Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romance Writers of America National Conference

This week I'm attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Anaheim. (Yes, a two-block walk from The Land, as So Cal calls that magical chunk of Disney real estate...)

Okay, even though I do write a paranormal romance series, I'm not at all what anyone would think of as a romance writer. And yet every year since I have been published, I have attended one or usually both of the two main romance conferences of the year: Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, or the Romance Writers of America National Conference.

And I'm hardly the only thriller writer who does so. 

I feel the need to repeat this fairly regularly in my posts on the business of writing: ANY writer in publishing today ignores the romance market at their own peril.  Industry insiders openly admitted that romance kept the book business afloat during the bleakest times of the recession, and continues to.  And it’s no longer the case that mystery and thriller writers are just outsider guests, mere curiosities at these conferences (even though people there still refer to me as "That thriller writer"). Just in the last couple of years that I’ve been a published author, I’ve seen the huge tent that romance is take in more and more subgenres, some of which tilt darker and darker  -  and I’m talking dark like in zombie apocalypse stories, some very edgy dystopian tales – to the point that I’m not sure you can realistically call romance ANY kind of genre at all, as much as it is simply a marketing strategy.

(Okay, all right, I can hear romance purists howling out there, but I’m looking at this from a mystery/thriller perspective.).

ALL the publishers are here, some of them with dozens of reps, from divisions all over the world.    You can’t walk two steps without tripping over an editor or agent from a major company. And not to be crass, but you can tell how romance ranks with our publishers not just from that overwhelming presence, but also from the sheer amount of money the agents and publishers spend on parties, marketing, and book giveaways to librarians, booksellers and fans (it's staggering…).

Because of that overwhelmingly professional slant, RWA is not the free-for-all that Thrillerfest and Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime – and Romantic Times – tend to be.   (Although nothing beats that Harlequin dance party – I'm looking forward to being too sore to walk on Saturday!).  It’s a working conference; many, many aspiring authors come to pitch to agents and editors (and many, many do come away with representation and book deals), and the very cool thing is that RWA chapters all over the country prep their chapter members for conferences with practice pitch sessions and conference how-to in the months before “nationals,” as they call the conference.  No one preps writers for the business better than RWA does. Seriously - if you're an aspiring author in any genre and you're NOT a member of this organization and your local chapter, you are MISSING OUT.

One feature I really love about RWA (besides being able to wear all my dressiest clothes and change outfits three times a day) is the daily luncheons with keynote speakers.   Not only do they feed us (which means I actually eat, something I often forget to do at other conferences), but there’s always a fascinating keynote speaker at the lunches. I missed yesterday's because, well, I was the keynote speaker at the Young Adult RWA (YARWA) chapter's "Day of YA",  an all-day event that included a stellar panel of editors and agents, a really wonderful Asian fusion lunch, my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop with a YA focus, and an inspirational talk by YA author Simone Elkeles, plus some really cool raffle giveaways. Two of the agents at the event offered every workshop attendee a read of a ten page submission.  That's a golden opportunity, but typical of what happens at this conference.

But the greatest thing for me about this conference, as really any of the good ones, is hearing aspiring writers all around me say in a way that makes me know they mean it – “That’s it  - no more fucking around.   I’m finishing this book by   ----“    (Oh, all right, it’s Nationals, they’re not saying “fucking.”)  And they mean it.   I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again – a conference like this is what gets people past those last internal blocks and gets the book finished, repped and out there.  It's almost as if committing to the conference is telling the Universe, "Yes, damn it, I really am ready to DO this now."

And the Universe ALWAYS responds to that kind of declaration.

Something to think about.

- Alex


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes &Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing YA - Themes

Wait, weren’t we just talking about series writing? Welcome to my right brain.  (Hey, I never said I did these posts in order!  If you want order, order the workbooks.)

No, actually, this post today is because I am teaching a Screenwriting Tricks workshop at the RWA National Conference on Wednesday, and the focus is YA, so this is a good way to get my thoughts in order while letting you all benefit from the conference by osmosis. Plus, switching topics mid-stream is an excellent way for me to demonstrate that writing series, or writing YA, or writing YA series, or writing anything, will all benefit from exactly the same starting point: your personal Top Ten List. 

Now first, YA isn’t a genre.  It’s an umbrella for ALL genres. So the structure patterns for whatever genre you’re writing in apply just as completely to a YA book in that genre (or subgenre, or cross-genre) as they do to any adult book in the genre. 

So when you’re sitting down with your new YA project to brainstorm, and making your Top Ten movie list (a list of movies and books that are similar in genre and storyline to your own project), it is often more useful to look at adult movies (I mean, not ADULT adult, but you know, adult) and books in the genre than it is to look at teen movies, simply because there are more, and usually better, adult movies out there with the structural patterns you’re likely to want to study and learn from.  (If you need more clarification about what I'm talking about: What KIND of Story is It?)

The only real difference in a YA book is the age of the hero/ine and main characters, although there are some specific themes, elements and techniques that are very popular in YA, and themes are what I wanted to start off with today.

-- YA is very often written in first person – or a very close third.  You are in the thoughts and skin of your protagonist.

-- There is very often a love triangle.  Of course this is a popular trope in adult fiction, too – it creates conflict and provides a fantasy sexual or romantic experience that a lot of readers are looking for. But it’s especially prevalent in YA, not just because people are copying Twilight and The Hunger Games, but because adolescence is hopefully a time for experimenting, including trying out who to love.

-- There is often a rebellion against entrenched adult values and political systems.  The Hunger Games is a prime example, of course.  It’s the teenagers who have to make moral choices and take moral actions against a corrupt or broken or even horrific adult system.  This is nothing new AT ALL, it was the spirit that defined the sixties and is pretty much is the major theme of adolescence.  And this is why, I think, dystopian fiction is so popular with YA readers.  The genre by its very nature says that the system is broken and challenges the characters  - and the readers – to fix it.  I love that about dystopian!  Makes my Berkeley heart proud.

