NAMING CHARACTERS FOR REAL PEOPLE by Rabbi Ilene Schneider

I’ve read several blog posts and email list discussions lately about the problems entailed in naming characters, including the recent guest blog on my own site (http://rabbiauthor.com) by F. M. (aka Marilyn) Meredith on “Choosing Names for Characters and ‘Rules’ I’ve Broken.”

 

Coming up with names is a chore every fiction author faces. Generally, I write down whatever name pops into my head, but that can cause problems. I can’t recall what I originally named the corpse in Unleavened Dead, but, fortunately, decided to do a quick Google search. The character is a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders among adolescent girls. He also turns out to have a rather unsavory, not to mention immoral and unethical and criminal, background. It was fortuitous that I searched the name because it turns out that I had chosen one that was too common, particularly among therapists dealing with eating disorders. I quickly changed it to something uncommon – John Quincy Moorhouse. To make sure I hadn’t inadvertently maligned someone, I didn’t use the more common spelling “Morehouse.”

 

I thought with the third book Yom Killer I had come up with the perfect solution. As a fundraiser for our synagogue, I sold character naming rights. But a friend of mine, blogger and avid reader Lois Hirt, bought several characters, all to be named for her grandchildren. She asked her children’s permission, and a few could be used for any age, but the rest were to be children.

 

And here’s where the difficulty (for me) started. First, there were too many with the same last name. I solved that problem by having one sibling group remain a sibling group, all children. For the others, I had the real-life siblings be recast as mothers and daughters.

 

Second, as they were all cousins, I tried to make sure that no single character got more “page time” than the others. As a pantser (one who writes “by the seat of her pants”), I don’t outline. My characters tell me what they want to do. So in a few cases, I had to change the names, either to those of non-realted “paying customers” or to fictional (I hoped) names. Doing a universal “find-and-replace” can be tricky, though, so I had to proof-read carefully to make sure I hadn’t slipped up. For example, I had decided that I shouldn’t use the word “purse,” but “pocketbook.” I did a universal “find-and-replace,” only to later read that instead of pursing her lips, a character was pocketbooking them.

 

Third, one character, the fictional Lois Hirt’s fictional daughter, was rather unlikeable. I made up a name for her, and checked with the real Lois to make sure she didn’t have any relative by that name. (She didn’t.)

 

Fourth, the character of Lois in the book is a bit “iffy.” But the real Lois was a good sport about it, and enjoyed not being the nice person she is in real life.

 

And therein lies another tale, so to speak. I couldn’t have all the characters be nice, or it wouldn’t be a mystery, not even a cozy. Or it would be pretty boring, with no dramatic tension. I had a sliding scale for the price, with the “villain” paying extra to be the bad guy. Even so, I was apprehensive as to how he would view himself in the book, as he revealed himself to be even nastier than originally planned. (The character insisted he needed to be.) Every time I saw the real person, I warned him, but he, too, was a good sport about it. And his friends got a kick out of seeing him in a new light!

 

Other characters that seemed shady at first redeemed themselves by the end of the book. The parents and grandparents who donated the names of their progeny and/or themselves have yet to complain.

 

My noble experiment worked – after a lot of revising – and raised some money for the synagogue while making some kids (and adults) happy to see their names in print. But I think for the future I’ll go back to stream-of-consciousness naming. Or … I know. My story is set in the fictional town of Walford, NJ, named for the equally fictional London neighborhood of Walford, the setting for my favorite soap opera “EastEnders.” I think I’ll take the first name of a character on the show and combine it with the last name of a different character. Yeah, that will work. Maybe.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has decided what she wants to be when she grows up: a full-time writer. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries: the critically acclaimed Chanukah Guilt; the award-winning Unleavened Dead; and the latest,Yom Killer. She also wrote the best-selling nonfiction Talk Dirty Yiddish, soon to be released in a new edition; developed a website of Q&As about Chanukah (whyninecandles.com); and edited a cookbook Recipes by the Book: Oak Tree Authors Write. She lives in Marlton, NJ, with her husband Rabbi Gary Gans.

