Friday, June 29, 2012


Post by Marja McGraw (with a bit of Sunny's help)This economy is getting to many of us. A lot of people are foregoing vacations, not to mention something as simple as going on a weekly outing to the movies. The new couch you wanted? That’s a purchase you might have to put off. Plenty of people are out of work, and many can’t seem to find a job. Wow! Am I ever the Voice of Doom today!Can’t take that vacation? Buy a good book.

Stories can take us away for a while. Fiction can be a great escape from everyday drama. Travel books might give you a look at the place you would have gone if things had turned out differently. Do you have a subject you’ve always been interested in but never studied? Now’s the time. Try a non-fiction book. If my life had turned out differently I think I would have studied archaeology. At the very least I can read some books about the subject.

Okay, let’s get real. For some of us, even buying a book can be more than our current budget can withstand. Of course, there are free ebooks, and very low-priced ebooks. That’s one option, but there are others. While I enjoy ebooks, I also still appreciate holding a paper book in my hands. I have favorite authors whose books I’d like to display in my bookcase. So here are a few ideas. You can save up and buy that much-anticipated book when you’ve got enough quarters in the piggy bank. Or, and this is interesting, you can sometimes buy a book for less money if you go directly to the publisher. There was a time when I never would have thought of visiting the publisher’s website and buying a book there. This is particularly true of smaller publishers like Oak Tree Press.

I’m an avid reader when I have the time. I love a good book, especially those that make me forget I have chores and things waiting for me. I might be able to see the dusty furniture or impatient family member in my peripheral vision, but they’ll just have to wait. How rude of me, right? Every so often I read a real page-turner, and I’ll read until my eyes cross or someone throws themselves at my feet begging for attention. There are discount bookstores, used bookstores, and yard sales if that’s what it takes. You might think, “But if my book sells at a used book store, I won’t see any royalties for it.” True, but if someone buys your used book and enjoys it, chances are they’ll look for more by you at a new bookstore or through the publisher – or maybe Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Here’s another tip. If you read a book that really grabs you, talk about it. Tell your friends and family. For a writer, there’s no better publicity than word-of-mouth. Blab. Yak. Tell everyone about the latest great book you read. Review it anywhere that reviews can be left by individuals. Talk it up.I’ve seen commercials about getting away from it all by purchasing products like coffee or bath oil, or something like that. For me? All it takes is a good book. Is it worth cutting corners or taking the extra step of going to a publisher’s website to find the books we enjoy? It is to me.

What’s your thought, or do you have suggestions of your own?Find a good book and get away for a while. Just for a little bit, forget that unpaid bill lying on the kitchen counter. Remember what Scarlett said in Gone with the Wind about tomorrow being another day. Just give yourself a short break and enjoy the day.Marja McGrawBogey NightsBogey’s Ace in the Hole

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In the Heat of Sedona

With the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA) annual conference coming up next month in Las Vegas, my writing partner, Susan Smily, and I decided it would be a good idea to maximize the trip by doing some research for future books while we were out West. So we decided to spend a couple of weeks in Sedona, Arizona, one of our favorite spots on the planet, where we knew we could soak up the beauty of the landscape, enjoy the work of loads of artists who come here to be inspired, bask in the energy of a lot of metaphysical people, and do research for a series of future books set in this gorgeous place.

All our books to date have involved some aspect of metaphysics (ghosts, dreams, Tarot cards, Wicca, and magic in our Ariel Quigley cozy series, and two souls sharing one body in our new OTP thriller, Walk-In), but all the books have also involved public safety personnel because we’ve always had murders and hence we need law enforcers to be sure the bad guys get their just deserts. And if we’re going to have law enforcers or other public safety characters in our books, we want to make sure the details of their activities are accurate for the place we’re using as a setting.

For our thriller, which has an FBI agent as a major player, we visited the FBI offices in Washington, D.C. to get background on how informants are used and how agents are sometimes called upon to babysit witnesses, both of which activities play a role in Walk-In.

