Does Promotion Work for Small Press Authors?

PJ Nunn

I get asked similar questions quite a bit and the topic came up yet again today so I thought I’d take a minute or two and share my thoughts with you here.

If you’re reading this, you already know how competitive it is out there. Getting attention for a single title – whether print or ebook – is like trying to identify a particular grain of sand on an endless beach. Some days it really feels hopeless. How can a little-known, small press or self-published author successfully promote his or her book to the point that there’s a visible increase in sales?

I wish I had an easy answer. If anyone tells you there is one, don’t believe them. First of all, understand that while writers and those within the book industry seem inordinately aware of who the publisher is of any title, readers can rarely tell you who published the book they just read. In fact, in working with broadcast media, they rarely ask me about the publisher. Truth is, they just don’t seem to care. Stores care. Libraries care. Newspapers care. There are ways around that.

So, while there is a negative stereotype against self-published books and small presses within the industry (gasp! Not everyone feels that way, but some do), it doesn’t preclude successful promotion efforts. It can, however, make it seem impossible to have a chance at getting your book on many or any store shelves. There are ways around that, too. And, since these days, nobody’s book is in every store, you have a good chance of getting yours in some stores if you really want that. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

If you’ve heard you’re at a disadvantage because your publisher can’t afford to do much marketing, guess what? NO publisher these days can afford to do much marketing. I work with several large publishers in addition to the small press and self-published authors I represent. In the last five years I’ve seen many in-house publicists laid off while those that remained took on twice and even three times the client load they once had. For the same pay. Yikes! Every one I work with tries really hard to get good attention for their authors, but one person can only do so much, even when I often talk to them still in the office at 6 or 7 pm “just finishing up one more project”.

That said, when books from small presses, or any presses, fail to achieve much recognition these days, it’s usually more a problem of too little promotion or too intense in a short time. Slow and steady is what wins the race these days. Repeat, consistent exposure. Too much too soon can make it feel like you’re getting somewhere, but six weeks after the blitz, will anyone remember you? Have you ever heard a short author interview on the radio during drive time on the way to work and swerved off the highway in search of a bookstore to buy the book you just heard about? I know I haven’t.  But I have tucked the name away in my mind if it sounded interesting, then promptly forgot about it later. UNTIL a few weeks down the road maybe I heard it again on another program. Or saw a review of it in the paper. Or maybe just happened to catch a tweet about it online. If the name keeps popping up, sooner or later I’ll pay attention. And so will somebody else.

Because it’s unlikely that anyone will rush out and buy your book the very first time they see your name or title, it’s hard to gauge the success of a campaign. But in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, it’s invariably the ones who just keep going who ultimately build a following and see sales increase. Granted it doesn’t come overnight or without effort, but if you do it right and keep doing it, it will pay off. The question then is how bad do you want it and how much is it worth?

That can be hard to calculate because it’s almost impossible to judge which promotional effort affected which sales. Still, if you’re diligent, you can estimate your cost and approximately how many books you need to sell to cover it. The main problem is you can still be reaping sales for months after the fact. I suggest that you take time to figure out what you make on the sale of each book so you can determine what your sales goals are for a twelve month period. Or until you estimate your next book will come out. Once you’ve determined a realistic sales goal, make sure your promo budget stays beneath that figure. That way you can plan a campaign that won’t put undue financial strain on you, but will still assist you in getting the job done.

At one time, a few years back, the average lifetime sales of a self-published or small press title was 200 – 500 copies. That’s all. IF the book is trade paper and sells for $14.95, and IF you make a 15% royalty ($2.24 per copy) and IF you sell 500 copies, you’ll gross a whopping $1,120. If your only real promotional expense is postage you’ll turn a profit, but most have a few more expenses than that, even without hiring someone like me. So how can you make that work? Obviously you have to sell quite a few more books. Selling 1500 instead of 500 raises your gross to $3,360. Double that at 3000 and so on. Those are reasonable goals. Of course we’d all love to break that 100,000 mark but it might be best to aim a little lower the first time. Like someone once said, if you aim for heaven and fall a little short, you’ll still have reached the sky!

