Sunday, June 29, 2014

Changing Bookselling Strategies

Last week I mentioned some interesting conversations I’ve had with other writers. One of the topics was whether to publish a book through Amazon’s KDP program.

Until about a year ago, many self-publishers were praising the program loudly on various forums. The exclusivity, they said, was worth the five free days, given that the majority of e-book customers owned Kindles and Amazon sold far more e-books than its competitors. They also said that with the proper promotion through BookBub and similar outlets, the downloads were in the thousands and resulting sales followed, especially for those who were publishing a series.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past three years it’s that trends and effective strategies change at a pretty fast rate in the world of e-books. Let’s face it, the technology and opportunities are in their infancy, and many authors are still trying to figure things out. As soon as a few people start sharing their selling successes, a few thousand other authors understandably jump on the bandwagon until it wears itself out.

This is why I’m not surprised to hear colleagues state that KDP is not the best e-book marketing strategy anymore, particularly for those of us who live in Canada, and/or set our books in Canada, and intend to sell our books through Kobo. I’ve met a growing number of Canadians over the past two years who’ve chosen to read on Kobo rather than Kindle. Not surprisingly, more authors appear to be selling through Kobo than they were two years ago. All this, of course, is anecdotal evidence, but my findings are on the same page as another writer who’s gone into much more detail about his non-KDP experience.

Writer Nick Stephenson provides a detailed chart on his blog showing exactly what went on with his sales after he left the KDP program. In fact, he’s written a series of blogs about his experiences, which are worth checking out.

I know it’s hard to find, let alone keep up with, effective strategies. But now that writers like Nick are sharing pertinent information, I suspect that other writers will jump the KDP ship as well.

I won’t be ready to self-publish anything for another couple of years. But I’m quite sure that today’s trends and strategies won’t be the same.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Exciting Possibilities

I’ve found that serendipity is often part of a writer’s life, whether it’s a chance meeting with someone who can provide that bit of information you’ve been seeking for a novel, or an introduction to someone who happens to be a great editor or jacket designer. This month, I had a number of conversations with writers, discussing their work, or their publishing and bookselling experiences. Each conversation gave me food for thought. Ideas for increasing my output and “discoverability” bounced around my brain, then faded away, and sometimes returned in snippets. But those ideas all gelled this weekend when I came across one of Dean Wesley Smith’s most recent blogs.

He’s been writing a series that he calls Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing. This week’s topic was on the concept of falling behind, or missing one’s chance. The point that really struck me was to take a look at where I am now as a writer and ask myself if I still want to be in this same place five years from now. Smith stressed the importance of forming a business plan, and of achieving realistic goals that don’t set one up for failure. And so came my answer: create a business plan or, in my case, revise the plan I’ve been working on.

For many years, the plan was simply to learn how to write and revise a novel that would be publication ready. After that goal was finally accomplished, the second plan was to find a publisher while working on more short stories and novels. It was daunting, but I eventually achieved this goal. Since 2011, I’ve been publishing a book a year, something I could only dream about five years ago. But  over the past three years, I’ve realized that there’s another important step to take. I’d spent so much time revising my work that I didn’t realize I needed to revise my plan as well.

Thanks to those insightful conversations with others, I’ve come up with some ideas about how to make it happen. As mentioned above, the gist of it is about increasing my discoverability locally and on the Net. This does not mean joining more social media sites, but working smarter, particularly on short stories and novellas featuring novel characters I’ve already created. Ideas have already begun to flow. I’m jotting down notes and working on freeing up more time for writing. This is turning into an exciting year of possibilities.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Characters Taking Over? Why I say, "Oh, HELL no."

Let me speak frankly: Characters never take over. No, they don't. You may think they do, but they don't.

You invent your characters. They come out of your subconscious, your past, your present, your reading, your viewing, your imagination, your self.

When you say, "That character just sprang up out of nowhere," you're speaking figuratively. That character just sprang up out of you; the character might have come without conscious thought or planning, and you may be unable to untangle all the threads that went into the creation, but it came from you.