Likewise, when we decided to set our Ariel Quigley mystery series in Alexandria, Virginia, we got in touch with the public information officer at the Alexandria Police Department, Amy Bertsch, who gave us a couple of hours of her time answering our questions and even set up such fun experiences as a tour of the jail (definitely confining); a lie detector test (I flunked); an interview with their crime scene specialist so we could ask him how the crime scenes in our various planned works would look (really messy); and best of all, a drive-around with Sergeant John Gregg, who became our favorite cop from that day forward. We liked him so much we made him a love interest for our psychic detective in the Ariel Quigley series. In fact, our friendship with John has been on-going and led us to suggest the panel discussion for the PSWA conference entitled “Cozying Up to Your Favorite Cop: How Cozy and Other Genre Writers Use Public Safety Characters in Their Novels.”

Here in beautiful Sedona, we’ve talked to Pete Sanders, founder of the nonprofit “Free Soul,” which teaches people the science behind psi phenomena, and author of several books, including You Are Psychic,  Access Your Brain’s Joy Center, and Scientific Vortex Information. (This last book offers the science behind why the famous vortexes in Sedona do what they do to people’s energy fields.) Pete also gave us some leads for getting information about the public schools, as we think the plots for our new series lend themselves to a teenage protagonist.

This coming week, we’ve also lined up interviews with the public information officer at the Sedona Police Department, the Sedona Fire Department and EMT service, and the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department. And just for ambience, we’re planning to take in a local theater production, some local music, and a trip to the casino in Camp Verde, to the south of Sedona—for research purposes only, of course. (Some work isn’t so tough.)

So as the sun sets over the red rocks of Sedona each evening, we thank our publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, for suggesting we go to the PSWA conference this year!

Anybody wanting to know more about us can visit our author websites: and And you can find all our books on Amazon.

Honora Finkelstein, co-author with Susan Smily of the Oak Tree Press thriller Walk-In.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Posting reviews on Amazon

What a lovely surprise when I checked out the Amazon listing for my newly released western mystery, Three Seconds to Thunder. Marilyn Meredith has posted a wonderful review of the book, for which I thank her very much. Marilyn, you're the best!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Hitting Rock Bottom

Okay, I haven't actually hit rock bottom. I did hit a few weeks where neither of my books sold even one copy, at least according to the Amazon numbers.  Two of these weeks were in a row, which was quite depressing.

Instead of getting dejected, I looked back at what I was doing for promotion for the last few months, and then went further into the last few years, and had to admit I wasn't doing much lately.  I've had a busy year, with two kids, a job I work from home, and being president of the parent/teacher group at my youngest daughter's school.  With all of that, I had let promotion slip woefully out of my grasp.

Now that my reign of terror has ended as Co-Op president of Metairie Academy, I have the time to take stock of what I need to do to start selling books again.  First and foremost, I recognized that even with the amount of work I had to do last year, I should have developed a system so that promoting my books wouldn't have suffered.  Since that horse doesn't need to be beat any more, I can only look forward and make sure I get back on track.

So now the trick is setting up a schedule and a routine, two things I truly suck at.  We are not routine people.  We are even less of schedule people.  As an example, now that school is out, my daughters--10 and 13 years old--and I stay up until 3 or 4 a.m.  I usually wake and struggle out of bed between 11 and noon, they may sleep until 2 or 3 p.m.  I can't fault them for that- I have always been a night person, and they have been night people from birth.  So my hurdle is to accomplish what I need to on the schedule I have now.

Right before my first novel, Gumbo Justice, came out, I had a lot of time on my hands. I had been in a near-fatal collision with a drunk driver and was on my back for a really long time.  Being able to do nothing else, I visited websites, set up my own websites, set up my blog, set up my Facebook page and twitter account, and pretty much wandered the internet at a leisurely pace, getting the lay of cyberland for promotion, something most people don't have the luxury of doing. I also wrote a screenplay, but that's another story.

So initially, when my novel came out, it sold okay, because my name was OUT THERE in the cyberworld.  I continuously found places to put my name and book title, thanks in great part to Sunny, who sent links to all sorts of websites.  Whether I was emailing a website for an interview, asking to guest blog, trying to get a review, or just commenting on someone else's post, I was OUT THERE.

Although it was never going to hit the bestseller's list, Gumbo continued to sell at a pace that was not embarrassing, and I continued my online promotion.  I also did a few other things, a few craft shows at school, a few contests, a book launch, things to help me sell books on my own.