Once you have that budget established, you can map out a campaign to fit. I always promote the author more than any one title, but I do focus on the latest title, unless there’s a special audience that might be more interested in a previous book for some reason. The goal is to make your name familiar so that ultimately when a reader hears you have a new book out they’ll want to read it, whatever its title is. I’ve found a lot of authors would rather focus entirely on the book and don’t like to feel they’re promoting themselves. And other authors, who don’t mind promoting themselves, sometimes come across as conceited and abrasive. There’s a fine line and it’s important for you to learn how to put yourself out there gracefully. In order to accomplish that, we’d want to target several different markets in a variety of venues. Establish yourself as an expert and a professional so that media hosts want to talk to you, journalists want to interview you and store personnel want to get to know you. Most of all, readers will want to read your book!

Back to books not being in stores – that’s the way of the future at this point. There are so many more books being released each month, and so many fewer stores that it’s difficult to get books on the shelves unless you’re touring. Even then it can be a challenge, because so many stores don’t do signing events anymore and it’s so expensive to travel, but it’s doable. The more reasonable goal for most is to make sure they know about your books and know how to order them. That’s one way radio interviews can be of help.

If at all possible, we contact independent stores in the area when we schedule you for a radio interview and ask them to order in a few copies, then make sure you mention on the air that the book is available at such and such a store. Most stores (particularly independent stores) are happy to get the free mention on the radio, and often they’ll continue to carry your books long after. That’s just one way. It can seem endless thinking you have to do that one store at a time, but book promotion is nothing if not a snowball effect. One event builds on another then another and after a while, you’ve created a good trail. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come quick, but it will come as long as the book is good.

Only one thing is truly a guarantee – if you don’t promote it, you won’t sell many. So stop thinking about reasons why promotion won’t work for you, and start finding ways that it can!

10 Ways to Raise the Bar on Book Promotion

PJ Nunn

Book promotion today isn’t what it was 20 years ago. Or even 10 years ago. The industry keeps changing and evolving, making it increasingly difficult to get your book to stand out amongst the tens of thousands that are published each month. Once upon a time, that was the publisher’s concern. Today, that’s no longer the case. Authors now must excel in an additional arena, since writing a great book isn’t enough to assure record sales.

The good news is it doesn’t take a lot of effort to rise above the ordinary.

  1. Go back to the good old days. In today’s fast-paced, digital age of communication, there’s something to be said for a hand-written thank you note or a friendly phone call. Authors who take the time to say thank you after a signing event, book review or a broadcast interview are still in the HUGE minority. In a time when just about everyone I know has, at one time or another, been annoyed at too many emails or text messages, I’ve never once heard anyone complain upon receipt of a sincere “thank you.” Sure, you might say, that’s a nice thing to do, but does it really help promote my book? If you’re one of a handful of authors among hundreds who make a good impression by going that extra mile, who do you think that bookseller will remember favorably?
  2. Recognize your activities as a business, not a necessary evil or something that just has to be done. You may feel that way, and have every right to feel whatever you feel, but as my daddy taught me when I was small, you don’t have to tell everything you know. Sometimes, in book promotion, what you DON’T say can be as important as what you do.
  3. Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.
  4. Be active in popular social networking venues, but don’t spend all your time there. I’m for promoting books long after the pub date, but if you want a career as an author, there should always be something new in the works. That means your time has to be well managed.
  5. Shop around. You want independent booksellers to shelve your books and recommend them to their customers? Make a point of ordering from those booksellers periodically.
  6. If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. OR if you want to keep getting what you’re getting, just keep doing what you’re doing. Either way, the point is that if you want to move up to a new level, you’re going to have to climb out of your comfort zone somewhere along the way.
  7. Make connections with others in the industry who get the kind of results you’d like to get. Ours is a very giving industry so don’t hesitate to ask questions, but it’s important to know the source. In other words, if you’re wondering how to make your book signing events more successful, don’t just ask at random. Ask authors who consistently have successful signing events.
  8. Study the craft of promotion and make it personal. What works for one doesn’t work for all. It’s important for you to learn your strengths, staff your weaknesses and improve any areas that are unfamiliar. If you’ve not had broadcast experience (and most of us haven’t), take time to study the art of giving a good interview. If you’ve only attended one or two signing events in all your life, attend more.
  9. Understand that in some ways, persistence is worth more than talent. I realize that’s not a popular opinion, but I have seen too many talented authors give up because of unrealistic expectations. Some of them aren’t writing at all anymore and that’s too bad. Of course talent is important, but who’s going to read your work and recognize your talent if they’ve never seen or heard about your book? Experts say it takes up to 14 times for someone to hear and retain a name. Repeat exposure is what pays off in the long run. Few, if any, people rush out to buy a book the very first time they hear the title or the author’s name. Schedule some activity that gets your name in front of a reading audience every month and keep doing that.
  10. Read a new book every month. I’m amazed at how many writers tell me they don’t have time to read anything but their own work. Bad mistake. First, I hope you’ll always make time to read for sharpening your own writing skill. Then I hope you’ll read to keep abreast of what type of books are selling in the current market. Lastly, I hope you will always squeeze time out for reading for pleasure. It’ll keep you fresh and satisfied.

