Suspects by Duffy Brown


Reagan Summerside here from the Consignment Shop Mysteries. In Lethal in Old Lace, it’s spring in Savannah! I know, I know, spring is amazing everywhere, but here in Savannah, all the colors make the city a full-out Van Gogh painting. But that doesn’t mean all is right with the world.

The Abbott sisters are accused of murder! How can this be? Those two adorable little old ladies who live right next door to me wouldn’t hurt a fly unless that fly is named Willie Fishbine. He just happened to swindle them out of a ton of money. They got sucked into the great Spring Chicken vitamin scam that was supposed to make everyone feel young again. A great idea but crushed dandelions, wheat germ and a dash of gummy worms just don’t do the trick.

All seemed circumstantial and the sisters were okay until BW…that’s Bruce Willis the canine version and my BFF…went bone hunting and dug up a body in the sisters’ garden. He announced this great accomplishment by carrying a blue purse covered in dirt right to the head Savannah detective.

Now I have to try and find the real killer or the best neighbors and dearest friends ever will go to jail for a really long time. So far my main suspect is Dexter Thomas. Not only does he own the House of Eternal Slumber mortuary, but he wants to buy the Sleepy Pines retirement home. What better way of driving down the price than knocking off the residents. That’s one way to get the Pines for cheap.

And another suspect is Arnett Fishbine who had her eye on her daddy’s money for years and is presently on a non-stop spending spree. Of course, the killer could also be those two gold-digger gals who married for money and want to get their antiquated husbands into Sleepy Pines so they can start enjoying their money. They need two openings to get them there. Knocking off residents is one way to get those openings.

All this and the dead body keeps disappearing and I’m trying to plan a wedding. Did anything ever run smoothly in planning a wedding? Thanks to the bridesmaids my wedding colors are now fuchsia and gold! And Mamma and Auntie KiKi want me in a wedding dress with enough tulle to cover the entire state of Georgia.

I have to focus on the good part that I’m marrying Walker Boone, the best guy ever. I just hope we get to the altar and the Abbott sisters are there to see it all.

Here’s a little excerpt so you can see how things are going:

“If we lathered it in Crisco and shoved like the dickens it’s still not going to fit,” Mercedes said, the four of us staring at the end of the casket sticking out of the trunk of the Beemer.

Auntie Kiki had moved the car next to the delivery door at the House of Eternal Slumber so the Beemer was in the shadows and we wouldn’t have to roll a casket clear across the parking lot.

“So what should we do now and we better think fast,” Mercedes said in a panicky voice.

I snagged the brown tarp draped over a mound of mulch. “We wrap the end in this and we use BW’s leash to hold it in place. I’ll tie my yellow scarf at the end so what we’re hauling looks legal. The last thing we need is the cops stopping us.”

“All we need to do is get t my house. I’ll park the Beemer in the garage and tell Putter that the car manual says BMWs need to rest every twenty-thousand miles. He’s a mighty fine cardio guy but not exactly a car expert.”

You read a manual?” I shook my head in disbelief.

“Honey, if I add in that there’s pot roast for dinner the man will believe anything.”

Mercedes held the tarp in place while I wrapped the leash. KiKi added the scarf, a smile breaking across her lips as she took a step back. “Looks good to me. You know, I think this is going to work just fine and dandy.”

“What’s going to work fine and dandy?” Police Detective Aldeen Ross wanted to know as she drew up beside Mercedes. KiKi grabbed my hand, I grabbed hers and the only thing that kept us from fainting dead away was Aldeen’s electric green nightshirt with I see guilty people on the front in day-glow pink. Neither of us wanted to miss that or the police car slippers strobing red and blue when she walked.


And so it goes…by Nancy Sweetland

I’m Nancy, and I have a problem.

Okay, I admit it. I’m in danger of becoming a webinar junkie. And it’s seriously encroaching on my writing output. What? You too? I guess we’ve come to the right place, then. Let’s talk.

Of course we all want to write better, create the next New York Times bestseller. I’ve never heard any of my writer friends say, “Nah. Not me. I just write for my own enjoyment.” Bosh. We want our stories to be read, and not only by grandma and aunt Edith.

But what’s a writer to do? Of course we want that glory (and that money. Or at least enough to buy printer ink). It isn’t that we’re not willing to work for it. But should it be so difficult? Shouldn’t we just be able to work at our trade, get the books finished, put them out there either traditionally with a publisher (if we’re lucky), or self-publish now that it’s so easy, and hope for the best?

