Friday, October 31, 2008

Special Las Vegas and the Mob show

On November 5 at 7 pm Central time, I’ll be doing a special edition of my Las Vegas and the Mob show on Blog Talk Radio. The topic will be a double murder that occurred in Lakemoor, Illinois, in 1981. My guests will be Paul Scharff, son of one of the victims, retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy, and former Chicago Outfit mobster Frank Cullotta. You can listen to the program live, or play it back later as a podcast, at

Below is some background on the case.

Murder in Lakemoor

On the morning of June 2, 1981, two people were found shot to death in the living room of an apartment at the rear of the P.M. Pub, located at 238 West Rand Road in Lakemoor, Illinois. The victims were the tavern’s owner, 37-year-old Ronald Scharff , and barmaid Patricia Freeman, who had worked her first shift at the bar the previous evening. Lakemoor is situated about 45 miles northwest of Chicago and was a community of around 800 at the time. These were the first reported homicides there since its incorporation in 1952.

Shortly after the killings, McHenry County Sheriff’s investigators had a couple of suspects in the slayings. Jim Hager — a friend of Ron Scharff — advised them that if they wanted to solve the murders they should look at either Freeman’s boyfriend or a guy named Larry Neumann The latter was a McHenry County native then living in Las Vegas. Neumann, a burglar, robber, arsonist and all around tough guy, was working for Chicago Outfit enforcer Tony Spilotro in Sin City. Neumann had previously been convicted of a 1956 triple murder in Illinois. And although he received a sentence of 125 years, he had miraculously been paroled after serving only about 16 years. Hager had thrown Neumann’s name into the mix because he had witnessed an altercation between Scharff and Neumann’s ex-wife in which Scharff threw the woman out of his bar. Hager felt that to a guy like Neumann, that incident could be construed to be a personal insult demanding redress.

It is unclear exactly what the police did with that information. But they reportedly put most of their focus on Freeman’s boyfriend, who had allegedly been seen across the street from the lounge on the night of the killings. The man was questioned and submitted to several lie detector tests, the results of which were inconclusive.

At any rate, no charges were filed and the case was still open the following year when what seemed like a major breakthrough with a Las Vegas connection took place. In May 1982, Tony Spilotro’s childhood friend and lieutenant flipped and became a government witness. Frank Cullotta — who had been running Spilotro’s crew of thieves and killers known as the Hole in the Wall Gang prior to defecting — told the FBI agents and Las Vegas police who were debriefing him, that Neumann had killed two people in a McHenry County tavern the previous June. McHenry County authorities were notified and interviewed Cullotta at the federal lockup in San Diego.

Cullotta confirmed Hager’s suspicion of the motive for the murders. He stated that Neumann had received a call from his ex-wife regarding her altercation with Scharff. The killer had become enraged. He considered the incident to have been a sign of disrespect to him; and felt he had no choice but to return to Illinois and get revenge. Not long afterward Neumann said he was heading for Chicago. Another Cullotta associate named Tommy Amato went with him. Amato went along to share the driving and get out of Vegas for a while. He had no knowledge of Neumann’s plans for retribution. When Neumann returned to Vegas he admitted the murders to Cullotta.

In addition to Cullotta’s statement, a Las Vegas police detective provided details of an interview he did with Tommy Amato regarding the Scharff and Freeman murders. David Groover said Amato told him that he had driven Neumann from Chicago to Lakemoor in Neumann’s Thunderbird. Neumann told Amato to park near the pub and wait in the car for him. A few minutes later Amato heard two gunshots, followed seconds later by two more. Neumann returned to the car, and after driving around for a while threw the murder weapon into a lake. Although Amato later retracted his story, Groover memorialized Amato’s statement in a sworn affidavit.

Further information that seemingly corroborated the accounts of Cullotta and Amato was contained in McHenry County police records. The night after the killings, Tommy Amato was in a car operated by Neumann’s brother-in-law when it was stopped by a police patrol. Amato was detained briefly and then released.

In spite of all this information, Neumann was not charged and the murders remained unsolved.