One thing I’ve learned in this business – what works for one, doesn’t always work for all. There is no one size fits all promotional garment. Unless you’re looking for something that fits like a muu muu. It may take some tailoring to find the fit that works best for you, but it will be well worth the effort and the result, in the long run, will be increased sales. It may come slow and sure, but it will come with persistence and consistency. If I can answer any questions or help you in any way, you know where to find me.

PJ

Sometimes on Mondays we need a laugh…

…and this is always a good place to find one: The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winners. The 2011 winners are right up to par, but feel free to go there and browse previous years’ winners as well. Too funny! But here are the latest to make it easy for you:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Sue Fondrie Oshkosh, WI The winner of the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh who works groan-inducing wordplay into her teaching and administrative duties whenever possible.  Out of school, she introduces two members of the next generation to the mysteries of Star TrekStar Wars, and–of course–the art of the bad pun.

Prof. Fondrie is the 29th grand prize winner of the contest that that began at San Jose State University in 1982.  The contest challenges entrants to compose bad opening sentences to imaginary novels takes its name from the Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who began his “Paul Clifford” with “It was a dark and stormy night.” At 26 words, Prof. Fondrie’s submission is the shortest grand prize winner in Contest history, proving that bad writing need not be prolix, or even very wordy.

Runner-Up:

As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

Rodney Reed Ooltewah, TN

Winner: Adventure

From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages — which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place — but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food.  

Jack Barry Shelby, NC

Runner-Up: 

Sensing somehow a scudding lay in the offing, Skipper Bob tallied his tasks:  reef the mains’l, mizzen, and jib, strike and brail the fores’l, mizzen stays’l and baggywrinkles, bowse the halyards, mainsheets, jacklines and vangs, turtle and belay fast the small cock, flemish the taffrail warps, batten the booby hatch, lay by his sou’wester, and find the bailing bucket. 

Mike Mayfield Austin, TX   

Winner: Crime

Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler–who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne–or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses.

Mark Wisnewski Flanders, NJ

Runner-Up:

Five minutes before his scheduled execution, Kip found his thoughts turning to his childhood– all those years ago before he had become a contract killer whose secret weakness was a severe peanut allergy, even back before he lost half of a toe in a gardening accident while doing community service– but especially to Corinne, the pretty girl down the street whom he might have ended up marrying one day if she had only shown him a little more damn respect.

Andrew Baker Highland Park, NJ

Dishonorable Mention:

The victim was a short man, with a face full of contradictions: amalgam, composite, dental porcelain, with both precious and non-precious metals all competing for space in a mouth that was open, bloody, terrifying, gaping, exposing a clean set of asymptomatic impacted wisdom teeth, but clearly the object of some very comprehensive dental care, thought Dirk Graply, world-famous womanizer, tough guy, detective, and former dentist.  

Basil McDonnell Vancouver, B.C.

Winner:  Fantasy

Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, “but you’ll never be half the man he was.”  

