on his career by bringing down Chicago's Number One crime boss. When a gan war re-arranges all the players, Will must choose between duty, experience, and a combination of the two if he is to ride off into the sunset as planned.

That's me out. Have a good week, everyone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

News; Bryan Q, Star Killer Star, A Small Sacrifice

By Jay Stringer

Three things to shout about today.

Firstly, ex-DSD writer Bryon Quertermous is open and available for freelance editing work again. If you're a self pubbing author who needs a good eye on your work, or a professional edit, then you won't go wrong with Bryon (just don't feed him after midnight.)

If you're a commissioning editor, or an indie press, why wouldn't you want him to work on some books for you? (Never get him wet.)

His editing site is up and running here. Crime? Sci Fi? Thriller? Fantasy? I don't even know what most of those things are, but he can help you with them.

Next up, my buddy Eyre Price has a new book out today. Star Killer Star is the latest Crossroads Thriller. He mixes music, crime, conspiracy and violence in a way that can only be described as awesome. The book is out in paperback and on kindle right the hell now, so you know what to do.

Here's the Amazon write-up;

So many bright, young music stars lost too soon. Tragic consequences of the pop-rock lifestyle or calculated casualties of a far more sinister plot? 
Sent on a mission by the mysterious Mr. Atibon to discover who really killed Jimi Hendrix, Daniel Erickson uncovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest government offices and corporate boardrooms. When devilish music promoter Haden Koschei sets his sights on a new pair of victims, Daniel’s quest gets personal, as he and his hit man friend, Moog, race down the highway to hell to save their loved ones. It’s a long and winding road, beset with maniacal FBI agents, corporate commandos, and crazed Mexican drug lords. Before Daniel can make it to the big finale, he must first face his own destiny. Star Killer Star is a smart, fast-paced thriller that asks: If fame is power, who controls it? And what are they using it for?

And finally for today, our pal here at DSD, Dana King, is gearing up to give some books away for nada on kindle between June 25-29. That's a total of FOUR books that you'll be able to get for the combined price of ZERO dollars.  I'm pretty sure that counts as one of the best deals ever.

Dana's book A Small Sacrifice  has been nominated for a Shamus Award this year for best indie P.I. novel. The winners will be announced at Bouchercon in November (I'm going to be there this year, by the way, come buy me a drink...I mean....come say hello.)

Here's the blurby bit for A Small Sacrifice;

Detective Nick Forte is not impressed when Shirley Mitchell asks him to clear her son’s name for a murder everyone is sure he committed. Persuaded to at least look around, Forte soon encounters a dead body, as well as the distinct possibility the next murder he’s involved with will be his own. Clearing Doug Mitchell’s name quickly becomes far less important to Forte than keeping references to himself in the present tense.

If you want to be all caught up before then, or if you simply want four bloody good books for the price of none, you'll be able to get them here from tomorrow. And today's post comes with some homework. Hit the twitters and the facebooks and tell people about these three good writers.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bulletin Board: Links and Things

(I used to do these more regularly, maybe I should start up again. If only because there are some things that other link round up posts miss that crime fiction peeps might like.)

  • Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books, has closed up shop. I was looking forward to reading Patti Abbott's, Matthew Funk's, Nik Korpon's, and Rob Hart's books and hope that I'll be able to do so soon. Here's hoping that these authors, and the others, will have their rights released in a timely matter.
  • We've had a lively discussion about this over on Facebook. Is Clint Eastwood an overrated director?
  • Dynamite Announces 'Ex Con' Series. Look for it in September:
"Ex-Con #1 begins in 1985 with L.A. con artist Cody Pomeray, who had a gift for looking inside a mark’s soul with just a glance. But one fateful night, he targeted the wrong man — and was sentenced to the most savage prison in California. Pomeray would have been beaten to death on his first day if not for the intervention of Barnaby Creed, the most powerful crime lord in the Southland. Now it is 1989 and Pomeray’s out on parole, robbed of his special ability and tasked with doing Creed “a little favor.” He has no idea he’s just stepped into a long con, and this time, *he’s* the mark!"