In 2008, 27 years after his father’s murder, Paul Scharff received a phone call from Jim Hager. He was told that Holly Hager — Jim’s daughter and Paul’s one-time babysitter — had read a book that she believed included a segment on Ron Scharff’s killing. Although the names of the victims and the specific location of the crimes weren’t included, she felt everything else matched. Jim agreed and reached out to Paul.

The book Holly read was CULLOTTA — The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness. On page 130 of that book she found Cullotta’s account of what turned out to be the Ron Scharff murder. For Paul, who was a young boy in 1981, this was the first time he’d heard the story about Larry Neumann being his father’s killer. After talking with Jim Hager and reading the book himself, Paul is convinced Neumann was the man who took the lives of his father and Pat freeman. That acceptance has brought him a certain amount of closure.

But now he’d like the police to name Neumann —who died in prison in January 2007 — as the perpetrator and close out the cold case. He’d also like an explanation as to why the police seemingly never seriously went after Neumann all those years ago. Frank Cullotta and his former FBI handler Dennis Arnoldy have agreed to assist Paul in his efforts if needed.

For the sake of Paul and his family, I hope he’s successful.
Thank everyone for posting about promotion. Promoting the book seems more difficult and complicated than writing it. How far ahead of time prior to the publication date should a writer start promotion tasks, such as creating book marks, or getting together press kits, and how much should the writer consider spending for promotion? Is there a point that is considered excessive?

I noticed at Barnes and Noble online they feature books in certain extra categories, such as Coming Releases, based strictly on their own ideas of which books merit the mention, i.e. you can't pay extra to have your book featured. I wonder if there is anything a writer can do to get his or her book featured more prominently on such websites (without the novel becoming a best-seller first, of course.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

More thoughts on Promotion

Of all the many challenges I've encountered in the book biz, promotion has been the biggest and most troublesome. In the beginning, it seemed like everything was breath-takingly expensive. Even a tiny ad in a conference program cost a hundred bucks or more--and this for a potential audience of 50-250 people. From the perspective of my bean-counter business background, the "ROI" factor seemed laughable.

In 1998, after being in the business only 6 months, I took a half-booth at Book Expo America. OTP had three titles in print and a fourth in progress. It cost almost $4,000--and I didn't sell one single book. I tried to console myself with the big pile of business cards I collected, and followed up, mailing to bookstores, reviewers, librarians. Nothing.

A few years later, I took an ad on the back of a magazine. It was a narrowly-focused publication, but I had a couple of books that fit right in. The ad cost $500 plus the fee to the graphics designer. Was there a bump in sales? Nope.

Along the way, I did lots of promoting to newspapers, talk radio, TV and so on, some pricey, some not so much, but all ineffective. So, I decided to made a deal with a promo company who promised great results with talk radio. For $1,000 this outfit would do a blitz for three titles. Add to this the cost of the books that had to be sent (usually overnight Fed Ex) to the interested parties, and there is easily another $3-400 involved. We got a 3-4 actual appearances among ALL THREE authors got it--zippo for sales bump.

Interesting, I thought, that all these promo outfits insist on pre-payment. And none of them will work on a percentage of sales resulting from their efforts. I get a lot of soliciations from book promotion outfits. Sometimes I write back and offer a deal that involves them getting paid on the back end. They never write back. Kinda tells you something, huh?

When I lived in Los Angeles, I exhibited at the LA Book Fair a few times, and of all my experiences with exhibiting, these have been the ones that were most successful. And there were some expos in Phoenix that were pretty good.

In 2007, I took a booth at Chicago's famous Printers Row book festival. It was a share with a women in publishing group I belong to, and not too costly even with a 300 mile trip to Chicago. I didn't sell one single book, but I did have a great time, including chasing down the C-SPAN book-mobile people and planting a bunch of literature on them.

I've had my frustations with bookstores also. Over the 10-plus years of OTP's life, I've called on countless stores, trying to interest them in this title or that, usually to little avail. I think there are lots of reasons for this--too many to discuss them all here. One big issue is the difference between wholesale and retail "modes." The big chains and many indies select stock at the wholesale level, maybe from a distributor, maybe from the Ingram catalogs, or PW. The buyer can make "global" type decisions, balancing mix of genre, local tastes and so on, kind of a cerebral process. So when some total stranger shows up in person, unannounced, holding up a book or two, the shop-person is on the spot. It's uncomfortable. I think a lot of the time, they just avoid making a decision. More and more, I try to leave literature, and stress that the books are with Ingram, BT, etc.