Terri Daniel Seattle, WA

Runner-Up: Veronica, two months pregnant and attempting to get her boyfriend to notice, and Ricky, who wanted to end things with his expansive girlfriend, sat at a table-for-two around lunchtime at the Olive Garden in Columbus, Ohio, eying the bottle of house rosé which, unbeknownst to them, doubled as the portal key to Khrysandelt: The land where everything glitters slightly more than normal.  

Andrew Allingham Fairfax, VA

Winner:  Historical Fiction

Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.

John Doble New York City

Runner-Up:

The executioner sneered as the young queen ascended the stairs to the guillotine; in the old days, he thought, at least there was some buildup, a little time on the rack or some disemboweling, but nowadays everyone wants instant gratification. 

Andrea Rossi Wilmington, NC

Winner:  Purple Prose

As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue. 

Mike Pedersen North Berwick, ME

Runner-Up:

The Los Angeles morning was heavy with smog, the word being a portmanteau of smoke and fog, though in LA the pollutants are typically vehicular emissions as opposed to actual smoke and fog, unlike 19th-century London where the smoke from countless small coal fires often combined with fog off the Thames to produce true smog, though back then they were not clever enough to call it that.   

Jack Barry Shelby, NC

Dishonorable Mentions:

LaTrina—knowing he must live—let her hot, wet tongue slide slowly over Gladiator’s injured ear, the taste reminding her of the late June flavor of a snow chain that had been removed from a tire and left to rust on the garage floor without being rinsed off. 

Betsy Replogle Nichols Hills, OK

Like a bird gliding over the surface of a Wyoming river rippled by a gentle Spring breeze, his hand passed over her stretch marks. 

Patty Liverance Grand Rapids, MI

Deep into that particular wet Saturday night ugly blues screamed out from the old man’s horn like a hooker being hauled down a flight of stairs, regular thick loud thumps punctuated by nasty and erratic sharp barks. 

John Benson Carthage, MO 64836

She held my hand as if she were having a swollen barrel of fun which was off considering that my teeth were sitting on my bathroom cabinet (eight miles away, no less) and my elbow was peeling like a soggy coconut, the fine hairs of which were standing on edge in fear, as if the coconut had been reading “Dracula.” 

James Hearn Canterbury, Kent, U.K.

Winner:  Romance

As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand—who would take her away from all this—and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had.

Ali Kawashima Greensboro, NC

Runner-Up:

Deanna waited for him in a deliberate pose on the sailor-striped chaise lounge of the newly-remodeled Ramada, her bustier revealing the tops of her white breasts like eggs–eggs of the slightly undercooked, hard-boiled variety, showing a nascent jiggle with her apprehensive breath, eggs that were then peeled ever-so-carefully so as not to pierce the jellied, opaque albumen and unleash the longing, viscous yolk within–yes, she lay there, oblong and waiting to be deviled.

Meredith K. Gray Ithaca, NY

Dishonorable Mentions:

They called her The Cat, because she made love the way she fought, rolling rapidly across the floor in a big, blurry ball of shrieking hair, fury, and dander, which usually solicited a “Shut up!” and flung shoe from one of the neighbors, and left her exhilarated lover with serious patchy bald spots and the occasional nicked ear. 

Lisa Kluber San Francisco, CA

She gazed smolderingly at the mysterious rider, his body cloaked in enough shining black leather to outfit an Italian furniture store, wrapped so tightly each muscle stood out like a flamboyant Mexican hairdresser at an Alabamian monster truck rally; and he met her gaze with an intensity that couldn’t have been matched by even a starving junkyard dog in the meat aisle of a suburban supermarket. 

Chris Kemp Annapolis, MD

Winner:  Sci Fi

Morgan ‘Bamboo’ Barnes, Star Pilot of the Galaxia (flagship of the Solar Brigade), accepted an hors d’oeuvre from the triangular-shaped platter offered to him from the Princess Qwillia—lavender-skinned she was and busty, with two of her four eyes what Barnes called ‘bedroom eyes’—and marveled at how on her planet, Chlamydia-5, these snacks were called ‘Hi-Dee-Hoes’ but on Earth they were simply called Ritz Crackers with Velveeta. 