Ay, there’s the rub. That isn’t enough. There’s work to be done. And help is only a click away. Trust the webinars.

There are so many pundits reaching out from cyberspace, creeping into my computer or my iPad, even my iPhone, showing up unbidden in my gMail, all dangling the most tempting of carrots (SuccessRead on!), all more than willing to gobble up my time as they offer me their expertise. All I need to do is sit back, watch and listen to learn from this latest oh-so-earnest speaker how I, too, can crack that glass ceiling that’s keeping me from publication heaven.

Surely I must want to learn how to write faster; that’s bound to beef up my output, and of course, my income (which needs a boost, for sure!) To hear some of these presenters tell it, I could be—should be—turning out a book a month, at least. Hey, they’ll help, yes they will, just listen for the next hour and a half and you’ll be convinced . . .

Unquestionably, any working writer should be open to delving deeper into their characters, right? Writing the kind of people whose inner turmoil grabs readers by the throat and won’t let them go? What? Your heroine was abused by her stepbrother? How can you make sure your reader understands what she goes through to overcome those memories now that she’s attracted to the hunk who lives in the next apartment? Don’t you want to get into her deepest, most heart-wrenching feelings and tackle them, bring her up into the light of Happy Ever After? Try this new approach to get down and intimate with your heroine, connect with her very soul. Just keep listening, we’ll show you how . . .

Do you want an agent? (Who doesn’t?) Here’s help for that, guaranteed! Just buy into this presenter’s one-on-one sessions and in no time you’ll have agents reaching out to you, practically begging to represent your novel. Read the gushing comments by his students who’ve gone on to the next level of success . . .

New to the writing/publishing game? Of course you need to understand what does or doesn’t work in dealing with the media in today’s world. We can do that for you, just sign on to our program and learn the ropes from our expert (details below)­­­ . . .

And of course every one of the webinars ends with those details. How much this absolutely innovative program, these however many sessions, will cost you at the specially discounted price (only available until midnight today, so don’t delay) . . .

And another hour and a half of writing time (maybe along with some ready cash if the presentation was a dandy) is gone, never to be retrieved. (Sigh)

Thanks for listening . . . coffee’s on in the back of the room.


I hope you’re smiling. And I’d love to hear your comments.

Brief Bio:

Nancy Sweetland has been writing since she received her first rejection slip at age 13 and determined to become a published writer. She is the author of seven picture books, a chapter book mystery for young readers, many short stories for juveniles and adults, three adult romances, “The Door to Love,” “Wannabe” and “The House on the Dunes.” “The Perfect Suspect,” “The Spa Murders,” and “The Virgin Murders” are available with other mysteries and short stories on She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin and loves to hear from readers. She can be contacted For your free copy of “The Door To Love,” go to and leave your name.

Her latest novel, “The Shopkeeper’s Secret” will be out on March 20 from Divine Garden Press. (Sorry I don’t have the link as yet – if it comes before the 10th I’ll send it along.)


            Lia doesn’t believe in a happy ever after. But she never thought secrets from her past would lead to blackmail and murder, either. Or that Detective Moss, recuperating from being shot on duty, would be so appealing.

            When her sister destroys important evidence, danger escalates. Lia is threatened, and it’s Moss’s job to find the murderer before he kills again.

            Will a clever sting capture the killer or just put Grant in front of a bullet again? The choice—an uncertain future with Grant or a safe but lonely life—is Lia’s.


“Damien will meet us behind that tavern, early morning before anyone will be around,” Karen had said, her telephone voice stressed. “We’ll make him show us the pictures—and the negatives—before we hand anything over to him.”

“And what would that anything be?”

“You’ll see. I’ll take care of that.”

What’s she got planned? It can’t be good. Oh, Karen, Karen, always full steam ahead . . .

Not to be thwarted again, this time Lia was wearing a small video device in a flowered brooch on her blouse.Amazing what you can buy over the Internet. She lowered the backseat window just enough for Rufus to stick his nose out into the wind.

The sun was rising over pines at the east end of the tavern’s parking lot as Lia drove in, relieved to see it empty except for Damien’s silver BMW and a rusty pickup next to a dumpster. A beautiful summer morning that surely should be put to better use than meeting a dirt bag like Damien. She parked a short distance from the BMW and told Rufus to stay.

