Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Getting Real - The Writers Police Academy


Registration for the Writers Police Academy is open and WILL sell out this week, and I would not be doing my job, here, if I didn't say to all you crime writers out there - DO IT.  Now.  Register.  Do the FATS training and driving simulation. You will never, ever be sorry.


I'm reposting a couple of blogs from my WPA experience last year, to drive the point home.

And when next September I post about how transcendent it all was, I don't want to hear any whining from anyone who read this and didn't go for it.


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I love the smell of cordite in the morning.  

Okay, someone just had to scrape Lee Lofland off the ceiling. NO. You DO NOT smell cordite after gunfire. Not since WW II, anyway. I know that now because last weekend I attended Lee's Writers Police Academy.

Lee Lofland, a former police detective and author of the Writers Digest bestselling book Police Procedure and Investigation (a must-have!) is not only a law enforcement professional who knows the job inside and out, but a writer who understands what other writers need to learn from law enforcement professionals in order to do OUR best work. And knowing that, he's assembled a cast of characters any one of whom could easily be the star of their own series. Because it's not about the facts, it's about the people. And wow, the people.  (Photos by Patti Phillips and Julie Goyette.).


 
So I walk into my first forensics investigation workshop and the incarnation of my FBI agent from Huntress Moon turns from the whiteboard.  I thought I was hallucinating, or having one of those dreams where... well, never mind that.  Dave Pauly, forensics professor at Methodist University in NC, has a resume that’s half Indiana Jones, half Jack Reacher. He team-taught with Robert Skiff – two of these for the price of one! (When I first arrived at the conference I wondered why 90 percent of the attendees were women. That got cleared up for me in the first hour. Testosterone was rolling down those corridors in waves...)


Skiff is more of a scientist, the training manager at Sirchie, a leading manufacturer of fingerprinting and forensics supplies. I may not know every single detail I need to know about blood spatter, print impressions, cold cases, and alternative light sources to finish my sequel - but let me tell you, after a day of forensics classes and demos with these two instructors, I am a lot closer than I was a week ago.

Then there was Corporal Dee Jackson, of the Guilford County Sheriff's Department. A former Marine, one of the very first women to go into combat in the Gulf War, and if anyone ever thought a woman isn't capable of the most intensive combat duty? Look no further than Dee, here playing a bad guy in a simulated shootout.


She is hilarious, profound, such a great comic and physical actor it floors me she hasn't been scooped up by Hollywood, and committed to her mission in a way that literally halts your breath. The whole room - male, female, animal, vegetable, mineral - just stops when she walks in.

Katherine Ramsland. My first time meeting this powerhouse after reading a half-dozen of her forensics psychology books (and her brilliant biography of Anne Rice, Prism of the Night).  This woman has LIVED with death in a way most of us will never comprehend, and she is deep, funny, philosophical and mesmerizing.

And talk about powerhouse women.... I lived in L.A. during the Simpson trials and meeting Marcia Clark was like meeting a movie star. Her lecture on putting a case together for the prosecution was stellar, and she is a warm, witty, encompassingly charismatic human being. Thrilled to know her!

Andy Russell, one of the main organizers of the conference, was one of our Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) instructors. Somehow he managed not to break into hysterical laughter at my first attempts to heft a handgun, and in fact gave me some useful tips ("Try not to drop the magazine") with a straight face. 

On a later panel he kicked off a series of stories that made me understand that people go into law enforcement mainly because every other call or traffic stop turns out to involve a naked perp.

Marco Conelli, a retired NYC undercover cop (now YA mystery author) is such a doll I was in total fear for him just listening to his buy and bust stories (narrated in a voice just like Woody Allen's). You could see him slipping back into his junkie persona as he described the scenes. Fascinating. 

This was my schedule:

Thursday night: Jail Tour (a post in itself)

Friday: Impressions Evidence, Cold Case Investigation, Building Searches, Blood Spatter Analysis, Forensic Anthropology.

Saturday: Anatomy of an Undercover Detective, FATS Training, Arrest and Handcuffing Techniques, Personal Survival Training for Women, Building a Case for the Prosecution.

The only frustration was not being able to take absolutely every workshop on offer. 