When Jambalaya Justice came out in July of 2011, I began to do the same things. It was like getting two for the price of one when someone would agree to interview me or let me guest blog, because I could plug both books.  And then August rolled around, just a month after my book release, and school, with the dreaded Co-Op presidency.

After a month or so of school, I almost completely stopped looking for places to post, emailing websites, or even posting on my own blog.  The only thing I did end up doing was setting up Facebook pages for both of my novels, and invited all my friends to like them.  I think the sales I got this past year may be because of those pages, and updating them periodically.

So now I have set up a SYSTEM. At least my version of a system.  I made a spreadsheet with the things I need to get done every day.  I've included in that an hour of working on Chocolate City Justice, the third in my series, and thirty minutes of promotion. 

I am also creating a separate list of  specific things to do promotion-wise, so that I have definite things to do in that thirty minutes. I could spend 30 minutes a day easily reading other blogs or trying to find ways to promote, but instead I am going to spend the first couple of days of my allotted 30 minute blocks finding those specific things that I can do. 

 One of those things was contacting the N.O. public library, which I did, and now have 4 of my books on their shelves.  I posted about this on my own blog at  Another was contacting a blog that interviews writers and contacting a blog that hosts guest bloggers. 

While I wait to hear back from people I contact, I can work on the guest blogs during my 30 minutes of allotted time, so I will have a repertoire of blogs on different topics ready to go.

One problem I have is that I have been interviewed or guest blogged on a lot of blogs already, and with no new book out yet, I don't feel like I should contact them again until my new book is on the release calendar, which it can't be until I finish it.  But I am keeping an e-mail list of the sites I've already been on, so when it comes closer to Chocolate City coming out, I can contact them again.

My system is probably not organized enough for some writers, but I think it works for me.  The trick is coming up with what works for you and doing the things you feel comfortable doing, but pushing yourself out of that comfort zone if the occasion and necessity arise.

Hitting rock bottom to me just means there's nowhere to go but up.  

Holli Castillo

Friday, June 22, 2012


Sunny here. Kathleen Kaska is making a huge effort to give attention to small and independent presses in her "Small Press Fridays" blog. I just published my piece called "WHAT DO YOU BRING TO THE TABLE?" about the necessity of authors to take a hand in their marketing. I hope you not only go over and comment, but that you also kindly ask Kathleen for your own blog date. She told me privately that she's been hearing lots of great things about Oak Tree and is curious about us. Billie has signed up for a blog date before she's off to the Public Safety Writers' Conference. This is such a huge opportunity for us to make a case for the direction we have all decided to take with our careers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When opportunity knocks, answer the door
By Sally Carpenter

            Recently I was at a local theater to review a play for the newspaper where I work. Before the show started the lady sitting next to me said hello. I wasn’t use to strangers talking to me at shows but I said hello back. To strike up a conversation I asked if she had seen other plays at this theater. She replied no, this was her first. I said I was here as a theater critic.
            She leaned forward and said, “You’re a writer? How nice!” She introduced herself as a member of a women’s club that brought in artistic people to speak at their meetings. I said I would love to come and talk to the group; can we schedule a time?
She didn’t have a calendar with her. I said, “I do!” I pulled my pocket calendar from my purse and tentatively penciled in a date to meet with her club. I gave her my business card and told her to contact me to confirm the date.
At another time, a friend invited me to join a group of her pals who come together to watch movies. I took two copies of my book, The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper. I introduced myself as a writer and talked about my book. One woman was quite interested and ended up buying the book on the spot!
Writers never know when marketing opportunities will come along. The trick is to be open and willing to engage in conversation without being pushy or aggressive.
Many authors keep a box of their books in the truck of their car in case they meet a possible sale. If nothing else, authors should always have business cards on hand for follow-up contacts and a calendar or smartphone so they can schedule appointments and write down information.
The world is your oyster, so get cracking!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream (The Song)

In my mind, the novel-writing process has three parts: write the book, publish the book, sell the book. I wrote the book, and Oak Tree Press/Wild Oaks has taken care of the publishing part. Now it's time for part three: promoting the book and selling copies.