So, when people ask me if my characters ever take off with a story, my answer is, "Oh, HELL, no." My characters, my story, my plot line. If I find myself giving a character more dialog or business or importance than I had expected, I might or might not follow that possibility. If it seems to be working better than the possibility I had expected to follow, I'll follow the possibility that's better. If it's interesting, but not as good as my plan, I save the new bit under a different name. I can always write another story with it.

I often use Bud Blossom as an example. Bud Blossom is a character I created some years ago. Bud is of Chinese background, but is native to the American Midwest, specifically to a small town where he owns and operates a riverboat restaurant. He's abrasive and manipulative and paternalistic. The character and the story developed together, and now I can't get rid of him. If I let my characters do whatever they wanted to, I'd never write about anybody else.

Don't ask me if Bud is who I'd like to be, or if he's who I'm afraid I am, because I don't know. What I do know is that Bud is easy and fun to write, in spite of the aggravation he causes the other characters, and I haven't written the last of him. But that's up to me.

Price $0.99
It's all about Bud.
Bud Blossom, Chinese-American owner of floating dockside restaurant The Golden Lotus, is a hard man to work for, a bad man to cross, and a difficult man to befriend. This is a collection of stories--some previously published, some new--about Bud and the people into whose lives he digs his claws. Also includes "The Dragon of North 24th Street", wherein the wickedest dragon in the world learns the folly of tangling with the women where I grew up--the West End of Louisville..
Marian Allen, Author Lady

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Langley International Festival is Coming!

One of the best things about hand-selling books is the personal contact with readers. I meet all sorts of people at craft fairs, farmers markets, literary events, bookstore signings…you name it. So this year I’m very excited to take part in a festival that’s been recommended to me by others.

The Langley International Festival (here in BC's Lower Mainland) is usually held in August, however, this year it will be tying in with Canada Day celebrations. The event runs from June 28 to July 1st at the Willoughby Community Park (next to the Langley Events Center), at 7888-200 Street. I will be there on July 1st.

There will be plenty of entertainment, food, crafters and other vendors, plus a fireworks display at 10:00 p.m.. As I understand it, there will be a whole area for authors, so it should be a great day. Although this is an outdoor event, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, those of us selling books will be moved indoors.

So, please join us if you can. Meanwhile you can find more information at

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bestselling Authors Theresa Ragan and Cheryl Kaye Tardif Compare Their Experiences with Foreign Translations

On June 10th Amazon Crossing, a division of Amazon Publishing, released two German translations: SPIELZUG INS GLÜCK by New York Times/USA Today bestselling author, Theresa Ragan, and DES NEBELS KINDER by international bestselling author, Cheryl Kaye Tardif. Today these authors are going to share their experiences with foreign translations by interviewing each other.

Theresa: Do you mind telling us a little bit about the process of getting your book translated? For instance, when were you approached, and how long did it take to get your book translated?

Cheryl: On August 24, 2011, I was contacted online by an agent who had a client that wanted the Turkish rights to THE RIVER. That deal went ahead and GIZEMLI NEHIR was released about a year later as well. It was actually prominently displayed at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In March 2012, I signed a two-book deal with a Chinese company for the translations of CHILDREN OF THE FOG and WHALE SONG. I believe it took about a year for the ebook editions to come out. However, they are illustrated inside and much went into their production.

On October 18th, 2013, I was contacted by a representative from Amazon Crossing. Here’s what she said: “We’re launching an invite-only beta program focused on literary translation for select KDP authors to translate their works into German. We think your title, Children of the Fog, would be a good fit for this program.” I was elated! It took just under 8 months before DES NEBELS KINDER was released.

I was paid an advance for my German and Turkish translations. I received no advance for the Chinese editions, but I did not have to pay them. I did pay for the Spanish translation of my non-fiction marketing book.

How about you, Theresa? When were you approached, and how long did it take?