Probably halfway into the second day, a lovely and radiant EMS technician, one that I can tell you for sure you would want there with you if you were, you know, dying, turned to me in the elevator between classes and said, "How can you possibly describe any of this?"

And I really wanted to answer her, and it's a hard answer.  What I said was something like - "You have to put across enough of the science for a reader to kind of understand but it's not ABOUT the science.  It's about making the science real enough that readers will give themselves over to the EXPERIENCE you're trying to create for them, which is about the searing passion of wanting to help people and the live wire adrenaline rush of fear and danger and commitment, and the intimacy of doing this job with people who are as skilled and committed as you are and who understand good and evil and pure life force the way you do and the way that no one who hasn't done the job will ever know. It's not about the science practically at all, it's about the way you guys move, and the way ninhydrin crystals look in the light, and the things you say to each other and your twisted sense of humor and your absolute radiant love for all of it."

I said some of that, not enough of it, because you can't possibly say enough.

Some of these courses redefine the concept of adrenaline rush.  Lt. Randy Shepherd (aka Honeybuns, and yes, the moniker is accurate) put a squad of fifteen of us through our paces during Building Searches.  We've all seen this on a million TV shows, but now I have some grasp of the choreography and the constantly changing, split-second decision/dynamics of a bust like this - I have the flow of it in my BODY, and because it's my own particular job as a writer to do so, I know I can put the experience of it onto the page for someone else to live through. I have been menaced and I have been shot at and I know the exact weight of the shield and the vest and the gun and I know the paralyzing fear of having to grasp ALL possible dangers behind ALL doors and windows and fireplace screens (even when there was no real danger there for me) and I know for damn sure that I am hopelessly inadequate and yet that I may still somehow survive... somehow... if I can manage not to kill anyone on MY OWN SIDE.

That is a hell of a lot to learn in a two-hour class.  And that's just two hours of a non-stop marathon of police academy training.

There's a saying in Hollywood that "Nobody knows anything." Well, I'll tell you what you don't know.  You don't know how you or anyone you know is going to react in life-threatening situations, even simulations of them, until you're right there.

My five-foot tall (and that's on a good hair day) roommate earned the title of "Killer" from the Firearms Training Simulator instructors when she put down every bad guy in the training DVD without even breathing hard.

While I seem incapable of shooting at anyone under twenty years old (although I also managed never to get killed or to kill a fellow officer). But - I was the only person in the Handcuffs Techniques workshop flexible enough to slip my body through my handcuffs back to front, putting me in a prime position to choke my arresting officer to death before she realized I was relatively loose (all right, so I'm more experienced with handcuffs than guns...)

And in Women's Personal Survival Training, it was pretty clear how many women in the room had never actually let themselves think about what would happen to them if they LET a stranger force them into a car, or van, and why it is essential to make the choice to fight BEFORE anyone ever gets you into the car. Or at least understand the consequences of not fighting. Not many people in that class slept that night, I'd wager.

In fact, it's five days later and I'm still not sleeping all the way through the night. The adrenaline is that powerful.

You cannot research those things by READING about them, or interviewing people who have lived it. I'm not saying it's at all the same to go through simulations, compared to the actual experience.  But compared to reading about it?  No contest.

Do we want to be better mystery and thriller writers?  Or what?

If you do, you owe it to yourself, your books and your readers to make the WPA a MUST DO event in your year. 

I've written more about it here, and plan to do more posts as I'm processing everything I learned for myself, but here's a better taste of the weekend on Lee's blog.

My deepest thanks to Lee, all our superb instructors (ALL of whom volunteered their time) and to Sisters in Crime, who generously underwrote a large portion of the event to keep the tuition at rock-bottom.

And the question of the day is about research. Authors, how do you do the research that you need to do to write your books? Tell us some stories! And readers, how detailed do you like your police procedure? Who do you really think gets it right, in fiction?

Alex

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Huntress Moon, an Amazon bestseller

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Writers Police Academy - registration open NOW!


Registration for the Writers Police Academy opened yesterday and already it's almost to capacity, and I would not be doing my job, here, if I didn't say to all you crime writers out there - DO IT.  Now.  Register.  Do the FATS training and driving simulation. You will never, ever be sorry.

I'm going to repost a couple of blogs from my WPA experience last year, to drive the point home.