Website/blog: http://rabbiauthor.com

Email: rabbi.author@yahoo.com

FaceBook: www.facebook.com/rabbi.author

On picking a location by Terri Gregg

PJ, thank you for the opportunity to post a guest blog on your site.

When writing a novel, or short story or play for that matter, it is a given that you must have interesting characters and a plot that will engage the reader. The majority of the books I find most enjoyable have another element—an intriguing setting. With my fascination for archeology (I have an M.A. in the field although I have never been a working archaeologist), Cahokia in southern Illinois was a natural location for my novel, Bones Unearthed.

Cahokia was a very large pre-Columbian city that is almost unknown to modern Americans. It was built by the Mississippian Indians and flourished from about 850 to about 1300 A.D. The Mississippians were mound builders and what they constructed in southern Illinois was truly remarkable. At its height, Cahokia was larger than London at the same time. Estimates of its population range from about 15,000 to as many as 40,000 inhabitants. If the latter figure is correct, there was not a larger city in the area of the United States until the early 19th century.

The structures at Cahokia were built of dirt and wood.  The largest structure, Monk’s Mound, was as tall as a 10-story building and covered more area than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It was built over a period of a hundred years by individual Indians carrying the dirt up the mound in baskets they carried on their backs.

They had a trading empire that spanned North America from Lake Superior to Florida and covered much of the eastern U.S.  The scope of their trading is based on the materials such as shells and copper found in excavations at the site.

Like other early Indian groups, they hunted and fished as well as gathering nuts and other vegetable matter, but what allowed Cahokia to grow as large as it did was widespread corn farming. Cahokia had both small kitchen gardens and large community fields.

Cahokia is a fascinating place, but there are also a number of mysteries.  The greatest mystery is what happened to the inhabitants of Cahokia. About 1250 they were near the top of their power and wealth. By the mid-1300s they were essentially gone. It may have been caused by the destruction of their habitat.  They were profligate in their use of wood, both from building and as fuel for cooking and heating. The smoke from all their cooking fires must have made the air very bad. The hunting and fishing to supply the needs of their large population may have wiped out the local animal populations. As they became more and more dependent  on corn as their food, the health of the people may have declined significantly. No one knows for sure.

So here is a location right in the middle of America that can provide a rich and fascinating under pinning for the novel with its archeological and ancient historical elements. And if a reader’s curiosity is sparked by the background, of this or some other setting in another book, doesn’t that just enrich the whole experience?

 

My writing life began with nine years as a science writer for an encyclopedia.  Although that experience honed my writing skills, it was definitely not fiction. My first foray into fiction was a yet to be published mystery novel called Open House, written in Melbourne, Australia, where I lived with my husband who was on a six-month teaching exchange.

With retirement from a career as a computer consultant, my husband and I settled in Sarasota after a little over two years RVing around the country. With more time to write, I published Bones Unearthed, a mystery novel set in Cahokia World Heritage site in southern Illinois.

Currently I have two novels in the works—a sequel to Bones Unearthed and another murder mystery with a protagonist who is RVing with her husband.

I live in Sarasota with my husband, John.  We have three grown children—two girls who live in Austin, Texas, and a son in the Los Angeles area.  We have three grandchildren, also in Los Angeles.

Amazon buy link

Focus on Promotion: Statistics, Strategies, and Sales by Martha Reed

Thank you, PJ, for inviting me to guest post on Bookbrowsing. I’ve been so focused on promotion that I haven’t taken the time to analyze my sales. The data I uncovered for this blog has been tremendously insightful. I’ll use it to shape my marketing efforts going forward.

In February of 2017, I published NO REST FOR THE WICKED, Book Three in my Nantucket Mystery series through my Indie imprint, Buccaneer. From the get-go, I’ve tracked the sales results of my promotional efforts to see what worked best. Here is the analysis of those stats.

Baseline Availability

I used Amazon’s CreateSpace to publish NO REST as a trade paperback, and as a Kindle (.mobi) edition. I did not opt for the Kindle Select program, because I wanted my distribution to be as broad as possible.