Karen swept in beside her. They got out, expecting Damien to do the same. He didn’t.

“Guess we’re supposed to come to him,” Karen muttered. “Just to let us know who’s in charge.” She carried a small duffle bag, the kind you might see on a TV crime program stuffed full of stacked bills.

Lia knew it was probably full of cut up newspapers, and that Karen wouldn’t give it to him until he’d shown them their pictures. What Lia wasn’t sure about was what would happen next. She remembered Damien’s temper when he was crossed. It wasn’t pretty.

She clicked on the video camera. If nothing else, they’d have a record of what went down. Taking a deep breath, she motioned Karen forward. Whatever came, they’d meet it together.

Damien’s driver’s window was down. He didn’t move. Didn’t call out.

Karen scowled. “Something’s wrong here.”

“Right,” Lia said. “Don’t touch anything.”

Moving with caution, they approached the silver car.

Damien was slumped in the driver’s seat. His head tilted back against the headrest. A trickle of blood ran sideways down his face from a dark hole in his left temple. The seat behind him was covered with a slimy, grey substance mixed with blood. It looked fresh. Flies buzzed around, settling on the mess. Lia’s stomach roiled. She turned away, trying not to throw up.

“Oh, God!” whispered Karen, clutching Lia’s arm. “He’s been shot! Is he—is he dead?”

Lia forced herself to look around the parking lot. Only the empty pickup, no sign of anyone. Birds chirped in the trees, sunshine crept across the lot. The beautiful summer morning had morphed into a crime scene, and they were part of it. She pulled out her phone.

“What are you doing?” Karen asked, her voice choked. “Put that away!”

“What do you think I’m doing? Calling nine-one-one.”

Karen grabbed at the phone. “Are you crazy? We have to get out of here! Let somebody else blow the whistle. We were never here. Got that? Never here!”

Lia stared. “Karen, use your head. We can’t just leave him like this.”

“Somebody already did.” Before Lia could speak, Karen thrust the duffle bag into Lia’s hand. “Take this.” She darted around the BMW, wrenched open the passenger side door and pulled out a distinctive maroon leather briefcase.

“Put that back, Karen, for God’s sake! It’s one thing to just leave him. It’s another to take that.”

“Don’t you understand?” Karen’s face was mottled red. “Our pictures are here. We have to get rid of this, then there’s no connection to us.” She rushed to her Prius and tossed the briefcase onto the passenger seat, then ran back to the BMW and wiped her fingerprints off the door with the tail of her shirt. “Come on! Let’s get out of here before somebody comes. Meet me at your shop.” Without a backward glance she slid into her car, spun her wheels and sped out of the parking lot.

Lia stared after her, hesitating with her phone in her hand. Of course she should call nine-one-one.

She didn’t. She sprinted to her van, tossed the duffel bag on the floor and, living a nightmare, left the lot and turned right onto the county road, speeding up as though the very devil were chasing her.

What Makes A Book Series Unique? by Helen Dunn Frame

One of the topics that P. J. Nunn suggested that she felt would be of interest to her blog readers is book series. I realized that my approach had to be different from someone who had at least three or more books in a series. Why? Because I only have two in my series and am contemplating a third.

So far, I have published two books in the Jennifer Haslett Vandergriff/Lady Sarah Clarke series. Jennifer becomes a sleuth because of her husband Paul’s death in a suspicious helicopter crash. Sarah is part of the minor British royalty who works undercover with Interpol. The first book is Greek Ghosts; the second, Wetumpka Widow, Murder for Wealth. The third book is currently a twinkle in my eye and a bunch of notes written partly in shorthand on scraps of paper.  While I created the detectives from my imagination, I based various parts of the first two books on real experiences.

Back in the day when people dubbed self-publishing as vanity press, I hired iUniverse to publish the original Greek Ghosts. It annoyed me when one of the company’s reviewers, probably a female college student because they would work for minimal wages, said that Greece’s currency was Euros, not Drachmas. Obviously, the person had not noted the years in which the story took place. She questioned my descriptions of places in Greece. She did not realize that I had been to the country five times and had studied Greek Mythology.

