Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guest post: The best and worst of HarryWiddifield

Hi. I'm Harry Widdifield. I've written both as myself and as Sevastian Winters. I don't often do guest posts like this anymore, but on a whim, I decided to put this out there. Maybe you'll see some value in it.

When asking me to do this post, Scott asked me to consider the answers to two questions:

  1. What is the best thing I've ever done as a writer?
  2. What is the worst thing I've ever done as a writer?

These are both excellent questions, and interestingly enough, it took me about 2.5 seconds to know the answers to both.

The best:

In 1996, I had an idea for a short story about a serial killer who won “the game.” I've always thought of serial killing as a game more than a crime, and figure that we would solve more of them more quickly if police saw it as a game as well. Anyhow, I'd never written anything just for fun before, and so just for fun I wrote it.
Nine years later, after 16 years as an entrepreneur and marketing professional,  I had some time off from my four years as a corporate CEO, and thought perhaps I would turn that old story into a novel.
Before I started writing, I set out to read the classics, thinking that if I did, perhaps I'd learn enough about writing to give ol' Steve King a run for his money. (I call him Steve. He doesn't even know I exist.) When I finished Moby Dick, I figured I had the answer — the building blocks I needed to write my novel. And I asked myself this question: What if the whale was, after all, a cognizant beast, still driven by instinct, but wholly diabolical and completely human? From that thought, My Eyes Face Forward, a book I've never published, was born.
For the next three months I toiled night and day, perfecting my masterpiece, like a blind man painting by number, fully expectant that the Mona Lisa was revealing herself and the secret behind her smile.  (I said I'm not an expert. I didn't say I'm not arrogant. I was even more so then, for I had not yet learned how little I know.) I punctuated my final sentence and rushed my work off to an agent, expecting the million dollar offers to roll in. (Sound familiar? Anyone?)
I quickly found (or thought I'd found) that agents don't know the first thing about good writing, and that they are a rather snotty bunch. But one woman in New York, who has likely forgotten my name, (though I shall never forget hers), Toni Lopopolo, took pity on me. She told me to learn my craft, and she listed the titles of some books I should read:
  • Stein on Writing by Sol Stein
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey

Lopopolo (which is a lot more fun to say than “Toni”) told me that those three books were the Holy Bibles of fiction writing and that I should read them and then (my eyes about popped out of my skull on this one) that I should “rewrite” my book! (The nerve of some people. She apparently hadn't gotten the memo about me being a golden god!)
Having been a businessman for a number of years, I surmised that since Lopopolo worked with the big houses in New York, that she was just checking me to see if I could take marching orders. After all, they don't write million-dollar cheques to just anyone! I decided I would play her little game. I would read her little books, make a few edits, and re-submit my work.
I started with Stein on Writing. When I finished reading, I was so astounded by what I'd read, that I immediately read it again, before proceeding on with Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and How to Write a Damn Good Novel. When I finished that, I bought more books on writing craft and then more again. Along the way, I stumbled across a few scriptures of my own, such as Story, by Robert McKee (a Bible for screen writers) Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott and Stephen King On Writing (which was more Apocrypha than Bible, but still valuable) and one that made a huge impact on me despite its tedium, (It's very technical) Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain. (Buy them. Read them, Read them again, and then again. Repeat.)
I read books on writing until after a time, they all started to say exactly the same things. It was then that I sat down at my desk, once again, for the purpose of “polishing” my opus. But…
...A funny thing had happened while I was reading. (Perhaps you have experienced the same thing.) At some point between the time that I punctuated the final sentence of my memo draft on how I'd just “finished” a manuscript and was ready to be heralded onto the world literary stage as a golden god, and the time that I finished reading my first of many stacks of books on writing, little gnomes had invaded my opus, and turned it into a great big, heaping, stinking, embarrassing pile of dung! It was then that I made the choice to truly check my ego at the door and to instead dedicate myself to a lifelong pursuit of learning my craft. More succinctly, the best thing I've ever done as a writer was to dedicate myself to learning my craft. Any writer who doesn't, is just a hack (and that's a fact).

