Friday, July 31, 2009

Another Great Read From Oak Tree

I just added Sunny Frazier’s Where Angels Fear to my list of funniest mystery novels (see my list on The protagonist, Christy Bristol, is bold and brave. What makes her such an appealing character is that these admirably traits clash with her basic personality. Charmingly na├»ve, repressed and lacking self-confidence, she has to work at doing the right thing. She’d rather stay home and pet her cat than chase a murderer, but she’s such a decent person that she forces herself to do the right thing, often with good results, always with funny ones. The scene where she and her sidekick Lennie go to the novelty shop to buy leather outfits so they can penetrate a sex club to find evidence had me laughing so hard, I had to dry my eyes to read the next page. Lennie is the complete opposite of Christy – brash, confident, and action-oriented. Unfortunately, her lack of inhibitions and short supply of common sense often land her and Christy in dangerous situations. Christy’s insight and intelligence combine to save the duo from calamity, but just barely.
Speaking of intelligence, Christy is demure about hers in a way that shows the author is an astute student of gender issues. Although Where Angels Fear falls under the heading of a ‘cozy’ mystery, there is intellectual heft in this sensitive portrayal of how intelligent women often avoid flaunting their brains in a way most men cannot even see, much less understand.
Because Christy is an astrologer, I wasn’t sure whether this book would resonate with me. I know nothing about astrology and generally have an aversion to anything that tries to peer into the future. Turns out the book would be good even without the astrology. But I was surprised and delighted to find that the astrology angle actually turns a very good book into an excellent one. Christy’s uncanny ability to read people and her telepathy – handled deftly by the author – turns a very good book into a great one.
Sunny Frazier has a gift for drawing characters. Christy and Lennie are people you’ll love getting to know, but even the minor characters are multidimensional, real, and believable. Like a finely staged play, all the characters are a joy to see on stage and each one advances the story. Within ten seconds of reading the final page, I was going online to buy the other book in the Christy Bristol series, and I can’t wait to read it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some Book Stores Are Small-Publisher Friendly

It's encouraging to hear good stories about the bookstores that are friendly and helpful to authors with the small publishers. In the current economy, some of the small independent stores are having a very hard time. Creatures and Crooks, one of the best-known and most-respected independent bookstores in Richmond, VA, is going out of business. Several years ago, Wendy Howell Mills (an Oak Tree author) and I had a signing there that was well-attended. I'll never forget the giant cat that lay across the table among books and cookies, provoking much discussion and added interest. The owner bought ten copies of each of our books--a welcome support since both Wendy and I were first-time authors.

Another independent, Minerva Books opened last year in Old Town Petersburg, near the art center where I have a studio/gallery space. Now, that store is closing before I had a chance to set up a signing there. The owner has taken a job with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (according to the store's web site) but is hoping someone else will open another bookstore in a more visible location in the Old Town. The owner is even offering help to anyone interested in undertaking such a project in the downtown that is now undergoing a lot of redevelopment.

My small town has no bookstore. The nearest ones are located in Williamsburg and in Gloucester. If you have an independent bookstore near you, be thankful, support it, and schedule your signings now--before another store vanishes from the scene.


Visit Your Friendly Bookstores

For all Oak Tree authors and other writers trying to market your independent press book, I want to reinforce Wendy’s post about her local Barnes and Noble. I, too, have been told by staff at B&N’s in several cities that they won’t stock my book because it’s not returnable. I didn’t have the advantage of having a child with me (can we rent out your son for our bookstore visits, Wendy?), but I managed to straighten things out by doing what Wendy did – going with the staff person or manager to their computer and having them look it up. It’s not just B&N; I’ve had similar situations with the other chains, and let’s not even get in to no-thanks-a-million; I’ll take my business elsewhere. Personal contact is the key. I’ve tried the same explanation over the phone and by email with little success. I’ve even emailed a screen-shot of my page from Ingram where it shows the books on hand and states clearly that they are fully returnable, only to have the person on the other end of the line say her computer doesn’t show that! So one of the best things you can do is visit bookstores in person because you get a double bang for your buck. First, many will stock your book after a visit when they wouldn’t do so if you contacted them by post, phone, or email. Second, they’ll remember you, dramatically increasing the chances that when someone asks for a recommendation for a psychic romance or whatever you write, they’ll put your book in the customer’s hand. When I was arranging my signing tour of New Mexico, I tried to contact every bookstore in the state in advance. Tome on the Range, a well regarded indie in Las Vegas (yes, there’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico), never responded to my emails. When I called they were courteous, but the person who could decide what to stock wasn’t in or was busy. They agreed to give the manager my message, but my calls never got returned. A couple of months later, I walked into the store, introduced myself to the manager, and walked out with a check and ten copies of my book on display near the cash register. On the way home to Georgia, we passed through a small town in far west Texas called Alpine. The owner bought five copies. The chances of my placing my book at Front Street Books in Alpine without going there were nil. In the first place, I didn’t know they existed, but I also doubt they would have made a blind decision over the phone. I’m not saying you should drive a thousand miles to sell five books. But keep some in your trunk when you travel. And visit all the bookstores within whatever you consider a reasonable radius. Signings are great, and some people will buy your book from Amazon, but the surest way to get steady sales is to have your book on the shelves of as many bookstores as possible. My plan is to sell a thousand books in the next twelve months. How? Get my book into fifty bookstores and have them average 2 sales a month. Do the math.