Theresa: In October, 2012, Amazon Crossing translated Abducted which I had sold to Thomas & Mercer. Abducted, IM NETZ DES SPINNENMANNS: THRILLER, hit #1 on and stayed there for over a month. The book did so well I decided to look into finding a German translator and having my KDP books translated. I ended up finding the Libelli Agency in March 2013 and I signed a contract to have them translate HAVING MY BABY, a contemporary romance. Nine months later, in November 2013, Having My Baby (Plötzlich Vater) was released. The entire process for that one title cost me a little over $8,000, but at 70% royalties, I made my initial investment back in the first week! Getting 70% royalties is nice, but it takes money to make money.

By the time Amazon Crossing approached me in July, 2013, I had already signed with the Libelli Agency to translate two of my books. Since I like to try everything, I signed three of my books with Amazon Crossing. I signed a contract in October and eight months later, on June 10th, SPIELZUG INS GLÜCK was released! Two more books are coming soon. 

Cheryl, what was your first reaction to seeing the cover? Did you ask for any changes?

Cheryl: My first reaction was absolute joy when I saw the cover for DES NEBELS KINDER. Like most authors, I am very particular about my covers, and since Amazon Crossing was new to me, I was hoping I’d get a cover I liked. Not only do I “like” it, I LOVE it! They perfectly captured an element of the story, the mood and the atmosphere. Then there’s the way they stacked my name. Funny thing, I had once stacked my name like they did, and for some reason I didn’t like it, so I changed it. Yet on the cover of DES NEBELS KINDER it works. Maybe it’s the font, I don’t know. The cover was perfect, so I had no reason to ask for any changes. I am also very happy with the covers for my Chinese, Spanish and Turkish translations.

Theresa, how do you feel about your cover? Did you suggest any changes or tweaks?

Theresa: My biggest problem with being an independent author is choosing a great cover. I go back and forth and I swear I can’t always tell a great cover from an okay cover. It’s so subjective, in my opinion. Anyhow, I didn’t like the font on one of the books, so we played with that for a while and then I wasn’t sure about the color of the font, so I ended up choosing black for the author name. I am so original. Ha! Lucky for me, Amazon Crossing is easy to work with. And patient!

Did you do anything different with the editing process, Cheryl? How involved were you in the process?

Cheryl: Amazon Crossing was very easy to work with and very diligent about keeping my story intact. We had a minor challenge in one chapter where we had to come up with different items as the first letter of each was to spell out a message. But we were able to agree on those items. And there was a poem in the English version that had to be replaced with a different poem so that everything would flow. Other than these, I left it up to my translator. Trust goes a long way to making the process easy. All in all, I would have no problem with them translating any of my books.

With the Turkish and Spanish translations I trusted the process. With the Chinese ebooks I did have to explain a few times what a character was doing or saying. I had a fair amount of input into the editing and the creation of the illustrations, which are beautiful.

How about you, Theresa? Was your editing process challenging?

Theresa: The editing process for all of my translations have been fairly simple and straightforward. Like you, I did have one problem in that one of my characters, a small child, had a lisp. That lisp did not translate well, so we had to do some tweaking to make it make sense for German readers. I believe the character ended up having a problem with “S” instead of “L”. To tell you the truth, any of these foreign books could be someone else’s story altogether. I don’t mean to scare anyone. I took two years of German when I was very young, but unless you are Tina Folsom and you speak the language, how can you be sure every sentence is your own? It’s called trust. I trust the people at Amazon Crossing and I trust the people at the Libelli Agency. I trust them to care about the books they put out and their reputation. So, overall, it’s been fun.

Is there anything else you’d like to add, Cheryl?

Cheryl: Just my extreme gratefulness to my translator, Ingrid Könemann-Yarnell, and my Amazon Crossing representative, Katrin Mueller, for making my first German translation such an enjoyable experience. I hope to have more works with Amazon Crossing soon. I love that my works are available to those who speak/read other languages. Now if only I had some French translations—half of Quebec might buy them (all the Tardifs). J

Any last words, Theresa?

This has been fun, Cheryl. I’m so glad we’ve had a chance to meet and blog together. I must say I do love your cover for Des Nebels Kinder. Very eerie…which I love. Congratulations on your success in the foreign markets. I would also like to thank Katrin Mueller with Amazon Crossing, and Birte and Ute with the Libelli Agency. I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with.

