Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Nanowrimo Prep: Campbell, Vogler, The Hero’s Journey, and a Narrative Structure Cheat Sheet

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Eight days and counting. Yes, I know, Halloween is seven days. I’m actually talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

I said that I’d do some prep here, but that’s not really feasible when I only blog twice a month (some of you have been prepping over at my blog, of course!). Still, I wanted to post SOMETHING useful for NaNo.

(If you have been living in a cave for the last ten years and have not heard of NaNo, you can read all about it here.)

I’m always encouraging you guys to read EVERYTHING you can about writing processes and structure, and I feel like this is a good time to nudge you all again to do a little reading about Joseph Campbell and the monomyth he details in his classic Hero With a Thousand Faces, and Christopher Vogler’s  Hollywood Cliffs’ Notes version of the same: The Writer’s Journey.

Wikipedia is a perfectly fine overview, and has all the info and links for you to explore further if you are so moved, and I hope you do.

Campbell 

Vogler

It’s easy to get lost in Campbell (such a GOOD lost!) so Vogler’s is a more streamlined version, but as useful as it is, and it is – I think it falls short in one major way. 

Here are the twelve steps of the journey that Vogler details: 

  1. The hero/ine is introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
  6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  7. They APPROACH THE IN-MOST CAVE, cross a second threshold
  8. where they endure the ORDEAL
  9. They take possession of their REWARD and
  10. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ORDINARY WORLD.

 Absolutely!  But let’s break that down into where those steps fall in the three-act structure:

Act One:

  1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where

Act Two:

  1. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES.
  2. They APPROACH THE IN-MOST CAVE, cross a second threshold

Act Three:

  1. where they endure the ORDEAL
  2. They take possession of their REWARD and
  3. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  4. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  5. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the ORDINARY WORLD.

Do you see the problem with this template?  All good for Acts I and III… but there are only two steps to guide you through that vast, interminable, suicide-inducing second act.  And the second act is a full HALF of the story.

That’s not a whole hell of a lot of help when you’re in the middle of the damn thing.

I have another problem with Vogler, in that THE ROAD BACK step.  I have far too often seen fairly new writers struggling with that concept, when the fact is that not all stories even have this step. It’s a great element for a pure Mythic Journey story, like Lord of the Rings (the first), Star Wars, and The Wizard of Oz. But NOT ALL STORIES FALL INTO THIS PATTERN.

So I’ve composed an alternate version of this journey that gives a little more detail to help you through that treacherous middle.

————————————————————————–

NARRATIVE STRUCTURE CHEAT SHEET, from Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

Act I:

We meet the Hero/ine in the Ordinary World.

S/he has:

— a Ghost or Wound

— a strong Desire

— Special Skills

And an Opponent, or several, which is standing in the way of her getting what s/he wants, and possibly wants exactly the same thing that s/he wants.

She gets a Call to Adventure: a phone call, an invitation, a look from a stranger, that invites her to change her life and crystallizes her desire.

That impulse may be blocked by a

— Threshold Guardian

— And/or the Opponent

— And/or she is herself reluctant to take the journey.

 

But she overcomes whatever opposition,

— Gathers Allies and the advice of a Mentor

— Formulates a specific PLAN to get what s/he wants

And Crosses the Threshold Into the Special World.

 

Act II:1

The hero/ine goes after what s/he wants, following the PLAN

The opponent blocks and attacks, following his or her own PLAN to get what s/he wants

The hero/ine may now:

— Gather a Team

— Train for battle (in a love story this can be shopping or dating)

— Investigate the situation.

— Pass numerous Tests

All following the Plan, to achieve the Desire.

No matter what genre, we experience scenes that deliver on the Promise of the Premise – magic, flying, sex, mystery, horror, thrills, action.

We also enjoy the hero/ine’s Bonding with Allies or Falling in Love

And usually in this Act the hero/ine is Winning.

Then at the Midpoint, there is a big Reversal, Revelation, Loss or Win that is a Game-Changer.

Act II:2

The hero/ine must Recover and Recalibrate from the game-changer of the Midpoint.

And formulate a New Plan

Neither the Hero/ine nor the Antagonist has gotten what they want, and everyone is tired and pissed.

Therefore they Make Mistakes

And often Cross a Moral Line

And Lose Allies

And the hero/ine, or if not the hero/ine, at least we, are getting the idea (if we didn’t have it before) that s/he might be WRONG about what s/he wants.

Things begin to Spiral Out of Control

And get Darker and Darker (even if it’s funny)

Until everything crashes in a Black Moment, or All is Lost Moment, or Visit to Death.

And then, out of that compete despair comes a New Revelation for the hero/ine, including understanding what s/he has been wrong about from the beginning

That leads to a New Plan for the Final Battle.

 

Act III

The Heroine Makes that last New Plan

Possibly Gathers the Team (Allies) again

Possibly briefly Trains again

Then Storms the Opponent’s Castle (or basement)

The Team (if there is one) Attacks the Opponent on his or her own turf, and all their

— Skills are tested.

— Subplots are resolved,

— and secondary Opponents are defeated in a satisfying way.

Then the Hero/ine goes in alone for the final battle with the Antagonist. Her Character Arc, everything s/he’s learned in the story, helps her win it.

The Hero/ine has come Full Circle

And we see the New Way of Life that s/he will live.