The second reader, who seemed to be a man, complimented me on my knowledge of Greece, saying it made him homesick. iUniverse awarded the novel “Editor’s Choice.” As I held the rights to the story, I published the book again years later with a different cover to connect it to the second in the series, a marketing technique.

To lend credulity, I used my own experiences, including visiting the island of Leros and Athens, Greece, and living in Wendelstein, Germany. I feel that by using actual places—even those that no longer exist—the reader envisions descriptions as more real. One of my editors confirmed this by telling me she felt that she was having a conversation with me when she read my books.

The second in the series utilized my experiences traveling several times to Montgomery, Wetumpka, and other areas of Alabama, and San Diego, California, I based the story in part on my son’s death. An elder Greek friend believed that my daughter-in-law had somehow contributed to his demise. While I was not convinced of that, I found that writing the fictional story helped me deal with my grief.

The murder of my daughter-in-law’s first husband years before her marriage to my son provided the basis for another segment of the story. I researched the event as I created the villain’s personality in keeping with the theme of a black widow. I did not use this in the title because it has been overworked. The artwork on the cover, however, features a black widow spider to express the idea visually.

While currently I am writing a non-fiction book, I have been investigating ideas about how to take my sleuths to England in the third in the series where they wind up solving another murder. Although I lived outside London for two years in the 1960s, I have to research London early in this century. Without disclosing the entire plot, I want Jennifer and her lover Jason, who reentered her life in the last book, to open a store around the corner from the famed Harrods Department Store where I loved to shop. British friends told me about a unique shop in another part of England that will serve as inspiration for their retail endeavor.

Each book stands on its own because enough of a core story about the personal lives of the sleuths provides a backstory. It is similar to a TV program like NCIS. The characters solve cases in each segment so a casual viewer may watch each independently, but over the series, the devoted viewer learns about their personal lives and that make the characters more real.

Initially, the first step in promoting the third book will be to design a cover that ties into the covers of the first two books. As usual, after the book is published in paperback and Kindle, I will write blogs to announce to the readers that their presumably favorite sleuths are back.

I will add the book to my email signature block and create a flyer to send to prospective readers that I will tuck inside the hardcopy books I personally sell. I will contact people who have enjoyed the first two books and include a blurb in my annual newsletter that goes to my mailing list. Of course, my marketing will include the tag “If you enjoy this saga, you may enjoy reading the first two books in the series.” This and teasers about the other books will be included at the end of the third book. In addition, I will contact associates who have promoted my other books and ask them to review this one. Eventually, I may update the first two books with a blurb about the third.

For all of my books, I use whatever venue I can to promote my writing. Just because a person constructs a new football stadium does not mean people will come. A writer cannot be shy no matter what naysayers may criticize about self-promotion. Just because an author writes a book, an article, or poem ▬ I have written other books, articles, and columns, both fiction and non-fiction, and edited newsletters ▬ does not mean readers will buy them. It is necessary to inform them about the availability and let them determine if the genre is one they enjoy reading. In addition, whenever I call a company, for example about a credit card, at the end of the conversation I say to the rep, “If you are a reader, I’m a writer.” When the person responds positively, I direct them to Amazon for more information.

Have you heard, as I have, that once a writer has three books in one genre, sales will increase? That is why I am eager to make the third book the best in the mystery series. Perhaps I can eventually box the three books together, setting the stage for additional promotion. In the end, I will learn first-hand if the rumor about having three books in the series makes a difference.


During Helen’s business career, she wore many hats including professional writer, editor, marketing/public relations specialist, Real Estate Director for franchisees, sales, and commercial real estate broker (licensed in Texas and specializing in restaurants and retail).

In Costa Rica, where she has spent most of her time since 2005, she wrote a nonfiction anecdotal book based on extensive research and her adventure with input from other expats. The goal of the book is to help Baby Boomers jump-start their due diligence in order to find their paradise for retirement or possibly for a vacation home or investment in Costa Rica. Her books, the third edition (2017) of Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida,” “Secrets Behind the Big Pencil, Inspired by an Actual Scandal,” (2014) Greek Ghosts, (2003, listed on Amazon 2011 and given a new cover 2016) and Wetumpka Widow (2016) are available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon. A booklet called Retirement 101 (2017) is available on Kindle only.

Writing in retirement by John Desjarlais

Many writers fantasize about a leap from writing-on-the-side to full time. An old rule of thumb was that when you were earning 50% of your day-job salary by writing, you could consider making the move, especially if you were comfortable with – and skilled about — the business.

