The Unseen (Forget Unsung) Heroines

I had this great post planned. 

notesBethany inspired me so much with her “How I organize my corner of the universe,” I intended to admit to uhm… less organization.

And no spreadsheets.

I even took photos of the messy pile of notes and ideas stacked up on my desk (and the bedside table, the countertop, the…err…you get the picture). Really, all those snippets do turn into a first draft. Then there’s the tri-fold board with color coded Post-its (aren’t Post-it’s the best?), broken out by Act and Turning Point. (Surely I have a picture of it somewhere…)

daphneInstead of creating that awesome post, every spare moment has been dedicated to the Daphne. That’s the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense contest sponsored by the Kiss of Death. Great contest. Wonderful entries/contestants and judges.

I’m all for volunteering but clearly I had no idea what I’d agreed to do. You see, coordinators are the unseen people behind the scenes who make sure the entries meet the requirements and work with the judges to get the score-sheets and manuscripts turned back in. They keep lots and lots of records and cross check everything. Basically it’s a paper chase, or these days, an electronic chase spread across four desktop screens.

But the best part of being a coordinator will come in a few weeks when I have the privilege of calling the finalists. There’s nothing like telling someone how much strangers enjoyed their stories and that their manuscript was voted “best in the group.”

Bring on the coffee and the spreadsheets. I have entries to manage.

 

Originally posted to my group blog, The Stiletto Gang

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Walked Right Through That Restraining Order…

Have you listened to the lyrics of “Redneck Crazy” by Tyler Farr? It details the horrid stalking behavior the singer plans—and of course, he blames the woman for his behavior, because she broke up with him.

I hate that song.

I lived it—right up to and including the truck on the lawn and the beer cans thrown at the window.

The Nation Center for Victims of Crime has a section on stalking. It defines stalking as a pattern of behavior that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger. A stalker repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, talks to you when you don’t want them to, or threatens you.

Stalking behaviors can include:

  • • Knowing your schedule.
    • Showing up at places you go.
    • Sending mail, e-mail, and pictures.
    • Calling or texting repeatedly.
    • Contacting you or posting about you on social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc).
    • Writing letters.
    • Damaging your property.
    • Creating a Web site about you.
    • Sending gifts.
    • Any other actions to contact, harass, track, or frighten you.

It all sounds so benign, even the hundreds of daily calls and texts, until you get to that last point—actions to harass, track and frighten you.

Stalking is obsession. It’s about power and control. It’s a crime.

The problem is states are just now getting on board and adding laws criminalizing stalking. Like far too many crimes against women, it’s difficult for law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office to develop a case they think they can take to court—and win. They prefer something less nebulous—did the stalker break into your house? Hit you? Hurt you? Those are tangible—yes or no. Forensic evidence supports it. Showing up everywhere you go? Coincidence, the stalker claims.

The statistics on women who are killed by an intimate partner are even more sobering. The victims reported stalking and abuse—to friends and the police—who were often as helpless as the victim to do anything about it.

So what to do with these depressing statistics?

I decided to put a human face on them. As the layers of So About the Money are revealed, the reader finds stalking in the backgrounds of both Marcy, the murder victim, and Holly Price, the amateur sleuth heroine. Surviving the ordeal deepens the bond between the women and drives Holly to find out not just who killed Marcy, but why was she murdered?

That, to me, is the beauty of an amateur sleuth or cozy. The author can build depth into the characters and plot without climbing onto a soap box.

Now of course I would never recommend you poison your obsessive, violent partner’s black-eyed peas, but I rather liked “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks (written by Dennis Lynde) as an alternative theme song.

Originally published as a guest post for Leslie Budewitz blog

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Left Coast Crime – The Great Cactus Caper

left-coast-crime-2016-2Phoenix (and warm sunny weather) are on my schedule for next week!

Left Coast Crime kicks off the Great Cactus Caper on February 25 and runs through the weekend. I’m really looking forward to it. I have my panel assignment – Romance Under the Gun, on Friday at 3 PM. Come join me! – volunteer assignment, and books arranged for the store.

Still have to pack…

balancing-rocksLeft Coast Crime is a reader/author event so the focus is on books rather than sessions for craft, marketing or business. (I might’ve had a fan girl moment or two at past events. 😉 ) It’s a great chance to meet and talk with readers and to catch up with writing friends. Since this year’s event is right around the corner, I shared a few scenes from Monterey and Portland, host cities for the last two years.

Readers – have you attended a reader oriented event? Likes? Dislikes?

Authors – same question, plus how to you think it compares to strictly writing conference event?

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Rocking the Day Job

Waving from warm, sunny Orlando today. Quite a change from last month’s endless snow.

I wish I could say I’m on vacation. Instead, I’m img_2473rocking the day job, teaching at my firm’s management school and taking a (shh! really boring) mandatory class made bearable by my peers (who also have to take it).