You just never know!

I was back-to-school shopping with the kids and went into my Barnes and Noble store in Muskegon, Michigan, to take a break from the arguments about what constitutes appropriate attire for school clothes. We all love Barnes and Noble and it was safe ground.

I had talked to the community relations person a couple of weeks back and was working through some issues about making sure my book, A Case of Infatuation, showed up as returnable in their system. My son and I were scouring the shelves not really expecting to see it. A clerk came up and asked if she could help. I was about to say, no, when my son pops up and said we were looking to see if his mom's book was on the shelves. (I must admit there was an element of pride in his voice for my stoic son that brought a tear to my eye!)

Turns out the clerk was the store manager and we went to look it up in the system. She found it and saw that someone had ordered it from and had picked it up in the store. The book was now showing returnable. She would be happy to order a few copies and have them available at the store. They were placing an order the next day and added my book to it. Timing couldn't have been better as I have been working with the Muskegon Chronicle reporter to do a story on the book as well. Hopefully that will equate to quite a few sales.

Least to say my son got his expensive jeans with the artfully-placed holes in them that typically is a you have got to be kidding response from me. We all enjoyed dinner on the author as a work-related expense as well as the mileage. You just can't pay for that kind of publicity and making the trip tax deductible! Kids say the darnedest things!

W.S. Gager
A Case of Infatuation now available from Oak Tree Press

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This New Technology Enhances Promo Options

This morning I received a request from Prince George Art & Frame in Williamsburg (a gallery that represents my art) for a bio/artist statement and a photo showing the artist at work. I didn't have a recent photo taken in my studio, but with the new technology and a husband nearby I got new photos right away. The one at the left is not the one I'll use to send the gallery, but I thought my fellow writers might enjoy seeing some of the inside of my studio.

We are so fortunate, as writers and artists, to be living in a time when technology is at our fingertips. Not too long ago, if I had received the same request for a photo, processing the film from my 35mm camera would have taken a few days and a trip out of town to a camera shop. Now, in a very short time, we can create our own promo materials--fliers, brochures, bookmarks, even a reproduction or two of our book covers. Plus, we can advertise so much more with our access to blogs, web sites, Kindle, etc. Of course, it is wonderful and amazing to have close contact with writers and readers, like the ones of this list. You provide awesome ideas and support.

I would encourage everyone to think of one thing you can do today to use our internet technology in a new piece of promotion. Do it and see what happens.

Mary Montague Sikes

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Crime fiction readers will find F. M. Meredith’s No Sanctuary deeply satisfying. It is an excellent police procedural and worth reading on those grounds alone. But there is so much more. Meredith rivals Ed McBain in her ability to create convincing cops and lead us through the twists and turns of investigation. She draws her characters and her setting in prose reminiscent of the British novelist Barbara Pym who was noted for her style, characterization, and sketches of village life. In short, Meredith has risen above genre fiction and created in Rocky Bluff a place you will enjoy visiting. Indeed, as I read the book, I kept having the strangest feeling that I had been there – this despite the fact that the place is fictional. Make no mistake, mystery aficionados will find their fixes in the intricate plot, the well scattered clues, the ‘aha moment’ (I almost missed it because it is so teasingly subtle), the suspense at the end, and the final resolution. But even people who don’t normally read mysteries will enjoy this book for its deftly drawn “slice of life,” a sort of updated Our Town. And finally, it has what every successful book of any genre must have – romance. I look forward to reading the four other books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series and hope more are forthcoming from this prolific and talented writer.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Holli, your book is great; I don't think my review did it justice. Wendy, thanks for the post about a 'chat'. I'm not sure I'm ready for that, but I was interested that you found it useful, especially the part about your next book. I look forward to reading your first and second ones. I suddenly know so many authors that I have a stack of unread books. That's a good thing. I'm currently into No Sanctuary by F. M. Meredith. Marilyn has such a natural style and comfortable voice on the page that I feel like I grew up in Rocky Bluff even though it's a fictional place. I'm about halfway through, and I keep changing my mind about the reverend. I know I'll want to add her other books to the teetering pile.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Promotion continued