There is also the factor that the big publishing houses "buy" space in the shops, either through co-op ads or outright payments. They do this to garner the "end caps" or the front of store displays, and the swap is that the store agrees to take on cases and cases of books. Very often, many of these books are returned after a few weeks. The big houses and the shops give a title about 6-8 weeks to connect, then they return most, if not all, that stock.

As a small, indie publisher, OTP just cannot afford to do business that way. Returns are a horrible problem, and can sink you fast. I've come to the point that I just don't push stock off on stores because I just don't want to suffer the returns. I can understand the shop's reluctance to host signings also. More and more, signings, even with big name authors, are poorly attended. It's really not worth the hoop-jumping they must do to host the event.

While I try to keep the shop's challenges in mind, it's true that some of them do push the envelope. A while back, a shop in Tempe AZ charged me to host an author! Their rationale was that I was paying for set-up and clean-up afterwards. And here's the kicker: they returned the unsold books immediately! They didn't even hang on to them a few days to see if a customer who missed the signing might come in! Tacky!

Obviously, the trick is figuring out what works. It's easy to rant on, like I've done here, wallowing in all the things that didn't work...much harder to figure out what does. This is the reason why I started this blog and the COLOPHON, OTP's inhouse newsletter. I thought that with these two venues, we would have a public forum and a more private one for these topics, providing a opportunity to share ideas, problems, and optimistically perhaps, find ways to help each other toward a common goal...successful books.

Ups and downs along the promotion road

When my book, A Lesson in Murder, published by OTP, came out last fall, I was a novice at the promotional game. But, I have been learning with the help of other writers I have met at writers' conferences and online. When I attended the Philadelphia Writers' Conference in June of 2007, I connected with someone from my high school days. Turns out she is one of the organizers of the conference, and is a writer herself. She did an article about me and the book in a Philadelphia suburban newspaper. (It probably helped that I won 1st prize in the fiction competition at the conference for the first four chapters of my 2nd novel). In connection with the article, I had a book launch party at the local library with food supplied by my caterer cousins. I had bookmarks made up for the occasion, also. There was also a story and book review in newsletter at the place where I work, which has several hundred employees.

Those are the high spots. I have also encountered a great deal of rejection in my attempts to get the word out about the book. I sent press release packages to other newspapers. No responses. I was scheduled to have a reading and book signing at a local independent bookstore. They had promoted the appearance on their website and in local newspapers. They then said they had to postpone the reading, and then would not respond to me when I tried to reschedule. Other bookstores have also simply not responded to inquiries about purchasing or promoting the book. I also have tried to have the book reviewed without success, except for one online spot.

But, I am going to another mystery bookstore to pitch again, and I will be attending another writers' conference next month, with bookmarks in hand. I was at a local mall the other week, and I saw someone handing out flyers and putting them under wipers on cars in the parking lot to promote her dance studio. I started to think maybe I should do the same thing with my bookmarks. But, do people really like stuff put on their cars, and would this action create negative responses? Still thinking about that one.

Anyway, congratulations to my home team, the Phillies, for winning the World Series! I wish you all well.

Gus Cileone,

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meet The Author

I have an Internet radio show on Blog Talk Radio called Meet The Author. It's a half hour of uninterrupted chat during which my guests can talk about their book(s), publishing, and promo experiences. If you're an author and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me by email at

If you'd like to get a feel for how I do the shows, you can play back an archived BTR program at


Monday, October 27, 2008

Some Thoughts

Everyone should sign up as a follower to this blog--that will help the blog.

So glad to see others have posted--that also will help the blog.

Just got back from Vegas--no, not to do what most people do there, but to celebrate our anniversary with my sis and to have a booksigning at Cheescake and Crime in Henderson NV. Though the turnout was poor (booksignings are probably one of the least profitable promotions though I do a few each year) those who came made it well worthwhile. Two of my favorite cops from Public Safety Writers Association and the president of Epic. Both these associations are terrific. Anyone who writes mysteries ought to join PSWA. For anyone who is electronically published, Epic is great.