I have been doing a lot of the "standard" stuff, but I wanted to come up with more ways to leverage social media. I was sitting up one night, trying to think of something innovative, but I was not having much luck. What I usually do when I'm stuck on something is to play around on the guitar. It's sort of like meditation for me.

So I picked up the guitar and started plucking away. I started thinking of all the Westerns I grew up watching. They all had cool, atmospheric music -- ranging from the theme songs for "High Noon" and "Cat Ballou" to the unforgettable scores Ennio Morricone wrote for the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns, like "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

And then it just sort of happened. I stumbled on some low, twangy riff, and that developed into a melody, and then verses and a chorus. And before I knew it, I had a whole song! In the next week or two, I plan to make a video of it and put it up on YouTube, but in the meantime, what better place to debut the lyrics than the Oak Tree Press blog!

And so, without further ado, the lyrics to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (the song):


Kyle William Lees roams the West with two guns
And a list of thirteen guilty men
They murdered his family and left him for dead,
Never dreaming they’d see him again
But the Angel of Mercy, she spared him
And the Angel of Death knows him well
He smiles each time Kyle pulls his gun and sends one more
Condemned desperado to Hell

So reach for the sky or go for your gun
There’s just Heaven and Hell and you’ve got to choose one
So dive into darkness or crawl towards the light
In a Midsummer Night’s Gunfight

Shakespeare, New Mexico, lies in the desert,
A town without any law
Men wanting whisky and ghosts seeking vengeance
Descend on her streets after dark
But the Angel of Mercy forsakes them
And the Angel of Death merely smiles
As into the town rides a man with two guns
And a list, and the man’s name is Kyle

So reach for the sky or go for your gun
There’s just Heaven and Hell and you’ve got to choose one
So dive into darkness or crawl towards the light
In a Midsummer Night’s Gunfight

There’s no time for sadness, there’s no time for sorrow
The last shall be first in the casket tomorrow
The first shall be last to abandon all hope
As he swings by the neck from the end of a rope

So reach for the sky or go for your gun
There’s just Heaven and Hell and you’ve got to choose one
So dive into darkness or crawl towards the light
In a Midsummer Night’s Gunfight
The Angel of Death has you dead in his sites
In a Midsummer Night’s Gunfight

Jason Hunt, author of A Midsummer Night's Gunfight, coming t his month from WILD OAKS!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Your Hook: Baiting It Properly

I know that earlier today the Boss Lady was having trouble getting a post up that she would like to have online here, and I hope she's making progress with correcting that. Feel free to pre-empt this post as soon as you get that cleared up.

Meanwhile, I thought I might toss in a post about the craft of writing. (I do these frequently on my blog, so I figured . . . why not?)

I'd like to blather on for a bit about your story "hook," which is basically your opening paragraph, especially your first line.

Common wisdom these days says that the first few words mean EVERYTHING. If you don't have a great, original, fascinating, shocking, HOOOKY hook, your story will be thrown away and not even scanned by readers, editors, and agents. To some extent (and unfortunately, I feel--but the truth is the truth and the market is the market, so anyway), this is the case.


You don't want to promise the reader something that you are not going to deliver. How often have you picked up a contest entry, piece of fan fiction, or novel and gotten pulled in by the Exciting Stuff that's happening, but then find that in a chapter or two, the author has had to back up and fill in a lot of blanks and/or go into flashback or backstory in order to explain? This is something authors got away with once upon a time, but no more. Your reader is going to judge the tone of your novel based on the tone of the opening sentences. If you promise an action story, then you can't deliver a story that turns slow and analytical and thoughtful. Readers will throw the book against the wall.

This is not to say that you should EVER begin a book with a character waking up, stretching, thinking about her day, getting into the shower, and so forth, even if your book is a character study and will not be all about "Die Hard" stuff. (I will note that many popular books DO begin this way, and I don't know how they got into print nor how their readers settled into it, but anyhow--doesn't matter what the rules say, if you can make it work, then you can make it work and all bets are off.) You should at least fascinate and intrigue the reader and raise a story question right up front. "What is she talking about, the 'wranc dolora'?" "Who is Arnie, the guy she's waiting impatiently for, tapping her foot and looking at her watch and staring up at the clouds?" "Will Joan be offered the job she is interviewing for?" Or whatever it is.