In addition to joining several author sites, I sent my husband--Julio for those who didn't meet him at the PSWA conference--to five local bookstores to see if they would consider putting my books on their shelves. In New Orleans, we have various types of small book stores in addition to the big chains. Surprisingly, one small book store already had a copy of my book on its shelf, and a few book store owners said they would be in contact after they read the book. I had postcards made to send to judges and various other people from my past at the D.A.'s Office, so Julio gave one to each of the bookstore owners. The cards have a blurb about the book and my contact info and websites. One Indie bookstore owner was a little put out that I didn't include any information about where to purchase my book from independent book stores, apparently overlooking the fact that I wasn't aware of any that were selling my book. In any event, two stores were interested in selling books on consignment, which is something I am considering, and I am also thinking of hitting the French Quarter Gift Shops that sell New Orleans touristy stuff. Julio still has to go to the small French Quarter book stores, but he said the book owners were very receptive. (In case anyone is wondering why I didn't go myself, I am still on the cane from a car accident a year ago, which he explains to them and lets them know I would be happy to meet with them in person. It is just difficult to go to all those places myself if there is no interest.)

Also, one of the Barnes and Noble here, on the westbank of New Orleans, carries the book in the store, but only three copies, if I'm not mistaken. I know at least one person who bought it from there, so they may only have two (or none) by now. Julio happens to be friends with one of the managers, which is how it worked out for me. I knew I married that man for a reason.

So now the Maple Street Bookstore in uptown New Orleans and the Barnes and Noble westbank are carrying my book, and I finally have a place to tell people where they can purchase it. As soon as I posted on Facebook and Twitter that the book was available those two places, I had several old friends contact me and say they were going to go to those stores and buy them. It amazes me that so many people do not order online in this day and age, but if I could push for more stores to carry the book, I think I have people who would buy them.

On a last note, I believe Facebook and Twitter do work to some extent to get your book noticed, or at least to let the people you're not in contact with everyday know about it. I update every so often to remind people who haven't bought it yet, such as letting them know it's available on Kindle or letting them know I'm still planning the launch party. I've had people from Junior High who I haven't seen in almost thirty years contact me and tell me they just bought the book.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice

Thinking Up Blogs to Write

I loved Monti's post about the anniversary of the moon landing. What an exciting time. Hard to believe there are some who think it isn't true.

On my own blog, Marilyn's Musings, that you can go to by following the link on this page, I wrote about the setting of the Rocky Bluff crime series--what's real about it (not a whole lot) and what's not (mostly made up.)

The day before, I wrote about my three days at the Santa Barbara County Fair in Santa Maria.

Today on my blog, I have a post about a new book on Time Management. Since I do a lot of blog hopping myself when I'm promoting a new book, I also do guest posts. If you eve want to be a guest on my blog and promote your book, just email me at: and I'll be glad to put up an interview or whatever including the cover.

I've been busy reading the books that I purchased at the PSWA conference and when I'm through with each one, I'll put a review up on my own blog and one on Amazon.

It's hard being an author and the more we can help one another the better.

I do believe the book world is in a state of transition because of all the e-readers and books being available as e-books. But it's something that's been coming for a long time. I've been e-published for over 10 years.

Anything you can do for another author, will eventually come back to help you.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Happened to America?

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. That event inspired America and heightened pride in our country. Years after, I painted an imaginary "Earth Rising" inspired by the photograph of the earth taken by astronauts perched high above on the moon. Of course, the moon does not have water, but artists and writers have vivid and, often, romantic imaginations. America was on top then as a world power. Other nations looked up to us. Now, we appear to be on a decline. As a writer, I wonder, what happened to America? Why has our world image changed so drastically? What can we, as writers, do to turn America back toward its former glory?

Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras by J. Michael Orenduff

Folks, this is an outstanding book! I bought it at the PSWA conference mainly because I thought Michael was a charming guy and I liked the cover of the book. I had no idea what it was about. Oh, of course Billie told me it was a good book, but after all, she is the publisher of the Pot Thief.