 

————————————————–

 

If this works to make the process a little easier for you, great! It may be more useful to look at it later, during your rewrites.

And if not, no problem – forget it! I’m just always looking to try to explain things in different ways, because I know for myself, sometimes it just doesn’t sink in until I hear it for the tenth or ten thousandth time.

So are you doing Nano? Do you use Campbell and/or Vogler in plotting or revising your stories? Tell us about it!

Alex

 

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

 

 

Kindle

 

Amazon UK

 

Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

 

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

 

 

 

 

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HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY

It’s October, my favorite month, and you-know-what is coming, so I’m giving away 31 signed hardcover copies of my spooky thrillers Book of Shadows. and The Unseen.

Enter here to win!

 

Book of Shadows.

An ambitious Boston homicide detective must join forces with a beautiful, mysterious witch from Salem in a race to solve a series of satanic killings.

Amazon Bestseller in Horror and Police Procedurals

 

 

 

 

The Unseen

A team of research psychologists and two psychically gifted students move into an abandoned Southern mansion to duplicate a controversial poltergeist experiment, unaware that the entire original research team ended up insane… or dead.

Inspired by the real-life paranormal studies conducted by the world-famous Rhine parapsychology lab at Duke University.

Bouchercon rocks

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I’m home from Bouchercon and as always, not very happy about it, the being home part. I haven’t been able to settle down all week. Pages are being written, newsletters are being sent, my taxes got done, even – but I am not entirely back, in my own mind.

And today is my Bouchercon blog. Where to begin?

Living in California for so long, especially my years in NoCal, I’ve heard a lot of Neal Cassady stories over the years from people who actually knew him. (Cassady was Jack Keroauc’s friend who served as the model for Kerouac’s legendary character Dean Moriarty.) And one thing I’ve heard from all kinds of sources that seems true rather than legend is that the man had an uncanny ability to pick a conversation up exactly where it had left off, even if years had passed since he and the person he was talking to had seen each other.

That’s to me what Bouchercon is like. There are a LOT of people in this community who feel like my best friends in the world, the people who know me best (and me AT my best) – who I only see once or twice a year. But the connection is deeper than most of what you get in the real world, because first – as writers, we KNOW each other. We know exactly what all the rest of us do just about every second of every day, we know how we feel about it, we know what makes a good day and what makes a bad day, we know each other’s exact fears and our exhilarations – we all have the same operating system, basically. So when we see each other there are no preliminaries necessary; we pick up the conversation where we left off, and take it deeper and further than it can go with someone who is not of the same world. Not only that, but the layers and puns and references and jokes are so much more interesting than ordinary conversation; writers are hilariously funny people and we love wordplay; it’s like fencing (or dancing!) with someone of equal skill.

We work so hard all the time, and this is our chance to play.

Of course there have been a lot of BCon wrap-ups on various blogs and lists this week, and I was kind of surprised to find that not everyone is a fan of this conference – it’s my hands-down favorite, the most fun, the most inspiring. Now, I totally get that it can be intimidating – lots of people, easy to get lost or bowled over by the sheer star power walking around those halls. But even if no one ever talked to me I could still never miss it because of all I learn. I don’t understand the people who complain that the star authors get all the attention, that it’s hard to get a panel, that midlist authors get lost. Well, of course the star authors do get a LOT of the attention. I’ve always figured that when I’VE written – oh, twenty-five beloved books – I might get that kind of attention, too. But let’s get a grip! While I’m working on those books I can go to panels where I can hear people who HAVE written dozens of beloved books talk about their process, their passion, their own inspiration, and I can get better. Maybe even get worthy.

At the San Francisco Bouchercon, in the very same day, I saw Val McDermid interviewing Denise Mina, and then Robert Crais interviewing Lee Child. Excuse me? Those two hours ALONE are worth the whole price of admission. And as I sat through those two hours, a bunch of ideas I’ve had for a long time suddenly coalesced into the storyline for Huntress Moon.

If I had been totally anonymous for that whole conference, if I hadn’t sold one book, it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest. I got not just one book, but a whole SERIES out of that one afternoon.

And I don’t think it was any accident that this year I was put on a panel with, yes, Val McDermid – AND Elizabeth George – two authors I admire so much I was actually afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak, but there I was, able to thank them publicly and professionally for how they’ve inspired me.

I think attitude might have a little to do with what you get out of the experience. I noticed, for example, that our own lovely Sarah Wesson had no problem joining conversations with any number of star authors, and people were delighted to have her. Yes, she’s a librarian and probably knows that all authors worship at librarians’ collective feet, so maybe that’s not a good example – but actually I think it is. Sarah has paid her dues, is paying her dues. That is, I think, the actual price of admission. We have to do the work before we get to play.

Speaking of playing – the theme of this conference was Cleveland Rocks, and it really did. It’s one of the most exhilarating things to me about this community that so many authors are musical (and total hams). Did you know Lee Child plays guitar, bass AND sax?  That many talents in one package – I mean, person – is almost too much to take. Did you know that Joe Finder was a Whiffenpoof (the legendary Yale a cappella men’s group)?  Classic Bouchercon moment: Paul Wilson and I were standing at the bar at the Hard Rock party talking about performing “The Lime in the Coconut” together (well, and just that, there – I am in a universe in which F. Paul Wilson can randomly turn to me and say, “We should do ‘The Lime in the Coconut’…) and Joe suddenly starts singing it beside us in this gorgeous second tenor voice – and I never, ever knew that about him. It’s just magical.