But you should not promise a pace that you will not sustain. In fact, if you start a book in the middle of an Exciting! Battle! and have everyone dropping like flies right and left and have Our Hero running panicked through the battle looking for his brother . . . well, what are you going to do to top that? Generally, the pace and the suspense have to increase as the story goes on, and you have already gone into overdrive. You don't want to have to interrupt the flow with a sudden ploy such as, "As he stood there staring at the carnage, his thoughts returned to last Wednesday, when the Dungeon Mistress had rolled a fumble on both dice and this awful conflict had begun. It was a sunny day and everyone was enjoying their tea when suddenly. . . ." Erg!

Even worse (to me) is when the author thinks, "Aha! We'll tell this with dialogue!"

"Will someone tell me just exactly what is going on here?" yelled Sergeant Exposition.

Lieutenant Backstory grinned ruefully. "Well, you see, sir." He cleared his throat. "As you know, we are all living in a giant jar of Tang. It's been terribly humid this past week, and we've been encountering lumps."

Sgt. Exposition rolled his hands to indicate "speed up."

"Yes, well. Um. So you've probably run into these lumps yourself, and you probably already know that the Mayor has read out a decree making them illegal. Unfortunately, the humidity thinks it is above the law."

"I already know all this"--

(And it goes on until the author has explained all this stuff to somebody who already KNOWS it. Even when you use a newcomer to tell this way, you have to be careful, because if you don't start showing and dramatizing, your readers may start skimming because "tl;dr" and all that.)

You know what I mean. You've read this type of book. You may even have written one.

Well, don't do it any more. There's a better way.

Okay, let's take a look at the evolution of one of my own openings. LOVE IS THE BRIDGE is a paranormal/ghost story involving technology. Paige Campbell is being pursued by a "ghost in the machine," and the machine belongs to Alan McConnell, who has no idea that the AI/expert system he is designing has been taken over by an entity from the past and now has a mind of its own--and an agenda driven by mistaken identity. (It believes Paige is the woman who spurned the man he used to be, and now that "he" has found her again, he's determined to get her to lift the curse she supposedly placed upon him.)

But we don't KNOW any of that as the story opens (unless we have read the blurb. But let's not get off track here.) All we have is the opening line. My opening used to be:

Paige Campbell was closing up shop when the phone rang.

"Hans' Music Haus. This is Paige. How may I help you?" She figured her Uncle Hans was calling to check up on her--he still didn't trust her to close the store alone, even though her three-month probationary period had gone off without a hitch--but what she heard was a steel-cranked synthesized voice.

The metallic tone rasped, "Stop asking questions or you're dead."

Now, a few years ago this would have probably passed muster. In fact, it worked for readers through several workshops. People were patient enough to read a bit in order to get oriented.

But last year I attended a workshop with accomplished romance author and teacher Alicia Rasley. She announced that it surprised her to find that the rest of the opening was so good, as the first line or so was so blah.

"What does 'closing up shop' bring to mind?" she asked. "This seems so flat."

At first I couldn't figure out what she meant. After all, I had a clear mental picture of what it took to close up a small store. But did everyone? Hmm.

Paige Campbell was closing up shop when the phone rang.

She'd expected Uncle Hans to check up on her, because even after three months he still didn't trust her to close the store alone. Amused, she lifted the receiver and recited the prescribed greeting. "Hans' Music Haus, this is Paige, how can I help you?"

A steel-cranked synthesized voice filled her ear. "Stop asking questions or you're dead."

This still didn't give the immediacy they longed for, although it did transmit Paige's mood a little better. (She isn't irritated that Uncle Hans still doesn't trust her, which is a data point for readers who'd default to "she is angry." "Amused" tells us this. Also, "the prescribed greeting" is a nice touch.)

After a few more iterations, I decided that what Alicia and the crew wanted was more specific detail in the opening so that readers were more grounded in the scene.

Ultimately, the opening turned into this:

Paige Campbell slammed the cash register drawer and grabbed for the store's incessantly ringing phone.