-- The characters often have special powers, or superpowers.  This is another theme of the teen age.  Because it is the absolute truth – we all DO have superpowers.  We are all infinitely powerful, we just need to remember we are.  As Marianne Williamson wrote in A Return to Love (a quote often attributed to Nelson Mandela, who used it in his 1994 inauguration speech):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Deepak Chopra says more succinctly, in a way that sums up the exhilaration of the Harry Potter series: “We are all wizards and witches.”  Kids KNOW that. Adults all too often forget it and spend a lifetime trying to remember.

-- There is commonly a theme of the changeling child.   A classic childhood fantasy:  “These aren’t my REAL parents.  I’m actually a princ/ess in disguise!”  Again, Harry Potter!

-- The changeling child is also an outsider, and the outsider theme is hugely popular in YA. Kids ALWAYS feel like freaks, and can easily relate to being vampires, shapeshifters, space aliens. New powers manifesting in embarrassing ways? You don't have to be Freud to get where that's coming from.

-- The King Arthur theme: that a seemingly ordinary person is destined for greatness.  The Hunger Games, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter.  Cinterella is another one of these, of course.

So yes,  YA themes tend to be extravagantly idealistic and empowering.  YA is also often paranormal and girl-driven. Now, this could be attributed to the influence of Buffy, and Twilight, and you may have theories of your own about it, which I’d love to hear. Personally I think that the paranormal wave was in great part a reaction to the militaristic focus of the post-9/11 government — the psychic, intuitive, feminine paranormal was a reaction to and rebellion against the patriarchal domination of those war years.  

- There’s another very common formula to YA: stories that are revisionings of classic literature or fairy tales or fiction or plays,  only with teenage leads.

- And - maybe it's not exactly a theme, but school is almost always a setting, either a physical school or some kind of training that's the equivalent of school, and the issues of school and learning are always present.

But I know there are a lot of YA writers out there, so I’d like to hear some of the common themes YOU see in YA. And also as always, I’m very interested in hearing people’s Top Ten lists. I need some good examples!

- Alex 

Related posts:

The Dark Side of YA


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes &Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Writing series, part 1

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I've been getting a lot of questions about series writing, so today I thought I'd take a stab at it, and see where it goes from there.

I am writing my first series ever right now, with the exception of my part in The Keepers  series, which is not a traditional mystery series but rather a series collaboration between three authors, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak and me: related books set in the same paranormal/urban fantasy world with the same core characters.  That is totally AMAZING fun, btw – sort of like repertory theater, only with authors as director/writers.  Love it!

But I wrote my new crime thriller Huntress Moon  with the absolute intention of making it a mystery/thriller series, and while I do have plans to do sequels to two of my other books (Book of Shadows  and The Space Between, which MUST be a trilogy!), I didn’t write those two thinking of them as series, they just turned out that way in the writing process.

Writing a series deliberately from the get-go – that’s a whole different thing.

The thing is, I don’t read many series.  The ones I do, I’m obsessed with, but have never been one of those who have to read in order. I really expect a book to work completely as a standalone, whether it’s in a series or not, so I’ll pick them up randomly and work my way through them in whatever order I get to them.

I’m not much of a TV series watcher, either.  I watch many more movies than TV series.  Well, not so much lately, since feature films seem to have hit a total low creatively, thanks to the corporate culture in Hollywood, which has driven all the good screenwriters to cable TV and jacked the quality of cable series up to mindblowing proportions.  I think it’s a second Golden Age of Television, honestly.

Hmm, I may be digressing, but it’s true.

But you all should KNOW my prescription for any story problem or question by now.  MAKE A LIST.  Yes, the Top Ten List I’m always preaching about!  You need to look to your own favorite series and series writers to identify what you most respond to in a series, and take your inspirations and lessons from them.

Here’s my list.

- Lee Child’s Reacher series
- Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery/Flea Marlowe series
- Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series
- Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan series
- Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles
- Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carole Jordan series
- Karin Slaughter’s Georgia series
- Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series
- F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series
- John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series

And, well, I have to add Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, but the rest of the Hannibal series I try very hard to pretend never happened at all.

(Now don't just sit there, go ahead, make your own list...)

Now take a look at your list and try to identify what the series you've listed have in common.

The first thing I have to say about all of my above authors is that – it’s not the series, it’s the authors.  I would read anything any of the above put to paper, and pretty much have already, repeatedly. And I’m actually often more interested in books OUTSIDE the series than the next one in the series.

Writing a book, any book is an obsessive, encompassing, borderline psychotic thing.  (I threw in that “borderline” just for a laugh. Because, you know...)

Writing a series is all that, exponentially.  You have an ongoing, multidimensional, multi-generational parallel world inside you ALL THE TIME.

Does anyone else feel like that’s just – crazy?

Some worlds crazier than others.

I worry about Michael Connelly a little, or maybe I mean a lot, walking around with Harry Bosch in his head all the time. Because Harry is so fragile, you know.  To be constantly accessing that mindset, to be living in Harry’s skin... wow.  What would that do to you? You just want them both to have a BREAK from that, sometimes, but  - yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I guess I should be worried about Lee Child, too, because Reacher isn’t exactly the pinnacle of mental health. But Reacher has better social skills than Harry.  Even if Reacher never sticks around, he does make strong human connections consistently.  It just seems more balanced, somehow.  There was a point around the book Nothing to Lose, and then again in 61 Hours that I thought Reacher might finally be losing it entirely, but he seems to have pulled it together since then, at least for the moment.  I feel like Reacher can take care of himself because he’s actually aware of the need for help and really expert at recruiting it, while I always feel like someone should be taking care of Harry.

Notice how I’m talking about those characters as if I know them?  Well, don’t we?  That’s kind of the point of a series, right?  There is a lead character, sometimes two or three, that you want to get to know, that you commit to for a long-term relationship.