My friend and idol Heather Graham has roped a whole lot of us into – I mean generously provided an outlet for us to exercise those talents with each other on a regular basis. This year, she hostessed a party at the House of Blues where her Slushpile band, which this time meant Heather, Paul Wilson, Dave Simms, Matthew Dow Smith, Greg Varricchio, Shane Pozzessore, and I – were able to perform with really anyone who felt like coming up with us: Daniel Palmer, who did a smoking harmonica solo to finish up his original “Bouchercon Blues”, Don Bruns doing his best Jimmy Buffet impersonation, Joelle Charbonneau, equally lovely at torch and opera.

I can see this party, and the band, growing into a regular fixture at BCon as it is at Romantic Times and Heather’s fabulous Writers for New Orleans conference (in December this year, and everyone should come!) and it’s one of the best rewards I can imagine for keeping my nose to the grindstone for most of the rest of the year.

Bouchercon is also a place for me to get a feel for what’s really going on in our business. This year, of course, the tension between indie publishing and traditional publishing was an undercurrent, in conversations with agents, publishers, and on panels as well.

Case in point, the “Heroes and Villains” panel, featuring Murderati’s own Martyn Waites and Alafair Burke, Mark Billingham, Karin Slaughter and John Connolly.

Fantastic panel, roll-on-the-floor funny, I always love this particular combination of authors. But I do have to address John Connolly’s interesting rant at the end of it – I guess loosely filed under the idea of “villains”.

I’m a huge, I’d even say rabid, fan of Connolly’s and I understand that there was a specific subtext to all of this – but I can only deal with what was said aloud and what I and the rest of the room heard.

He was basically accusing people who have been successful in e book sales as wanting to “destroy the printed word.” I don’t know who HE might know who actually feels this way but I certainly don’t know anyone who wants that. Certainly not Joe Konrath, the obvious person Connolly was talking about.

I used to teach in the L.A. juvenile court system, teenagers, almost all gang kids, and there was a very sweet kid who took it on himself to look after me in the lockup camps, and the one time I ever saw him get truly angry was the time he pulled me out from a fight between two guys that I was trying to break up and he yelled at me – “You don’t NEVER get in the middle between Crips and Bloods.” So maybe I should just stay out of this now.

But by couching it in general terms the way he did, Connolly was grouping me into this “hatred of the printed word” category, too.

I spent some time at Bouchercon talking with other authors and being very specific about the kinds of sales I’m making with e books because I want other authors to know that there is this alternative to traditional publishing, that it is doable, that it is a whole lot easier and more logical than some people say, and that it is a much more viable living than I and a lot of my midlist – I should say “formerly midlist” – friends were making with traditional publishing.

As a screenwriter and a former Board of Directors member of the Writers Guild (including organizing for the writers’ strike) I’ve seen every kind of way a writer can be exploited. And we are. We are easy targets because the people who cut the checks know oh so very well that we will write NO MATTER WHAT. We will strive to do our best work NO MATTER WHAT. Insult us, demean us, cheat us, fire us, underpay us, don’t pay us at all – we will still write.

So when Joe talks about his sales numbers I see it as a political act, and I am grateful. Traditionally published authors have often been circumspect about how much our advances are and how much we’re making a year because it was appallingly low. Pointing out HOW low, compared to what e publishing can net a talented author who is willing to do the work, is breaking a long, long taboo that did not serve us.

I’m sure that Connolly wasn’t trying to say that authors who think about and talk about what we’re paid for e books are crass or base or somehow not real artists, but – perhaps because he wasn’t being specific about what he really WAS saying – that’s how it ended up sounding.  And to say that any of us are “out to destroy the printed word” is just specious. I happen to read almost exclusively on my Kindle now because it’s so much more comfortable to hold and move around with for the five or six hour stretches I often read. But the books I read are the SAME BOOKS – no matter what the delivery system. The fact that authors get more money for those same books because of the delivery system is a good thing, if you ask me.

I could go on and on – obviously, I kind of have – but THIS is what Bouchercon does for me. It puts me in touch with myself, my friends, my colleagues, my idols, and my business.

I don’t know… sounds like a winner to me.

Thank you, Marjorie Mogg and all the fantastic volunteers who make it happen, every magical year.

Alex

————————————————————————————————–

Okay, it’s October, the busiest month of the year for me, because

1. It’s Halloween, and I write spooky, and

2. It’s the month before NaNoWriMo, and by now I feel almost a sacred duty to prep people for it instead of letting them just launch into the month on November 1 with no clue what they’re going to be writing.

So I’m doing a NaNo prep series on my blog that you can join in on here: http://screenwritingtricks.com

But also this week, I’ve made the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook FREE on Kindle, so if you haven’t grabbed a copy by now, here’s your chance.

AND – for Halloween, I’m giving away 31 signed hardcovers of either The Unseen or Book of Shadows, your choice (and yes, if you win and you’d rather have an e book of something else, that’s totally fine, just say so. 

Sign up to enter here.

Happy Halloween!

Getting real – The Writers Police Academy

by Alexandra Sokoloff

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 WWII, 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 Lee Lofland).



So I walked into my first forensics investigation workshop and the incarnation of my agent from Huntress Moon turned 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

——-


Huntress Moon, an Amazon bestseller

Back to school!