Yes, I promoted the booksigning alot, but sometimes that's the way it is with signings.

Last week I gave a talk to an Anthropology class at the local college--didn't go to sell books but to talk about the Tolowa Indians who are the subject of my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Kindred Spirits. Also gave a talk to the 6th grade class at our local school about writing. Didn't sell books but had a lot fo fun.

Thursday I've been invited to speak to the Rotary Club--will take books for sale. Saturday I'm going to a bookfair in Bakersfield.

Next weekend, Sunny Frazier and I will both be speaking at the Erle Stanley Gardner Mystery Festival in Old Town, Temecula.

While traveling I read David Morrell's (author of First Blood, Rambo) book on the craft of writing and more, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, one of the best of this kind of book.

And to tie it all up, I was saddened to hear about the death of Tony Hillerman, who gave me the courage to write about Native people. He'll certainly be missed.

I hope I've given you some promotion ideas.


Two Sites New To Me by Sunny Frazier

I'm signed up for Publishers Weekly, but I don't always look closely enough at the info. Today I took the time to check out what they said about WeRead and BookSense.

On the WeRead site, I found my book, Fools Rush In, listed. News to me. This site is partnered with Lulu as a new way to reach potential customers. It started in 2007 and has 2 million readers. It suggests titles to members based on their stated preferences and what's on cyber bookshelves. Right now they are not selling books at the site.

WeRead "suggests" publishers pay to have titles listed, starting at $1,000. Steep. Harper and Penguin are now on board, which gives the venue some legs.

I also learned BookSense, now 8 yrs old, has morphed into They support independent bookstorees. On the site, they are asking people to reminisce about their favorite childhood bookstores. There's a point system and rewards. There's also an affiliate for authors to link up for free. Check out All they ask is that you link to their site.

I'm just dipping toes in the cyber pool. Any thoughts from the rest of you?

From Norm Maher: The book’s out. Now what?

Promote it!. Here’s what I’m doing for my slick crime caper, Easy
Money by Norm Maher

The Internet
1. I have a publisher at Oak Tree Press who can make it turn
somersaults. She handled all the tags and links so anyone can hit
Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books to find Easy Money.
2. I ‘m on You Tube with a minute commercial which is pretty sweet.

1. Made a cover sheet and bookmarks for a release to all the local
media (newspapers, tv and radio) inviting them to review the book.
Noted that the crime was in a local area and I’m a local author.
2. Will also send a release to several publications such as the
military, advertising, chain store news, etc. All the places with
books for sale.

Book Signings
1. Set up a book signing at our largest bookstore with literature and a
sign. Plan to get to more stores and then spread out to a 50 to 100
mile area.
2. Before the signing, will send out another release inviting the media
to meet the local author.

Person to Person
1. Called the main library to buy books for all the branches.
2. Sent books to friends and relatives asking for reviews to Amazon
and BN. My sister, in NYC, for example will push the books at the
Mystery Book Store.

A Christmas Tale
Our Christmas party this year will feature the book. so it’ll be a
launch party as well.

The above is for starters. Plan to do much more..

Finally I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the OTP publisher,,
Billie Johnson, who gives all kinds of tips and ideas for book
promotions in her newsletter the Colophon. Ask for copies.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Guys, Come on, Warm Up Your Fingers and Post

It's important for blogs to have new information on them all the time. I don't want to be a hog here, I have other blogs that I'm committed to. All of you published or going to be published by Oak Tree should be participating.

These are the last places I'm visiting on my virtual book tour:

Oct 24

Oct 27

Oct 28

Oct 29

Oct 30

Oct 31

This Saturday, Oct. 25, I won't be virtual, but I'll be in person at the Cheesecake and Crime Book Store in Henderson NV at 2 p.m. I'll be discussing the research I do from the Native American part of my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, in particular Kindred Spirits.

How about letting us know what you're doing for you book?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Planning for Next Year

I'm pleased that Oak Tree Press will be publishing the next in my Rocky Bluff P.D. series. And, I'm already filling my 2009 calendar with events to promote that book.

