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.


List? A writer don’t need no stinkin’ list! by Bill Hopkins

I’ve attended many writing conferences in my lifetime, enough to have several lists of things a writer (especially a fiction writer) must do to have a successful story.

First, let me tell you where you can find a real-life example of the list I’m about to share. My selection of books is wide-ranging. I read The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas when I was in high school. I read every one of the books in The Mushroom Planet series when I was in the sixth-grade. Robin Hood books were my favorite when I was even younger.

However, the book that has affected me and my writing the most is one I finished recently. Stephen King’s 11/22/63 tells the story of a man trying to change the past by stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It’s pure science fiction (flavored only the way King can do it) and it adds a new twist to the canon of time-travel stories. (I think I’ve read every time travel story available; trust me on this.)

That’s only part of what makes this book great. Things that King shows are elements that each scene of a successful story must have. A lot of these items are obvious, yet I’ve read books by high-powered authors who don’t include some, making for confusion.

(1)   Source of light. Every scene must explain the time of day and, if the scene takes place inside, show the reader where the light comes from. Are we outside in the middle of the night? Full moon? New moon? Starlight? Clouds?

(2)   Participants. Every scene must also tell the reader who is there and where “there” is. One novel I read recently started a new chapter that ran for over a page before I knew the who and the where. This is frustrating and irritating to readers (who are, after all, your main audience).

(3)   Senses. Every scene should deliver the six senses. Six? That’s right. Not only smell, sight, hearing, touch, and taste, but the emotional state of the character needs to be explored. Briefly and surreptitiously, of course, unless you want to have a list at the beginning of every scene. (Not advisable.)

(4)   Resolution. In every scene, somebody must want something, somebody must oppose that want, and there’s a clear winner and loser. Otherwise, what you’ve written is a lecture on morality. A good exercise is to write a scene about what Jack and Jill do with that pail of water. Each needs it and there can be no compromise.

The best book I’ve found on how to set up scenes is Naked Playwriting:


There are tons of lists. One is by Kurt Vonnegut, which can be found at this site:

And, to paraphrase Vonnegut, if you’re a great writer, you can ignore any list!


Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He’s had several short plays produced.

Bill and his wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins (a mystery writer!), live in Marble Hill, Missouri.

COURTING MURDER was his first novel and his second novel RIVER MOURN won first place in the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-Me Best Book Awards in 2014. All of his novels can be viewed on his Amazon Author Page:

Visit Bill and Sharon on Facebook:


I have a confession to make: This is not the blog post I thought I was going to write.
When I agreed to do this, months ago, I thought I would have news to report about my next novel.
Well, as we head into the homestretch of 2017, my news is this: I’m still working on the book.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I even have a nifty pitch line for the thing — it’s a murder mystery set in two vastly different cities: the New York of the 1970s, and the New York of today.
Of course, the pitch is one thing. The writing is something entirely different.
About a year ago I sent an early version of the manuscript to a number of agents. In response, I received mostly indifference and rejections, but I did get one interesting reply. An agent with a reputable house said he liked the first half of the book, but he felt that the second half fell flat. He then recommended a change that immediately caused me to ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I like working with people like that.
As it turns out, that one seemingly simple suggestion has led to a total reworking of the book’s second half — kind of like deciding to paint the living room walls a different color and ending up with a gut renovation. I keep working at it and thinking I’m getting close to the finish line, but then something changes and I go back and rework some other chapters and pretty soon I have the feeling that I’ve been driving all day and have traveled about a mile.
So I plug away and, despite my whining (let’s face it — this is totally a First World Problem), I believe that the manuscript is getting significantly better. Right now, my latest self-imposed deadline for the book’s completion is early next year, but I now understand why the Big Dig in Boston lasted more than a decade.
In the meantime, the agent I talked to has switched employers. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. We are connected through LinkedIn.
Nothing that has happened while I write the book, tentatively titled PUBLIC MORALS, is all that unusual for a writer who is not yet at the Grownups Table where powerhouses like James Patterson and Sue Grafton graze. In my younger days, I used to think the process would get easier once I gained more experience. I now realize that it won’t.
While I remain focused on the writing, once the book is complete I will have to consider the twin devils of Selling and Marketing. My last book, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published in 2015 by an independent operation. The book was a real departure for me and I was happy to get it out in any form, but the D.I.Y./entrepreneurial aspects of independent publishing are a bit daunting for somebody as Old School as myself. My first three books were handled by traditional publishers; I candidly admit that I’d like to make a little money from my efforts. My daughter starts college next year and, well, everybody knows what that means.
And yet … I’ve heard about a well-regarded independent publisher who specializes in crime and mystery novels, and I know people who are happy with that publisher, and if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s this: I am highly unlikely to get rich from my books.
When it’s all done — and I do believe it will be done, eventually, somehow — I’ll be tempted to say something about the importance of The Process, and how The Journey is way more significant than The Destination, and talk about how much I have learned and grown and matured as An Artist.
 Actually, I don’t think I’m going to feel that way at all. I’m fifty-nine years old. How much learning and growing and maturing do I have left?
Well, that’s about it from the trenches of Novel-in-Progress Land. But I do have one final thing to add.
I intend to write a sequel.
Tom Coffey graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and attended film school at the University of Southern California. He has worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald and Newsday. Since 1997, he has been an editor at The New York Times. Tom is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. His first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published his second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. In 2015 his latest novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published by Oak Tree Press.