One last thing…I also had a book translated in Spanish. The book is doing great. I have 15 five stars, which tells me that my translator did a great job. También es hijo mío has been doing well in the U.S. and Spain. For anyone interested in having a novel translated in Spanish, feel free to contact Angeles Aragón. Her website is You can email Angeles at and ask her for a quote on what it would cost to have your book translated.

Author Bios:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Theresa Ragan grew up with four sisters in Lafayette, California. She has garnered six Golden Heart nominations in Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart Competition for her work. After writing for twenty years, Theresa decided to self-publish in March, 2011, and has sold over one million books since that time. In 2012, she signed with Thomas & Mercer and is having the time of her life. Theresa writes medieval time travels, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and thrillers under the name T.R. Ragan. OBSESSED, the fourth book in her bestselling Lizzy Gardner series is available for pre-order. To learn more about Theresa you can visit her website at
Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an award-winning, international bestselling Canadian suspense author represented by Trident Media Group in New York. Her novels include Divine Sanctuary, Submerged, Divine JusticeChildren of the FogThe RiverDivine InterventionLancelot’s Lady (written under the pen name of Cherish D’Angelo) and Whale Song, which New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice calls "a compelling story of love and family and the mysteries of the human heart...a beautiful, haunting novel." Cheryl also has three Stephen King-inspired works: Dream House (short story), Skeletons in the Closet & Other Creepy Stories and Remote Control (novelette). Cheryl is also the owner/publisher of Imajin Books, a hybrid publishing company.

Booklist raves, "Tardif, already a big hit in Canada…a name to reckon with south of the border."

Cheryl's website:

Imajin Books:

UPDATE from Cheryl (June 13): I have just received a 4-book publishing deal for German translations of THE RIVER and my Divine Trilogy! I am super excited!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Closer Look at the Writing Process

A few days ago, I was asked by mystery writing colleague, David Russell, to take part in a blog tour that focuses on the writing process. The arrangement is that I answer four questions about writing, then introduce you to three other writers who will do the same. Unfortunately, I found only two who were available this week, but they’re terrific people. So, here we go:

#1) What Am I Currently Working on?

Right now, I’m editing a mystery novella and the sixth installment in my Casey Holland series. I’ve been writing the series for years and while I enjoy spending time with Casey, I’m also becoming eager to work on other things. I’ve been making notes for a fantasy novel which I hope to start writing this year. It has the potential to turn into a series but making time for it is my biggest challenge.

#2) How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Like most writers, I weave my background and experiences into my stories, so in that sense everyone’s story is unique. I have a college diploma in criminology, which might not be terribly unusual for a mystery writer. But what is different is that I became a security officer at age 53, for a couple of years, partly because I wanted to do something different but also because my protagonist works in this field. The training Casey would need is the same type of training I took with the Justice Institute of British Columbia. I worked on a  post-secondary campus but all of the courses, including conflict resolution and supervisory skills, proved to be useful research for the novels.

#3) Why Do I Write What I Do?

This is a tough question and I wound up with two answers. I write what I do because I’ve loved reading mysteries since my Nancy Drew days starting at around age ten. Mysteries make me rapidly turn the pages to find out what happens next, and justice is always served. The second reason evolves out of my studies of crime and criminal behavior. For a long time, I’ve tried to understand why people do the things they do, to try to make sense of senseless behavior. Writing about criminal behavior allows me to explore the question that matters most to me….Why?

#4) How Does My Writing Process Work?

Since returning to full-time employment (now clerical work at a university) eight months ago, my writing process has changed drastically. Although I still write (most of it is editing) every day, I write much less than I was a year ago. I get ready for work as fast as possible, to arrive early enough to write for a half hour before I start my day job. I spent another half hour during my lunch break. By the end of my work week, I’ve put in a solid five hours of writing. At night, I’m often too tired to edit, so I work on a blog or book review. By Saturday morning, I’m up early and bouncing back and forth between more editing and errands, and housework. For the moment, it works although I’m usually exhausted by Friday nights. 

