A Book Is Like a Deck of Cards by Peg Herring

There’s an old story about a soldier required to explain why he has a deck of cards in church. I recall mention of four gospels and ten commandments; if you want to know the rest, look up Tex Ritter. For me, the four suits in a deck demonstrate what a successful book requires.

A book needs a heart, because fiction without emotion is a bunch of dead words. Readers want characters we feel for, a plot that excites us, and words that strike a harmonious chord. Even good nonfiction writers like Bill Bryson and Malcom Gladwell succeed by creating bridges between readers’ emotions and the information the book presents. It all adds up to heart.

A book also needs a spade. Every written work requires digging: into setting, syntax, and a dozen more areas specific to the story. Many times I thought I knew a subject until I began writing about it: How did medieval people get from one place to another? What exactly is a parallel universe? And how do I spell pharmaceutical? Details make a story come alive if they’re correct. An author’s spade uncovers tidbits that strengthen the story’s heart.

A book needs a club (actually, more than one). First is the “club” around the writer as she writes, people who advise, encourage, beta-read, etc. They might be professionals or talented amateurs, family or paid help, enthusiastic supporters or sharp-eyed critique-partners. Other clubs join the party as the book moves forward: the team that “builds” the book, the fans who promote it, and book clubs that discuss its merits. No writer is an island, unless she hides her work under that big rock on her little atoll.

Finally, a book needs a diamond: value on the market. This is the oddest of a book’s suits, because some really bad books earn lots of “diamonds” while some excellent ones don’t. The why of that is often a mystery.

To understand which books earn diamonds, look first at the other three suits. How lively is the book’s heart? Was the best information spaded up, engaging language unearthed, and excess “dirt” scraped away? Were the clubs consulted thorough and honest? With promotional hype, diamonds can still pour in, but savvy readers eventually tire of authors who stray from dedication to hearts, spades, and clubs.

Like real diamonds, book revenues don’t just appear but are mined using knowledge and effort. How can the existence of a book be made known to the public? How can readers be enticed to try it? How can satisfied readers be encouraged to tell others about it? The mining process is hard, but it’s essential.

Some authors benefit from creating a prominent persona. (Think Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”…No wait. Don’t do that.) First impressions are lasting, so one should think carefully about the image she wants to create. I once sat on a panel with an author who knitted for the entire hour. I think it calmed her nerves, but audience members I spoke to afterward claimed it made her look unprofessional and disinterested. Other possibilities sometimes suggested as selling techniques, like wearing costumes or having a bullying sales pitch, can backfire, creating the wrong mood and driving customers away.

Book covers are important first impressions, helping or hurting sales. My cover artist and I thought we had a cute cover for KIDNAP.org, but readers found it cartoonish (Spooky House below). Today, authors can change book covers that aren’t working, so I asked her to do a new one (see Woman with Duct Tape). It sells much better. Research reveals that a cover has only a few seconds to catch a reader’s eye. If the message is too bland, too lurid, too whatever, that eye goes on to the next one. While we shouldn’t stint on any aspect of producing a book, the cover is a bad place to pinch pennies.

All of a book’s “suits” require hard work, but finding diamonds is often the task authors are least prepared for. Build a platform. Achieve name recognition. Plan ahead so series books group themselves. Write blog posts. Maintain an interesting website. Run ads on whatever spot on the internet is hot right now. Talk to book groups. Make the acquaintance of librarians. Get as many legitimate reviews as possible. Sign people up for your newsletter and make them glad they joined. Et cetera, et cetera.

If you’re thinking you’ve heard this advice in other places, you’re probably right. Still, with a lot of heart, diligent spadework, clubs for input, and knowledge of where diamonds come from, you’ll begin to see success. Those first diamonds will be little, maybe even chips, but for many authors, that’s enough to make playing the game worthwhile.

BIO: Peg Herring reads, writes, loves mysteries, including the Loser Mysteries and the Simon & Elizabeth Historical Mysteries. She lives in Michigan with her husband, a very old cat, and her alter ego, Maggie Pill, author of the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries. Maggie is much younger and cooler.
Universal link to KIDNAP.org: https://www.books2read.com/u/mZ58rl
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Why I Love Blogs—Reading and Writing for Them by Marilyn Meredith

The first answer to why I love blogs is I love to write—no matter what it is, I enjoy writing. Writing a blog post is a joy. I’m able to come up with a topic, expound on it in 500 words or less and it will appear for others to enjoy.

 

Of course, I have my own blog. Over the years I’ve been a regular on several blogs, but now I’ve cut that down to two others besides my own.

 

Appearing on someone else’s blog is a great way to introduce yourself to another group of people—hopefully, some of them are readers who might be interested enough to check out one of my books.

 

For years now, I’ve been doing blog tours as part of a new book’s promotion. That’s why I’m visiting P.J. Nunn today, to promote my latest Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery, Tangled Webs.