What a surprise I was in for when I began reading. This is a mystery, but not like any mystery I've ever read before. The hero, Hubert, sells old pots from his shop in New Mexico, he also digs pots up which is no longer legal, and he can make a pot that looks like the old ones.

Hubert gets all tangled up in a most devious plot to steal a pot from a museum, but the book is so much more than that. I laughed out loud in several spots, the dialogue is wonderful. Orenduff knows how to spin an intelligent tale and turn a surprising phrase.

Next, I'd like him to write a cookbook. I've never read about such mouth watering food before.

If you want an entertaining time, do pick up the Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras.

Thanks, Mike for several hours of great fun.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
Author of No Sanctuary

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sometimes a Writer Needs a Sign

As writers, we sometimes need an extra boost--a sign that things are going well for us and something good is about to happen. This morning, when I looked out of my kitchen window, I got that kind of a boost. The first hibiscus blossom of our season was shining in full bloom in a pot on our deck.

The setting for Stranger in My Heart is in Trinidad where bright hibiscus blossoms are often in the background for the story. I took a photograph of that first blossom.

Have any of you had a meaningful sign appear for you lately.? I would love to hear about them.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reviews and promotion

I received a really nice review for Gumbo Justice from Martha Cheves on her website, A Book and a Dish, Martha writes cook books, one in particular is my favorite, Stir, Laugh, Repeat, which has easy to make recipes, and she also reviews books. The combination of the two is quite interesting. I submitted a New Orleans recipe for Corn Soup, which is also posted. Martha also posts her reviews on other websites, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc..

She seemed to have really enjoyed my novel, which of course made me breathe a small sigh of relief. So far, a lot of my friends and family have bought my book, but most are still in the process of reading it. The opinions of those close to you are hard to take seriously anyway, because (1) they are predisposed to love your work; and (2) they are predisposed NOT to tell you if they don't love it. So getting a favorable review from someone who doesn't know me, and has no reason to pretend she loves my book if she doesn't, is validating.

I try to do reviews for people I know on Amazon whenever I can. I know if I happen to stumble across an unknown writer or unknown title that looks interesting, I usually will read the reviews before I decide to commit my money and time to the purchase. If the book has no reviews, I generally won't buy it. So it may help a lesser known author make a sale if the book has positive, informative reviews.

Also, on Amazon, if you run across a book or author you like, add tags for them. Tags help the books show up on searches, as do Listmania lists. If you make a list on Amazon, such as "My Favorite Murder Mysteries," and include the title of an unknown author, and then add a famous author in the genre and maybe a mid level popular author to the list, there is a chance online shoppers who look up the more famous author will see one of these lists, read it and see the unknown author's book. While there are numerous lists and tags out there competing for attention, it only takes a few minutes to help out an unknown author and could result in more people seeing the work.
Hi Kit and welcome to Oak Tree Press. I met some of the OTP authors for the first time at the Public Safety Writers Association in Las Vegas last month, and they and Billie are a fun group. I love that Billie runs contests that give new writers a chance to publish. I love that she takes in authors abandoned or mistreated by other publishers, sort of a Humane Society for writers. But what I love best is that in an age where most books are published by large corporations that also have theme parks, recording studios, and fast-food chains, she's in the business because she likes books. I look forward to reading your books and meeting you in person at some point.

Mike Orenduff

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Message From Kit Sloane

I'm brand new to Oak Tree Press, but I've been writing forever and
have known Billie since 1998 when my book, GRAPE NOIR, took third
place in the Dark Oak Mystery contest!

Since then the first four in my Margot O'Banion & Max Skull mystery
series were published by the wonderful Margo Power and her Deadly
Alibi Press. The cover for GRAPE NOIR was even nominated for a
Bouchercon in 2002 and I remember biting my nails at the awards
banquet along with Marilyn Meredith and Hap, Margo and my cover
artist, daughter Annie, as we lost to St. Martins that captured the
prize for a cover that was a file photograph! Oh well. We WERE
nominated and independent publishers cheered.

After Deadly Alibi folded, Durban House Press picked up the series
and the last two of the stories were published with them,
"traditionally," with all the whistles and bells, including a printer
who went out of business halfway through the printing of LOCATION
LOCATION, two editors, and a proof reader who was a wannabe editor
and drove us crazy! My 2005 release EXTREME CUISINE was a surprise
independent hit, blowing us all away with sales near 3000. We still
can't figure out exactly WHY, but it was lots of fun to sell so many
while I did practically nothing!