She'd been expecting Uncle Hans to check up on her, because even after three months he still didn't trust her to close the store alone. Amused, she lifted the receiver and recited the prescribed greeting. "Hans' Music Haus, this is Paige, how can I help you?"

A steel-cranked synthesized voice rasped, "Stop asking questions or you're dead."

This opening pleases more readers. It has more immediacy for readers who are accustomed to the instant sensory detail they get from watching video. We're not writing to Dickens' Victorian audience any more. Although old-school readers like me will still read the other kind of opening (because we fill in the details with our own inventive stuff as we read--which can cause a different sort of problem, the problem of a reader being unpleasantly surprised by your house actually being contemporary rather than the Queen Anne she's been envisioning--but that's another post), this sort of hooshing-up is well worth doing for today's market.

I still don't know whether the opening is yet in its final form, but the book has a better chance now that the opening promises the exciting ride that the book IS from the very first lines.

Readers can now rest assured that Paige is starting out with trouble that will only get worse. We didn't begin with the major haunting and then have to back up and explain. We started at the proper place (IMHO).

So you can have a hook that isn't in the middle of a forest fire. You can have a hook that intrigues and promises readers a wild ride. I truly believe that there are still readers who want stories that build emotional as well as physical tension, and we should deliver them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thought you all might like to see the 2011-2012 Honors English Class AND THEIR BOOK from Torrance High School, CA!!!!!  A feel good moment, don't you think!!!!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Besides writing fiction....

I've been busy editing the BOOK my high school teacher son Jonathan's honors English class wrote! These kids are FRESHMEN (about 15-years old) and they wrote a "survival guide" for teenagers in high school. Jonathan made up a work sheet of 14-different essay topics and they self and group edited and wrote for four months. I initially thought he said it would be 38 pages long, but he said 38 STUDENTS and each wrote 4-5 essays and poems. The book came to 600 pages! Needless to say, we all did a lot of work. The amazing thing was, to me, how absolutely GREAT these essays are. Most of these students come from every origin you can think of and many from non-English speaking parents. I only changed typos and obvious mistakes—most important was to have each student's "voice" come through loud and clear. The essays ran the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking. Great stuff! And, fortunately, my son had taught them grammar and punctuation very well indeed, though we did have a phone discussion about the use of semi-colons...

So, thanks to Amazon and Createspace, he handed out the books today, the last day of school. What a thrill for all. And he's already been approached by some graduate classes in education since they realize that this is something ALL teachers and would-be teachers could really benefit from reading. 

If you'd like to take a look, go to

And if that doesn't work, it's called This is our Beginning and is available on good old Amazon.

Now, back to fiction!

Kit, a very proud parent

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Some web sites for writers

I just thought I would share some web sites that I have found useful for information, marketing, and just connecting with the writing community: – It has a number of groups where you can discuss writing, post pieces for comment, and review others. – You can share your work, enter contests, and participate in other activities. – A good site for independent presses and craft advice. – A Yahoo group for small publishers.

The following are good sites for indie book reviews:

Big Al's Books and Pals – Not only do they do reviews, but also author interviews.

I hope this information is helpful.

Gus Cileone,
authore of
A Lesson in Murder
Feast or Famine

Promoting On Line

Billie Johnson (OTP Publisher) decided to republish two older books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Fringe Benefits and Smell of Death. These two book were originally published by a good publisher but after she published these two books, she decided publishing was not the business for her.

I had the books I'd purchased, and I'd soon sold them all. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear that Billie wanted to publish them again. They are now available in the usual places. I've ordered copies of both since I have several in-person events coming up.

And today, while waiting for the time I'm supposed to be somewhere, I've been busy promoting both books on line. I wrote blogs about them for Make Mine Mystery and The Stiletto Gang which will appear the same day this one does. And I've put the covers on Pinterest and mentioned them on Facebook and Twitter.

These books are number 3 and 4 in the series. One and 2 are still to come.

Fringe Benefits is primarily about a very bad cop, one who takes advantage of being a police officer. Officer Gordon Butler is introduced in this book.

Smell of Death is about two murders and the disappearance of a child. Detective Doug Milligan recruits Officer Stacey Milligan to help with the investigation of all three incidents.