Or you can retire, like I’m doing, and not really depend on the income.

Like any long-term endeavor, one must determine the ultimate goal. If the aim is to supplement retirement income — and it will be for some — then an earnest freelance effort is needed: cultivating clients, querying actively, searching, or seeking gigs on other such venues. Income can also be generated by savvy blogging, editing services, speaking, and landing continuing ed opportunities in community colleges. Oh, and selling fiction – which is hard and rarely profitable.

For those not driven by the need to supplement income, writing for non-profits without pay is a noble option.

For the fiction writer like me, for whom writing income is not an issue (thank goodness), it means having full discretion of my time. At the moment I have no agent and I am not under contract (darn!), so I have no deadlines and no external pressure. I must set goals for myself and discipline my own time as I would when I was “working,” determined to not allow “leisure” to make me lazy about the craft. Because I’ll be “working,” of course, in a new way. I expect to set time goals or page-count goals to stay on a schedule to produce excellent work by a reasonable deadline.

One danger of no-deadlines and no-pressure, it seems, is to neglect the work or to keep revising over and over. But can’t this be an issue for the weekend writer and the 5-am-before-work-writer, too?

As a teacher, I realize I’ve been ‘rehearsing’ retirement during summer breaks. And the thing is, I never wrote “full-time” in summer, although I had more time for it. As a practicing Catholic, I believe a retirement – like my summers — must be balanced, like the Benedictine monastic life, by prayer, study, work, and leisure for renewal.  So I expect my schedule to be governed by a four-fold rotation:  (1) recollection (a monastic term for prayer and contemplation) and (2) reading, (3) leisure (the fourth item in that list) which includes time with family and friends, travel and enrichment, and (4) working in voluntary service to others and – here it comes – in writing.

Let’s face it:  no one who writes “full time” does it all the time. I certainly won’t. Writers must live life, too – or they’ll have little to write about. For me, writing in retirement will be part of the balanced Benedictine mix.

Come to think of it, taken another way, writing in retirement will embody all four:  work (because it just is, right?) – requiring study (gotta do research) — and leisure (because it’s fun) –and an act of prayer. The author of Psalm 19 – a poem about how visual art and the written word communicate truth — concludes with a couplet that offers the poem as a literary “sacrifice” to the Creator in saying, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).


John Desjarlais teaches English at Kishwaukee College in northern Illinois – well, until June. His first novel, The Throne of Tara (Crossway 1990), was a Christianity Today Readers Choice Award nominee, and his medieval thriller, Relics (Thomas Nelson 1993) was a Doubleday Book Club Selection. Bleeder, Viper (a Catholic Arts and Letters Award nominee), and Specter (Chesterton Press, 2009, 2011 and 2015 respectively) constitute the ‘Higher Mysteries’ series.

Bambino and Cleveland by Duffy Brown

Bambino and Cleveland here…I’m the adorable black furball and Cleveland is the one on the pillow. We are here on Mackinac Island in a bike shop owned by Rudy and now that chick, Evie Bloomfield.

Mackinac Island is a for real island located where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron and it’s like the 1800s with no cars. Everything here is horses and bikes and parades for the tourists we call fudgies ‘caue they buy ten-tons of the stuff each year.  Between you and me the place should be called Paradise for Dentists or Where Weight Watchers comes to die.

The parades have bands and music and famous people like George Washington, Betsy Ross…you get the picture. Well, Rudy takes on the character of Mark Twain and Twain had cats named Cleveland and Bambino so you get how we got out names.  Of course the two of us are much cuter than the original Cleveland and Bambino.

We hang out a lot on the pool table in the bike shop. I know, what is a pool table doing with bikes? Well it’s only here in the summer months when the fudgies are in town crowding up the place.

In the winter the table is at the Mustang Lounge, the watering hole for locals. When the snow’s falling…and it sure does fall here on the island…the five-hundred locals who stay here all winter congregate at the Stang, drink beer, eat fried green beans and shoot pool. When the fudgies come back in the summer the Stang is sooooo busy they have to move the pool table up here to Rudy’s Rides to make room.

Mackinac may seem like the island throwback kind of place where everything is sublime. We do have reenactments at the fort and even fire off cannon and have musket firing demonstrations. But there’s the dirty little underbelly like any other town and here it just happens to be murders.