And for me, those characters are complicated and haunted and flawed.  Which might be putting it mildly – most if not all of the above characters seem to be genetically set on “self-destruct” and half of the suspense of the series is whether or not they’re going to survive the next book at all, or with sanity intact.

The series I listed above have many more strong things in common, besides the fact that they’re mindblowingly well-written.  They’re very, very dark. No happy endings (HEA) guaranteed here; in fact, you know going into any of those books that you’d better brace yourself for what’s coming.  They deal intensively with real human evil, and often with sexual abuse and child abuse, and they deal with it in a way that only a psychopath could be titillated. The characters fight that evil constantly and the battles are always bittersweet; there is no resolution, the battle may be won but the war rages on.  Not only is that a core theme of mine as an author,  I think that’s just reality, and I appreciate that those authors don’t sugarcoat it.

There is a sensuality and lyricism to the writing that is hypnotic and addictive. The male/female relationships are twisted but incredibly erotic. The stories often let secondary characters take major roles (a trick I first noticed with Tess Gerritsen, one of the first series writers I got hooked on – I read her series more consistently than I did those of other authors because she would let a secondary character take the lead role in many of the books, which kept the series fresh for me).

All of those things are what I aspire to with Huntress Moon.  There are all kinds of ways that I’m trying to live my series, so I can do it justice. I’m taking kickboxing for the first time to see how my Huntress feels, physically and mentally and emotionally,  when she has to fight.  (And I have to say that’s a real trip.  It’s not so different from dancing, really, a handful of basic moves that create a language of fighting, and then infinite variations on those.) I’m doing Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy in September to go through the law enforcement training that my FBI agent lead, and many secondary characters, would have had, and of course am addicted to Lee's blog, and Doug Lyle's, for fantastic forensics information.  I am living with my nose buried in atlases and Google maps and taking any number of road trips to be in the places that my characters are traversing, so I get that physical experience right.

But most of all I’m grateful to have such stellar examples as the authors I listed above, and many more that I have missed, to look to for guidance about what I am trying create. It is an amazing thing for us as authors that our favorite authors are also our teachers – for life.  All we need to know about how to do this is right there for us on the pages of our favorite books.

So today, make your lists and let's talk about your favorite series. What are they, what draws you to them, what hooks you as a reader, what keeps you reading, what’s your burnout point (if any!)?

What are the core themes you see?

And let me just take a minute to quickly address the question of series PREMISE, which I'll write a whole post about as soon as I can (probably not this week because I'm at the RWA National conference, teaching and signing and the whole conference thing... and there's still time to sign up for the Screenwriting Tricks workshop on Wednesday...)

A reader asked me if you need to do a premise line for your whole series as well as for each individual book.  Well, yes, that would be a good idea, don't you think?  However, remember, when you're in early stages of writing, a premise is just your road map.  The premise can and most likely WILL change in the writing process, as you learn more about what you're actually writing.  So don't be afraid to write a premise line for your whole series and know that it's not set in stone!  It's just to help you take a stab at what you THINK you're writing.  What you actually DO write - will inevitably be different. And that's okay!

- Alex


Huntress Moon, an Amazon Hot New Release!   On sale now:  $3.99

Amazon IT

A driven FBI agent is on the hunt for that most rare of all killers:
a female serial.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The madness of marketing

Since I seem to be taking a week to talk about marketing... I told you guys yesterday that in the middle of my huge Amazon promotion for Huntress Moon I am also clearing out my house to sell it, and am constantly finding reminders of the brutal days of book tours and bookstore drop-ins and how different things are for authors today, just three years later than what you're about to read below.  While throwing out ten tons of paper promo material I was reminded of this blog I wrote for the hardcover launch of my poltergeist thriller, The Unseen, which I just put up for sale on Amazon and Nook this month.  Just a bit of a different process!

But I think you'll find it uncanny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

December 2008

Dear Diary: You will be thrilled to know I’ve made an actual decision. No, I mean it, stop laughing. Really. I’m just not going to kill myself promoting THE UNSEEN when it comes out. No more of this stress. I love this book. I know people want to read it. Who wouldn’t want to read it? 
John Lescroart says the only viable thing you can do to sell your books is to write another book. So that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to write another book. In fact, I’m going to write two books.

And the Screenwriting Tricks for Authors book, too – I can do an hour of that every other day. It all stops now. No more traveling, no more craziness, just workshops close to home. That people pay me for. I’m going to write. That’s it. Write. And have a personal life, remember that? And then maybe Michael won’t leave me for alienation of affection? That would be good.

PS. You won’t be hearing from me for a while. I have writing to do. And affection.

------------------------Five months later------------------------

May 1, 2009.

Well, Diary, I am thrilled to report I have finished Book of Shadows and Scott loves it and SO DO I. I got that paranormal proposal in to HQ Nocturne and I will easily be finished with Ghost Ship by the end of the month and get that in to St. Martin’s ON TIME. I have an entire first draft of Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, and am psyched to launch into revisions. I am so golden.

Lescroart is so right. We need to be writing.

May 2

Woke up to panic attack. OH MY GOD, The Unseen is coming out in twenty-four days. How did that happen? Who scheduled this?

I haven’t done anything. Nothing. I haven’t even thought about doing anything. I forgot about promotion. Who do I think I am, a screenwriter? I’m an author now, I have to promote.

What’s promotion again? How did I do it before? OH MY GOD.

May 3

Woke up thinking about Konrath. OH MY GOD. Konrath is doing a 100-stop blog book tour for Afraid. I should be doing a 100-stop blog book tour. Wait. I can barely write one blog a week. I’d have to have started 100 weeks ago to do a 100-stop blog book tour. 100 weeks ago is – um, years, I think. I can do ten. No, twelve. No, eight. In two months. No, one. No, six weeks.

Is it worth it to do that? Does that even count as a blog book tour?

Note to self: check Blog Book Tour site for… specifics. Wait. Wouldn’t I rather just write more Screenwriting Tricks blogs? Won’t everyone hate me if I stop those for a month to do blogs on… whatever I would be doing blogs on? On somebody else’s blog site? Didn’t I start Screenwriting Tricks because I had nothing left to say about myself? Do blog tours really work? Konrath says it’s working.

Well, of course it’s working for Konrath, I’m talking about for REAL people, do they work for REAL people? Note to self: You are NOT under any circumstances going to try to pull a Konrath here. Just get a grip.

May 4

OH MY GOD. “The Edge of Seventeen” got nominated for a Thriller Award for Best Short Story. I can’t believe it. I mean, I love that story, maybe more than anything I’ve ever written, but… it’s supernatural. It’s got a teenage GIRL protagonist. I’m so overwhelmed it got noticed.

Lescroart is right. I need to be writing. Nothing matters but writing. And affection.

May 5

OH MY GOD. Thrillerfest is the same weekend as ALA. HOW DO THESE THINGS HAPPEN? How can I not go to ALA? How can I not go to Thrillerfest? I’m going to be just out with The Unseen in hardcover, I have to go to ALA.

But I’m nominated for a Thriller award, how can I not go to Thrillerfest? How can I be in New York and Chicago at the same time?

May 6

Woke up thinking about social networking. OH MY GOD. I haven’t posted on Facebook in weeks. I haven’t Twittered in longer. And I can’t remember the last time I even signed on to MySpace. I need to update my sites. If I can remember them. Amazon blog, Red Room blog, MySpace blog, Haunt blog, Backspace, MWA something or other - Margery said we all had pages somewhere and that I haven’t done anything on mine; Pretty Scary, Authors Round the South, Indie Bound something or other, Library Thing?

Am I on that? Or was I supposed to do it and forgot? And what about that Facebook page thing? Did anyone ever figure out how to find my page as opposed to whatever the regular Facebook thing is? Is that page thing just going to open up a whole new spate of old boyfriends?

May 7

Woke up thinking about….

I can’t… think…

May 8

OH MY GOD. Romantic Times is in two days. Did I book a flight? What state is it in? Do I have bookmarks? Oh my God, I never ordered bookmarks for The Unseen. I have to e mail Kelley at Iconix and order more NOW TODAY so they’ll come in time. Will they get here or do I have them delivered to – whatever state RT is in? Kelley will handle it. IF YOU REMEMBER TO TELL HER.

Where are my business cards? OH MY GOD. I have to learn all the songs for the Vampire show. Shut up. Slow down. What you need to do at RT is WRITE. Go rehearse the Vampire show and then go back to the room and write, write, write. Five pages a day, minimum.

(Pages done at RT: 7 total, done on the plane en route. Hours spent rehearsing Vampire Show: 20. Hours on the dance floor: 3 per night. Hours in hot tub after dance=2. Parties… a lot.).

May 9

Woke up thinking about website. Hmm, worrisome. Most Awesome Webmistress is not returning e mail on website update. Starting to panic. Better call.

OH MY GOD. Most Awesome Webmistress has been sending e mails on website update that have disappeared into the ether. Website needs complete overhaul.

OH MY GOD. Must send in all updates by tomorrow and decide on design.


May 10

Have to get announcements of The Unseen in to all the organizations I belong to for their newsletters. What organizations do I belong to again? Who do I send this stuff to?

Have to send updated list of all reviewers I know to new publicist so she can send reading copies.

Have to send updated list of all media contacts I have to new publicist to she can send reading copies.

Have to send updated bookseller/librarian list to new publicist.

Have to do author questionnaire for Little, Brown for UK releases.

Have to do new author questionnaire for St. Martin’s.

Have to do AT LEAST FIVE PAGES on Ghost Ship today. I have to. I have to.

(End of day: Pages written: 0)

May 11

Woke up thinking about bookstore mailings. Elaine Viets does bookstore mailings. Elaine swears by bookstore mailings, and everyone loves her. Does that mean I should do bookstore mailings? What is a bookstore mailing?

Books? Still don’t have them. Bookmarks? Bookmarks are great if you march them into the store and set them on the counter yourself, but if I were a CRM and got bookmarks in the mail I would just toss them in the trash. I don’t even open my own mail, how can I expect anyone else to?

May 12

Woke up thinking about book club mailings. Jenna Black swears by book club mailings. Do I need to do a book club mailing? What is a book club mailing?

May 13

There’s a book club coordinator at St. Martin’s. Who knew? I give her my targeted list of rabid book clubs and she will send books with my letter that I send to her. I love St. Martin’s.

Lesson learned: Ask, Ask, Ask.

May 14

Going through old promotional files and discovered Sisters in Crime has a bookclub database with specific contact info for mystery book clubs nationwide. Most want e mail contact first. I can do that. I can do that in a night and pretend to be watching whatever movie Michael wants to watch.

I love Sisters in Crime.

May 15

OH MY GOD. I haven’t worked out in two weeks. Have you somehow for gotten that you have the personality of a rabid armadillo when you don’t work out for TWO DAYS?

Has it somehow slipped your mind that a BOOK TOUR means you will be dealing with THE PUBLIC for all your waking hours? Has it not occurred to you that if you don’t get an injection of endorphins, not to mention muscle tone, then too soon to contemplate you will not be fit for viewing?

May 16, 2009

OH MY GOD. I haven’t updated my mailing list in six months. And I need to do a newsletter. How does Vertical Response work again? What’s my password? Why can’t I log in? Oh, right, I have to use Firefox to get into that one. Um, I think. But do I have any news?

Did I for sure take that guy off the list who wrote me that horrible letter about how he didn’t know me and how did I get his e mail and why am I spamming him? Does he know how many nights of sleep I lost lying awake wondering the same thing?

May 17

OH MY GOD. I have to be at BEA next week. What state is BEA in this year? I need a pass. I need books. Did I book a flight?…. Frantic e mailing ensues .... HAH! St. Martin’s has sent books and is sending me a pass.

I will do my Quail Ridge launch then drive up to NY with Natasha and stop at bookstores along the way to sign stock.

A Garmin would be good, though. Konrath swears by his Garmin. Note to self: need to get a Garmin. More to the point, need to figure out how to use it before I hit the road. Can I realistically do that? I mean, really?

May 18

OH MY GOD. Right after BEA I’m due in L.A. for the HWA Stoker weekend and So Cal MWA conference and Dark Delicacies signing and Mysterious Galaxy signing. Did I book a flight? OH MY GOD - must do bookstore drop-ins. Must do TONS of bookstore drop-ins. I can do 200 easily in two weeks before I have to be back for my Southern tour stops. Even without a Garmin. No Garmin required here at all. Konrath may be Konrath, but I know California freeways.



I wish I could say that’s as bad as it gets but it’s not even close. Multiply the chaos above by twelve thousand and you have a rough idea of my mental state at the moment. There is no order to anything.

The funny thing is, I just did an interview in which the eminently sane interviewer posed the question: “You’re a great business networker. What’s your strategy?”Which I guess is encouraging because no matter what is happening inside me I have the APPEARANCE of control and organization. So that must count for something.

But you know what? I was so fine while I was just writing. I really did get – almost - two books, a proposal, and a rough draft of another (non-fiction) book done in five months. This last month I’ve managed to do some editing, but that’s about it. And I am miserable about it. I could so easily have had my new book done by now.

So I really, really want to know. Are we really doing ourselves any favors doing this kind of insane promotion? Or is John Lescroart right, and we should just always be writing the next book, period?

July 2012
Thank God at least SOME things are different. I no longer have to book so many flights for book tours (which I have a total aversion to doing, even though these days someone else is almost always paying for my appearances, I figured THAT part out at least!).  Bookstore drop-ins?  The chains have crumbled. These days you have to figure out how to work the Amazon algorithm, but you don't have go GO anywhere to do it.  That alone is less time-intensive.  I'm still using this paper promo at conferences, people still use bookmarks, but as I found out this week I already have a lifetime supply (!)

It's amusing to me that we were looking to Konrath for the magic answers before the e book thing, too.  (And anyone who thinks he just got lucky on the e book thing should remember the days not so very long ago that he was doing 600 bookstore drivebys in three months and 200 blogstops in a month.)

But I can still get caught up in that kind of frantic obsessive promotional frenzy, even though I don't have to get dressed to do it anymore. There is an addictive aspect to marketing that I think authors have to be very wary about, and always self-monitor.

And my question today, July 2012, is exactly the same:

Even though we're doing it online, now, Facebook, Twitter, blog tours - is that really helping us?  Really? Are we really doing ourselves any favors doing this kind of insane promotion? Or is John Lescroart STILL right, and we should just always be writing the next book, period?

What do you think?

- Alex

Huntress Moon, on sale now:  $3.99

Amazon IT

A driven FBI agent is on the hunt for that most rare of all killers:
a female serial.

Related marketing posts:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Letting it ride - another free day for Huntress Moon

I decided to leave Huntress Moon up for free today, following some recent advice from Joe Konrath that you should do all five promo days in a row.   Other authors who have had good results with Select promotions say that you shouldn't do more than three days in a row because your rankings will start to drop, but I'm excited to find the book is higher today than yesterday:

#3 in all Free e books
# 1 in Thrillers
# 1 in Suspense Thrillers
# 1 in Police Procedurals
# 2 in Mysteries and Thrillers
# 2 in Genre Fiction
# 3 in Fiction

And that's a LOT of exposure the book is getting, up there with Gillian Flynn,  Karin Slaughter and  Lee Child, exactly the books and authors I want the book to be associated with.  I've already given away 33,000 books. That's a wonderful number of potential readers - even though I know not all those people will actually read the book! But it's thrilling.

I truly want to thank the people who read the book so quickly and have posted reviews already.  The book's five-star rating I'm certain really helped it climb the charts, and I am thrilled that people are responding to the book so exactly as I'd hoped.  (The reviews are also giving me some much appreciated guidance for book two, which I'm in the middle of right now.)

At this point, the promo becomes a little like gambling. Maybe not "like" at all.  Do I let it ride through tomorrow and give away every book I can possibly give?  That would be my inclination. but there's also the chance the book will drop off and not be so high on the paid charts when it goes off free.  There's no yes or no answer, here, it's just hard to know.  There really are so many intangibles, too - for three days Huntress was kind of blocked from several of top spots by a group of romance writers who were doing a huge group promo. Not that Huntress really competes with those books, or vice-versa - personally I would have scrolled right by the group of them for something more to my own genre tastes.  But it was interesting to watch - obviously the pooled resources is an effective promotional strategy.  I may have maneuvered around them by changing one of Huntress's categories mid-stream - I dropped the hard-boiled mystery category  in favor of Suspense Thriller,  and that put me at the top of Thrillers.  It freaked me out to do it, too, because I'm only just learning about categories and how they work in the rankings and I was afraid I'd lose the momentum. But again, I was taking a page from Joe Konrath - who is always saying "Experiment!"  And it seems to have worked.   (Again, I'll do a whole post on Categories soon, but I need to see what happens over the next few days first so I'll have more to report on.)

You can take your book out of Free in the middle of a promotion, by the way, although it may take several hours for the book to go back to paid status.

So that's always good to know.

It's a funny thing, I am cleaning out my house to sell it and oh my God, the BOXES of promo material I have accumulated over the last few years.  Most of it going straight into recycling.  And it really is such a contrast to what promotion is now (wonderful to have everything virtual, for one thing. It completely eliminates the clutter.  At least, the visual clutter; my computer files are not for the faint of heart.

In sorting through all this STUFF, I am reminded in living color of the days that I used to race around the country to launch a book, the bookstore signings (and will I miss those?  HAH!!!!), the frantic drivebys, the blog tours, the mailings, the bookmarks, the conferences. So much running around, and how much did it help, really?  It's unquantifiable, but it feels about a million times less effective than what I'm doing today.

Okay, I'll still go to conferences.  In fact, it's weird and a little sad not to be at Thrillerfest this weekend, even though I know I'm doing much more for my career being right here doing just exactly what I've been doing over the last few days.  And besides, RWA Nationals are in my backyard next week,  and that plus TFest would have been WAY too much partying.  I mean, networking.

But throwing out all the maps and the flyers and the addresses and the tour schedules is being amazingly liberating, a great symbolic gesture that I'm entering a brand new phase of my career.

It feels good.

So, anyone out there have any advice for me on staying in or letting it ride?  Some of you have done a lot more of this than I have!

- Alex

And if you haven't grabbed your copy of Huntress yet, well, I can't promise it will still be free tomorrow... download it here.

Related marketing posts:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Day 2 of Huntress Moon launch and giveaway (Bestseller lists and Tag lists)

Well, how wonderful to wake up to find Huntress Moon on so many Amazon bestseller charts!  Thank you so much for Liking the book and Sharing on your Facebook pages - you are rock stars.

Right now Huntress is

#1 in Hardboiled Mysteries
#2 in Mysteries
#2 in Police Procedurals
#4 in Mystery/Thrillers
#8 in Genre Fiction
#9 in Fiction
#9 in all Free Books  (this list is a little weird to look at because it's the top books in ALL genres, and most of them are cookbooks!  If you knew how funny that was for me... But it's a great place to be, because some people just go directly there to shop.)

And this is where you want to get. Because now I can relax (kind of!) and let Amazon's incredible automatic marketing machine do the work for me (at least for my promo days!). 

If you are unfamiliar with the Amazon bestseller lists, you should click through all the links above and take a look.  The first thing you will notice is that the top free books are listed right next to the top paid bestsellers.  This is the most awesome part of the Kindle Select free promo. If you can make it to those charts (and that's a big IF that we will talk about in subsequent posts) you get this kind of incredible exposure for up to five days in a row (though it's generally advised that you don't do a free promo for more than three days in a row, which I'll talk about).

A lot of people use those charts as one stop shopping for their reading material, just like in bookstores people tend to shop those front table displays of bestsellers. Exact same principle. The MAJOR perk of being a bestselling published author is that your publisher will pay bookstores a great deal of money to make sure that YOUR book is on that front table.  And they don't pay that co-op money for midlist authors, which is what used to ensure that midlist authors stayed on the midlist.

But with an Amazon Select promo, you can get your book on the equivalent of that front table - of the biggest bookstore in the world - for free.  It levels the playing field in an amazing way.

Currently in Mystery/Thrillers, I'm on the Top Ten charts next to incredible bestselling authors like Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Deborah Harkness, Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz and Gillian Flynn.  My book and my name is being associated with thriller writers of that caliber.

And these charts result in some fantastic random placements.

For example, if you look at the Mystery/Thrillers page (at this moment, it changes hourly!) you'll see Huntress right next to Catherine Coulter's Backfire.  This is a wonderful placement for me because Coulter writes a bestselling FBI series, and... well, look!  There's a new FBI series you can try for FREE right next to Catherine's!  How about that?  I think I'll just click to download that and give it a try! 

When I ran Book of Shadows for free last month, I consistently ended up right on the same lines as Stephen King and Suzanne Collins.  And this month the book is still on several paid Top 100 Bestseller lists next to those same names.  I am being associated with those authors, and my book is being bought (and recommended, and praised, and passed on - because, remember, you have to start with a good book.) 

Do you see how that works?  And this exposure is to hundreds of thousands of avid readers - and moreover is AUTOMATICALLY AND SPECIFICALLY TARGETED to readers in YOUR genre.  The chances of that kind of reader (who is there specifically to buy books to begin with!) at least picking up your book to look at it (in a virtual sense!) are fantastic.

After that, it's up to you - your blurb, your reviews, your first chapter (or first page...)  But the rest of it - Amazon does for you, for free.

No number of time-intensive blog tours is going to get you even close to that kind of exposure. No way that blogging on your own is going to do it. Your Facebook posts? Well, there's a potential of going viral there, but I'm not convinced it's worth the time that you should be spending WRITING YOUR NEXT BOOK.

Also Amazon doesn't just target to your genre.  It targets to your specific SUBGENRES.

And that's where categories and tags come in.   I'm not going to go into categories yet, I'm still experimenting with my own and compiling information.   But let's just do a little more on tagging, today.

Now, I know some of you really did try the tagging exercise I asked you to do yesterday, because I saw the numbers were up on my tags this morning.  Thank you.   I have just recently understood that tagging a book will move that book higher up on a whole other set of lists, the Tag lists.  You may not even know these exist.  In fact, chances are you didn't tag my book, yesterday, because your eyes were already glazing over with information overload.

So we're going to do this again today, and this time DO IT, because what I explain next about tagging is not going to make any sense to you unless you have a basic familiarity with tags. So again:

Tag the book on the Amazon page

Go back to the Huntress Moon Amazon page and scroll down, past the book photo, past the reviews, past my photo and bio, and a bunch of tiny bookcovers to the section that says  Tags associated with this product.  In that section are lists of a bunch of descriptive phrases listed like fbi series, female killers, mystery and detective, police procedural with little boxes beside them. Click on each one of the little boxes  next to the key words and phrases you agree with (up to 15 of them) to identify the book as being about those subjects. . Or you can add tags of your own in the bigger box below the tags, or as the instructions say, by pressing the T key twice to get a box, and just entering a string of phrases like (fbi series, female killers, female serial killer, suspense thriller, serial killer, mystery and detective, police procedural, hard boiled mystery, psychological thriller ) etc.  