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Funny how the first day of September FELT like the first day of fall, a temperature drop of 15 degrees, the onset of Santa Ana winds, and an actual blue moon.  All pretty auspicious if you ask me.

Fall is my favorite season by far. It always feels like the real new year to me, that back to school energy.

I’m excited for this fall/New Year and also overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed because I’m…

Selling my house (yes, one of the five most stressful things a person can do. Some even say it’s #1!), and looking for another.

– Apparently I need to buy a new car, too. And if you think selling a HOUSE is stressful, baby – just trying being a femme the way I am definitely a femme and figuring out how to buy a car without a S.O. man involved…

– I have two conventions to get to in the next two weeks (the Writers Police Academy and Bouchercon)  Which is AWESOME, don’t get me wrong, but the devil is in the details. Southwest should be paying ME at this point, is what I think.

– I haven’t done last year’s taxes yet (yes, I DID get an extension, I’m not THAT much of a femme…)

– I’m trying to get a new book, the sequel to Huntress Moon, out in November

– I need to do some serious Halloween promotion for my other books. That means OCTOBER.

– Everyone expects me to do an intensive story structure blog series for the month before and during Nanowrimo and I can’t imagine NOT doing it.  That also means OCTOBER.

– I have a group anthology that we’re planning to release as an e book in OCTOBER.

Piece of cake, right?

Cue hysterical laughter.

Let’s get real. I can’t possibly do all of the writing things I should be doing this fall.  I’d need to be a whole other person on top of the person I am to get it all done.

And yet I am surprisingly cheerful about all of this.

I have theories about this optimism. First, I took a vacation for the first time in ages (actually it was half work, but still, half a vacation in AUSTRALIA is pretty great!) and I can feel that my whole outlook has been rearranged; I’m still having crazy Australian dreams, too, a fun perk.  And I came back to real life and even as I wade back into the deluge, I feel that enough of it will get done for me to keep on keeping on, the world hasn’t come to a standstill because I took some time off.  Good to know!

Also, it’s a huge weight lifted that Huntress Moon is doing so well. Between that launch and the sales of my other e books, I’ve made the Top 100 Indie Bestselling Author list, and the relief that I actually made the right choice in breaking out into e publishing, and that I might actually understand how to make this work on my own, is vast. Besides that, e publishing makes actual sense in a way that traditional publishing never did: I know what I have to do and I understand approximately why it works, and I see the quantifiable results month by month; there’s no longer that bullshit cloud of mystery around the whole process that there used to be.  And I KNOW WHEN I’M GETTING PAID now that I’m not subject to the whims of publisher “float”.  Believe me, that makes my life a whole hell of a lot easier, just that.

I am further encouraged that my author friends like Murderati Zoe and Rob and Brett and Dusty, and other author friends in the Killer Thrillers! collective, who have always been doing the same kind of traditional publishing that I have been doing, are now doing much better at e publishing –  by doing the same things that I am doing.

That’s a really fine feeling to have.  Stabilizing, even.

I have a lot to handle this fall, but grueling as it all may be, it’s all positive, compared to a lot of not so fun stuff I’ve had to handle in the last few years.  I’ve made some extreme choices that thankfully have paid off.

And I know what I need to do in the next three months: 

– Finish Book 2 in my Huntress series by the end of October

– Sell my house

– Find a new house that’s a good investment, hopefully by the end of the year

– Buy a new car, but rent one until I have time to actually look properly

– Launch the anthology

– Do my taxes (grrrrrr…)

– Go to Bouchercon and the Writers’ Police Academy

– Do a research trip to San Francisco

– Do the promo runs I need to do for Halloween

– Keep up with social media

– Dance more (a point really driven home now that I’m being able to take class with my favorite hip hop teacher in NC while I’m prepping the house. I can barely walk, but OHH, it hurts so good… and better than that, I feel human again.)

– Enjoy life!!!!!

So, ‘Rati, what I want to hear today is – What is YOUR fall (New Year’s) resolution list?

Alex

Huntress Moon, an Amazon bestseller!

Book community scandal: paid and fake reviews

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Well, it’s Wildcard Tuesday and as reluctant as I am to take up this topic, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a mystery community blogger NOT to report on the scandal du jour (or de semaine, or du mois, probably.)

The subject is paid and fake Amazon reviews, and the internet is burning up with outraged posts, petitions, and condemnations against several authors:

– Stephen Leather and Roger Ellory and Sam Millar for creating sockpuppet accounts to praise their own books and trash those of competitors.

– John Locke for paying for at least 300 Amazon reviews and then – what I personally find even more reprehensible – writing a book on “How I Sold a Million E Books in Five Months” and charging $8.99 for it, while OMMITTING the fact that he paid for at least 300 Amazon reviews, which surely had a great deal to do with his sales success. 

I’ve linked to some main articles below so you can catch up.

Go read here and here and here and here, and then if you feel like discussing, meet me back here.

There is a lot of sadness and discomfort mixed with my own outrage.

I like Roger Ellory very much as a person and I actually agree with his own reviews of his books, they’re some of the best crime fiction I’ve read in recent years.  Why he thought that he had to pump up his already stellar reputation by creating fake reviews and trashing other fine authors like Stuart MacBride and Mark Billingham is beyond me.

Except that it’s not.