The worst

The worst mistake I've ever made as a writer was to befriend more writers than readers.  Befriending writers rather than readers is a bad choice on several fronts: writers are assholes. Writers aren't readers. Writers have no vested interest in helping each other. Very few writers learn their craft well enough to teach it. Writers are more prone to literary circle-jerks than they are to actually writing.
Writers are assholes — myself included. In fact, I'm as adept at being an asshole as I am at writing. Ask around. I have a pretty solid reputation on both fronts. It sort of takes an asshole to think that the things you have to say are worth charging money for. If you're a writer, you're probably an asshole too — at least if you're any good. Own it.
Despite what you've heard, most writers aren't readers to any real degree. I, for example, can't get past the first chapter of most books I pick up, because most of them are crap. And while there are some amongst us who can't put a book down even when it's crap, for the most part, we writers are more interested in what we have to offer than in what others have to offer. So we're not readers. We're writers.
Writers have no vested interest in helping other writers succeed. Forget what you've heard about camaraderie. Writing is a solitary profession with solitary benefits. We're not all sharing a pie. We all want the entire pie. There's no real value in banding together and doing so is just wasted time and effort that takes away from our singular purpose: writing.
Have you ever watched the contestants trying to build a shelter on “Survivor?” I'm pretty sure they don't select contestants with any experience in basic carpentry. As such, their shelters suck. I'm a journeyman carpenter, so I just shake my head. Writers are much the same. Most writers have never so much as purchased, much less read a book on writing, and yet they all consider themselves knowledgeable on writing. I've actually had someone say to me “My uncle published six books so I ought to know!” My uncle runs dispatch for a trucking company.
Wikimedia Commons
Does that make me a Peterbilt mechanic? Writers get into groups and spend countless hours arguing the merits of their positions on various aspects of writing none of them having the slightest fucking clue what they are talking about. It truly is the blind leading the blind.
The only thing worse than writers fighting with each other over the finer points of writing is writers praising each other for each others' work in literary circle jerks. I've been kicked out of every writing group I've ever been a part of, including some I've started. Reason? If a writer asks for feedback on their work, I tell them the truth.
Oscar Wilde once said: 
“If you want to tell people the truth, you'd better make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you.”

Wikimedia Commons
That's about right.

Writing groups tend to be about writers looking for accolades rather than criticism. Guess what? Your ability to string words together into a coherent sentence or set of sentences than form paragraphs, chapters, and books, does not rank my praise. I've never learned anything from anyone who told me what a great writer I am. Learning happens when we come to terms with the fact that we don't fucking know everything and that sometimes our very best work is nothing but a heaping pile of dung! (See how I did that? I've lead you right back to the beginning, where I chose to dedicate myself to craft because prior to that my very best work was crap.)
In short, the worst thing I've ever done as a writer was to befriend a whole bunch of writers instead of a whole bunch of readers. If you want to be a writer, do two things:
  • Learn your craft
  • Steer clear of other writers.

If you follow those two rules, you'll probably do just fine.
See? I told you I'm an asshole.
Author Harry Widdifield enjoys writing both fiction and non-fiction. A self-proclaimed "Teller of Ten Minute Tales," Widdifield loves telling action-packed tales to readers who often don't have more than 10 minutes in a day to read. Widdifield writes novels and self-help non-fiction as well as satirical non-fiction, but his true passion is tales that can be fully enjoyed in ten minutes and then digested for a lifetime. Bon apetit!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday blog for writers: Don't ignore e-books

Image from Jorghex’s collection in Wikimedia Commons,  published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unreported License. - See more at: 
It baffles me that there are still authors, intelligent professionals who want to reach an audience, yet who do not use the most effective and cheapest way of doing that — ebooks.

Last Saturday, I participated in the first Ottawa Book Fest held by the National Capital branch of the Canadian Authors Association. While it wasn’t what I hoped for in terms of selling books or engaging with readers, I did enjoy talking with many other local authors. Two things struck me: the number of authors who don’t bother with e-books, and the number who use expensive “publishing services” companies — vanity publishers.