 

When doing a blog tour it’s a challenge to come up with enough interesting topics to engage readers. The main reason I chose this topic for P.J.’s blog, is she’s one of the first to introduce blog tours and is a true supporter of authors.

 

Do I think a blog tour helps with the sales of a book? Anything one does helps. In the past, when I appeared on a tour, sales increased.

 

There are many things one can do to promote a book, but for me, blogging and blog tours are two of my favorite promotion tools.

 

Thank you, PJ, for hosting me today.

 

Marilyn, who writes the RBPD series as F. M. Meredith

 

Blurb: Too many people are telling lies: The husband of the murder victim and his secretary, the victim’s boss and co-workers in the day care center, her stalker, and Detective Milligan’s daughter.

 

Link: https://tinyurl.com/yabj9z9f

 

Bio: F. M. Meredith who is also known as Marilyn once lived in a beach town much like Rocky Bluff. She has many friends and relatives in law enforcement. She’s a member of MWA, 3 chapters of Sisters in Crime and serves on the PSWA Board.

 

Webpage: http://fictionforyou.com

Blog: https://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith

Twitter: @marilynmeredith

 

Tomorrow I’m heading over to https://pat-writersforum.blogspot.com to discuss Never Giving Up in the Tough Times.

Do Authors Write About What They Know? Lea Wait’s 19th Century Childhood

            No matter how old I may feel on some days, I was definitely born in the mid-twentieth century. But readers of my books (both contemporary mysteries and historical novels) often ask why I incorporate historical details in all of my work.

The answer is simple. In many ways, I’m more comfortable with the past than the present.

I’ve never lived in a house or apartment (I’ve lived in Boston, New York City, New York State, New Jersey, and Maine) built after World War I. Uninsulated plaster walls (usually clam shell plaster,) solid wooden doors, and fireplaces in many rooms feel normal to me. The house I live in now, which I’ve used in several of my books and which my family has owned for seventy years, was built in 1774 on a Maine island, and then moved to the mainland in about 1832. (New Englanders were the original re-cyclers. People still move houses rather than tearing them down.)

But, perhaps even more important than lying in bed at night and imagining who else slept in the room, and what they were like, and what their days were filled with, I also grew up in a family that valued the past.

Our bookcases were filled with nineteenth-century novels that I read and loved.

My father was a nationally known numismatist (collector of paper money) and wrote several books on the subject. My sister collected the wood engravings and cartoons of Thomas Nast (now donated to a museum) and was an expert on his life and work.

In the early twentieth century my great-grandfather, who I knew as “the upstairs Papa” when he was in his nineties, had a shop on Beacon Hill in Boston where he sold imported Irish and Scots linens, lace, and crystal. His oldest daughter, my grandmother, was an antique doll and toy dealer. When I was a child she took me with her to visit other dealers, to help set up her antique show booths, and to attend auctions. (I made my first auction purchase when I was ten: I paid $1 for a first edition of the Encyclopedia Americana.) When I was in my twenties I became an antique print dealer, with the help of my mother. Since (like almost all antique dealers) I also had a day job, my mother was able to attend auctions and shows when I couldn’t. We sold antique prints for over thirty years.

(Note: Maggie Summer, the protagonist of my first mystery series, the Shadows Antique Print Mystery series, is also an antique print dealer, and I include information on antique prints throughout the eight books in that series.)

So when I began writing the Mainely Needlepoint series, it seemed logical – if not essential – that I include an antique dealer (Sarah Byrne) in my cast of characters, and that my Mainely Needlepointers not only create custom needlepoint, but identify and restore antique needlepoint. And that I include quotations from samplers and early needlepoint at the beginning of each chapter.

In the latest in my series, THREAD HERRINGS, published last week, Sarah takes my protagonist, Angie Curtis, to her first auction. She explains how auctions work, the differences between dealers bidding and people attending to buy for their collections or homes, and why it’s important to recognize the differences. And, of course, Angie is tempted, and bids on a worn eighteenth century needlepointed coat of arms.

When she takes removes her purchase from its frame she finds a mysterious paper hidden behind the stitching. And, of course, she has to investigate it. And, of course, her investigation leads to a murder …

Was I born in the nineteenth century? No. But I think I’d feel comfortable there.

 

 

BIO:  USA Today best-selling author Lea Wait lives on the coast of Maine where she writes three mystery series (the Shadows Antique Mystery series, the Mainely Needlepoint series, and, under the name Cornelia Kidd, the Maine Murder series.) She has also written seven historical novels set in 18th and 19th century Maine for ages 8 and up, the most recent of which is Contrary Winds, a YA mystery, and a book of essays, Living and Writing on the Coast of Maine. She invites you to check her website, http://www.leawait.com, which includes free links to prequels of many of her books, and to friend her on Facebook.