I have done many stupid, regrettable things in my life, and paid dearly for those things, too. Usually when I have been completely out of my mind with – something – grief over a dying parent, grief over the loss of a loved one or a loved project, fear over my financial situation, fear over just about anything.

As completely unchristian as I am I can’t help thinking of that little verse about “she who is without sin” and “casting the first stone.”

It’s very easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of  – well, anything, really, but publishing is what we’re talking about – and do stupid things we wouldn’t ordinarily condone or be caught dead doing ourselves.

When we can see other authors blatantly gaming the system: racking up success after success by faking reviews, publishing fan fiction that skirts or crosses the line of plagiarism which turns into a series of multimillion dollar bestsellers and a major movie deal, hiring other authors to write books for you and slapping your name on them while grossly underpaying the authors who actually WROTE the books – there’s a huge temptation to jump on one of those bandwagons because, hey, everyone’s doing it.  And while I’m able to flatly say that the above practices are wrong – what about tagging parties?  What about asking friends to bury one-star reviews by clicking “unhelpful” on Amazon?  Is that gaming the system?  Is it wrong?

BUT – even as I am remembering that I’m fully capable of doing stupid and condemnable things myself, I do very strongly believe that we authors have to police ourselves as a community.  We need to talk, to debate, to develop standards and be able to say when required: This is wrong, this is duplicitous, this is unacceptable.

Whether that will stop the behavior, I have no idea.

But I also believe authors are for the most part an empathetic and moral lot.  I really do believe that.  I hope that all of these authors who have been caught out and are being held up as examples will take all this furor and censure to heart, self-correct, make appropriate amends to anyone who has been wronged, and go on to use their influence to do better. Much better.

And I would hope that friends of authors who are drifting toward moral gray areas would be the first ones to speak up and say – WTF – what are you thinking?  Stop that shit NOW before you do somethiing you’ll regret for the rest of your life.. 

I SERIOUSLY hope that my author friends would step up and say it to me.

I hope we ALL will. Because we need to remember how easy it is to get caught up in the desperation of trying to make a living at this very tenuous profession and how easy it is to fall into behavior that serves no one.  We ALL need a little help from our friends.

So, ‘Rati, I have a lot of questions today. Were you aware of the blazing heat suddenly surrounding this issue of paid and fake reviews?  Are you feeling outrage about any of this behavior, and if so, or if not, what are you feeling? Do you believe that given all the success ladled on cheaters, you have to cheat to remain in the game?  Or do you believe in karma?  Or do you believe that a belief in karma is the modern opiate of the masses?

And here’s another question – who should be policing reviews and author behavior, if anyone?

Alex

The Art of Reinvention

by Alexandra Sokoloff

(I’m in Australia, teaching an all-day Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop today, or maybe that’s tomorrow, so I’ll try to comment tomorrow, or yesterday, or whatever! — Alex, jetlagged…)

 

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home from a “Noir at the Bar” reading here in L.A., and my favorite radio station was playing a live recording of a Sting concert at the Hollywood Bowl I’d actually been in the audience for, years ago. I always love that multidimensional feeling; it was like being in a time machine taking me back to a night I remember very well, because I’d just sold my first screenplay that month, a huge kick-start to what turned into an eleven-year screenwriting career. Now, when you’re outside the film business, a break like that feels like shattering some enormous, impenetrable glass dome atop the mythical business they call “the movies”, a dome that you’ve been circling for years, trying to figure out the entry point.  A familiar feeling for any of us who have ever experienced circling the glass dome of publishing, I imagine!

And it was a great synchronicity, being transported back to that time and that feeling… because I’ve just now broken into e publishing with the launch of my new direct-to-e thriller Huntress Moon and am feeling the same kind of exhilaration of shattering a barrier to a whole new and exciting level of my career.  It reminded me how life is a spiral like that. You come back to the exact same points of life, but hopefully you’re constantly moving UP the spiral, taking all your knowledge of that pivotal threshold with you and ascending to a both a higher and a deeper level.

It also reminded me that as writers, we are constantly reinventing ourselves. I would say “having to reinvent ourselves” but that sounds scary and ominous. Oh well, okay, let’s be real. We are constantly HAVING to reinvent ourselves.

I started out as a theater person, from the time I was a kid, really, but after college I quickly switched my ambitions and focus to screenwriting, because I was aware of the practical need to, you know, eat.  Knowing nothing about the film business, I moved to L.A. just figuring I would figure it out. And the fact is, I did pretty much just that – I got the classic entry level job into movies, a script reader for various production companies, learned the business and the craft of film writing by reading and reporting on hundreds of scripts in a very short amount of time, wrote my own script with a writing partner, got an agent by using what I’d learned as a script reader, and sold the script to Fox in a bidding war.

Now, the trouble with being a screenwriter, and with Hollywood in general, is that you get caught up in the fact that you’ve MADE IT in a profession that all the naysayers (you know the ones I mean) always told you you would never MAKE IT in, and you’re making great money for doing what you love and the people you’re working with are wildly talented and interesting, and it’s all so exciting and non-stop that it becomes very hard to see when things are not quite working out the way you envisioned.  Screenwriters have very little power over their work; the potential movies you work on are very very seldom made, and most of them don’t look like any movie you would want your name on anyway once the script has been through the process very aptly named “development hell.” Cut to ten years later and I had become so creatively miserable, without really knowing it, that it was affecting every other area of my life. And when a movie I’d written that I was truly passionate about fell through when we lost our director to another movie, I snapped. I just wasn’t going to go through that whole thing again.

And that’s how I wrote my first novel, The Harrowing.  And all the naysayers started up again, a lot of them inside my own head. “You’ll never make a living in publishing. At least in screenwriting you’re writing AND getting paid…”  (insert any profession, you know the drill….) But I knew I had to do something else, so I did, and the book got written, and it got sold, and suddenly a whole other glass dome had been shattered and I was on the rollercoaster of a whole new career, to mix a couple of metaphors. And I was lucky to make the shift when I did, because changes in the film industry have made a screenwriting career exponentially more difficult and creatively frustrating than it was when I started in the business.

But now I had to learn a whole different business and figure out a whole different way of making a living at writing. (NOT making a living was not an option – I’ve been writing professionally for so long I have no other marketable job skills). And publishing is a different way of making a living.

When you start out as an author – well, when I started out as an author, in 2006, people advised that we put our entire first book advance back into promotion. Because that’s how important the lift-off factor is in traditional publishing. I was a total newbie, and got completely obsessed with trying everything there was to try in marketing, all the things I imagine all the authors here have been doing or preparing to do with varying degrees of terror: website, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, blog, grog, blog tours, book tours – oh right, and writing that second book. (If you want a bloodcurdling glimpse into how it was, I’ve blogged about it here: Marketing =Madness).

Well, I made a good launch with The Harrowing – nominations for Stoker and Anthony Awards, significant recognition as a new and interesting female horror writer… but nothing like the brass ring, bestseller status. But I wrote more good books and got more recognition and also figured out how to create multiple income streams in my writing life –like teaching my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop, that I started on my blog and developed into an e workbook (doing the workshops for free at conferences until I was in demand, and then starting to pick and choose my venues and going only where people would pay me, which also turned into self-perpetuating and well-paying promotion, as well as a personally rewarding avocation).

I’m a big believer in diversifying your writing career in the same way that you diversify a financial portfolio; the money is erratic in a writing career, often cyclical, and it’s a huge mistake to think you’ll earn the same income every year – I’ve seen way too many talented screenwriters and authors crash and burn by making that assumption. Invest wisely when you have the money and always keep a cushion for the lean years, because believe me, there are going to be lean years.

But still, I wasn’t published for long before I started getting that uncomfortable feeling again.  This time it didn’t take as long for me to figure out that I had to try something different – again. (Watching the publishing industry starting to crumble before my eyes with the rise of e readers and self-publishing was a pretty good clue…)

I truly believe we are in the midst of the biggest revolution since the invention of the printing press. E books, ereaders – it is ALL good news for us as writers, because we have so many more choices now. Look, I know it’s hard enough to just get through the day doing the writing you have to do and the promotion you have to do on top of that. You may be just learning the ropes of traditional publishing and here I am suggesting that you add learning the ropes of e publishing, to boot. Don’t panic! Do what you need to do at whatever step you are on in your career. But if you do find you’re not getting picked up by an agent when you know –  and enough credible people have told you – that you’ve got a great book… or you’re not making enough of a living with your traditionally published book(s)… or you are getting a nagging feeling that your publisher is not getting enough of your books out there to be bought and read in the first place… or Barnes & Noble goes bankrupt or something – there is a whole other miraculous option for you now.

In a time of diminishing publisher advances and massive bookstore closures, I and many of my traditionally published author friends who started out in publishing at the same time as I did have recently had the surreal experience of making more money in the first few weeks of an e publishing book launch as we ever got for a traditional advance. We can put a book out as soon as we finish it, rather than waiting a year and a half to two years for the publishing process to grind through its cycle. 

Given the choice between a traditional publishing deal for Huntress Moon and the tens of thousands of new readers that I was able to reach in just three days of a free Amazon promotion, plus having the force of the Amazon marketing machine behind the book (which is now an Amazon bestseller that is outselling a staggering number of high-profile traditionally published books that have a Big Six publisher behind them)…

Well, it’s a no-brainer to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say to you is: Be aware. Be aware if a small voice in your head or your gut or wherever those small voices come from tells you that you need to do something different. Be aware of the incredible sea changes taking place in publishing because of the e publishing revolution, and the incredible opportunities that are there for you.  Be aware that you can always, always reinvent yourself.

We’re writers. We make things up. 

Including ourselves.

Alex

What makes you angry?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Denise Mina is one of my absolute favorite crime writers and a constant inspiration. At a recent Bouchercon (San Francisco) she gave some of the shortest, sagest advice to writers and aspiring crime writers I think I’ve ever heard:

 

Write about what makes you angry.


It doesn’t take me a millisecond’s thought to make my list. Child sexual abuse is the top, no contest. Violence against women and children. Discrimination of any kind. Religious intolerance. War crimes. Genocide. Torture.

I have long found it toxically ironic that the crimes that I consider most unspeakable: slavery, rape, torture, the sexual slavery of children (including incest and prostitution – the average age a woman begins that life is thirteen), animal abuse – none of these were even worth a mention in the Ten Commandments. Apparently taking the Lord’s name in vain, stealing, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife rank above any of my personal hate list.

And I think the lack of Biblical sanction against those crimes has contributed to society’s continuing and pretty mindblowing ability to ignore those crimes.

And I’m angry about it.