Where do you get your ideas? by John Lindermuth

That’s one of the most common question writers hear. The simple answer is ideas are everywhere–in overheard snatches of conversation, in dreams, in what you read, in the sight of a woman standing on a pier.

What those asking the question fail to understand is an idea is not a novel or even a short story. An idea is merely a starting point. It must be nurtured like a seed to achieve maturity and become something more. It’s like turning up the heat under a pot of water.

Some ideas fizzle out before making that transition to something else. The best, the ones that reach maturity, are nourished by imagination, experience and lengthy periods of consideration. Sometimes ideas are rejected when we realize all we’ve done is mimic something that already exists; unless you can put a stamp of originality on it, it may not be worth pursuing. They shine when you realize you have something unique.

The best ideas take time to evolve. John Fowles recorded how the genesis of his French Lieutenant’s Woman began with nightmares and images of a haunted woman which persisted until he had to know her story.

Seldom do such stories arrive complete in a single flash of inspiration.

An idea of mine led to The Tithing Herd, a new Western, released July 25 by Sundown Press. Here’s the blurb:

When an ex-lawman Lute Donnelly sets out on the trail of the ruthless gang of outlaws who murdered his brother, revenge is his only desire. But when he stumbles upon Tom Baskin, a youngster who has been duped into helping the outlaws and then left behind, Lute reluctantly takes the boy under his wing–and begins to find his humanity again.

United in a common cause, the pair travel a dangerous trail in search of revenge and redemption. But when Serene McCullough, the widow Donnelly loves, begs him to help her son move the cattle herd gathered by cash-strapped Mormons as their church tithe, he can’t refuse her.

When the cutthroat gang kidnaps Serene to bargain for The Tithing Herd, Lute and Tom find themselves pitted against insurmountable odds–with unexpected help coming from an old friend.

Lute’s desire for vengeance is trumped by his desperation to save the woman he loves at all costs–if he can live long enough to do it…

Bio: A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth is the author of 15 novels and a non-fiction regional history. Since retiring, he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. He lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. His short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society, where he served a term as vice president. You are invited to visit his website at:


Buy links:

That Blood Thing by Lala Corriere

lala-casualLet’s cut to the chase. I’m the antagonist in your suspense and thriller books. That’s the bad guy or she-devil in the novel you’re reading. I’m the sum of them all. I’m the evil mist that seeps through your doubts and fears with a relentless intensity. You won’t easily shake off my wickedness.

While Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragedies seem to validate the theory of the seven deadly sins, sometimes there seems to be an eighth. Killing for the thrill. No rhyme or reason.

My tool chest is as vast as the author’s imagination can take you. The guns and knives are a given. The snapping the neck is quick and often not a premeditated murder resulting from the buildup of a sudden rage. The poisons are as the delicious as the classic movie, Arsenic and Old Lace. The devices of strangulation, suffocation, and chemical asphyxia include the rope, plastic bags, carbon dioxide drowning. That crazy thing called petechiae when the lack of oxygen causes your skin to muddle with your blood is something a savvy detective would look for, unfortunately. I’ve also learned the perfect way to dissolve a human body. Not one thing left. Not even a gold tooth.

My author can write gore, which is surprising because she passes out at the sight of blood. I was particularly fond of my starring role when the blood spurted out of my throat, due to an ice pick jammed into my jugular and with good reason. I watched as the red liquid swirled and commingled like a watercolor with the glass of scotch I had poured for me.

Is it possible good writing, with excellent research, can take an author out of their field of knowledge and even out of their comfort zone? Absolutely. And that’s part of the fun because an author might take you out of you out of your safe haven, if only for a while. Corriere wrote about transgenderism long before the world said goodbye to Bruce Jenner and we met Caitlyn. She has written about false prophets. And then, there’s that blood thing.


Since early childhood, Lala has been passionate about all the arts. She is a painter and a former stage performer. Early work careers blended high-end real estate sales while becoming president of an interior design firm.

Her fifth grade teacher, Miss Macy, was the first mentor to suggest she consider a career in writing. That extension of the arts, the written word, turned into a full-time passion in 2001.

Career Highlights:

  • Endorsement and long-term mentoring from the late Sidney Sheldon
  • Published in regional magazines, newspapers, writer’s guides and journals.
  • Award winning poetry.
  • Endorsements from USA Today, The Arizona Daily Star, Andrew Neiderman [author of the Devil’s Advocate], Betty Webb, J Carson Black, CJ West, The Virtual Scribe, Paris Afton Bonds, and many other remarkable authors.


  • Widow’s Rowbbbebookcover
  • CoverBoys & Curses
  • Evil Cries
  • Kiss and Kill. Endorsed by USA Today as MUST READ SUSPENSE
  • Bye Bye Bones, endorsed by Betty Webb and JCarson Black.

Readers and reviewers applaud her hallmark original plots, her in-depth character portrayals, rich scene settings, and authentic dialogue, all delivered with a fresh new voice. Oh, and her TWISTS!

Lala is a desert rat. She nestles there with her husband of over 28 years along with Finnegan & Phoebe— Teacup Yorkies weighing in at nine pounds….. total.

Getting to Know Linda Lee Kane

jeremylindaLinda L. Kane MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Witch, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, and Chilled to the Bones. The Daisy Murphy Mysteries. She lives with her husband and three dogs and six horses in California.




Chilled to the Bones buy link, Amazon:



How would a friend describe me?


This is a loaded question so I decided to ask a couple of people. Robin states that  “I am intense, driven, tolerant, loving, and caring.” Shari states that I am kind, friendly, tenacious.” There were other comments but I think that will do for now.



I have several degrees, I am now retired, I began writing when I began riding horses, I have been married for forty-four years (he tolerates me, or me, him). I have three dogs, six horses, and one bird, all own me. I have four beautiful, incredibly, intelligent grandchildren.



.Where would I live if I could live anywhere?


On the coast of California, although I might add the meteorologists claim that we are heading for a big earthquake. So I think I need to weigh my options there.



I was raised in a Hispanic household. Wonderful grandparents.



Being retired, I can’t say enough about the freedom to do and to be anything I want. I’m rediscovering myself.



A random fact about me was that I volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an incredible place to visit, to learn, to enjoy..



My favorite hobby would be painting in watercolor and acrylic and competing at horse shows.



A fact I think I’d like to share with readers is ‘to never give up,’ there are so many things that buzz in your head, telling you to stop what ever you’re doing. Don’t, you’ll live with regrets and I know when I die I don’t want my last words to be, ‘if only’.



My favorite books and author would be Brad Metzler, Steve Barry. Books I’ve just read, are Kill the Indian, Save the Man, and just recently I’ve been reading YA books, Miss Peregrine Peculiar Children, all three volumes.



My favorite genre would be historical fiction and non fiction.



A book that is now on my bed stand would be Education for Extinction.



My favorite all time book is The Historian, each word the author writes has depth and meaning. I pour over her words.



I read every review on my books and would love to have more. You can only improve yourself and your writing by looking at what others feel.



I prefer Facebook to twitter but I am on both sites, look me up.



There are three bookstores that I like quite a bit they are Petunia’s in Fresno, California, The Book Barn in Clovis, Ca. and Harts Haven in Fresno. They are wonderful people and really care about their authors and books.



Chronological books in order: Matty’s Adventures in Numberland.a series with the new book coming out next month, Witch Number is Witch. The Black Madonna (speculative historical), Icelandia, a series and the next book will be out next year. Katterina Ballerina ( a children’s book about never giving up their dreams), Cowboy Jack’s and Buddy Save Christmas, and Chilled to the Bone, a series with the upcoming book coming out next year. I’m finishing up ‘Bottoms Up’, it should be out by next year and I’m beginning a book about the genocide of the First Nation of the United States.



Because of my many interests in life, I think I have a book for everyone. I haven’t settled completely on a genre, maybe when I grow up.



I began writing for myself, because of curve balls that were thrown to me at a very early age. Parents fighting, parents divorcing, new father’s. abuse, and being bullied. I had incredible sisters who have always been there for me and I wanted to give back to them, my kids, their kids, and grandchildren everywhere. Maybe my writing will inspire the next astronaut, president, doctor, historian, painter, ballerina, or writer. Whatever your dream, keep it close to your heart and never give up, and just be the best that you can be.



4830SMALLMore years ago than I like to count (okay, about 22), the first book in my “Angie Amalfi culinary mystery series” was published. At the time, it wasn’t supposed to be a series at all, but a single-title “romantic suspense.” Thank goodness, I didn’t end the book with my heroine, a gourmet cook who couldn’t find a good job, and the hero, a San Francisco homicide detective, going off into the sunset for their “happily-ever-after” life. That I gave them a bit of happiness, and no sunset, meant that when my editor asked for a second book with the same main characters, I was able to deliver. That was sixteen books, two novellas, and umpteen short stories ago.


As the years went by, I joined the ever-growing ranks of the “indie published,” writing romance, romantic fantasy, and even a couple of supernatural suspense thrillers. I also wrote a few more Angie Amalfi stories, but I found that the person I was twenty-two years ago when I conceived those stories—young, with a growing family, etc.—isn’t the person I am today.


While I love the characters—and after all these years, Angie Amalfi is so real to me that if she came knocking at my door, I’d simply invite her in for a cup of coffee and some Italian cookies—it was time for a change. I wanted a way to keep Angie “alive” to both my readers and I, but also to be able to write stories that felt more connected to who I am now.


So, I debated with myself: did I want to write a spin-off series from my Angie books? What are the pros and cons of doing so?


The first “pro” is pretty obvious: the books have a built-in audience. Those who have read one series, are very likely to at least try the books in a spin-off series.


Another pro is that the cast of characters has been worked out already. You know many of the characters who will populate your books, their personalities, how they’ll act, etc. Same for the setting. Both of these are huge time-savings for any author.


The cons are the risks involved. The main one is that the new series simply isn’t as well liked as the original. This could be damaging to both series, and cause readers to wonder if a beloved author has “lost it,” “burned out,” etc.


Another is that the well-known characters may seem changed in the readers’ eyes and come across differently than in the original series. This can be not only disconcerting to a reader, but can cause them to really dislike the changes.


Or, the problem can be the opposite—the “same old, same old” syndrome. If not enough has changed from the original series, a reader may wonder why the author bothered to change the lead series character at all.


In my case, I decided to write the “Inspector Rebecca Mayfield” mysteries because of the “pros” I listed above, and also because she is able to satisfy a OneO'Clock_400wside of me that Angie no longer could. Rebecca is a career woman—she fought her way up the ranks of the San Francisco Police Department to the position of homicide detective. To do so, she gave up a lot in her personal life, even losing a fiancé because he couldn’t bear to live with the danger she put herself in. She’s got a good heart, but she’s also tough. She wants love, but she’s a loner and if that’s her lot in life, she accepts it. She’s dedicated to her work and believes she’s making the world just a little bit better by doing it. Bottom line, she’s a darker, older, more serious character than Angie. Many people have made the transition and, thankfully, are enjoying Rebecca’s travails.


There are several “How-to’s” that have helped this transition to work. The genre has changed only slightly (the Rebecca books aren’t culinary cozies, but the characters do talk about food, and Richie is a good cook—which is a surprise to Rebecca, believe me). They have a similar “feel” to them as far as level of violence and language, although again, the Rebecca stories are a tad harsher in both. The biggest “how-to,”, I believe, is that despite Rebecca being a much more serious and emotionally darker character than Angie, the books continue to have similar kinds of humor and emotion, which were hallmarks of the Angie Amalfi mysteries. Providing much of the humor in the new series is Rebecca’s relationship with Richie. Nothing would make the two happier than to walk away from the other and never look back, but something keeps making them not only look back, but go back to the other. This also causes a lot of the emotion in the books as both wrestle with their growing feelings about the other.


Last but not least, since I was often asked in what order the Angie stories should be read, I decided to make it easy for Rebecca Mayfield readers. The first book (free on most retail sites) is entitled ONE O’CLOCK HUSTLE, and the just-released book, number four in the series, is entitled (you guessed it), FOUR O’CLOCK SIZZLE.




Joanne Pence was born and raised in northern California. She has been an award-winning, USA Today best-selling author of mysteries for many years, and has also written historical fiction, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, a fantasy, and supernatural suspense. Joanne hopes you’ll enjoy her books, which present a variety of times, places, and reading experiences, from mysterious to thrilling, emotional to lightly humorous, as well as powerful tales of times long past.

Visit her at,, or on Twitter at @JoannePence. To hear about new books, please sign up for Joanne’s New Release Mailing List