  • An Ex-Con Reviews Orange Is The New Black: ""The one thing that drives me nuts about this show is all the snappy banter. I understand that they have to make the show interesting, but if a guard came in and saw that you had smeared food on the wall, they would have thrown a bucket and scrubber in and not fed you again until you cleaned that shit up. They certainly wouldn't have allowed you to talk about the food on the wall, or wait for you to give this quirky explanation. This is like a scene from Blossom or something, where the guard is playing the exasperated Dad character. It's like, "Oh, Piper! What wacky antics have you gotten into now?""
  • "In 1973 a ragtag group of Texans scrounged up $60,000 and created a film so violent and visionary that it shocked the world. But if you thought The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was strange, then you haven’t heard the story of how it got made."
  • 19 Rare Recordings of Famous Recordings
  • The Palomino: An Oral History: ""Back then there was an element of danger in the bar. There were people drinking and people in the parking lot. There was whiskey flowing. It wasn’t really a super-drug-era place—maybe weed. A lot of honky-tonkers would take uppers so they could drink more. I remember seeing Johnny Paycheck standing at the bar once, and Waylon Jennings. It was just a very impressive, kind of frightening place to be young and go into. When you’re 21, 22, 23, your ‘hanging out at the bar’ chops aren’t up yet. You’re not a man-man, where you go in, stand at the bar, put your money down, and get your drink.""
  • Manchette: Into the Much by James Sallis: "
    Though dredged from the same dark sense of purloined promise as Chandler’s, Manchette’s profoundly leftist, distinctly European stance may be something of a problem for American readers. Like many of his generation, Manchette was influenced by the Situationist Guy Debord, whose theories, elaborated in The Society of the Spectacle, were everywhere during France’s 1968 insurrections. Situationists held that capitalism’s overweening successes came only at the expense of increased alienation, social dysfunction, and a general degradation of daily life; that the acquisition, exchange, and consumption of commodities had forcefully supplanted direct experience, creating a kind of life by proxy; and that liberation might be found in fashioning moments that reawakened authentic desires, a sense of adventure, a ransom from dailiness.

    Again and again one finds similar ideas in Manchette, here as a loose scaffolding holding story parts together, there like bones poking through broken skin. Manchette’s stories clip along at breakneck speed, breath be damned, skimming over polarized societies and forfeited lives, momentum never flagging. And in that disjunction, lightness of surface supporting the heaviness beneath, Manchette found his voice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why I Appointed My Husband as a Troll Buster

I’ve been preparing to have my book enter the world for months, researching how other writers handle things like combining marketing with writing a new project and how they handle the inevitable BAD REVIEW.
Luckily for me, a few months back, my husband appointed himself my Official Troll Buster. He will read my reviews for me and then pass on ones he thinks I might want to see.
Now, let’s just get something straight. I’m not a prima donna writer. I can take constructive feedback with the best of them. So here are some reasons why I am happy my husband—God bless him—is my Official Troll Buster when it comes to people who have things to say about my book and me online.
Not everyone is going to love my book.
Heck, not everyone is going to even like it.
Okay. Let’s get down to brass tacks here: some people might even—GASP—hate it.
There, I said it.
Bully for them.
And here’s an earth shattering revelation: I don’t like every single book that comes my way.
There, I said it in public.
I don’t like every award-winning, NYT bestseller that sells a million copies. Some, yes. All, no.
Reviews are not constructive criticism.
I’ve heard writers say, “Well I like to read my reviews in case it helps me improve for my next book.”
That made sense to me.
I thought really long and hard about whether it would be worth reading negative reviews simply to become a better writer and then I realized … nah. Nuh uh.
Because here’s the thing, unless someone is able to provide constructive criticism of my writing in a way that I can use and learn and improve from as a writer—well, then I’d rather not hear it.
I have a process that garners me invaluable feedback from the first time I let another person read my work.
First off, I have early readers — other novelists I trust who read my books early and give me feedback.
After that, I have a writing group. Supergroup is an amazing group of insightful writers and readers. I trust them completely. They tell me what works and what doesn’t long before I send my manuscripts to my agent and editor.
And the last level of feedback my books get is the incredible editing from my editor at HarperCollins. She is amazing. She is the best of the best in my book. I trust her and will listen to what she has to say. By the time my book hits the world it has been reviewed intensively
This is not my circus. These are not my clowns.
Internet trolls are not your average normal people. At least I hope not.
So I repeat this to myself: this is not my circus, these are not my clowns.
In other words, I’m not involving myself in someone else’s crazy.
I’ve got enough crazy to handle in my own life. I don’t need to invite someone else’s in.
In the good old days, it took time for someone to write a letter complaining about something I had written in the newspaper. It took time, effort, energy, and even money (the stamp) to put their thoughts on paper and send them off to me.
As a result, most of the letters I received were either well thought out arguments or discussion points or just plain crazy. It was easy to distinguish between the two.
Nowadays, any drunk fool who had a bad day can blather on about what an idiot I am and then hit “enter” or “post” on their keyboard and BOOM! Their comment is sent directly to me. And if I hadn’t been raised in the critical world of journalism, it might crush my tender little writer’s ego. But thanks to editors at newspaper, I shed that ego years ago. But that doesn’t mean I want to invite trolls into my world.

Writer friends: Do you read your reviews?

Reader friends: Will you not buy a book based on a negative review?