That anger has fueled a lot of my books and scripts over the years. Gar wrote about this recently, and I agree: I’ve always thought that as writers we’re only working with a handful of deep themes, which we explore over and over, in different variations. And I think it’s really useful to be very conscious of those themes. Not only do they fuel our writing, they also brand us as writers. And if you need a hint about what your personal themes are, look to the themes of your favorite writers; chances are it’s theme that’s attracting you more than almost anything else about those books.

So when it came down to creating a series that I could sustain over multiple books, it’s no surprise that this issue came up again as one of the main thematic threads.  With Huntress Moon I’ve finally created an umbrella, an interesting world populated by characters I care about, to explore, dramatically, the roots and context of the worst crimes I know. And at least on paper, do something about it.

But while writing is great to call attention to a problem and explore it, it’s not enough in the face of real, everyday evil. There’s writing, and there’s action.

 I’ve been thinking a lot about child prostitution (more aptly called child sex trafficking) recently as I’m writing the Huntress sequel, because there are characters in Book Two who are in that life. The fact is, most prostitutes start as child prostitutes. Women (and boys) who work as prostitutes almost always begin that life well before adulthood. Kids run away from abuse, usually sexual abuse, at home, and are sucked up into the life by predators: raped, battered, terrorized, and hooked on drugs so they’re kept enslaved to the pimps who live off their earnings. Yes, still.

I’ve worked with some of those kids, when I taught in the L.A. County Juvenile Court systerm, and I find it unimaginable that we just let this happen, and often treat these victims as criminals rather than getting them help to break free.

So today, I don’t want to just get angry about it, I want to do something about it.

I’m very grateful that sales of Huntress Moon have been very good. And since this issue is so much on my mind, I’ll be donating all of my proceeds from today’s sales of Huntress Moon to Children of the Night, a Los Angeles-based shelter which helps children and teenagers in prostitution from all over the country get out of the life.

So if you haven’t gotten your copy of the book and you’d like the extra satisfaction that that money is going to an excellent cause, today’s your chance:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

 

Or – take that money and take a minute to donate directly to a cause that’s fighting something that makes YOU angry.

So you know the question today:

What makes you angry?  Do you write about it?  If not, do you think it might benefit your writing to try?

And I’d also love to hear about other people’s favorite charities and causes.

Here are a few more of mine:

Planned Parenthood

Equality Now

Amnesty International

Kiva

And – I just had to mention that Murderati regular, the lovely, talented and deeply insightful Billie Hinton and I are both featured in Digital Book Today’s Weekly Great Reads – you can pick up Billie’s claire-obscure for just 99 cents!

Alex

 

Building a series

by Alexandra Sokoloff

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 Betweenwhich 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, and I often spend days watching an entire cable show on Netflix (Mad Men, The Wire, Deadwood, Wire in the Blood, Luther, The Walking Dead) without moving from my chair for much of anything.)

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

But since I am obsessing about the series thing, I wanted to ask you all today to talk about your favorite series. What are they, what draws you to them, what hooks you, what keeps you reading, what’s your burnout point (if any!)?

Here’s my list.  (Yes, the Top Ten List I’m always preaching about!)

– 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, the first thing I have to say about all of the 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, cause, 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.

Actually, all the series above have some pretty 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.  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 most beloved books.

So please – readers, talk to me about your favorite series, and writers – give me some tips from your experience writing them!

Alex

Marketing = Madness

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I just did a straight week of marketing to launch the e release of my new thriller, Huntress Moon. And in the middle of that huge Amazon promotion I have also been clearing out my house to sell it, and have been constantly finding reminders of the brutal days when book launches meant book tours and bookstore drop-ins and call-in radio shows. How different things are for authors today, just three years later than what you’re about to read below!  While throwing out (meaning recycling) 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?

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

 

 

                ———————— 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=5. 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.

OH MY GOD.

 

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.

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.

HAH!

—————————————————————————————

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

I find the above really amusing and frightening at the same time.

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, now on sale:  $3.99  An Amazon Hot New Release!

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

 

Amazon IT

 

 

 

My e publishing decision

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Sometimes synchronicity just hits us here at Murderati – I’m so glad for P.D.’s post yesterday because I’m able to provide the flip side view today! Almost as if we planned it…

I’m sure everyone here at Murderati has noticed more and more e book posts creeping in alongside the craft ones.  Personally I’m thrilled to see it; I’m always very much about being practical about craft. I think writing is a marvelous hobby, everyone can benefit from doing it, and I strongly believe just writing is just fine. But if you are going to go through the agony of writing an entire book, a real, finished book, don’t you want at least the possibility of getting it out there in the market, for others to read and experience and for you to make money for your labor?

I myself plan to get much more hardcore about about publishing and e book issues.  Partly because it’s astonishing to me how many writers and aspiring writers still have so many misconceptions about e publishing – and there is a LOT of misinformation out there. (As my last workshop class knows,  I was outraged enough about this to teach an impromptu e publishing seminar in the middle of our writing intensive last week!)

The fact is, a very large number of the authors I know who started out in publishing at about the same time I did (2007) have made the leap and are now e publishing directly – either exclusively so or in conjuction with traditional publishing contracts.  My friends and wonderful authors Blake Crouch, Ann Voss Peterson, CJ Lyons, Elle Lothlorien, not to mention present and former ‘Rati  Zoe Sharp, Brett Battles, Rob Gregory Browne, and JD Rhoades are just a few who are doing VERY well with e publishing. Friends who started even earlier are doing even better (Scott Nicholson, Diane Chamberlain, Sarah Shaber and of course Joe Konrath, whose Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is a must-read.). In a few short years, e publishing has filled retirement funds for older writers and elevated midlist authors to bestselling – or rock star! – status.