“You can’t wrap an e-book,” was one typical comment. True, there is something very appealing about the tactile experience of holding a book. That’s one reason I went to the trouble and expense of getting paperbacks of my own titles.

Paper has a number of advantages over e-books. I will take a paperback to the beach or poolside, but I hesitate to bring my iPad there. It’s hard to read my iPad in bright sunlight (although the E-Ink screens of the Kobo, Kindle and others don’t have this problem). If you drop a paperback or get it dirty, it’s no big deal. At worst, you might have to spend ten to fifteen dollars to replace it. Or maybe $50 for a big hardcover. If I were to drop my iPad in the bathtub, that would be a major disaster.
Image courtesy Steve
Taffee's Blogg-Ed Indetermination

And yes, you can wrap up a paperback book and enjoy the recipient opening it.
On the other hand, the e-book’s advantages include:
  • they’re lighter, important when travelling
  • they should be cheaper — the publisher doesn’t have to pay for paper, ink or shipping
  • it’s a lot easier to give copies to people who are not in the same room with you — or the same country.

Let’s look at some facts.

E-books outsell paper books. More than two years ago, Amazon reported that its sales of e-books had surpassed paper books, and while that’s just one (the biggest in the world) outlet, the Association of American Publishers also announced that e-books outsold hardcovers in the adult fiction category as of 2011. E-books are the fastest growing sector of the book market, and even though the AAP reported that growth slowed in 2013, it was still growing and hit $800 million, while sales of paperbacks fell to $898 million.

As Hugh Howey pointed out on his blog (which I referenced in my post in February), the book e-tailers don’t report their sales numbers.  That means those numbers do not include any self-published e-books, which according to Howey’s research, outsell all the e-books from all Big Five publishers combined.

Why limit yourself?

E-book technology sparked an explosion in the number of independent authors self-publishing books. It’s an enabling technology.

And it’s not difficult to use. It helps to know about publishing, but if you can create a word processing file, you can create an e-book. Not necessarily a good e-book, but that’s a different discussion.

That’s why it astounds me to hear writers denigrate the e-book format. For an author to choose not to publish an e-books would be like a travel agent choosing not to book air travel and sell train tickets only. Sure, there’s a market for train travel, and trains can be more romantic and evocative than airplanes, but that choice severely limits the travel agent’s career.
Photo by Alexander Henning
Drachmann (Creative Commons)

Need advice? Ask me

Some writers may feel intimidated by e-books and the need to learn a new format. But as I said, it’s easier to format an e-book. There are plenty of free resources on the net, in the blogosphere, even on Facebook. Mark Coker’s excellent and free Smashwords Style Guide gives you step-by-step instructions, with lots of time-saving tips.

Or ask another author who has gone through the process. Most are happy to share what they’ve learned. For free. Ask me.

If you still feel unsure, or want to get someone to produce your e-book for you, then I’ll certainly charge a lot less than any vanity publisher.

If we work together, we’ll all succeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The show is over

The first Canadian Authors Association National Capital Region Book Fest is wrapping up a little early, and that means exactly what you think it means: it's been disappointing.

Not the content. I enjoyed meeting fellow authors, comparing notes, swapping experiences. But the traffic, the number of potential readers and book buyers that came through, was tiny. I sold a few books, gave two away, and traded for two more with fellow authors. 

Children's author Joanne Lecuyer

The explosive Robert Barclay

I learned that most Ottawa authors here use Baico Publishing, a publishing service provider, to produce their print books. Most of the rest use Createspace, one LightningSource and one Friesen Press. 

Surprisingly, few seemed to be big on e-books. In fact, two of the panel discussions denigrated e-books. "You can't wrap an e-book," said one author. Another said "I don't even know how my books got onto Amazon."

Strangely, these panelists did not like e-books.

Well, e-books outsell paper books, at least in the developed world, and especially in fiction. Turning your back on e-books it turning your back on the future.