So far I'm giving a talk to a local Women's Club, a library in another town, a writing group at a book store, a romance writers group about getting published, going to a writers conference as a speaker, I'm going to the L.A. Times Book Festival, spending three days at a county fair in a writers booth, going to the Public Safety Writers Conference and Mayhem in the Midlands.

The reason I'm telling you this is not to brag, but perhaps give you some ideas on how you can promote your books.

Recently someone said that I had a lot of energy. No, it's not that, I just want to do what I can to promote my books while I can. Selling books takes a lot of effort on the author's part. Yes, the publisher has things to do too, but if you don't get out there an hustle, your sales will show it.

Of course I'll do another blog tour like I'm on right now for my latest book.

I hope this has sparked some enthusiasm for promotion.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Blog Tour and More

Just returned from yet another writer's conference where I gave two presentations about writing. Like any other conference picked up some tidbits along the way which I'll share when I have more time. Got to introduce famous thriller writer David Morrell (most famous for the creation of Rambo in First Blood but he wrote many other wonderful books.)

I'm on a blog tour this month and the stops I'm making this week are;

Oct 13

Oct 14

Oct 15

Oct 16

Oct 17

I hope some of you will stop by and leave a comment here and there.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Sharing Our Stories

This week, I had the privilege of speaking before a group of women who have joined together in what is called The Passion Project. What binds them is their individual and collective desire to inspire and be inspired, to find ways to advance in the direction of their dreams, and to listen to the ways their mind and body are connected, informing who they are and how they should live.

In asking me to speak, they asked me, simply, to share my story. So I did. I talked about growing up in a housing project, only dreaming of becoming a writer, not knowing it could actually become a possibility, never mind a reality. I told them how, just when life was coming together and I'd found my first agent for my first novel, I was in a boating accident that shattered my back and nearly left me paralyzed and how I would need to heal from that before thinking about writing again. And how, conversely, I used writing to heal. I shared insights and lessons and laid myself open before this warm and spirited group.

We are our stories. As writers we need to understand that we don't only tell stories, we live them. When we pull back the curtain on our lives and make ourselves vulnerable to others, we build a foundation of interested readers. If we want to have others interested in our writing, we have to let them in. We have to be willing to give talks and show who we are not just what we're doing.

I encourage every writer to take opportunities to share your personal experiences, even when it feels hard, even when you think you have nothing "special" to say. You'll be surprised at how inspiring you can be and how, in return, you will be inspired.

Warm Wishes,
Patricia Sheehy

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Like several other OTP authors, I'm new to blogging. Beginners face two issues. First the technology. We feel uncertain at first, but that passes. Then the more challenging part for an author - what to write about. I have no clue. So I went to the OTP bookstore and bought a half dozen books. Helps the business, the prices are right (I bought 'hurt' copies when available), and I'm anxious to explore the work of my colleagues. Are the writers who share a publisher colleagues?

Monday, October 6, 2008

New York magazine article

I've been enjoying this blog and the interesting posts many of you have contributed. Allow me to check in with my 2-3 cents worth.

In case you missed it, here's the link to a recent article that ran in NY magazine. Yet another lament for the death of book publishing. A few complaints I've heard before, but an interesting piece, nonetheless.

Since I just had my first novel published by Oak Tree ("Media Blitz"), I view this whole "The End" attitude with a sense of irony, I guess.

Joe Nowlan

Friday, October 3, 2008

Participating on Blogs

Every author published by Oak Tree Press ought to be blogging here. The more a blog changes, the more apt it is to have visitors. I know it takes a lot of time--I have several blogs that I try to post to as often as possible.

At the moment I'm on a blog tour for a book of mine that was recently published. To make sure people at least look at the different blogs I have to keep posting the blog spots. It's already helped because the Amazon numbers have been going down. That's a good thing, by the way.

This is not all I do with my time--I cooked, cleaned a bathroom, washed the covers on my living room furniture, took care of the regular mail and email, did other laundry and I watched a movie.

Since I have a book to finish and another to plan, I'll be getting busy with those soon.

Tomorrow I'm going to the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime and later that evening, a party--so I'll more or less be taking the day off.