Greg Homer Placerville, CA

Runner-Up:

Sterben counted calcium bars in the storage chamber, wondering why women back on Earth paid him little attention, but up here they seem to adore him, in fact, six fraichemaidens had already shown him their blinka. 

Elizabeth Muenster Columbia, PA

Winner:  Vile Puns

Detective Kodiak plucked a single hair from the bearskin rug and at once understood the grisly nature of the crime: it had been a ferocious act, a real honey, the sort of thing that could polarize a community, so he padded quietly out the back to avoid a cub reporter waiting in the den. 

Joe Wyatt Amarillo, TX

Runner-Up:

Monroe Mills’ innovative new fabric-dyeing technique was a huge improvement over stone-washing: denim apparel was soaked in color and cured in an 800-degree oven, and the company’s valued young dye department supervisor was as skilled as they came; yes, no one could say Marilyn was a normal jean baker. 

Marvin Veto Greensboro, NC

Dishonorable Mentions:

Convinced that the fabled Lost Treasure of Eggsbury was concealed within the statue of the beloved Sister Mary Francis in the village square, Professor Smithee would steal away in the darkest hour of each night to try to silently chip away at her impervious granite vestments – a vain and fruitless nightly exercise, he well knew, but it was a hard habit to break.

Rodney Reed Ooltewah, TN

Milton’s quest for the love of Ms. Bradley was a risk but no sorry trivial pursuit, yet he hadn’t a clue why she had a monopoly on his heart’s desires — in fact, it boggled his mind and caused him great aggravation because, in his checkered and troubled careers, he had always scrabbled hard and it drove him bonkers that she considered life just a game

Linda Boatright Omaha, NE

Winner:  Western

The laser-blue eyes of the lone horseman tracked the slowly lengthening lariat of a Laredo dawn as it snaked its way through Dead Man’s Pass into the valley below and snared the still sleeping town’s tiny church steeple in a noose of light with the oh-so-familiar glow of a Dodge City virgin’s last maiden blush.

Graham Thomas St. Albans, Hertfordshire, U.K.

Runner-Up:

Sunburned and lost, Jake tightened the noose around Randy’s diaper-white neck and growled, “Any last words, varmint?” to which Randy replied, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, Jake–that’s where all the fruit is!” which marked the first and last time Jake and the boys hired a life coach to lead one of their cattle drives. 

Lisa Kluber San Francisco, CA

Miscellaneous Dishonorable Mentions

Rosy lips aquiver, Lauren drizzled with tears the wave-tousled sands of Wampauset Municipal Area Public Access Beach, hearing in every shriek of shrike and plaint of plover the ancient wail–kreeAHH, kreeAHH!–of good women widowed by the sea, as well as tonal nuances indicating the shorebirds’ relative levels of copulative receptiveness, for our umber-eyed heroine is both lover and ornithologist.

Anna Springfield Raleigh, NC

Business was kinda slow at the ‘If You Build It’ sperm bank.

Simon Petrie Hawker ACT, AUSTRALIA

Day broke upon the Baroness von Hestach with the pitiable insistence of all that she despised–a gray and unattractive intrusion into her sumptuous bedchamber, much like the Baron.

Holly Kohler Concord, MA

No one walked down Bleak Street at night—not where hobgoblins hobnobbed, skeletons skulked, vampires vamped, and the dumpster behind the Chinese buffet smelled like zombies. 

Bill Hartmann Dallas, TX

Dawn crept up like the panther on the gazelle, except it was light, not dark like a panther, and a panther, though quiet, could never be as silent as the light of dawn, so really the analogy doesn’t hold up well, as cool as it sounds, but it still is a great way to begin a story; just not necessarily this particular one.

Warren Blair Ashburn, VA

As the young officer studied the oak door, he was reminded of his girlfriend — for she was also slightly unhinged, occasionally sticky, and responded well to being stripped and given a light oiling. 

Ian Fishlock Harrow, London U.K.