We need to learn how to reach readers
Almost all the authors showing books were independent or self-published; maybe five out of forty had a publishing deal, and those were with a micropublisher. So no one's getting big advances.

Author and writing coach Kevin Johns

We all enjoyed interacting, but swapping or selling to each other is not going to do us much good. "Traffic," the number of potential book-buyers who came through, was minimal. I doubt even 50 came through the door.

Laurie Fraser's book bears striking resemblances to my work-in-progress

There are lessons to learn here about promotion and publicity, but I don't think that anyone here can teach those lessons. 

This is the challenge: we need to learn how to effectively engage with larger numbers of potential readers who will at least pick up our books and read the back cover.

That's all I'm looking for.

What do you all think?

From the Book Fest floor

Today, I'm participating in the first (annual) Book Fest organized by the National Capital Region chapter of the Canadian Authors Association. The picture shows me at my half-table with my little display of books.

This is the first time I've done anything like this. The doors opened an hour ago, and it's been quiet so far, but there has been some "customer" traffic. Mostly, I've enjoyed talking to some fellow authors, including one Facebook friend, Barry Finlay. 

I've already done a two-minute reading from The Bones of the Earth and heard a panel discussion with four Canadian writers in various genres.

I'll try to post a few times through the day as interesting things happen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Think strategically

Creative Commons

On Saturday, April 12, I’ll be showing my paperback books at the Canadian Author Association’s first-ever Book Fest.

If things go right, I may even do some live blogging from there. And if you come, we may even have a chance to meet face-to-face! I know I’m excited about it.

I look at events like this more as chances to network with other writers, readers and book enthusiasts, rather than as a place to sell product. But let’s face it, authors are all trying to sell their work. As my Internet friend and fellow author Russell Blake likes to point out, writing books may be art, but selling them is business. And in that frame of mind, I am re-presenting a blog post that I originally wrote for the Guild of Dreams blog.

Thinking of authors as business people

The book field is an extremely competitive, fast-moving market. If any of us hope to carve out the slightest sliver of presence in it, we’re going to have to recognize it as a marketplace and ourselves as sellers of products. Marketers. Business people.

The authors who sell the most books treat their activity as a business.

I have to admit I’m not the greatest business type person in the world. But over the past couple of decades that I’ve been selling my words, I have learned that you’re a lot more likely to succeed at something if you have a detailed strategy to achieve it.

If you’re a writer (or anything else, for that matter), think strategically about your career. Set some realistic, if ambitious, and measurable goals. (Check out George Doran’s SMART project management approach.)

These should not be just a number of book sales. Your strategy has to list a lot of specific steps that will help you achieve your goal. What will you do to increase sales? When will you write your next book, who will review it, edit it, design the cover, take care of the production of an e-book or a paperback?

What is your promotion plan? How will you contact book reviewers? What is your social media plan? What will you do on Facebook, how frequently will you tweet, what will you do to increase your number of followers on Goodreads?

A collaboration challenge

As individuals, we don’t have the ability to make much noise. But if we work together, strategically, we can have a lot more impact with a lot less effort.

Regular readers know that I am a big believer in authors (and other artists) working together, sharing skills and leveraging collective efforts. I participate in group sales and in professional organizations like Independent Authors International and Bestselling Reads.

Credit: Anthea Sieveking/ Wellcome Images
My challenge to all my readers who are also writers or other artists is to come together, not just in a mutual support and admiration group, but in a strategic one. Contribute your particular skills and take the advice of others who know about their specialties.

Collectively, we can devise an effective strategy to raise our profiles, improve the quality of our work and sell more books.

Want to get involved? Tell me about it or offer your time, expertise and effort in the comments, or send me an email (you can find it here if you look).

Monday, April 07, 2014

Literary genre: haven or prison?

Creative Commons licence.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a post for the Guild of Dreams blog where I wondered about how important it is for a writer to remain within a genre. Now that I have just sent my third manuscript to an editor, I find myself wondering about that again. Without asking anyone’s permission, I am re-examine that issue.