And when next September I post about how transcendent it all was, I don't want to hear any whining from anyone who read this and didn't go for it.

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I just got back from an amazing four days at Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy, a marathon of forensics workshops; hands-on training in firearms, building searches, jail searches, handcuffing techniques; demonstrations of police/criminal shootouts; lectures in court proceedings and the life of an undercover cop – all conducted by top experts in their fields, interspersed with inspirational talks by the likes of Lee ChildMarcia Clark and Katherine Ramsland.

The WPA is a goldmine of practical story information.  My head is about to explode with scenes and clues for my new book and the real-life details I needed to make them play. It’s going to take me the whole next month to sort through even a fraction of what I learned. But there was much more more to it than that. Being a writer himself, Lee Lofland has assembled a cast of characters - instructors – every one of whom could be the star of their own series. These are brilliant, funny, dedicated, passionate professionals - the real good guys. I’m still high from the sheer crackling energy of the weekend.

I’m going to blog in detail about the WPA because I think every author and aspiring author in the genre needs to know about this incredible resource. But it’s going to take me some time to get the photos and links together, and calm down enough to do it justice, so today I wanted to start by talking a little about the process of research.

Every author is constantly doing what I think of as “preemptive research”. We all forage widely in the fields that we write in so that when we sit down with a new story we already have some general knowledge of the arena. Then we have to do specific research to get the details of each particular story right, or right enough.

So I’m constantly reading psychology, especially abnormal psychology, criminal statistics, true crime, books by police officers, federal agents, lawyers, sex workers – and interviewing all of the above every chance I get - so I don’t have to start from scratch every time I sit down with a new book.

We are really blessed in the mystery and thriller community that conferences and conventions generally have a law enforcement track, where authors can take workshops and go to panels and demonstrations with various law enforcement officials in the particular communities where the conferences take place. I try to go to every law enforcement workshop offered at any given conference.

The Writers Police Academy is the ultimate in preemptive research.

It’s a godsend for me, especially because I’m in the middle of Book 2 in the Huntress series and the forensics are killing me. Almost every day that I sit down to write I feel like what I really need is to go back to school in forensic science. Also every day I feel like even if I did I could never get it right enough to pull this story off.

And that’s the point at which I have to remind myself of what I’m actually trying to do, here. 

Thrillers are an incredibly visceral genre. The promise of a thriller is about sensation. So the research I do for a thriller is not really about getting the science of it right; it’s about getting enough details RIGHT ENOUGH for a reader to buy into the story and give themselves over to the experience. 

In my supernatural thrillers I am very scrupulous about research, constantly reading about and interviewing people about how certain supernatural phenomena present themselves, so that as much as possible I can give readers the actual experience of a haunting as people have consistently reported it.  It is that feeling of suspense, wonder, anticipation, and sometimes deliciously terrified submission that I need to create, and I need to be as detailed as possible AND as credible as possible in those details to get people to suspend their disbelief and give themselves over to the experience.

With Huntress Moon I wasn’t setting out to write an FBI story at all. I had a core premise about a woman who is killing like a serial killer, when arguably, in reality women don’t commit sexual homicide. Not on their own, anyway. That’s what I wanted to explore, and I wanted to do it with a The Fugitive type of structure, in which the pursuer of this killer comes to empathize with the killer.

And unfortunately for me, especially because I wanted to cross a lot of state lines and jurisdictions, an FBI agent was the most logical character for me to use to achieve that structure.

But it’s not a story about the FBI.  It’s a story that uses the device of the FBI to put the reader through a roller coaster of emotions, sensations, and moral dilemmas. Which meant that I had to create the illusion of a real FBI agent and bureau, with enough realism to allow a reader to suspend their disbelief and commit to the roller coaster.

Anyone with real knowledge of the FBI would probably throw the book against the wall (a more forceful image than deleting it from a Kindle...), but I think those people mostly know to avoid FBI novels, anyway, just to keep their blood pressure down. But so far so good - apparently I’ve created a true enough illusion to get a lot of readers committed to the ride.

Now I have to learn enough forensics to get enough readers committed to the ride in the second book. 