This week made me think about careers and balancing. I know authors who have ditched their day job to write full time. Many others are like me—working full-time at a job that pays the bills and offers health insurance. Since it’s the season to count your blessings and make plans for the new year, I’ll start with gratitude. I have an interesting job that sends me money twice a month. 

Layer in writing, volunteer gigs and the rest of my life, however, and it’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a number of blog posts talking about time management and work/life balance. Consistently, the best advice I’ve received is write every day. Even if it’s only a line or two, put those words on the page first thing in the morning. Otherwise, the day’s demands catch up (and often overwhelm) leaving you exhausted at the end of the day with no creative energy. I find if I get out of the “habit” of writing, days or weeks can slide past.

What about you? Are you rocking the day job? Writing full time? Balancing other commitments? What’s your best advice for maintaining balance or finding time to write?

Oh. And the deer came over to welcome me home to the snow.

the-deer-welcomed-me-home

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Marketing

For most authors, marketing is the least favorite part of publishing. Several weeks ago, on my mystery author loop, someone asked for suggestions about running a promotion campaign. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but since I had an upcoming new release, I volunteered to share my experience.

Many of my friends write romance and I wondered whether their sales strategy would translate to mysteries. I also didn’t want to drive myself insane with marketing/promo. 

So-About-the-Money-2-1563x2500 copySo About the Money released two weeks ago. 

I set up the following as a “plan”

1) I stacked a series of ads for release week: 

BKnights at fiverr was a complete bust. (Romance seems to work pretty well with him.) It was the only day during release week that sales decreased. He claims he will give you a refund if you don’t get a positive result. I requested a refund which he has so far ignored. 

ENT – $45; my best results. I popped up to around 2000 overall at Amazon and into the upper levels on the three genre lists.

Kindle Nation Daily & Book Gorilla slide-over – a major disappointment. This was my most expensive ad ($100) and usually the BG slide over is a day or two later. They ran them the same day. 

Free Kindle Books – at only $25, this produced the same number of sales as the more expensive KND ad.


I tried a new site this week (week 2), attempting to gain some exposure on the international sites: ebook bargains uk; only about $10 but pretty much a non-event.

I saw nice daily bumps from:
Book Release Daily
eBookstage
HBS Mystery Readers Circle
These three spots were free – they do pick and chose which books to feature.

Robin Reads turned me down and several of the ad sites aren’t available to new releases unless you rounded up a lot of reviews with ARCs. My bad. I didn’t do this. 

2) I did a daily meme post to a Facebook group, twitter and G+ community

Note – ONE post a day at each site. Do not turn into a spammer! 

This was actually a lot of fun and I love Canva.com. While doing my final read through of the book prior to release, I made a list of snippets which reflected some aspect of the story. I created a daily meme with a picture supporting one of these snippets. Friends and strangers (A BIG thank you to all of the people who shared it!) retweeted, liked and commented. By using a bit.ly shortener I could see which posts got click throughs. 

Takeaway? 

At the end of two weeks, with the second using only the daily posts, So About the Money is still sitting around 4-5000 at Amazon overall and is still in the top 100 of the genre lists. 

A series of ads for visibility is awesome for building traction. Having a social media presence without being a complete pain is great for keeping the ball rolling. 

Friends had told me promo was a waste of time until I had at least 4 books released. As usual, my more experienced friends were right. As we slide into week 3 post-release, all of my other books are showing upticks in sales. 

Hope this is helpful

 

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Show me the cover!

One of the most fun—and most nerve-wracking, hair-pulling—parts of publishing is designing the book’s cover. In one glance, the cover must convey the essence of the story, attract a reader and offer a hint of the story’s genre and nature.

Asking much?

My latest book releases next month, so today I decided to share the process from the first ideas all the way through to a cover reveal.

So About the Money is a fun, amateur sleuth, more traditional mystery than cozy. The cover needs to be light rather than dark and suspenseful—although, of course, there’s an element of suspense in Holly and JC’s story—and it must focus on Holly, the heroine, rather than a clenched couple, since the romance is an element, a subplot rather than the central story.

No pressure.

I started scrolling through online retailers, studying other people’s covers. I liked a few of the newer amateur sleuth and light women’s fiction books. They had a muted background, a featured story element rather than a more typical “scene” or couple.  Hmm, something new, I considered.

I searched the image sites, looking for stock photos that could bring the story elements to life. Hundreds, thousands, of photo images later, I found possibilities: a business woman (Holly) and a cash-filled briefcase (remember my tag line? Mystery with a Financial Twist; Trust Issues, Family Bonds). I included assorted hands reaching out to “lift’ some of that cash and then went to town with possible combinations of those elements.

Let me be the first to admit my Photoshop skills are very, very limited.

After arranging my chosen elements into a mock-up, I turned to the fonts.