When you start out writing fantasy — or romance, or science fiction, or mystery, or any other category — do you have to stay within it? Is writing something in another genre akin to crossing a border into a foreign territory?
For a novelist, is the genre a prison or a haven?

It looks like my career as a novelist is turning into an experiment to measure that.

My experience in the fantasy genre

My first published full-length novel qualifies as epic fantasy. I prefer the term “historical magic realism,” because  The Bones of the Earth has realistic, fictional characters alongside real, historical characters. It’s set in a real time and place, and then adds fantastic or magical elements. But for most people, “fantasy” is the shorthand term.

My next novel, One Shade of Red, stepped way out of epic fantasy and history. It’s a comic, erotic parody of Fifty Shades of Gray, and qualifies as romantic erotica. Or erotic romance. NOT porn.

My third novel (to be published) is one I started over 10 years ago, a memoir of my father-in-law’s experience as a draftee into the Soviet Red Army during World War II. So far, I’m calling it Between the Vise Jaws. But that may change.

Return to fantasy

With that done, I am now turning to a contemporary urban paranormal type fantasy, Dark Clouds. I posted the first chapter on this blog a couple of years ago.
Dark Clouds grew out of a pre-Hallowe’en writing challenge, the source of which I cannot remember. But the challenge was to write the scariest opening line I could, and in a humourous mood, I thought of “Matt always knew when his mother was coming over.”

Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr Creative Commons

And I took it from there, making Matt’s mother a witch, then the Queen of all witches. Then I thought “what if Matt, the Witch Queen’s son, was immune to all her spells?”
Once I finished writing the story, I thought it could be the beginning of a novel, or at least a series of stories. So I thought I would call the novel The Mandrake Ruse, in the style of 60s-era spy stories like Man from U.N.C.L.E. And I could write a bunch of novels about The Witch’s Son.

Now that I’ve been toying with the idea for a couple of years, I realize that I have those titles mixed up, so when I do publish the book, it will be called Dark Clouds, and the first chapter will be “The Mandrake Ruse.” It just makes so much more sense.

Does genre-hopping hurt my credibility as an author?

A number of readers, and my family, too, have asked for a sequel to The Bones of the Earth. And as you can see from the cover, it’s “Book One of the Dark Age Trilogy.” I do have rough plot outlines for two more books about Javor and his adventures in the seventh century, but I also have this burning desire to write some other stories, first.

Had I a contract with a publishing company, my publisher, editor and/or agent would gripe about this. “Readers who liked your first book want more of the same!” I can hear one of them saying. “You’ve proven there’s an audience for that story, and they’ll be disappointed if your next book is totally different.”

I think every artist or creative person faces that dilemma: those who liked your first work will come back expecting more in the same vein. Delighting them with something new and completely different is a steeper hill to climb — you’re working against the very expectations that you created.

On the other hand, I am a writer because there are stories that I want to write, and my imagination doesn’t necessarily fit into categories defined by someone else.

I don’t read in just one genre — why should write in just one genre?

The most commercially successful authors stay within the categories they’re known for: John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer … it’s a long, depressing list.

On the other hand, some of the best writers have written in more than one genre, or have succeeded both artistically and commercially when they’ve gone beyond the slot assigned to them at some point in their careers:

Ray Bradbury — known for science fiction, especially Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury’s also celebrated for Dandelion Wine, the story of a young boy’s “magical summer.”

Stephen King started with horror and is still best known for It, The Shining and Carrie, but he has successfully transitioned into science fiction, non-fiction and, it could be argued, literary fiction.

Guy Gavriel Kay began writing fantasy fiction with The Fionavar Tapestry series, continued with his almost-historical magic realism, and moved to historical fiction with Ysabel in 2007.

Margaret Atwood went the other way. Established since the 60s as a main force in current literature, she surprised the book world with the dystopian science-fiction The Handmaid’s Tale, more recently Oryx and Crake — although she denies they’re science fiction.

The big question

What will this do to future sales prospects? Will readers of The Bones of the Earth who check my new publication be disappointed or delighted by Between the Vise Jaws?