The beast lumbered toward the maiden, its fetid breath announcing its presence to her (since she couldn’t see him due to the blindfold her captors had tied around her head), its jaws gaping open like a sub sandwich with too much meat, so that no matter how hard you try, you can’t possibly keep the lettuce or the tomatoes from squeezing out onto the table or, worse, your lap.

Donna P. Titus Freeland, PA

All the signs, both actual and imagined, made it immensely clear there was trouble ahead for Marlene and, yet, her childlike sense of hope that maybe he was “the one” kept her foot on the accelerator pedal of life even when she came to the “bridge out” warning hand written in Magic Marker on Myron’s Polident cup.

Karen Arutunoff Tulsa, OK

The grisly scene before him was like nothing Detective Smith had ever seen before, but there were millions and millions of things he had never seen before, and he couldn’t help but wonder which of them it was. 

Sean Griffin Tacoma, WA

Maggie said they were birthmarks and they very well could be, but the three very small black moles in a horizontal line just above her right eyebrow looked like an ellipsis to some, but to others who did not know what an ellipsis was, they looked like three very small black moles in a horizontal line just above Maggie’s right eyebrow.

Anna Springfield Raleigh, NC

As she downed the last Dixie cup of Listerine and let every drop of its 21.6 percent alcohol content hit her like an icy mint anti-cavity brickbat, Karen squinted at the breasts dangling like two electrocuted ospreys from the powerline of her heart and, with a despondency born of a thousand nights spent gaining a decent skill level at internet mahjong, wondered how she and they had all three sunk so low. 

Betty Jean Murray Richland, TX

Her flaming red hair whipped in the wind like a campfire, stroking the embers of passion hidden within the hearth of my heart and I began to burn with a desire that seared me to my very core – oh the things that I would do if only I weren’t incarcerated for arson!

Aubrey Johnson Edmonton, AB, Canada

Carmela’s knees buckled and she (a responsible consumer) collapsed down onto the sidewalk, as  her environmentally green grocery bag bounced — spewing forth organic mixed  lettuces, crispy  eco-friendly cucumbers,  juicy natural cherry tomatoes,  home-grown herbs  — while  in perfect synchronization, a recyclable plastic bottle burst open, spraying droplets of Lite-Italian dressing upon the freshly tossed salad.  

Margie Parker Weeki Wachee, FL

After five years as freelance writer, Greg finally managed to double his income, letting him add a processed cheese product slice to the baloney sandwiches he had for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Lawrence Person Austin, TX The mostly, but not quite, extinguished fire’s dying embers writhed upon the floor like tiny little wasps which someone has just stuck in the abdomen with a needle, and they are frantically contracting around the metal protrusion in their gut in a desperate effort to remove it which, let’s face it, is hopeless so they are just slowly dying and good riddance to them too, because unlike bees–which actually have some purpose in the world–wasps are just mean, ornery wastes of space, and who can blame someone for spearing them?   

Darian McGee Petal, MS

“Bleeeck!” nine-year-old prince Crawthula, lord of Undaria and heir to the vampire throne, cried as the lollypop, expertly wielded by his irksome sister, left a bright red gooey smear across his pale cheek, shattering the image of tranquility he was ineffectually trying to maintain in front of his undead ministers and beginning the tirade that resulted in them both being sent to coffin before the first human had been brought out to feast on.   

Eric A. Vanderburg Cleveland, OH

They kissed with the fury and suction of a dart that was shot onto the back of the bus driver’s fat bald head by the red-headed kid that was too big for his age (the rumor was he was “held back”) and everyone knew was going to end up in prison, or perhaps a prop comic if he straightened out in time. 

D. Drake Daggett Omro, WI

Awakened by a howling wind snapping branches against her new but poorly installed storm windows, Stella heard another sound she found puzzling so, grabbing her trusty Colt Python, she snuck stealthily downstairs to find an oddly-dressed gnome-like man methodically dropping breath mints onto her freshly-waxed kitchen floor. 