That moves the book higher on a list of books about those subjects.  Try this now - click through some of the tags to see the book lists that those tags take you to.

Clicking on Female serial killer  will take you to a top ranked list of books about female serial killers.  Well, look at that!  Huntress Moon is #1!  So anyone who searches for books by tags and is looking for female serial killer novels will find my book first.

If you click FBI seriesHuntress Moon is #4, right at the top of the line.  Fantastic!

If you click beach mystery, Huntress is #1.

Now,  you only get 15 tags for any one book so you must choose wisely, and this can get obsessive.  You have to have SO many tags to show up on the Top 100 tag list for police procedurals, for example, not to mention an overstuffed category like "thrillers", that you may want to use that tag for something more specific where you have a shot at getting better placement on the list. But I would love it if when you click on tags for me, you include "suspense thriller" and "psychological thriller", which will give Huntress a better placement in those very competitive categories.  Remember, tags are not about you RATING the book, they're just about identifying what the subject matter is.

Also, you can go back and change your own tag selections any time you want, so don't worry, there's no pressure here!

We will have a WHOLE post on tags and how important they are, and you should definitely do them for your own books, and any other book you like. But first, go through the above and tag, so that you know how to do it and will hopefully remember it's important.  

So that's enough for this post, I think - I probably tried to cover too much yesterday!

If you need to catch up, though, here are related posts on e publishing:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)

And please, ask questions.

And obviously - Huntress Moon is still free today and tomorrow, if you haven't downloaded your copy yet!

- Alex

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Huntress Moon - new FBI thriller out this week!

This week I'm launching my new thriller  HUNTRESS MOON  as an e book: US, UK, and worldwide.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is just closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of "accidents" and murder, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.  

Roarke's hunt for her takes him across three states... while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.  

$ 3.99

Amazon IT

(And that great cover is by the megatalented Rob Gregory Browne!)


I said I was going to get practical here about practical aspects of e publishing and e marketing, and some of my readers have been pretty rabid about wanting me to do a whole e workshop-type thing on e marketing.

So I'm going to take you through some of this today. Unless of course you CAN'T WAIT to read the book, in which case this post will still be here tomorrow!

First, I've already done my Kindle Select free promo to launch the book, which is no longer free but still a deal at $3.99.

But here are the ways that you can help me today in just a few minutes, even without buying the book (although I don't mind if you do!)

And if you're an author, these also happen to be some things that are vital for YOU to understand, print out, file someplace you can always access them, and better yet, memorize - because you're going to have to ask your own friends and readers to do them when YOU do a Kindle Select promotion.  So go through these steps now for me, and you will know and understand what YOU will need to do with your own book.

And if you're a reader, these are also the ways that you can support your favorite authors in just a few seconds and actually in the long run do much more for them than buying their books - because these simple little click-to-share actions create what really makes an author a living:      


I have ALWAYS heard from my mega-bestselling friends about the importance of giving books away, as many as possible, always. What authors need to do to be read is to hook readers.  Come on, you know how it is. You have authors you love and will read anything they put to paper.  I know I do.  The only thing I need to see on a book cover is their name.  I am rabid about my favorite authors, there's no kinder word for it.  So the point for an author of giving books away is to trawl as widely as possible and find those rabid readers, who will then follow you and buy anything you put to paper for the rest of their lives.

Drug dealers know all about this, and always have. You have to HOOK people with freebies to get your regular customers.

And Amazon knows that, or lucked on to it somehow, and figured out a way to trawl unprecedently widely, for free.

But a second reason these Kindle Select free promotions work is that the giveaways can push you up onto the Amazon Bestseller lists. What's important about that is that once you hit the Top 100 in any category, Amazon's incredibly powerful e marketing machine kicks in to promote your book automatically.  When over the next three days Huntress Moon hit that Top 100  in one category after another, a vast number of new readers who browse those bestseller lists had my book right  in front of them, right next to, oh, Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen, Harlan Coben....


Only my book was free.  One click and it's yours.  And even if you don't download it,  your incredibly retentive brain will associate my name with Stephen King's, or someone else almost as famous and irresistible.  

And that's the WHOLE POINT of advertising, people. Subliminal association.

Which Amazon has down to a scary kind of science.

And - if enough people download a free book over your couple of days of free promotion, your book might garner enough readers to stick on the PAID bestseller list.  And that's the REAL goal.

It works. The books I've already put in the Select program over the last two months are now up on the Top 100 Paid Amazon bestseller lists right now, next to authors... well, some of which I never even considered human, writing gods like H.P.  Lovecraft and Stephen King, and others I am honored to be in the company of (not to mention I would kill to have their sales) like Dean Koontz.

Do I want my books up there next to THOSE names for tens or hundreds of thousands of potential readers to see, with a one-click BUY link right there?  Do I?  Do you?

So today, and in days and weeks to come,  I will walk you step by step, through some of the most important aspects of a promotional campaign. I am going to talk you through the things that YOU can do as a reader to help promote MY book, so you understand each step and then explain it to YOUR readers when YOU need to promote your book.

I really encourage you to do ALL of the following. Not just because it will help me, which it most definitely will, but because it will make you understand the process that you will need to explain to YOUR friends and followers.

1 LIKE the book

When you click on this link to download your copy of Huntress Moon, before you click that orange BUY NOW button, please take a second to LIKE the book.  At the top of the page, right under the book title and my name (and right next to the book's 5-star review!) there is a button with a little "thumbs up" icon. Just click on that.  And you're done.