Will fans of One Shade of Red be totally turned off by a war memoir?

Or will my hopes be realized: that writing in different genres will spread my appeal to new audiences?

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Writing tips: Persuade by making it matter to your audience

Image credit:

You can’t persuade an audience with unproven ideas, nor can you fire one up without appealing to their values.

Read this opening to a seminar on secure information technology practices and then answer this question: do you care?

“Why is security important to us? Because the effectiveness of our programs, activities and services depends on the level of trust our partners have in us. Central to that trust is rigorous stewardship over our digital and physical assets...”

The statement is true, as far as it goes. But for the average worker, it’s not compelling. There are too many steps between the proposition and the audience’s own life.

Image courtest Flixlist 
Someone else, working for an organization that I don’t work for, won’t trust our website as much? Holy spam, Batman! Let’s get to that IT security seminar now!

Better: “Why is IT security important to you? Because without taking these precautions, you risk exposing confidential organizational or even personal information that could be used in fraud.”

Remember what people value

Whenever I have to write something persuasive, I like to recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you’re not familiar with it, follow the link, but basically, Abraham Maslow studied people and their behaviour, and organized common motivators into a hierarchy. The lower or more basic the desire, the more powerful. Maslow also stated that humans do not, generally, focus on higher needs until they’ve fulfilled the basic ones.
Wikimedia commons

So if we want to motivate people, we have to make sure we’re evoking those basic, animal needs: food, warmth, security, belonging, esteem. A job may supply those things, so promoting the employer’s success can work. Anything that contributes to the bottom line is persuasive to the extent that the audience believes the employer’s success is critical to their own.

The incidence of fraud, identity theft and other crimes facilitated by the Internet proves that people feel IT security is pretty distant from their own needs — until they get stung by some kind of scam.

The path from the IT department’s guidelines to your own security isn’t obvious, but it is real. Our job as communicators is to clear that path.

How to make it matter

Here is a suggested outline you can adapt the next time you have to get a group to buy into something important, but new or abstract to them.
  1. Start with an example — like “Erica bypassed the spam filter and filled out this sensitive information on a website. Then the information was published and her employer fired her.”
  2. Explain the problem and summarize the solution — like “Erica did not verify that the form she filled out was actually on the website of the organization she thought it was. She should have made sure that the URL had a lock symbol and began with https://”
  3. Broaden or generalize the problem — use more examples from the audience’s own workplace or experience. Make them as realistic as possible.
  4. Explain the problem, the consequences and the solutions fully. Keep the language clear and simple. Use active sentences so that the audience can follow the guidelines.
  5. End with more realistic examples — “If you encounter x, do y.” Provide solutions that the audience can use right away.

Make change less scary and difficult
Image courtesy

Change is hard, because it opens us to the unknown. If you want to persuade an audience to change the way they work — or do anything, for that matter — you have to prove to the audience that it’s important to them (not to you), and you have to make accomplishing a change as easy as possible.

Do you have an experience to share?

Have you been to a seminar or read a document that tried to explain how important something was, but failed because you still didn’t care afterward? Tell us all about it in the Comments.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A first novel by a skilled writer: An independent review of The Devil of Light by Gae-Lynn Woods

I began reading Gae-Lynn Woods’ The Devil of Light in January, at about the same time I started watching True Detective on HBO, the gritty series starring Woodie Harrelson and Matthew MacConaughey, and was immediately struck by the similarities between the two stories.

Both stories feature victims of ritual murders, corpses found in bizarre poses and clues pointing to occult behaviours. Both stories also hint at a circle of sexual abusers of children, men who use their powerful positions in their communities to cover up their crime and enforce the secrecy of their cults.

And a further connection between the two: True Detective is set in the Louisiana coastal plain, just across the state border from east Texas, where you could find Arcadia, the setting of The Devil of Light.

This novel bears an uncanny resemblance to Project Truth, a police investigation in Cornwall, Ontario of a suspected ring of child abusers, men, including priests, who traded their child victims among themselves.