So there I was, with this delightful, low key publisher who, even as
the business became tighter and tighter, simply refused to consider
POD for his fiction writers. He prefers to do non-fiction and I could
see the years stretching out in front of me, with two mss already
sitting for months on the senior editor's desk.

So I contacted Billie and here I am! Billie and Oak Tree will be
bringing out numbers 7 & 8 of the series and she's even letting my
daughter continue doing the distinctive covers.

I am delighted. I truly think that POD is the right venue for most of
us who, as my former publisher used to call them, have cult fan
clubs. There are always a certain amount of readers who will pick up
my books and I'm always trying to increase their numbers. I, like my
pal Marilyn M., have been at this a long time and we've met a lot of
people and have a certain name recognition that sustains us. But
times are tough and at least we know a few tricks to sell our stuff.

So I'm so happy to be here and look forward to meeting other OTP
authors, sharing news and PR ideas, and generally enjoying what is a
verrrry problematic profession.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Where Are All of You? and the Next PSWA Con

I keep hoping someone else will post so I don't have to keep doing it--it's important to always have fresh material on a blog so people will keep reading it on a regular basis.

After the completion of the successful PSWA conference which everyone says it was, it's now time to start thinking about next year's. Though I plan to hand off some of the duties to others, I probably will initiate the beginning of the program planning.

It looks like we'll probably stay in Vegas as we have someone there willing to arrange for the hotel and deal with any hotel problems--whether it'll be the same hotel, don't know at this point. Same with the date, probably June, but not sure about the exact date.

We already have some ideas for topics and the speakers to go with them. We've had a request for an agent to come. I don't know any agents? Does anyone? The big hang-up is because we're small we can't pay or comp any of our speakers, no matter how big the name. I'll take any suggestions.

I'm also looking for a fireman to speak. The nice fireman who came last time didn't think he had a topic--but I often put fires in my books--wouldn't hurt to hear what a bunch of firemen (or even one) see wrong in books and movies, and how we writers could do it better. Maybe a little bit about arson?

Anyway, I'll take all suggestions.

I know Oak Tree is working on having a conference too--hope it'll be in the late summer or early fall. I'm already signed up for two conferences next year, Epicon--which by coincidence will be in New Orleans in March--and Bouchercon which is in San Francsico next year. Left Coast Crime will be in L.A. but not planning on that one--my granddaughter is getting married right after Epicon which is really close to that same time.

Going to writers' and mystery cons is a great way to get your name known, you'll probably learn something, and have a great time while you're at it--and you can take it off your income tax.

Marilyn a.k.a F. M. Meredith

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Facing Fears

How do you handle the fear in publishing? My debut novel, A Case of Infatuation, is now on the streets. I’ve sold a copy to my boss, and my extended family has purchased their copy. I am sure they didn’t sit right down and read it cover to cover so I don’t know what they think yet. Part of me wants to hear how much they love it and part of me would appreciate their honest feedback. The problem is the fear of the unknown. What if they hate it? What if it is terrible?
You spend a year writing and another six months editing and then polish the dreaded synopsis until it shines and you send it out to editors and agents looking for a nod of approval. For a while, all you get is rejections. You question, but you don’t give up. In my case, I gave myself a deadline and entered a contest. My publisher, Billie Johnson, saw something in it and I won a publishing contract. I am very grateful for that, it is a dream come true. Now the hard part begins, promoting it. I spent three glorious days at the Public Safety Writers Association Conference in Las Vegas learning the ins and out of promoting (and lots of other things). I met two of the most internet savvy women who shared their lessons. The down side of promoting is you have to face your fear. You wrote the book to bring something to people, it is time to see if there is some big glaring error you missed. You still hold your breath when someone says, I read you book. I am scared as people I know have brought the book and how will you handle it if someone doesn't like it? The fear can paralyze you. You want to buy all the copies and keep them. The hardest part of the last two weeks has been overcoming the fear. I don’t think I have it totally mastered yet but I do have a plan for critics. Just smile and say thanks for reading it and mentally channeling the best from Gone with the Wind: Scarlett O'Hara’s southern charm on the outside and Rhett Butler’s memorable quote: “Frankly,
Scarlett, I don’t give a damn,” on the inside. I would be interested in hearing how you handle it.

W.S. Gager
A Case of Infatuation – a Mitch Malone Mystery