And now that I have several of my traditionally published backlist titles up as e books and the sales numbers are coming in, it’s clear to me that at least THIS YEAR, e publishing is the right choice for me.

How do I know this?  Well, one of the amazing things about e publishing, for those of us who are used to the cryptic and essentially useless sales reports that we get quarterly – maybe – from our traditional publishers – is that now we can see exactly how many copies of each book we’re selling and exactly how much money we’re making per month.  This is a VASTLY easier way to ensure that you’re making a real living, and it takes huge amounts of anxiety out of the process.  Plus you get paid every month, instead of when your publisher gets around to it, which is a vastly easier way to keep up with the bills, if you see what I’m saying.

E publishing has made making a practical living a much more realistic proposition for authors who are not (yet) bestsellers in traditional publishing. I don’t know how long that will realistically last, whether it will get better or worse, but by now, for now, it’s unignorable.

So this month I will publish my new thriller, HUNTRESS MOON, directly as an e book.

 

(This great cover is by our own megatalented Rob Gregory Browne!)

Lots of thought and agonizing went into this decision.

First, I know that some people who have not yet succumbed to the rapture of e readers still want to hold and touch and smell their print books and get peanut butter on them and all that. I feel you.  I have a real pang about this as well.  But it’s not a very realistic pang.

The book is the book, whether there’s a paper cover on it or not.  And I can publish it this month and get it into the hands of thirty thousand readers in a week (Based on my numbers for Book of Shadows, The Harrowing, and The Price.)  Even if I never sold ONE book after that, that exposure alone would be worth it. Because exposure sells my other books.

But based on the numbers I’ve compiled with my other books,  I will sell thousands, and very quickly.

If I went through traditional channels, the book wouldn’t even hit the shelves until a year and a half from now.  How can I possibly think of giving up the tens of thousands of readers I will be able to reach with this book starting NOW?

Plus, I’m already almost halfway through my first draft of the sequel to HUNTRESS MOON (this is a series, my first-ever!).  I’ll be able to publish that one in the fall. No longer do authors have to hold to the glacial timetables of their publishers, or worry about the possibility of the publisher deciding not to publish at all (which has happened to several of my friends, recently).

I can have two books out this year, with a guaranteed income.  What that income will ultimately be, well, I don’t know, but traditional advances are way down and, much worse than that, most publishers are demanding e rights in perpetuity in traditional contracts, which seems to me an insane thing for authors to give up in the current climate. That alone pushed me in the e publishing direction.

Please hear me. I am NOT saying this is the way to go for a never-been-published author. Be warned: it is not the Gold Rush that it was back in, oh, January – there’s a lot of competition out there.  I – and the other authors I listed above – know the benefits and drawbacks of traditional publishing because we’ve lived it; there’s no Holy Grail mystique about it. To me the choice between the (waning) prestige of having a print book in stores and having an army of dedicated readers is a no-brainer.  Someone who doesn’t have several years of actual sales numbers to compare and crunch is not going to be able to make the same kind of decision that I am doing, it would be much more of a leap of faith.  That doesn’t mean don’t do it, it just means it’s riskier.

Also, going through the gauntlet of traditional publishing prepares an author to e publish like bootcamp prepares a soldier for war.  I KNOW how much editing it takes to come up with a clean and readable book.  I KNOW how much time I’ll be spending marketing, and I have some idea of how and where to do that.

But even if you haven’t had the benefit of that kind of trial by fire, you do need to know that there is an opportunity here that was never available to an author before, and that – is nothing but good news.

Now is the time. Things may change within months.  But I’m not excessively worried about the current system collapsing, because no matter what happens out there,  I can still write books.  Or scripts. I’ve always figured out how to make a living with writing. And I’ve been doing the figuring once again, and  this is how I can do it right, right now.

So first, I want to hear e publishing stories, and of course questions.  Are you doing it? Thinking about it?  If you’re not, what’s holding you back?

And second – I’m giving away 50 copies of HUNTRESS MOON for potential reviews (Amazon reviews are what I need the most, but am glad for any, anywhere!).  You DO NOT have to review the book – I just ask that you be open to posting a short review if you are inspired to do so.

e mail me at  alex AT alexandrasokoloff  DOT com for a copy in whatever format.

Here’s the story!

HUNTRESS MOON

 FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is 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 he glimpsed on the sidewalk behind his agent, who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, 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.

——————————————————————————


I am not launching the book officially until July 11, but it’s up in online stores starting today so that I can collect some reviews. 

E mail me at  alex AT alexandrasokoloff  DOT com for a copy in whatever format.

But if you just feel like reading, or want to support me and this site, of course you can buy a copy! $3.99 on Amazon, $2.99 on Nook

Amazon

Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

A note to Nook readers – Huntress Moon will only be available for Nook for the next two weeks, after which it will be exclusive on Amazon for the next three months at least. I’m truly sorry to have to do it that way, but it’s unavoidable (read more on that here.)   Also, if you’ve been waiting to grab The Harrowing, The Unseen, or The Space Between for Nook, they are up now for $2.99, again, only for a few weeks.

Thanks for reading!

Alex