If you're not accustomed to "Liking" you need to get comfortable with it. This is a split-second way to support your favorite authors and friends, and it's good karma to do it as often as possible. Clicking that LIKE is a vote for the author, and believe me, it counts on these big sites: on Facebook it means exposure and on Amazon it means that author instantly moves up on the Recommended lists (which we'll get to).  You really are financially supporting authors if you do that one very little thing whenever you see a LIKE button on an author's page - or Facebook post. Every time I buy a book by a favorite author, or am just doing research and come across one of their books, I LIKE the book. You don't have to buy the book to support the author!  Just click and LIKE them!  After all, you do, don't you?

Now that you've done that, click on the orange BUY NOW button on the right of the page to get your free copy.

2.  Share the book on Facebook

Now go to my Facebook profile page or my public  Facebook page and click "Share" on the post about HUNTRESS MOON. 

You'll see the post on the left side of your screen, with the book cover and everything, and at the bottom of the post you will see blue links that say           Like     .    Comment     .     Share

A comment is always fun, and a Like counts,  but the real juice is when you Share. That means all your Facebook friends who have never heard of me — or who have heard of me and have been avidly awaiting my next book! — will be able to see the link to my book on YOUR wall and will hopefully be intrigued enough to download it.

And while you're on my Facebook page, you can be extra good and Like the page itself, by clicking the "thumbs up" button at the top right of the page.  (Are you starting to get the picture? Clicking a Like button for an author, book, or friend is your instant "thumbs up" for that author, book or friend.)

Also note that I've created this FB post in a way that will translate to all the major social media sites: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +.  Which means basically that the post is under 140 characters (to fit on Twitter and not annoy the other sites), it contains the link to buy the book (and on most sites will display the book cover and a short part of the book synopsis), and all people have to do is click on the link to go to the Amazon page and read more and potentially download or buy.

And there's a way to get a post like that out to ALL your social networks at the same time with one post, and that's on the social media aggregate  (Don't worry, I'll do a dedicated post on Social Media to discuss things like this, but for those who need to know NOW, go ahead, check Hootsuite out!)

3. Share this blog post

Did you know that you can ALWAYS like and share any of the blog posts I do on this site by clicking the buttons at the bottom of the post?  Really!  

Just scroll down to the bottom of this post. First you'll see:


And under that line is a bunch of icons:     M     B     T     G+     Well, you can click on any or all of those icons to Share this post by e mail or to Twitter,  Facebook,  Google +,  etc.   That's how easy it is to support authors. (And if you don't know how to add those icons and links to your own blog, then ask, and we'll talk about it!)

4.  Tweet about the book

Now, if you're truly inspired you can Tweet about Huntress Moon, too.  

First, you can Tweet this blog post (meaning post it to the social media site by simply clicking the T icon at the bottom of this blog post as I just explained above.

Or experienced Twitterers can do a more dedicated Tweet through your Twitter account, like the ones below - or whatever you want to say:   

New female serial killer thriller by Thriller Award-winner Alexandra Sokoloff, $3.99 #ebook #Kindle #RT  

Or ----

Why do women kill? New female serial killer thriller by Thriller Award-winner Alexandra Sokoloff, $3.99 #ebook #Kindle #RT  

Yes, we will do a dedicated session on social media, including the mysteries of Twitter, but the basic points of the above sample tweets are that they are under 140 characters, and the hashtag (that's #) labels at the end will ensure that the tweets will be fed into the Twitter search engine, where readers and websites who are on the prowl for free books will be able to see then, which creates more exposure and possible click-throughs for the book.  

5. Tag the book on the Amazon page

There's one more thing you can do that will help the book a lot and that you need to be familiar with if you're going to be selling your own books. Go back to the Huntress Moon Amazon page and scroll down, past the book photo, past the reviews, past my photo and bio, and a bunch of tiny bookcovers to the section that says  Tags associated with this product.  In that section are lists of a bunch of descriptive phrases listed like fbi series, female killers, mystery and detective, police procedural with little boxes beside them. Click on each one of the little boxes  next to the key words and phrases you agree with (up to 15 of them) to identify the book as being about those subjects. That moves the book higher on a list of books about those subjects. Or you can add tags of your own in the bigger box below the tags, or as the instructions say, by pressing the T key twice to get a box, and just entering a string of phrases like (fbi series, female killers, female serial killer, suspense thriller, serial killer, mystery and detective, police procedural, hard boiled mystery, psychological thriller ) etc.  

We will have a WHOLE post on tags and how important they are, and you should definitely do them for your own books, and any other book you like. But first, go through the above and tag, so that you know how to do it and will hopefully remember it's important.  

The above things may make no sense to some of you. But if that's the case, I implore you to just go back to # 1 and TRY the steps. The way to learn social media is just to bash your way through the steps. Repetition is the mother of skill. You don't have to Like the book before you've read it, but you can tag the book with appropriate subjects, and you will have learned tagging. You can Share this blog post, or Like my Facebook page.   Try it for the practice and if it still makes no sense to you, then ask lots of questions in the Comments and we'll talk about it! 

There are so many things that we need to cover on the e publishing front and the only way to really assimilate this kind of thing is to practice, and copy what other people do successfully.  In fact, I encourage writers to adopt the practice of Marketing Monday.  No, it doesn't have to be Monday, it's just awesome alliteration.  What it means is that you take ONE day a week and use your allotted writing hours that day to do marketing and promotion instead (which can just mean reading a book or a blog post on marketing!) My career always goes much better if I devote the time to do this.  It will focus you and get you and your books out there in ways that you never would have thought to do otherwise. It will pay off, I promise. 

So please - questions? This is my first attempt at explaining e pub issues, so if things are not clear, it's undoubtedly my fault, not yours.   Tell me what you're dying to know, and we'll talk about it!

- Alex

Related marketing posts:

The Madness of Marketing
Letting it Ride (Kindle Select promotion)
Bestseller lists and Tag lists
Liking, Sharing and Tagging 
My e publishing decision 
To Nook or Not to Nook? 
Giving it Away (Kindle Select promotion)