Thanks to Lee Lofland, Denene Lofland, Prof. Dave Pauly, Cpl. Dee Jackson, Robert Skiff, Andy Russell, Lee ChildMarcia ClarkDr. Katherine Ramsland, Lt. Randy Shepherd, Retired Detective Marco Conelli, Jerry Cooper, and Dr. Elizabeth Murray, I’ve got at least a start on that process.

More later, but here are some photos on Lee's blog. 

- Alex

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Keepers LA - new paranormal series out now!


In 2011 I was thrilled to be asked by the mega-talented and generally amazing Heather Graham to join forces with her and sister thriller writer Deborah LeBlanc to write a paranormal suspense trilogy for Harlequin Nocturne. The Keepers series follows a special set of humans with heightened powers who are charged with the ancestral duty of keeping the peace between mortals and the subcultures of paranormal beings who hide in plain sight among humans in cosmopolitan cities all over the world.



The first Keepers trilogy is set in New Orleans, and chronicles the individual stories of the MacDonald sisters: vampire, shapeshifter and werewolf Keepers, who fight supernatural crime while trying not to become romantically entangled with the beings they are sworn to protect.
(Read more about the first Keepers trilogy)
Now the series is back, with a new set of Keepers working to keep the peace between the supernatural Others and those crazy humans in Los Angeles. Three cousins: vampire, Elven and shapeshifter Keepers Rhiannon, Sailor, and Barrymore Gryffald wrestle with their new Keeper duties in a city where the mortals can be as deadly as the paranormals. Joining us for the new series is the fabulous Harley Jane Kozak, who knows a little something something about Hollywood.

Heather, Alex, Bob Levinson, Harley
Heather and Harley and I actually have a not-so-secret life together: Harley and I are part of the cast of Heather's Slushpile Players and band, that perform and play for numerous conferences and other venues around the country, including Heather's unmissable Writers for New Orleans Conference, held every December in the best city in the world. Over the years Heather has managed to rope us into playing Wild West vampires, zombie strippers, space aliens, and my all-time favorite: pink flamingos. In fact, you might say that teaming up to write a paranormal series is one of the more sedate things we've ever done together.


I’ve asked Heather and Harley to join me to introduce the books and answer a few questions about writing the series together.
+ How did the idea of The Keepers L.A. come about?

Heather: The Keepers exist to "keep" the status quo between the human life that moves along in happy bliss and the denizens of the underworld who are certainly stronger and many ways and have some very scary talents and/or habits. Our first question to one another was, if you were different and trying to blend in, where would you least be noticed? First go round, we all said, "Hm. New Orleans!" This go round, especially with Harley in the mix, we all came up with "Hollywood!" Harley has worked an "A" list acting career there, Alex has worked as a screenwriter and an activist in the Writers Guild, and my daughter Chynna graduated from CalArts and is pursuing the dream--seemed like, hm, yes! Hollywood. If there's a third go around, my next inclination will probably be my home state and city, Miami, Florida. Trust me! We're pretty oblivious down here. If you were a different species or an alien life form, we'd just all think that you came from somewhere else in the Caribbean or Central or South America.

Harley: I have no memory of how it started, so I'm glad Heather remembers everything. Although I was born in Pennsylvania and did a small stint in North Dakota and even smaller ones living on location as an actress, I've only really lived in 3 places in my adult life: New York, L.A. and Lincoln, Nebraska. Hollywood was thus a no-brainer, because I don't think Heather and Alex would feel qualified to take on paranormal creatures living in Nebraska. 

Alex: You're right, Nebraska would be a stretch for me. I was nervous at first about the idea of writing L.A. because I know it so well as a real place, not an urban fantasy setting. But Heather and Harley hit on the perfect catalyst for the story: the cousins live in this magnificent, if run-down, old Hollywood estate in Laurel Canyon built by a magician friend of their family. That was so true to L.A. but so timeless, I instantly understood how the whole story world worked.


+ Is it true you three only know each other because Bob Levinson was looking for blondes for the first Thrillerfest awards show?

Heather: Yes, we were introduced by Bob Levinson! I will be grateful to him for many things--he's a brilliant, wonderful man--but that he put the three of us together was amazing. I think that first day I felt as if I'd just met best friends that I'd known all my life. We can be miles apart for months and months--and it's still the same, incredible to see one another, as natural as if we'd never been apart. You can see people daily and not have that kind of bond. I'm so grateful!