When I wrote the first book in this series, it was intended to be a stand alone. Because I became so interested in the characters I wanted to find out what happened to them next--and the only way to do that was write another book. Though the many of the same characters appear from one book to the next, each major plot is complete and the mystery solved.

I hope that those who have enjoyed the later books in the series will go back and try these.

Marilyn or F. M. Meredith, the name I used for writing this series.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why You Should Enter All The Contests You Can; or, Contests Are Like Jellybeans--You Can't Do Too Many

I think it is worthwhile for any writer who hasn't published a novel to enter contests. Most contests will not allow entries from writers who have been published in the contest's genre or who have published a novel at all, so this advice mostly applies to those of you who aspire to publish a novel.

(In a moment we'll discuss the Oak Tree Press contests, but hang on; we give equal time.)

There are two major types of contests I want to focus on.

First, there are many contests sponsored by RWA, MWA, or writers' conferences in general*. (*Note here the appropriate use of the passive voice to emphasize the doer of the action.)

These are grand because everyone gets feedback in the form of a ratings sheet with comments from each of the (generally three or four) contest judges. You usually get three ratings sheets that tell you how well you did in the contest (rating you on items such as Dialogue, Plot, Grammar/Punctuation, et alia, on a scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10), and each judge should give you comments to some extent. These will be the closest to unbiased remarks you can get, as the judge doesn't know you and presumably has no agenda or preference for a winner. You'll see right away how your work might come across to a new reader.

If you receive low rankings in the Grammar/Punctuation area or Dialogue area from all three judges, then you know you'll need to run your work by someone who is knowledgeable so you can learn what you probably need to learn. (When two judges rank you highly and the third tanks you, the contest coordinator generally throws out the low score and has the entry re-judged by someone else for the new third score, so in most cases, these rankings can be fairly indicative of general problems.) Hearing what people think--even if they don't agree with you and ultimately are not judged to be on target (because it's really something elsewhere in the piece that has influenced their opinions, for example; I talk about this in the latest post on my blog, be eye-opening.

But better than that, you might win or place. Those whose work places first, second, or third in a contest usually get to send a partial and outline to an agent or editor who is the final judge of the contest win. Sometimes agents and editors who judge these things ask for more than one of the finalists to send work, and writers have sold on these partials. It's worth entering a few of these just to see what people will say.

(Don't immediately assume that everything anyone says is correct, though. But that's a whole 'nother post.)

Note that conferences generally insist that you sign up for the conference before entering certain contests, but not all of them. Also, RWA often charges a nominal fee of $15-20 for entering. This is reasonable.

Then there are the BIG contests, the contests that award you a book contract!

Generally there is also a cash prize plus an advance. You can't lose if you win, in other words.

What could be better than that?

Of course you should look at the contests run by Oak Tree Press. Your romance might be perfect for the romance contest. My book NICE WORK just won the 2011 Dark Oak Mystery contest and thus made the big time. But there are others: the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic mystery contest awards a contract with St. Martin's Press, and the Delacorte Prize for a First Young Adult Novel puts you in print with Delacorte. This is the gold ring you have been grabbing for. And if you don't enter, you CAN'T win.

A manuscript that doesn't win may still be very good and publishable. However, if you win, you're on the road for sure. These contests usually do not give feedback, but you will probably hear whether you were shortlisted, and if you place in the top five or ten, that should give you a boost. You're writing at a professional level.

Sometimes you don't win the contest, but you do win an acceptance. Contests are one way some publishers have of finding publishable stories. This used to be more true in the past (Warner Books used to run a First Fantasy Novel contest, and I remember others that have disappeared as well), but you'll still see these, and they're worth entering, IMHO.

If you have written essays, short stories, and poems, you will find many worthy contests sponsored by anyone from a prestigious literary journal to a university press to Writer's Digest and Writers of the Future. Just about the only way to get poems seen is to win some sort of contest, so most poets are fairly familiar with contesting.