I used Smashwords to create the other retailer e-book files I needed (.ePub for Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, Oyster & Kobo, Kindle.mobi, PDF, PalmDoc.pdb, Sony eReader) including library distribution through Library Direct, Baker & Taylor’s Axis360, Gardners, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, and Odilo.

Sales Ranked by Percentage

Let’s cut to the chase. Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. CreateSpace trade paperbacks and Kindle e-books accounted for 80% of my sales.

Smashwords accounted for the remaining 20%, broken out by individual retailer, as shown below:

  • Apple iBooks: 33%
  • Barnes & Noble 26%
  • Smashwords 1%
  • OverDrive (Libraries) 39%
  • Kobo less than 1%


Readership

Interestingly, from a series perspective:

  • 71% of my sales came from THE CHOKING GAME, Book 1;
  • 10% started with THE NATURE OF THE GRAVE, Book 2 and the notable Independent Publisher IPPY award winner; and
  • 19% started with Book 3: NO REST FOR THE WICKED, the new launch.

This stat seems to support what I’ve been hearing from writers, editors, and agents, that once readers discover a new author and/or a new series they start reading from the beginning of the series. This statistic supports the suggestion that authors need to be offering more than a single book. It also supports the suggestion that hybrid authors should recover their copyrights and e-publish out of print backlists, to take advantage of crossover sales.

Promotional Tools and Marketing Efforts

Guest Blogs

I’ve been targeting guest blog posts to help get the word out on NO REST, scheduling at least two blog posts a week. I’ve heard of marketing services that can schedule blogging tours for you, but I’ve had great success by simply reaching out to host bloggers on my own. Bloggers (and readers) are always looking for fresh, insightful, and entertaining new content. For every guest blog post that I wrote, I saw a follow-up sales spike within a day or two, usually through Kindle (as noted above) or Smashwords/Kobo.

Amazon, GoodReads, and Smashwords Giveaways

Here’s the third big thing I’ve learned: For my book launch, I used a Smashwords coupon code for an initial fan/reader free giveaway to encourage reviews and create buzz. I chose the Smashwords (.ePub) option because the Smashwords dashboard seemed the easiest one to manage. Now that I see that the majority of my sales are coming through CreateSpace and Kindle, I’ll make sure that any future giveaways offer trade paperbacks and/or Kindle (.mobi) versions.

Social Media

I’ve been actively using Facebook and Twitter for book launch and author appearance announcements, but I can’t link any direct sales to these announcements or promotions. The sales spike I do see comes after I’ve used social media to point readers to an eye-catching topic on a guest blog post, and then connect to new readers that way.

Advertising Options and Future Campaigns

This year, I’ve purchased program ads for Malice Domestic, Pennwriters, and New England CrimeBake. Program ads are very affordable. The Malice Domestic ad was an appeal to cozy and traditional mystery fans and readers. The Pennwriters and CrimeBake ads will be geared more toward the overall crime and mystery community.

I’m also researching online services like Publishers Weekly/Booklife for Self-Pub Review, BookBub, and ShelfAwareness.

Where am I seeing sales spikes?

  • Print and e-book sales after each guest blog posting;
  • In-person bookstore, conference panel, or author event hand sales;
  • Reading groups, book clubs, and discussion groups;
  • Social media guest blog pitches; and
  • Good, old-fashioned word of mouth.

BIO:

Martha Reed is the author of the award-winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. Her latest release, NO REST FOR THE WICKED, is garnering 5 star reviews. You can follow her online at reedmenow.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @ReedMartha.

Amazon link:

http://tinyurl.com/hswrwsb

 

 

What’s the Right Title for Your Next Novel? by J.L. Greger

I always name a novel when I start working on a project and then rename it at least twice as I write and edit the novel. How about you? Maybe these guidelines will be helpful or slightly amusing.

 

The title should be short enough to fit on the spine of the book and still be readable. Many thrillers have one- to three-word, like Robin Cook’s Coma or Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Accordingly, my most recent thriller is called Riddled with Clues. Mystery novels often have longer titles, e.g. John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. That title suggests a good idea trumps rules when naming a book.