Ann Hammack Pittsboro,NC

“You’re not in Kansas anymore, people!” the gruff Marine Captain bellowed as I wheeled myself along the tarmac of Planet Cliché, the only place in the Galaxy where you could mine Unobtainium, undergo the powerful Eywa ritual with a blue eight-foot-tall alien Princess, and discover a hunter-gatherer people who despite decades of human contact still hadn’t developed the wheel, the composite bow, or toilet paper.

Adrian McKinty

Urgh the howler monkey was sort of the leader of his troop, though not old enough to be a silverback and not having fathered more than a couple of sons, but he did know where the good berries were and how to avoid the leopards, anacondas, and especially the hairless apes, the ones who crashed through the forest only to stand behind a tree and breathe noisily, and watch them and sometimes leave bunches of those disgusting bananas.

David S. Nelson Falls Church, VA

What an assortment, really! Hope that gives you at least a smile. Wanna try your hand at it for next year’s winners?

Taken by Robert Crais

Taken by Robert Crais

ISBN: 978-0-399-15827-8

Putnam

January 2012

Hardcover, 341 pages

I first “met” Bob Crais on the Hardboiled message boards on AOL years ago. I was brand new to the industry and in awe of so many of the board regulars at the time. Mostly, I lurked, reading the banter between friends like RC, Dennis Lehane, SJ Rozan, Bob Randisi, Les Roberts and so many more. Were any of you there? I promise you I learned more about writing and the world of mystery there on those boards than I did in eight years of college and graduate school.

It seems funny to me now, but I resisted reading RC’s work because I just couldn’t fathom an effective protagonist named Elvis.

Stalking the Angel

Seriously. I avoided reading any of his books for almost two years before I broke down and picked up Stalking the Angel at the library one day. That was my introduction to Elvis Cole, World’s Greatest Detective, and I was forever in love.

“Excuse me,” I (Elvis) said. I pushed away from my desk, pitched myself out of my chair, onto the floor, then got up, brushed myself off, and sat again.

“There. I’m finished being impressed. We can go on.”

I immediately sought a copy of The Monkey’s Raincoat and started the series from the beginning. I’ve watched the series change and grow dark, and as always, eagerly awaited the latest release – Taken. I won’t write a formal review. You don’t need one from me. But I will say, I love this book and warn you, it ends much too quickly.

So much has happened to Elvis in the last several years. The loss of Lucy in his life, the death of Samantha Dolan, the injuries he and Joe Pike have endured. It changes people. Sometimes I do miss the cockier, more wiseass Elvis of the earlier books, but I think he’s still there. He’s just clouded. Grown up some. When I read…

“The government gave the DAGR to him even though it was a crime for him to own it. Governments do that.”

…in the early pages of Taken, I smiled. The voice is strong. When he’s up to his eyeballs in trouble trying to find Krista, he offers…

“We worked out an offer for the Syrian and a game plan for the cartel, and then he made the calls. I was now in business with a Korean gang known for extortion, brutality, and violence, and about to put my trust into a drug cartel known for torture and mass murder. I told myself it was worth it. I told myself I had no choice. I lied to myself, and knew I was lying, but chose to believe the lies.”

Elvis at his finest.

I’m not what you’d call a personal friend of Robert Crais; he might recognize my screen name, but we’ve never met. He never taught a class I was in, but his work has influenced my own writing dramatically. It probably has something to do with his screenwriting background, but he can say more with fewer words than anyone I know. He paints vivid word pictures and creates characters that are hard to forget.

In this outing, it seems both Elvis and Joe have grown more tired of the bad guys winning, and more determined to do whatever it takes to get the job done. There’s quiet desperation in their vulnerabilities, which are admittedly few. It’s a case Elvis seems reluctant to take, yet he gives all he’s got to finish what he starts. I like that Pike calls in Jon Stone and we get to know him a little better, and that the writing is good enough to keep the pages turning until 3 am because I just couldn’t sleep without seeing it through to the end. Now, I wait for the next RC fix in whatever form it takes, knowing he’ll always come back to Elvis and Joe when the dust settles.

When he does, I do hope RC will help them both find a little happiness along the way somewhere. They need to love more than that cat. Until then though, when I need a detective or a trusty sidekick, I know where to look. Like Joe Pike says, “Got you.”