I was so struck by all the similarities that I even emailed Gae-Lynn Woods, author of The Devil of Light, to tell her about it. She responded that she had not watched True Detective, nor heard of Project Truth, but she was going to look into both.
But this post is a review of the novel by the independent author from east Texas, so let’s concentrate on that.

The story: A complex series of murders

The Devil of Light begins with a drifter, who adopts only the name Hitch, ritualistically killing an unnamed victim at the behest of an “old man.” Cassandra “Cass” Elliot and her partner, Mitch Stone, are assigned the investigation, which is hampered because the body has no identification. They suspect it’s a missing migrant worker, but before they can make much progress, a local businessman and hobby farmer, Lenny Scarborough, is murdered by his long-abused wife in a spectacular, if very rural way — she drives the spikes of a hay loader through his chest.

In Scarborough’s house, the detectives discover the motive of the murder: photographs of men having sex with young girls and with other men. All the shots are very close-up and show no faces; scars in one picture, though, match the murder victim’s body. It seems Angie, Lenny’s long-abused wife, had discovered the photos while Lenny was working in the cow barn, and that was enough to channel the anger from years of physical abuse into driving the specialized fork-lift truck through her husband.

The photographs lead the police to suspect their idyllic town harbours a ring of pedophiles, and the investigation indeed uncovers it — a ring comprising some of the most powerful and respected men in the community.

This being a crime novel, the bodies begin to pile up, as do layers of secrets and conspiracy.

Where a writer’s skill is critical

Woods is a skilled and talented author. She creates detailed and believable characters, people readers can picture and hear. The main character, Cass Elliot — who insists that the coincidence of her name with that of the late singer from the Mamas and the Papas is really nothing more than a coincidence — has an interesting back-story including rape and a scar around her breast, as well as an older brother serving a long jail sentence for something he may not have done. But Woods knows how to keep the back-story from bogging down her plot, and brings out details when they’re needed, just enough to keep us turning pages (or swiping the e-reader screen) to find out more.

Very few weaknesses
There are a lot of characters in this book, and sometimes it’s hard to keep them all straight — especially the younger minor policemen, most of whom seem to be blond and athletic. This is in opposition to most of the baddies, who in addition to sharing a compulsion to sexually abuse young people, share a propensity to obesity.

The family and social links among the police, suspects, victims and those who discover the bodies also get thicker and more tangled, enriching rather than confusing the story.

The main characters are clearly drawn and consistently presented — except for the main bad guy. The author never names him, and provides only enough detail to make us suspect he could be one of two people in Arcadia.

Overall, an enjoyable and thought-provoking novel

While this novel has an enthralling climax and satisfying conclusion, it did not solve the mystery or end the story. Again showing her writing skills, Gae-Lynn Woods leaves us on the last page of The Devil of Light with a reason — no, a need — to buy the sequel, Avengers of Blood.

Well done, Ms. Woods!


Visit Gae-Lynn Woods' website
Find The Devil of Light on Amazon
Find The Devil of Light on Smashwords

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What do writers read? Bestsellers reveal all!

Image: zoetnet via Flickr/Creative Common
In my continuing quest to blow your minds, I again present three very different authors whose answers to the same questions may surprise you.

Sydney Landon is a New York Times bestseller-listed author of romances, including the Danvers series; David C. Cassidy’s books, including Velvet Rain and Fosgate’s Game, defy categorization but might be called “speculative fiction” (but isn’t all fiction, by definition, speculative? Isn’t fiction a form of speculation?). And Patricia Sands is the award-winning author of The Bridge Club and The Promise of Provence.

Name three characteristics of books that you like.

Sydney Landon: Humorous dialogue, a strong introduction and a realistic plot.

David C. Cassidy: For me, a story has to have depth and feeling. It’s got to have characters I love, and those I love to hate. Above all, it’s got to be real. When you strip away all the obviously impossible stuff, the story has to hit me with reality at some point. The danger, the struggle — it has to be something I can feel. The best stories do that. