Saturday, November 30, 2013

Lois Winston Revisted

Lois Winston is an award-winning author and designer as well as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Her latest book, Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. 

Lois, as an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency, what advice would you give fledgling writers seeking literary representation?

If I had to pick one piece of advice, it would be: Don’t submit until your manuscript is ready to submit. Too many unpublished authors make the mistake of thinking their work is ready for submission when it’s far from ready. They start their agent search the moment they type THE END, without first learning how to write a publishable manuscript. Today, it’s harder than ever to sell a manuscript. Editors are doing the work of four and five people. They don’t have time to mentor writers with promise. The manuscripts agents submit must be near perfect. Likewise, agents aren’t in business to mentor writers. So before a writer wastes her time and ours, she needs to make sure her manuscript is the best it can be.

Tell us about Anastasia Pollack and your crafting mysteries.

Anastasia Pollack is a women’s magazine crafts editor, a reluctant amateur sleuth, and the star of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, was released in January and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews called it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”

When Anastasia’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle class life craps out. Suddenly, she’s juggling two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, a communist mother-in-law, AND her dead husband’s loan shark. And that’s before she becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a coworker she discovers hot glued to her office chair.

How important is humor to the mystery genre? And who, in your opinion, has best combined the two?

Humor is very subjective, which is one reason it’s so hard to write. As a writer of humorous fiction, I know that not everyone is going to “get it.” I just hope that more people “get” my humor than don’t get it.

Some people don’t think humor belongs in mysteries. However, I believe that it’s easier to get through anything if you have a sense of humor. A good humorous mystery doesn’t make fun of murder and death. The humor lies in how the protagonist approaches life and deals with all the caca thrown at her.

Personally, I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series because Stephanie never fails to make me laugh. Being favorably compared to Evanovich by several reviewers has me floating somewhere over the rainbow. Another favorite series of mine is Lisa Lutz’s Izzy Spellman books.

You’ve received some great reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Book List and Kirkus, among others. How important are reviews to a writer’s career? And do bad reviews really damage a book’s success?

Great reviews certainly give a boost to an author’s career, but many books that have received mediocre or even lousy reviews have gone on to become bestsellers. Word-of-mouth is the author’s best friend. If people like a book and talk, tweet, and blog about it, other people are going to buy it, no matter what the critics have said.

How do you manage to balance your design art with your writing and agenting job?

LOL! I thought I was doing a pretty good job of juggling my designing, writing, and agenting careers until last Saturday at a conference when someone said, “See you next week.” Huh? As far as I knew, I had nothing scheduled for this weekend. Turns out, I’d agreed to speak at a SinC meeting and had completely forgotten about it. I guess the scheduling gods were looking out for me, because if this other author hadn’t said, “See you next week,” I would have stood up several dozen mystery writers.

I’ve decided I need a personal assistant, but first, I need to be making enough money to afford a personal assistant. Either that, or I need to win the lottery -- which means I’d better start buying lottery tickets. I wonder which has better odds.

You’ve won an amazing number of awards. Which one means the most to you? Why?

The award that means the most is the one I didn’t win. I was the first runner-up in Dorchester Publishing’s inaugural American Title contest. Even though I came in second, I was offered a publishing contract. That first sale launched my career as a published author.

How important is blogging? In your own experience, has it increased book sales?

It’s very hard to quantify how successful blogging or any social networking is in regard to actual book sales. All author promo is a crapshoot, whether it’s blogging or giving away tchotkes and doodads with your name and website printed on them. For that matter, even the promo done by publishers and independent PR firms is a crapshoot. What works for one author may lay a ginormous goose egg for another author.

In an ideal world, authors would sit at their keyboards and write while their publishers handled all the promo. However, today’s world of publishing is a less than ideal world, and authors are expected to flak their books. In the three years between publication of my last book and my current book, much changed, especially the way authors use social media for promo.

I knew it was time for me to have a blog, but I didn’t want to compete with all the well-established author blogs already populating the blogosphere. So I decided Anastasia should blog, not Lois. Since Anastasia works as an editor for a women’s magazine, it seemed like a natural extension that the magazine should have a blog. Thus was born Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers -- . Mondays through Thursdays the various editors of the magazine blog. Fridays are Book Club Friday with Anastasia hosting guest authors who talk about their books.

Has Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers resulted in more book sales for me? I don’t know. What I do know is that every week I have more visitors to the blog and a growing following. Hopefully, that’s extrapolating to more book sales.

How has writing changed your life?

Writing has enriched my life in so many ways. I’ve discovered a talent I never knew I had. I’ve met many incredible people, some of whom have become extremely close friends. My life would be wanting in so many ways without these supportive, wise, and knowledgeable women. I’ve also enriched my mind, accumulating knowledge that I otherwise wouldn’t now have. And I’ve learned that it’s sometimes possible to have dreams come true if you work hard enough toward your goals and don’t give up on yourself and those dreams.

Thank you, Lois.
You can visit Lois at her website:,
her blogsite and
Twitter: @anasleuth but she says, "I’m planning to become the last person on the planet not on Facebook."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

You CAN Judge A Book by its Cover

by Susan Santangelo

Everyone knows that old saying – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, I beg to differ. At least, as far as my own Baby Boomer mysteries are concerned.

The designer and the cover artist for my books both make a concerted effort to make each book cover truly reflect what the story is about.  And believe me, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.Please don’t misunderstand me. 

The first thing is always to write the very best book you can. Professionally edited. No typos. (Even some of the bigger publishers seem to be miss typos these days.) Next comes the back cover blurb – a huge selling point to attract potential readers. And good reviews from a respectable site, and other readers, are also very important.

But in the age of what I call “click lit,” with so many readers choosing their books online these days through a variety of publishing platforms, an author has about a millisecond to attract a customer. And, even more important, convince them to click and buy.  An attractive cover that grabs the reader’s attention and, even more important, tells the story of the book, is essential.

My book covers have gone through a series of transformations since the first title, Retirement Can Be Murder, was published in 2009. That cover was actually taken from a photograph of two white rockers on a front porch. The book takes place in the summer, so there’s a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses, plus a little something extra, on a table between the chairs. The rockers were chosen because they often symbolize retirement. Because there are two English cocker spaniels, Lucy and Ethel, in the book, the original idea was to have our dog Lucy sitting on one of the chairs. But Lucy had other ideas.
Every time we put her on a chair and told her to stay, she gave us a look that clearly said “Nothing doing,” hopped off the chair, and took off. We finally gave up, and the book designer had the brilliant idea of putting Lucy on the back cover, not the front. And a series of paw prints were sprinkled along the bottom of the front cover, leading to the back and Lucy’s picture. By the way, even though Lucy has gone to her heavenly reward, she’s on the back cover of all the Baby Boomer mysteries, and also plays an important part in every book, along with her sidekick Ethel.

The cover for Book 2 in the series, Moving Can Be Murder (2011), was done by a wonderful Cape Cod artist, Elizabeth Moisan. She used our English cocker spaniel, Boomer, as her cover model, and he became Lucy and Ethel. (He’s not too happy about posing as two females, though.)
Boomer continues to be featured on every front book cover, along with clues to the story, and Lucy reigns supreme on the back. I’ve had readers e-mail me to say that they were first attracted to my books because of the covers – they just love the dogs. There are lots of dog lovers out in the universe!
I’m a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of writer, so Elizabeth can’t start to conceptualize  the cover until I’ve finished the first draft of each book. Why? Because we put the murder weapon on the cover. 
Where is it on each of these covers? Can you guess?
And why does Book 4 have three dogs on the cover instead of the usual two? 
I’ll never tell. You have to read the books!  

Susan is giving away a print copy of her novel, Class Reunions Can be Murder, to someone who leaves a comment here. Be sure to leave your email address at the bottom of your comment.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Middlemen, Mayhem and Mysteries with Anne K. Albert

Welcome back to Mysterious Writers, Anne. Tell us how and why you left traditional publishing to become an independent.
Life is a journey, and so too is the road to becoming an indie author.

 I never imagined I would one day publish my own books. But then, I never imagined ordinary people such as myself wrote books either! Yet, at 45 I decided to give writing my all. I spent the next fifteen years honing my skills. With seven completed manuscripts in hand, I entered contests (won several), attended workshops and conferences, queried agents and submitted my stories to editors.

The rejections piled high until three years ago when a small publisher offered a contract.