So About the Money

So About the Money

So About the Money

Too heavy, too thin, too frivolous, too hard to read…

Finally I had some ideas. I imposed on a few trusted friends and sent them this:

So About The Money v4 small  SATM v2 small

They didn’t say they hated it, but they politely suggested that I keep thinking about the cover.

 

 

 

 

I took another hard look. The cover was cluttered and simply didn’t “work.”

I removed the cash-filled case and added few “currency” rectangles fluttering from her briefcase and packed the result off to my cover designer.

SATM v5

She hated it.

She found the background “dated” and the cover “flat.”

She suggested this:

So-About-the-Money-mock3 small

I hated it.

It didn’t pop to my uneducated eyes and the “cash” was distracting. The title was too hard to read.

We went back and forth, adding and subtracting.

What if we change the briefcase? Make it red? I suggested.

What if I take out the bank note under your name, she said?  Make the font black?

 

Collaboration is the name of the game. 🙂

So without further ado (that is, without boring you with the intervening versions),  I give you the cover reveal:

So-About-the-Money-2-1000x1500 copy

 

What do you think?

 

 

So About the Money releases in November. Additional vendors are “to come”, but the book is currently available for preorder from Amazon.

 

So About the Money – When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body, her life takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. With an infinitely sexy cop—Holly’s pissed-off, jilted ex-fiancé—threatening to arrest her for the murder, the intrepid accountant must protect her future, her business…and her heart…by using her investigative skills to follow the money, before the killer decides CPA stands for Certified Pain in the Ass…and the next dead body is Holly’s.

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Not Your Usual Suspects Celebration!

Many thanks to everyone who joined in the fun of our Celebrations last week! We hope you enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of our Romantic Suspense excerpts, and the details of our books.

There’s still two more days to enter the RAFFLECOPTER draw. See any of the week’s posts for details. The winner of an e-book from ALL the participating authors will be announced later this week.

And please continue enjoying the blog as we go back to business as usual. Here’s to the next 250,000 visitors!

 

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Facebook party!

12027668_10154245080869937_6639831480180341333_n

This party began as a celebration of Margo Bond Collins’ 2015 summer releases–but now it’s a multi-author, multi-genre event featuring giveaways, prizes, and more than 50 guest authors and their books!

Join in here https://www.facebook.com/events/1684125285156323/

I’m doing a “drop in” and giving away a copy of CYPHER but I don’t want y’all to miss out on the fun. Sign up for my new release announcement (aka the once or twice a year newsletter 😉 ) and I’ll give away random copies to new subscribers.

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Writers Police Academy – Things That Boom!

I attended the Writers Police Academy during August. In a quick background, the Writers Police Academy got its start when a group of law enforcement officers recognized too many authors got the details wrong because they’d never had the opportunity to interact with professionals who knew–and were willing to share–the correct procedures.

That germ of an idea—allow writers to ask a million questions and try their hand at skills taught by active-duty police academy instructors and law enforcement experts—outgrew its beginnings at Guilford Technical Community College in North Carolina. The 2015 version, with the entire cast of experts, descended on the Fox Valley Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, WI.

The buses rolled in–and so it began…

 

What a great training facility with room for fire vehicles, ambulances (they mapped every bump in Main Street and programmed the sequence into the vehicle’s shocks to simulate actual road experience for EMTs-in-Training), skids pads, firing ranges and even an airplane for hostage and terrorist training.

 

There’s a lab for CSI techniques, classes on interview/interrogation, fingerprinting, autopsy and booking techniques, firearms and drug identification, and the challenges women face in the field and workplace. Secret Service and undercover cops talked about what makes their missions succeed–and the mindset of the law enforcement professionals. Firefighters demonstrated rescue techniques and handlers put their K-9 partners through drills from finding drugs (oops, dog nails scratch unmarked cars) to taking down uncooperative Bad Guys.

The collection of buildings dubbed “River City” (you can see a portion above with the airplane) gets burned, stormed and robbed on a regular basis, as police academy cadets learn their craft and nearly three hundred writers watch, take notes, and try their hand at those same skills.

While I didn’t get to attempt the Shoot/Don’t Shoot simulator (damn lottery!), I tested for blood in the CSI lab, learned about blood splatter, and tried out the cooler replacement to Luminal. I breached buildings, learned how to make things go BOOM, and (my favorite) discovered the beauty and control of flow martial arts.

(Note to the master – I’m trying to locate a dojo for Aikido. If not, there’s always Tai Chi.)

Mostly though, I talked with terrific instructors and listened to their stories. I connected with friends and made new ones. What a great weekend.

Thanks to all the folks at WPA and its host of volunteer organizers for providing a unique opportunity to “get it right” in future stories.

What about you? Is there a law enforcement experience you’d love to try first hand?

 

Note – originally posted on our group blog Not Your Usual Suspects

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