 

The title needs to be catchy. It is difficult to define catchy. I think D. H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died is a catchy title, but I’m not confident in my ability to judge catchy titles.  So, I asked a writers’ group to help me name my mystery novel. I gave them the choice of “Death of a Diet Doctor,” “Murder: A Way to Lose Weight,” and variations of these two. They immediately chose Murder…A Way to Lose Weight. At book fairs, readers often laugh when they see the title. I think this suggests a third rule to selecting a title: Funny titles sell.

 

The title should tell you something about the book. The Book Seller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad is an informative title, which tells the reader about the setting and a major character. Most titles are more symbolic, but hint at the topic. Examples are Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, which is a memoir about his mother.

 

I struggled to name my latest novel, Riddled with Clues. Here’s the blurb:

 

A hospitalized friend gives a puzzling note to Sara Almquist. He received the note signed “Red from Udon Thani” while investigating the movement of drugs from Cuba into the U.S. However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tales of all the possibilities, both are attacked. He is left comatose. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran, who leaves puzzling riddles as clues.

 

Early in the writing process, I realized that a number of the clues in the book could be riddles. That way I could add tension to the book. My heroine, Sara Almquist, and the law enforcement agents in the novel knew they important clues but they couldn’t make sense of them. I thought a play on words might be fun. Riddled can mean filled. Certainly, “Riddled with Clues” sounded more interesting than “Filled with Clues.” Do you agree?

 

What are you going to name your next novel? Will it be short, catchy, and informative?

 

Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237. Murder…A Way to Lose Weight is at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1610092392.

 

Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include “sound bites” on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4.

 

Besides Blog Tours, What Other Promo I Like by Marilyn Meredith

There is so much to do when an author has a new book coming out. No matter what one decides, hire a publicist, or go it on his or her own, there’s plenty to do.

 

Promoting on Facebook is one of my favorites because I like to go there anyway and tell my followers what I’m doing. Since writing is such a big part of my life, the progress of a book is often mentioned. I also use Facebook groups especially to promote where I’m stopping when I’m on a blog tour.

 

I do post on Twitter, but it’s not my favorite venue.

 

My own blog is where I post about my new books too—but I also host many writers.

 

For each new book I get business cards made with a picture of the cover and the appropriate information. These I give out everywhere I go.

 

I have a magnet made for my car with the cover of the latest book on it. Not sure it does any good, but I can always find my car.

 

Book festivals and craft fairs are great fun. I’ve always enjoyed doing them, meeting new readers and talking with other authors. (It’s important though to engage anyone who passes by the table or booth where you are.)

 

Speaking engagements are probably my favorite promo tool. I’ve always loved talking to any group of people whether it’s writers or readers. Libraries are great places to give a presentation.

 

Though big mystery conferences and conventions are fun, unless you’re well-know they aren’t the best place to sell books. But if you do go to them, make friends with the many readers who come to see their favorite authors.

 

I also have a newsletter that I put out once a month. It always has information about my writing and books, but also all the things I’ve done and the events I’ve attended during the past month. If I’m doing a book tour, there’ll be information about that too.

 

Always have your business cards or bookmarks ready to give out wherever you go.

 

  1. M. aka Marilyn Meredith

 

#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved Blurb:

 

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping as well as all the usual places.

 

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/

 

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/marilynmeredith

 

Tomorrow, May 8, I shed some Background on the Rocky Bluff P.D. Series and Me

https://bookbrowsing.wordpress.com/

 

Walking on my Grave by Carolyn Hart

Series: A Death on Demand Mysteries (Book 26)

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: Berkley (May 2, 2017)

ISBN-10: 0451488539

ISBN-13: 978-0451488534

 

In the latest Death on Demand Mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of Don’t Go Home, book seller Annie Darling learns murder and money go hand in hand…

Annie’s friend and fellow shop owner Ves Roundtree is a very wealthy woman. Her rich brother entrusted her with his estate, and upon her death, his fortune is to be divided. Several cash-strapped islanders are in line to collect life-changing inheritances. The problem is, Ves is very much alive.