At 60 I became a published author! While I knew nothing about the book industry, and even less of social media, I was determined to do my part to promote my books.

And promote I did.

For two solid years I spent every waking hour online. I blogged. Took part in blog tours. Tweeted. Established a presence on Facebook. I also read how-to books, posts and articles that promised success if the author did this or did that as advised by the experts.

So, how did that translate into royalties? Sadly, it did not. Payments always arrived late (as in months, not weeks). Statements were nonexistent, while excuses from my publisher were so plentiful I lost count.

When my husband pointed out I’d earned more at ONE Saturday morning yard sale than I had during my two-year writing career I fell into a funk. I stopped writing. I stopped promoting. I stopped blogging. I ignored Facebook. And I was totally and utterly miserable.
Worse, I suspected my publisher was partially to blame. But how was that possible? Was I being paranoid? Delusional? Unable to decide I terminated my contract in May 2013. Within hours my books were withdrawn from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. I was stunned. I had no idea my publisher could move so fast!

I expected to feel relief, and that did happen. But what surprised me was the depth of sadness that washed over me now that my books were no longer available to readers.

I spent the summer in a writer’s purgatory. Towards the end of July I received the rights back to my books, and also discovered 14 other authors had recently ended their association with my ex-publisher. The reason? Fraud and breach of contract. One writer was swindled out of $5000.00 in royalties.

Misery changed to anger, and that’s when I made the decision to go indie. I realized no one cares more about my writing career (or the proceeds I would make from it) than me. So, I set up my own publishing company. Because I’m Canadian I applied for my EIN (US Employer Identification Number). Next, I set up an account with Amazon’s KDP, and in early August re-released DEFENDING GLORY, book one of the Piedmont Island Romantic Suspense series, in ebook format. FRANK, INCENSE, AND MURIEL hit the shelves this month.

These may be small victories in the grand scheme of things, but they’re huge in my world.

Was it scary? Yes. Did I make mistakes? Oh, yeah! Would I do it again? Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

If you’re considering going indie, my advice is go for it. It’s a fantastic time to be a writer. It’s an even greater time to be self-employed and queen of your universe!

Here are a few tips to help you get started.

(1)  Read everything you can get your hands on about self-publishing. Start with these sources:

(2)  Once you have a better understanding of what is required, decide how much of the process you’ll do yourself. Will you edit and format your books, design the covers, or hire someone to do it for you?

I chose to do it all myself. (I do have beta readers, however, that are worth their weight in gold. They believe in my stories as much as I do, and for that I am eternally grateful.)

 Money was also a factor, but the experience with my ex-publisher also left me with some trust issues. I wasn’t prepared to hand over my books to a stranger. Besides, with a degree from an art college (I graduated in the Stone Age!) and my past work experience at a daily newspaper, as well as a stint as editor for a weaving magazine, I felt confident I could do this. Plus, I love being in total control. If I succeed or fail, I have no one but myself to blame. J At this point in my life, that’s important.

(3)  Start your indie career by publishing something small such as novella or small non-fiction book. The task will not seem as overwhelming, and it will allow you to get a feel for the process. Each time you publish a book it will get easier.

At the moment my books are only available as ebooks. To be honest, when I set out on this journey I could not cope with the enormity of formatting in both versions. So, I took it one step at a time. Sure, it may have cost me a few sales, but my blood pressure is normal! I am determined to offer my books in print in 2014.

(4)  Embrace your mistakes because you will make ‘em! The joy of self-publishing is you can fix them lickety-split. It costs nothing to upload new content, and those mistakes are golden opportunities to look at something differently or tackle a task from another angle.

(5)  Dreams can come true. It can happen to you! If a 60-something woman who first saw a computer in her forties can be an indie author, so can you.
About the Author:Anne K. Albert has taught high school art, sold display advertising for a weekly newspaper, and worked for a national brand water company, but now writes full time.When not at the keyboard, the award winning author enjoys traveling and housesitting with her high school sweetheart husband (22 countries to date), visiting friends and family, and of course, reading using "Threegio" her cherished and much beloved Kindle.
She writes the Muriel Reeves Mystery series and the Piedmont Island Romantic Suspense series. Her books are available on Amazon. Visit her blog. She is also on Facebook and Twitter @AnneKAlbert.

Thanks, Anne.