Harley: Yes, too true. Before meeting her, I'd seen Heather on a panel at the Romantic Times conference, and was wowed by her (naturally). And of course I'd heard of Alexandra Sokoloff (doesn't that sound like a Russian Princess?) I remember thinking, when Bob floated the idea of the three of us, "I hope they like me" -- just like kindergarten. And by golly, it was like kindergarten -- and it still is. Whenever the three of us are together, it feels like playtime! How could I not want to write a series with Heather and Alex?

Alex:  We do owe Bob for life. We just can’t ever tell him that. I had the exact same “I hope they like me” feeling. I’d read Heather’s books for years, and of course I’d seen Harley in just about everything. In fact, I once won a nice chunk of money in a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” style movie trivia party game because I knew Harley had starred with Bill Pullman in a film called “The Favor”. So obviously, it was destiny. Meeting Heather and Harley for the first time, it was completely like we’d always known each other. I couldn't believe how real they were!



The Killerettes, with Bob Levinson


+ What would you say makes you uniquely qualified to write about supernatural mayhem in Hollywood? 

Heather: The uniquely qualified here really goes to Harley and Alex--although once Chynna headed to L.A., I definitely became qualified to write about LAX. Seriously, I definitely spend enough time in L.A. and Hollywood, although I admit I'm pretty sure my daughter became a "valley girl" before I actually understood exactly where the valley was. But I also have a young friend who is one of the most amazing "fabricationeers" I've ever met; she works for Legacy Studios and she's been kind enough to bring me through her work place--it's amazing! Robert Downey, Jr.'s Ironman suit is next to a werewolf is next to a mummy is next to a giant rat is next to . . . .

Alex: Wow, I want to go see! L.A. does have the greatest costumes. Me, I’ve lived here most of my life, but this was my first time setting a book here. Which is crazy, because it turns out it’s so much easier to write a place that you know as well as I know L.A. I can make fun of it with absolute authority and also show off the truly dazzling aspects of the city. And having worked in the film business I had no problem whatsoever populating it with vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters and Elven. No stretch at all.

Harley: In the early 80's I was flown from New York to Palm Springs to do a week's work on location (as an actress) and I was such a yokel that until I was on the plane I actually thought I was heading to Florida. I was confusing Palm Springs with Palm Beach. (Geography is not my strong suit.) I've never forgotten that first time, the plane landing, the sight of palm trees, the feel of the air, so different from anywhere else on earth, the eerie quality of the afternoon light. I came here for another job in 1985 and didn't intend to stay, yet here I am. I can truly say I love L.A.


+ What most fascinates you about the paranormal? To what one influence in your life do you attribute your fascination with the possibilities beyond the "known world?"

Heather: My mom was Irish and immigrated with her family. My grandmother watched my sister and I sometimes and was the world's most incredible story-teller. She had tales about pixies, leprechauns, gnomes, giants, and all kinds of things that went bump in the night. She really used to warn my sister and I to behave or the "banshee's be'd getting you in the outhouse." Her stories were so good we trembled--and didn't realize until we were teenagers that we didn't have an outhouse.

Alex: My dad was my influence, totally. He was a scientist, a complete rationalist, but he grew up in Mexico City, and Mexico is just steeped in magical realism.  When I was a kid Dad would tell us ghost stories as if every single moment of them actually happened. He was so factual in every other aspect of his life that I think I got confused about reality.  Or maybe it was Berkeley that did that.  One of those. And as to what most fascinates me about the paranormal - it's exactly that place where the paranormal and reality meet that I love to explore in my books - the blurry line between what may have been a paranormal experience and what may just be a psychological interpretation. Or drugs. Or just plain crazy.

Harley: My grandma. She was my mother's mother, Scandinavian, and came to live with us when I was a baby. She read coffee grounds and tea leaves, had precognitive dreams, and the occasional visit from recently dead people on their way to the Other Side. And read fortunes in playing cards (along with playing a mean game of rummy). 

+ How was working together on a project for you?