Now, I’d like to introduce you to the two great authors who'll be exploring these same questions. Please visit their blogs!

First is Leanne Dyck, a truly nice person I’ve had to privilege of meeting at writing events over the years. Within the last five years, Leanne has been published in Island Writer, Kaleidoscope, Canadian Stories, Icelandic Connection and Island Gals magazines. Leanne's self-named blog (Leanne Dyck's blog), which she created on October 10, 2010, currently has over 220,000 page views. Leanne is one of the finalists in the Women On Writing Winter 2014 Flash Fiction Contest. Leanne lives with her husband on a remote island off British Columbia's mainland. To follow Leanne's author journey and meet other publishing industry professionals, please visit her blog (

Second is my co-contributor on our Writetype blog, Pat Bertram. Pat is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Pat's books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook. Her blog is

Have fun!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Let’s Play the Cliché Game!

My exercise class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. I wasn’t going to write the story since it seemed a good way to lose a lot of friends, but at the lunch the other day, I almost whacked one of my classmates with my exercise bag, and she deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.” So I decided to write the book. I mean, how could I not use such a perfect line?

I’d like to do the book campy with exaggerated uses and sly mentions of mystery clichés. For instance, I could get a call from one of the women who says she has information, but won’t give it to me over the phone. I immediately rush over there, of course, since such a call is a precursor to being murdered in cheap mysteries, but when I get there I find . . . I don’t know. Something innocuous. That the cell phone battery went dead. (Or better yet, I call the cops, and they think I’m hysterical.) Then there’s the “Don’t Go There” ploy, advice that a character ignores. When she does Go There, she almost gets herself killed. (Someone suggested this should be a buxom blonde, and of course, I know the perfect person for the role --- a lady in red who is a buxom blonde or rather a buxom sometimes-blonde, and she definitely would Go There.) Of course I would also mention the old fictional women from small towns who stumble on so many murders, there couldn't possibly be anyone left alive in the vicinity. Perhaps even use the alcoholic, donut-eating cop, misogynous cop.

I'm going to start out writing the book the way the idea unfolded in real life, beginning with the suggestion of my writing the book, our planning the murder, etc. leading up to the day we go to class and find her dead for real. The victim is such a good sport, she let me take a photo of her being dead to use for the book cover. (She sank to the ground gracefully, and fell into the perfect pose. Hmm. Maybe she is an eminently suitable victim after all. In the mystery world, she would be too good to be true.)

For now, I’m collecting clichés to use in the book. What do you think are the top clichés in mystery/suspense/thriller fiction? Who are the stock characters? What clichés and other mystery genre conventions do you absolutely hate?

But be careful! You might just end up in the book.

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Remembering One of the Greats

I’m a reader with eclectic tastes. I’ve read nearly every genre there is, not to mention a wide variety of nonfiction over the years. I’ve discovered some great writers in my time and, sadly, some of my favorites have passed away . . . Douglas Adams, Erma Bombeck, John Updike, Doris Lessing, to name a few. But the passing of Maya Angelou this week really made me stop and reflect.

The first time I heard her speak was on Oprah Winfrey’s show. I was absolutely captivated by her deep, rich, methodical voice. Maya Angelou didn’t speak quickly, she spoke thoughtfully and with wisdom, and often humor. References to her life prompted me to buy a copy of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, one of the most memorable memoirs I’ve had the good fortune to read. When she recited “On the Pulse of the Morning” at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993 I fell in love with poetry all over again. Have you ever seen her read her poem, Phenomenal Woman? It’s incredible.

Maya Angelou made me realize that great things are possible no matter how humble we start out in life. I’m sad that she’s gone, but grateful that I took the time to learn about this woman. She truly was phenomenal woman. Here’s a quote of hers that I found on JanuaryMagazine’s website. They’ve listed ten of her most beautiful quotes, but here’s one I treasure. 

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life”. I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on with both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide to do something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou