Sunday, November 30, 2008

Art from My Current Show in Petersburg, VA

Please take a look at my new posts on my blog, "Notes Along the Way." I have several of the paintings from my current Collage and Mixed Water Media Show on view until January in the Mezzanine Gallery, Petersburg Regional Art Center, 132 North Sycamore Street. I plan to also post paintings from my "Monti Just for Fun" series. Those paintings will be on view at Tides Inn, Irvington, Va next Saturday. I'll also be signing books there.

Book Trailers

Billie has come a long way with her creation of trailers. I just read the Nov. 22 post and checked out some of her trailer links in it. The Timeless Love trailer is great, and I plan to add a link to it in my next newsletter. Thank you, Billie!

The technology available to writers is amazing, but how does one find time to make use of it and still find time to write?!!!


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Conference Program Ads

We're sending a grayscale version of this little ad to be in the program booklet for Left Coast Crime. This image introduces Sunny's mystery novel, Where Angeles Fear, the release of which we are timing to intersect with LCC. (Poor Sunny! She has to go to Hawaii to promote her book!)

Ads in conference programs are a good value, IMO, and I do them often. They are very affordable, especially in this business card size. Sometimes I promote one of our contests, sometimes a title, sometimes just a blurb about the company. I believe these ads are going to a target-rich environment, since at least 99.9% of the people at a writers conference are writers and readers. Also, I believe that many of the booklets are kept for a while, and the "pass along" factor is a good bet also. So, there is a lot of bang for the buck, as they say.

However, even if there was little bang, there is still the factor that the fee for the ad is going to the conference organizers, which is a good thing. It takes a lot of work from a lot of people to put a conference together, and there is always the risk that it won't be a profit-making venture. Plus the front end of the planning is loaded with costs which must be paid during a time when registrations may be few and far between. The fees (even though modest) for program ads can be a real boost to the conference cash flow.

Why is this important? Because if conferences can't at least pay their own way, it's a good bet that the majority of them will cease to occur. And whether you like conferences for what you learn (like Gus Cileone) or for the interaction of it all like (like Mike Orenduff) or for both aspects (like Marilyn Meredith) or for the opportunity to make a Hawaiian splash with your new title (like Sunny Frazier), conferences are still a valued and valuable element of our industry.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Space vs. Facebook

Billie had an interesting post topic on the newsletter- My Space v. Facebook. For what it's worth, my vote goes to Facebook. While I have accounts at both and have been on My Space much longer, I have found that Facebook is easier to reconnect with people I haven't seen in years. I have found more people on Facebook in a few days than I did on My Space in two years. Facebook constantly suggest people I may know who live in my city or went to the schools I attended.

The benefit for me is that many of my college buddies have relocated to other states, and I see this as a positive because they can help get the word out about my novel to people I don't know and wouldn't have a chance to market to otherwise. I have recently found friends that moved from here, New Orleans, to Manhattan, L.A., St. Louis, etc..

I feel like I can get a local following easier, just because of the number of people I know here, we have a huge French Market/Flea Market every weekend in the Quarter, and another huge one on the other side of the river in Algiers where I can market. I can put a notice of my book release in my biography update for free in my high school newsletter, my college newsletter and my law school newsletter, plus for a small fee I can do the same in the monthly magazines of the legal associations I belong to, which are local but have a large number of members. So locally, I can at least get my book name out there, but hoped to find a way to get people from outside of my geographic area interested in the book.

Second, Facebook tends to have a more mature, professional following. An FBI agent who handles child sex internet cases mentioned that My Space is chock full of pedophiles because there are so many underage kids on the site, but Facebook doesn't have the problem because of the difference in the age and type of members. So besides avoiding the potential creep factor of who may be trolling on My Space, the Facebook member is probably more likely to purchase my novel, which is geared toward adults.

Although My Space seems to have more bells and whistles visually, Facebook is easier for me to navigate, which also makes it quicker to visit for me, and means I can check it daily.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two things in Gus Cileone’s post (Info from a writers' conference) urged me to comment. First, although I don’t generally find writing conferences helpful, I think Gus is right that mixing with other writers is valuable. With regard to formal presentations, I always remember that W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Advice like use more verbs and fewer adverbs and adjectives is too abstract to be of much use. Generally, it’s probably a good rule, but sometimes the right adjective is the key to the perfect sentence. Good writing isn’t primarily a matter of rules. The most important thing is to be able to recognize a good sentence when you see it. If you reflect on it after the fact and come to believe it’s good because it used a strong verb and no adjectives, that may well be true. Rules are essentially post hoc.

The second thing I liked was the advice from Hemingway to end your writing day with an unfinished thought or action so you can more easily jump back into your story the next day. Another observation from Hemingway I like is that a good story is like an iceberg; 90% of it is below the surface. That's not a rule, but it's a helpful insight.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Info from a writers' conference

I attended the Montgomery County Community College Writers' Conference on 11/14-11/15. They have had prominent writers there in the past, including Norman Mailer and Edward Albee. This year, the main speaker was Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours. I have attended the Philadelphia Writers' Conference twice and was at the Baltimore Writers' Conference last year. I have found these conferences to be very informative about the business and craft of writing. It's also good to just talk to other writers, since we do our work in solitude, mostly.

At one workshop, we were asked to pick up pictures of people that had been collected from newspapers and magazines. We then had to make up character backstories which would then lead to plots for stories. It was interesting to see how our imaginations could be stimulated as we envisioned the lives of these people just by looking at their faces and seeing what they were doing in the photos.

A writer by the name of Michael Hogan, who had written two novels, Man Out of Time and Burial of the Dead, talked about how to start a novel. He said a common problem is to give too much exposition up front. He said you have 300 to 400 pages to get to develop the characters, so try to draw the reader in with a little information at a time. Sometimes you should just drop off your first chapter and start with the second. (I actually just did that with the murder mystery I am currently writing, and it did help). He also brought up the idea of starting the story with The Big Bang. Because you now have to get the reader's attention early, many writers feel they must have something exciting happen quickly (The first body drops in the first couple of pages of my OTP novel, A Lesson in Murder). But he argued that you don't have to have fireworks, as long as you "seduce" the reader with something interesting that will come later. He also argued for more verbs in one's writing and less adverbs and adjectives. This style make for a stronger narrative. Adverbs, he argued, tell, while verbs show.

I learned one writing strategy from reading Hemingway. I think it was in A Movable Feast that he says to end your writing day with an unfinished thought or action, so you can more easily jump back into your story the next day.

Just some hopefully helpful hints I wanted to pass on.

Gus Cileone,

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's Talk About Videos

A couple of years ago, the video book trailer became all the rage, and YouTube filled up with vids ranging from slick professional jobs by the big houses to wobbly, choppy entries that were painful to watch.

On a wintry Sunday afternoon last year, I started fiddling with the moviemaker application that came with Vista on my laptop. These are painful to watch also! However, sometime after that, Patricia Sheehy turned me on to, and I was off to the races!

One of my first criticisms of book vids was that many of them are way too long. My idea was to keep them more the length of a TV commercial break...a max of 60-90 seconds.

Here are some links to OTP authors whose titles are "in the movies" The Poetry of Murder by Bernadette Steele, Field of Destiny by Patricia Sheehy, Easy Money by Norm Maher, The Last Stop by Alan Bower, Calling the Dead by Marilyn Meredith, Fools Rush In by Sunny Frazier, Las Vegas and the Mob Denny Girffin. Here are a couple of 'works in progress' for our imprints Dark Oak Mysteries and Timeless Love. Here's a couple of personal ones, for local events where I like spending some R&R time, Taylorville Garden Walk and Christmas in the Park and here's our family reunion from last June...that handsome guy is my dad! This one would have been so much more fun if Animoto had the theme from Deliverance as one of the music choices!

Do book vids boost sales? Who can say for sure, but I see them as another link in the chain...that "get the word out" chain.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I just finished Katy King’s City of Suspects (Oak Tree Press, 2003 in case you’re wondering). It’s a fun read with a juicily jumbled plot and a delightful detective, Jane Lanier, who’s half hard-boiled gumshoe and half hometown girl. There’s romance, suspense, danger, and a good bit of humor. Several reviewers compared Lanier to V. I. Warshawski, high praise indeed considering that Sara Paretsky is a good writer and an international best-selling author. But her Warshawski can be grating. Lanier, on the other hand, while just as tough and principled, is much more simpatica. She’s someone you’d like to know, and the Portland King describes is somewhere you’d like to live.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Holiday Promo Ideas

If you haven't already thought of it, the Christmas holidays are a great time to sell books.

The first Saturday of December, I'll be in an antique store in my little hometown. It's the day they encourage everyone to shop in the stores here--frankly there aren't that many. I'll be putting up posters in the Post Office, the coffee shop and of course the antique store. The local newspaper will have an article about my latest book and where I'll be.

The second Friday and Saturday, I'm going to have a table in the Art Gallery of the next closest city. We have no bookstores or malls so I have to be inventive. The Downtown Merchants Association is promoting a shopping in that city day--and I took a press kit to the bigger newspaper down there with a book and handed it over to the features reporter who is also my friend. Of course I had a blurb in there about being in the Art Gallery. Of course I had to ask permission of the art association to be there and they're hoping my presence will bring in more visitors and buyers of their art and crafts.

One suggestion I've heard, is that if you have a series, offer all the books in the series as a package for a gift suggestion. Haven't tried that one--probably have way too many books in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series for that to work.

Oh, and I'll be bringing cookies to all three events--offering goodies results in sales.

That will be it for this year--except for continuing to write on all the blogs I'm on.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Write What You Know

Today I attended the Virginia Writers Club 90th anniversary lunch at Randolph Macon College in Ashland. Dean H. King, author of Skeletons on the Zahara: The True Story of Survival, was the featured speaker. In researching this book, he traveled to that far-away desert area and rode camels, experiencing as much as he could the plight of Captain James Riley and his group who lost almost half their body weight as they spent three months crossing the desert in the early 1800s. King fell off his camel the first day--a pretty dangerous happening since his guide was racing ahead of him a quarter mile away. He also told about visiting Ireland and really getting to know people in remote communities as he researched a real life character in another book. His talk made me think how important research is for a book.

"Write what you know," we've been told over and over. That's why the books I've written and am working on now are set in places I've been, with characters doing things (for the most part) that I have done. I've never done anything as extreme as King revealed, but I've had unique experiences and met some exotic characters. My next book is set in Trinidad where I spent an exciting few days and in the Grenadines where we flew in a small plane into a tiny airstrip. Now I'd like to go back ...

Thursday, November 6, 2008


What great blogs you folks have posted about promotion. Sunny points out some amazing facts about what writers need to do and how everyone should be prepared when they start out on the promotion journey. The four authors who joined me to write Published! Now $ell It! bring out many ideas that authors should be using as they market their published work. However, the Internet is changing so rapidly, it's hard to keep up with all the new opportunities. I still want to do a book trailer like Billie (OTP) suggested. But it takes so much time, and today it was difficult to pull myself away from my art studio and the new Golden Micaceous iron oxide I'm using on my canvases.

Mary Montague Sikes
Secrets by the Sea

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Based upon advice received here, and going back and reviewing the Colophon newsletter, I have taken the following actions to promote my book, Gumbo Justice, due out this summer: (1) I have created a website, (dot com was already taken); (2) I also reserved the website Hollicastillo, my name, just in case, since it was only $10 for the year; (3) I created a facebook account, and immediately found several people I knew from college and high school. (I have a myspace account already.) I contacted the people and began networking; (4) I e-mailed my website, which is still very much under construction, but pretty cool-looking nevertheless, and asked several people I know who will buy my book for their advice on it; (5) I started making a list of people who may read and review my book; (6) I e-mailed the link to the pre-order at Barnes and Noble to my friends and family, although I do fear B&N may remove the pre-order ability when they learn the novel is not scheduled to come out in 120 days; (7) I made a list of all of the things I need to learn about, like blog tours, how to navigate certain promotion websites, and what exactly do I provide early readers to read; (8) I made a list of things I need to do for the website, for instance, I would like to take photos of the real New Orleans places I used in my book, such as the courthouse, St. Charles Ave., the projects, and upload the photos of the places to the website. And I did this all since yesterday. I think I'm off to a decent start.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Promotion the Right Way

Sunny here.
I've been volunteering my time and expertise to set up the local authors program for the Kings County Library, CA. Some of the roadblocks I've run into amaze me. Authors in my area seem to be doing their best to hide the fact that they have books to sell. I finally realized that many writers don't have a clue as to how to promote.

The first thing I do when I hear about an author is to Google the name. What? No website? Why do you make me scour the Internet to find vague mentions of you? I want to know if you are local to my area so I can book you as a speaker. Why are you reluctant to tell me where you're from? Are you in the witness protection program? Are you afraid of hoards of fans converging on your home, demanding signed copies of your book? If I can't find the information quickly, I will move on to other authors.

Yesterday, I saw a mention of an author speaking at a bookstore in a nearby town. No website listed. I contacted the store owners, who passed my info to the author. The email addy had some weird, possibly cute, AKA in lieu of the author's real name. does not make me feel like I'm dealing with a professional.

Today I'm writing Community News announcements for the next speaker. He had sent me the publicity plan as set out by his publisher. None of his media contacts match mine. He apparently looked up names from the staff box to find the most important person on the newspaper to send promotional material. That's the quickest way to have info tossed in the trash. I call every newspaper, TV station and radio station. I chat up the receptionist, find out who handles community news and feature articles. I find out if they prefer email or FAXes. What is the time frame--3 weeks prior notice, two weeks? I thank them when they run the article or make announcement. I check in regularly to make sure my contacts are still good. The news media has high turnover.

My small local paper created an entertainment section just for my monthly column on writing. I also send them full-length articles, with photos, on the speakers I'm bringing in to the area. No, I don't get paid. Having worked as a journalist, I know reporters scramble to find articles to fill the newspaper. If you hand them a complete and well-written article instead of just a bio or press packet, you'll get the publicity. When I hear authors complain that the media ignores them, I want to shake some sense into their heads.

Finally, every author who wants an audience should get on Book Tour. List your speaking venues and this Internet group will notify other Book Tour subscribers in the area. They also have a section listing speakers in the area for people like me who are constantly looking to sign up authors. Use it to contact organizations with author programs. It cost nothing, yet this cyber source is ignored.

What do I get for all of my efforts? Name recognition. Bylines. I get paid to lecture on promotion. Best of all, my library is giving me a book launch when "Where Angels Fear" comes out from Oak Tree Press.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New York State Senate Awards Ceremony

On Wednesday, October 29th, I attended the fifteenth annual New York State Senate Awards Ceremony, hosted by Senator Serphin Maltese and NYC Councilmember Anthony Como, at the Veterans Administration facility in St. Albans, Queens. Forty distinguished New York City veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice over more than half a century; in many cases the awards were accepted posthumously by family members. Senator Maltese invited me to be a guest speaker at the ceremony and graciously allowed me to conduct a book-signing afterwards. (Click here for bigger Scurvy Dog Pic!)
Bob Cohen
(All authors' royalties donated to the Navy- Marine Corps Relief Society)