It hasn’t always been this way till Evie moved here. Seems she’s got this black cloud and attracts murder like a giant magnet. You think I jest. Ha! Three murders in as many years kind of says it all, and this time there’s two at a time. One body out at the freight dock with a bottle of Champagne clutched in his cold dead hands and one up at the fort when that musket practice took a turn for the deadly.

Are the two deaths…a real Tandem Demise…related? How can they not be? Did our local police chief do the dirty deeds to keep his past in the past? What’s the connection and how can we find the killer on the downlow? Letting the cat out of the bag that there’s a murderer loose on the island is a real buzz-kill for business and has the fudgies running for the docks and getting the heck out of here.

We can keep the Champagne bottle dead guy quiet as it was out of the way at the freight docks and we passed off death-by-musket guy as part of the reenactment. Actually it did get a great round of applause. As you can see it’s shaping up to be another crazy autumn on Mackinac Island. Sure wish you were all here to visit. If you come, bring tuna…lots of tuna. Bambino and I love the stuff.

Writer’s Police Academy – Get Ready!

Website Registration Link Opens Sunday, Feb. 18, at Noon EST
Get Ready To Register…Your Own HIT Parade
High Intensity Training (HIT)
12 Outstanding Options
For our 10th anniversary edition of the Writers’ Police Academy, we are bringing back all of your favorite High Intensity Training  (HIT) options–some with new heart-pounding twists. For example, this year’s Force on Force encounter will require you to wear protective gear as you meet up with armed suspects.
We’re also debuting two offerings–Confined Space Crawl and Car Fire! Battling an Auto Blaze–that are musts for anyone writing firefighter scenes. These two new options let those of you who are brave enough get a feel for what it takes to attempt rescues when the world seems engulfed in fire and smoke.
Be sure to read the descriptions of all 12 HIT courses before you register on Sunday, Feb. 18, as you’ll be asked to list in priority order the courses you most want to take. Last year, we were able to give all attendees one or more of their top choices! Of course, HIT sessions are just one part of the WPA. There are lots of other hands-on options–even BEFORE you check in. Our popular Kooky Cop Carnival runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursday. At the Carnival, you can go from booth to booth to test your law enforcement skills, ranging from handcuffing suspects to dragging a partner to safety.
Click HERE for Complete SCHEDULE
Your Favorite Instructors Are BACK…
So Is Master-of-Suspense Jeffery Deaver!
We’re especially pleased that international best-selling author Jeffery Deaver, the WPA’s very first guest speaker, is returning as our banquet keynote speaker for our 10th anniversary.
WPA alums will also be delighted to know they’ll be able to once again gain insights from veterans of ATF, the U.S. Secret Service, and U.S. Military and Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City police forces. Of course, our  host  international law enforcement training academy also provides incredible talent to our presenter roster. Want to know more about these instructors? Read the bios.
Sisters In Crime $150 Scholarships!

Once again Sisters in Crime is a major sponsor of the Writers’ Police Academy and is offering its members attending the WPA for the first time a $150 scholarship registration discount. Don’t miss out on this bargain.Not a member? There’s time to join.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet Sisters in Crime members from across the country–and around the world. Our typical Academy class includes more than 200 SinC members.
CLICK HERE To Learn about SinC’s Benefits!
Help Choose The 2018 Golden Donut Photo!
Don’t miss out on a chance to win a FREE registration to the 2019 Writers’ Police Academy. That’s the top prize–plus a handsome trophy–for the winner of the 2018 Golden Donut Short Story Contest. There’s plenty of time to craft your 200 word e ntry before the July 1 deadline. We’ll announce this year’s photo on Feb. 18.  Click below if you’d like to vote on the photo you think should win.
 Click HERE To Tell Us Your  Photo Choice
Writers’ Police Academy: Email Us / Visit Our Website

Branded (Not a ’60s TV Show) by Peg Herring

Before I was published, I learned a successful author has to have a brand. The term is a little difficult to pin down to A or B or A+B, but basically it’s something that stops a reader’s eye as she wades through the thousands of new books offered every month. A brand connects synapses, whether it’s the author’s name, the series name, the topic, the title, or even cover art. “Oh!” the book shopper thinks joyfully. “Here’s something I’ll like.”