Heather: The most fun ever that someone could pretend to call work!  When we'd sit together, ideas would flow, we'd laugh, we'd think. I think our first real hash-through day was in the lobby of the Universal City Sheraton. They film there frequently and the walls behind the check-in desk are covered with pictures of stars from the silent era on. I think if I was asked to walk on water with Harley and Alex, I'd be willing to give it a try!

Alex: There’s such a past-life feeling to it, really. I sometimes forget I haven't actually lived in a magical old Hollywood mansion with Heather and Harley; it seems like something that happened.

Harley: Same. Every time I drive down Laurel Canyon and come to Lookout Mountain, I crane my neck, staring at "our" house and half expecting to see Rhiannon, Barrie and Sailor pulling out of the driveway.  


Shop the entire Keepers series here!  





Keeper of the Night - by Heather Graham

New Keeper Rhiannon Gryffald has her peacekeeping duties cut out for her—because in Hollywood, it's hard to tell the actors from the werewolves, bloodsuckers and shape-shifters. Then Rhiannon hears about a string of murders that bear all the hallmarks of a vampire serial killer, and she must confront her greatest challenge yet. She teams up with Elven detective Brodie McKay and they head to Laurel Canyon, epicenter of the danger, where they uncover a plot that may forever alter the face of human-paranormal relations.






Keeper of the Moon  - by Harley Jane Kozak  

Lust. Elven Keeper Sailor Gryffald's body quivers with it, but is it a symptom of the deadly Scarlet Pathogen coursing through her bloodstream or the proximity of shifter Keeper Declan Wainwright?

Sailor and Declan have had an uneasy relationship ever since they met, and now things are about to get a lot more complicated. A killer is stalking Los Angeles, intentionally infecting Elven with the deadly virus, and now Sailor and Declan must work to keep the supernatural peace while bringing the murderer to justice. But, in doing so, these powerful denizens of the Otherworld find themselves straddling a fine line between lust…and love.




Keeper of the Shadows  - by Alexandra Sokoloff
Coming May 1 - available for pre-order

Barrie Gryffald's work as a crime beat reporter is risky enough when she's investigating mortal homicides. But when a teenage shifter and an infamous Hollywood mogul are both found dead on the same night, her Keeper intuition screams, Otherworldly.

Reluctantly, she enlists her secret crush, Mick Townsend, a journalist with movie-star appeal, and together, they dig up eerie parallels to a forgotten cult-film tragedy. But it may be too late. With a cast of suspects ranging from vampire junkies to the ghosts of Hollywood past, no one can be trusted. Least of all Mick, who may well prove to be as unpredictable as the Others Barrie is sworn to protect....




Keeper of the Dawn - by Heather Graham    
Coming July 1 - available for pre-order


Alessande Salisbrooke has been warned about the legend of the old Hildegard Tomb - how human sacrifices are being carried out by the followers of a shape-shifting magician. As a Keeper, Alessande understands the risks of investigating, but she can't shake the nagging feeling that the killings are tied to a friend's recent murder, and she can't turn her back.


With the help of Mark Valiente, a dangerously sexy vampire cop, Alessande narrowly escapes becoming a sacrifice herself. But as the bodies continue piling up, completely drained of blood, one truth becomes all too clear: life is an illusion, and no one-not even those you care about the most-is who they seem.





Sunday, March 03, 2013

Amazon promotion results

I think it's time for another e publishing rant, I mean blog.  It's the author's life these days, baby!

Last week I was giving away my parapsychology thriller The Unseen as part of a big group book promo through the e book author collective I’ve written about here before: Killer Thrillers!, the brainchild of Karen Dionne.  


 Six of us from the Killer Thrillers! author lineup (two dozen in all) participated in the giveaway, and I thought it was a great opportunity to compare notes on best practices for Amazon promotions.