I still enter short story contests, by the way. On occasion I'm struck with an idea for a literary short story, and there's nowhere for those to go except to literary journals, the New Yorker (ha), and contests. I've also won or placed in various essay contests. For example, my essay about my approach to gift wrapping made me one of eight finalists in the Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper contest, and I was whisked to New York City for the final round at Rockefeller Center just before Christmas 2008. That was a peak experience for me (I touched the Algonquin Round Table on that trip. There are photos.) I have placed second and fourth in the Robert Benchley Society's essay contest, and I have the charming note from Bob Newhart (who was the final judge one year) to prove it. I even placed an essay in a medical school's journal (about my experience with treatments). I've won small cash prizes and various trophies, including a gold-plated rose from the Golden Rose contest sponsored by RWA.

So it's well worth your time to enter things you've written (things you feel are exceptional, I mean--often you're correct) in various contests. You may already be a winner!

In fact, if you are writing seriously, you already are a winner. You are fulfilling your mission in life. Who can say what your destiny will be? I'm still waiting to see how I will fulfill mine. Remember: if you don't play . . . you can't score.

(Not THAT kind of scoring! Get your minds out of the gutter now and go enter a contest.)

--Denise Weeks, author of NICE WORK, winner of the 2011 Dark Oak Mystery Contest * Go enter the 2012 contests at (link opens in new window) *

Saturday, June 9, 2012

OTP Author's Handbook

I just received my new Author's Handbook from OTP and find it invaluable.  It is great to have all this information in one place. So thank you, team for your efforts. Beryl

Friday, June 8, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks...

I want to share a thing that happened to me this morning...I received a query package in the mail yesterday, and I looked it through and was interested. However, I had some questions, so I sat down this morning and composed an email to the author, outlining my thoughts and framing my questions. It took me about 45 minutes. Then I typed in the author's email address and hit SEND.

Almost instantly a reply flashed back to my email. I opened it up to see a little auto-responder message explaining that this email address was very concerned about spam and had therefore put some filters in place. The message instructed me to click on the link below, complete the form and wait for the verification to come back. Once I had that, it said, I would be free to re-submit my email. Then it ended on the happy note that, once verified, I would be free to send all the mail I wished, etc. etc.

Any guesses on what happened to that query? For those who suggested are spot on! I have no interest in trying to work with an author who throws up all kinds of barricades to communication. None of us like SPAM...I get a ton of it, but I look at it as the price we pay for the many conveniences of email, just DELETE DELETE DELETE!!

In my opinion, this is a very bad idea. Suppose that I gritted my teeth and got my email address verified...what happens the next time, should I used another email address? I'd have to go through that process over and over. What if it was a feature writer for a newspaper, looking to interview? Or the booker on a TV or radio show? Do you seriously think these busy people are going to stop and fill out these little forms and get verified? I am betting NOT!

I sincerely hope that any of you who are blocking legitimate sends so you can avoid seeing SPAM mails will rethink this. As the saying goes, "if you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs" ...

 Billie Johnson, Publisher

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Unusual Book Venues
I'm on the lookout for unusual places to sell my books.  Writing children's stories, I now have three books published with Oak Tree Press. So far, I have managed to stock my books at Whiz Kids Toy Store, Loma Linda Medical Center gift shop, The Seven Sisters Gallery in Morro Bay, The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, The Gallery at the Network and other such venues, as well as several independent bookstores. Unfortunately, the local Barnes and Noble bookstore will not carry my books except for special orders because they are POD books, so I have turned to non-traditional places where I can sell my books. Anyone with any other ideas, let me know. Thanks, Beryl

Friday, June 1, 2012

Talking About Awards

Sunny here. Now is the time to start thinking of entering your novel in the Left Coast Crime awards. They are doing The Watson this year, award for best sidekick in a mystery. Also, any mystery set in the area of next year's LCC, which is Colorado Springs. If you attended the Sacramento conference, you can nominate a book published this year. Nominations open in Jan. 2013 and run a month. Billie and I both attended and we can nominate as well. Plus, you can nominate anyone you know outside OTP writing about Colorado. And then there's the Eppies. This is for electronic books published from June 2013 to May, 2013. Nominations are open from June 1 to July 15, 2013. You can nominate yourself and Billie can also nominate you. Let's win some awards and get them on your book covers!

Western Fictioneers Winner

I would like to give a big congratulations to Wayne D. Dundee of " Dismal River" . He is the 2011 winner of Western Fictioneers Best Western First Novel.