Branding means a second or twelfth or thirty-first book is noticed, even awaited, by fans. Readers need a reason to pay money for a book, to sign up for a newsletter, to pre-order (and boost Amazon ratings), and to tell their friends they should give an author’s work a try.

How does one get a brand? Start with the questions of information: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? The Who? makes some brands easy. When the author is well-known, her brand is already established. We’ve all seen movie stars and politicians try their hand at publishing, and it often works. I’ve been literally pushed aside at Barnes & Noble so someone could get to the title with a famous name/face on the cover. (If I only had a nickel for every reader who ignored my table of attractively-displayed books and asked if Nathan Fillion “really” wrote the Castle books!) However talented celebrities-turned-writers might be, I want to shout, “I spent thirty years of my life studying the language and its greatest writers. Then I worked for a year alone in my garret (okay, it’s an office, but it’s upstairs) to produce this new release. Isn’t that better than some comedian who paid a ghost writer to do the hard stuff?

You’ve probably figured out by now that I had no qualifications as a Who? Telling an agent or editor I’d taught high school English for decades was no doubt yawn-inducing. I wasn’t as interesting as the guy who climbed Mt. Everest one stormy year and was one of only a few who lived to tell about it. Now that’s a brand, though I can’t say I’d go that far to get one. I don’t have an interesting accent, I never worked for the CIA, I’m way past being pin-up cute, and I refuse to wear costumes that relate to my work. (Okay, I did that a few times, but it was always in the best of taste.) So Who? Was a difficult question for me—and often still is.

What? Often this one is answered by what came before. An author who writes a book that’s well-received writes another in the same vein (your agent will tell you to get busy on it as before the ink is dry on the contract). Cover art is likely to be similar and connected to the theme, whether it’s a coffee shop mystery or another installment in the saga of a strange world. Series titles might co-ordinate, like Dean Koontz’ Odd series or my historicals, which make reference to Elizabeth Tudor’s official titles over her lifetime. That builds the brand, which readers need, since they tend to forget they read and liked an author’s work until those synapses connect. So What? is an ongoing question, answered as an author builds a repertoire and readers grow to expect certain things from her.

Where? can be helpful, since readers like certain locations. My home area, though beautiful, is of little help. I live in northern Michigan, in a community so rural I point to a spot on the palm of my hand to show where it is. Besides making travel to hubs of publishing poshness difficult, it doesn’t make a gritty setting, like L.A. or Chicago, nor a trendy one like Taos or Seattle, nor is it exotic like Bangkok or Sao Paulo.

I began my writing career with no unique background, no track record, no intriguing locale. No Who? No What? No Where?

With When? I got a little lucky. I began with Tudor era mysteries that have lots of period detail, which appeals to a large chunk of readers. The Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries sold well, and reviewers took note. Then my publisher, after a bankruptcy and a lot of upheaval, decided to eliminate the mystery genre from its lists.

I sort of had a brand. For a while.

To be honest, these days my biggest branding problem is me. I write what I find interesting, and I can’t simply keep repeating my successes. After four historicals I became fascinated with the idea of a homeless detective and invented Loser (Killing Silence), but after three books, her story was told. Despite my (new) publisher’s suggesting it continue, I went on to a fun, mildly paranormal series (The Dead Detective Agency). Again, the arc came to a satisfying conclusion in four books and I saw no need for further exploration. My most popular series of late is written under a pseudonym (The Sleuth Sisters-Maggie Pill). So far it’s been a hoot, but a new idea took over in 2017, pushing the sisters aside for a gang of oddball vigilantes ( It’s hard to have a brand when your series are so different, so varied, and so short-lived.

That brings me to the last question: Why? Why would a person want to read what I write? That’s best answered by the motto I devised to pull my widely scattered titles together: Strong Women, Great Stories. My goal is to tell tales that are fun, interesting, and filled with characters who triumph over whatever bad things happen to them. That’s my brand, and while it isn’t unique, I think many readers want that very thing. I can guarantee the next story won’t take place in N.Y.C. or Shanghai–but I have been to Chicago a few times.


Peg Herring is the author of the critically acclaimed Simon & Elizabeth Mysteries, the award-winning Dead Detective Mysteries, the intriguing Loser Mysteries, and several stand-alone novels. Maggie Pill, who writes the cozy Sleuth Sisters mysteries, is Peg’s alter ego, younger and much cooler.