So while I didn’t spend a huge lot of time drawing graphs and pie charts – since I was also at a writing retreat finishing my Huntress Moon sequel  (which is going very well, thank you very much!) – I did keep an eye on the general numbers, to see how effective a free promotion is compared to what it was last year, before Amazon changed its algorithm a couple of times, resulting in decreasing returns for such promotions.
The six of us were all directing traffic to a link to an Amazon Listmania page that listed all six of our books, so anyone who went to the page could download all six right there.
Here it is, with prices now back up to normal - check out all these great authors and books!
And if that had been all we did, then theoretically, we would all have had roughly the same number of downloads and the same ranks.  HOWEVER, what really happened was that we had individual numbers ranging from a few thousand giveaways to 27,000 (US only – some of us also were giving away books in the UK).
Some of us did additional promo via the Kindle free sites. Some of us were randomly picked up by one or two of the bigger sites, which accounted for the highest number of downloads.
Now, it’s always been clear to me that free sites are the key to pushing numbers up for promotions, and the bigger sites result in exponentially more downloads – that’s really how your book will go viral.  Exactly what happened this go round.
The thing I didn’t expect this time is that three days after the end of the promotion, when our books went back to paid, most of us were in about the same ranks of paid books: between 2000-2500 overall in the Kindle store – and that’s at a $1.99,  a $2.99  and a $3.99 price point – the price didn’t seem to matter at all, nor did the number of free downloads, after a certain threshold.  Interesting to know.
For me, it’s a very far cry from the number of books I sold when I released Huntress Moon in July.  Of course, that was a new release, while The Unseen is a backlist title that I’ve had up for half a year, now, and I’ve promoed it before. I wasn’t expecting to make the same numbers or money on this run.
Still, I made over a thousand extra dollars in sales in just a couple days after the promo, all profit, and more importantly I did get 18,600 copies of The Unseen out there.  What percentage of those will be read – well, who knows? But that’s one hell of a lot of promotional exposure in one go. Instead of paying for advertising, I am getting both income and a promotional push. Even if the vast majority of those books are never read, the book has been seen – it’s one of those six times that a person has to see your name or your book’s name before you actually stick in their brain. And the promo did sell extra copies of my other e books (especially my other ghost story, The Harrowing), generate some new reviews, and remind my Facebook friends that I'm an author and not just a fun cocktail party guest.

And - I needed to get back in the water and see how things have changed in a practical sense, so I can devise a game plan for releasing Blood Moon.
Now, I would get more specific about the observations I've made about the sites that are most effective in promos and how to do that, except that all has already – probably – changed again as of March 1, with Amazon’s new changes to its Affiliate agreement, which seems to be targeting the bigger free book sites.
So as usual, those of us e publishing are going to have to scramble to adapt to the new landscape, and everything I’ve just written above may already be obsolete, not even one week later. It’s enough to give you whiplash of the brain.
I hate to admit it, but when I stopped paying attention for a while there because well, I was writing this book – my sales numbers slipped drastically. Yes, there is an ebb and flow to all of this tied to book releases, but it’s perilous to let it all go unattended for too long.
And this last promotion was well worth the time.  As I could have predicted, Kindle Select promotions are a lot less effective than they were in 2012. But promoting with a group is much more fun, and these are authors I read on a regular basis and know and love personally. All six of us agreed that we had no hesitation about plugging the group, as opposed to just plugging ourselves.  Having some joy in the process is key.
It was also a good reminder that as an indie author I make a living in direct proportion to how much QUALITY time I spend marketing and keeping up with the market, so I’m going back to a practice I’ve let slide: Marketing Monday, meaning one full day per work week devoted to nothing but business.  (Hey, it also serves as a break from all the endless writing...) 
And I’m just not going to grumble about how hard it is to e publish, because of this great blog I read this week by Matt Hilton.
Although I disagree with him on one key point - I DON'T think that midlist authors have the same dilemma selling on Amazon as they do in traditional venues - otherwise it’s one of the most realistic articles I’ve ever read about the pitfalls of signing with a traditional publisher and thinking that’s going to yield an actual career. It completely lays out the traditionally published side of the story – the hellish frustration of being a midlist author and NOT being able to control my promotional destiny.
Remembering the rage I used to feel about that powerlessness, well, I’ll take the current landscape, even shifting as it is. Because there IS joy to be had in the process, and for me, that is all about friends. Writer friends, reader friends, social media friends. For me, those friends are what make the work play.
So I’d love to hear examples of promotion that people LOVE.  Well, also, let's have examples of promotion that people HATE.  It would be great to generate a couple of lists, a buffet, as it were, where there’s bound to be something that people can choose to do that’s actually fun for them.
- Alex


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