Ves hosts a dinner for the prospective beneficiaries and feels a chill in the air that has nothing to do with the wintry season. Not long after, she suffers a bad fall that was no accident. Everyone at the table had a motive but not a shred of evidence was left behind.

When one of the suspects is found floating in the harbor and Ves disappears, Annie and her husband Max spring into action to catch a calculating killer before greed takes another life.

So many books so little time by PJ Nunn

I’ve loved books since I can remember. One of my first memories ever was the day the bookmobile parked across the street in front of our house (we lived across the street from the elementary school). From that day, I waited eagerly for its next visit the same way I counted the months until the State Fair. There, I discovered worlds that waited for me, friends to meet and stories to share. I loved it even more than the skating rink at the end of the block.

While I never thought of myself as nerdy, I am one of those rare creatures that loves school. I’d be in school today if I could. There’s always so much more to learn. Another book to read. But alas, life intrudes and we have to apportion our time accordingly. I work full time and am Mom to five offspring and Grandma to one perfectly lovely granddaughter. My twenty-four-hour days are very full.

Add to that the fact that I’m a publicist. I promote authors and their books for a living. Of course it’s imperative to keep abreast of the industry in which I work so I read books. Lots and lots of books. My clients’ books. Other authors’ books. All kinds of books.

I’m sure your lives are comparable. Everyone is so busy these days, leisure time is hard to come by. So when we finally carve out a few minutes that we can indulge in a new book just for the pleasure of reading it, how in the world do we choose which one to read next in the midst of so many?

Back in the days when I did book reviews as a freelance writer, I operated by the common 100 page rule. If it hadn’t grabbed me in the first 100 pages, I quit reading. Maybe I missed something that was just slow starting but I didn’t want to invest another 200 or so pages to find out. As time went on, my rule shrank to 75 pages, then 50.

Today, when I pick up a book to read it for no reason other than I just want to, there are a few things I consider:

  • Who wrote it. If Robert Crais wrote it, I will read it. If it’s another author I’ve read before and enjoyed, I’ll consider it.
  • Book description. Hopefully there is a description that is concise and engaging. If it looks like the type of storyline I enjoy or otherwise intrigues me, I’ll give it a chance.
  • Reviews and blurbs. Honestly, I’ve never bought or read a book solely on the basis of a review. However, if the reviews or blurbs give actual information as opposed to “this is great” hype, or if there’s a thoughtful mention by someone I recognize and respect, I’ll probably give it a look.
  • Author info. I’ve chosen to read several books over the years based more on what I learned about the author than the typical book information. If an author demonstrates writing skill (even in making sure his/her website is typo free) and presents a professional and interesting bio, I’m easily persuaded to look further and find out what he/she has to say. On the other hand, if the online persona says little about the person, is all about the books, and seems otherwise amateurish, I won’t bother.
  • Ambiance. It’s a no brainer, but if I’m captured by the opening sentence and the scenario set forth on the first page makes me want to keep reading, I’m in. It’s like a positive first impression. If that opening is great, even if interest wanes in subsequent pages, I’ll keep reading for a while, believing it will come back to the place where it began. But if it starts bad, even if it gets better, I’ll exhibit less tolerance if there’s a lot of back and forth.

How about you? I know your time is as fleeting as mine. How do you decide when to put it down and when to keep reading?

 

In 1998, PJ Nunn founded BreakThrough Promotions (breakthroughpromotions.net), now a national public relations firm helping authors, mostly of mystery novels, publicize themselves and their work. The business is thriving and PJ is also the author of Angel Killer: a Shari Markam Mystery and Private Spies: a Jesse Morgan Mystery. PJ lives in Waxahachie TX near Dallas. Learn more at http://breakthroughpromotions.net

Links:

Facebook/BreakThrough – https://www.facebook.com/breakthroughpromo

Twitter – www.twitter.com/PJNunn

GoodReads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

Bookbrowsing – https://bookbrowsing.wordpress.com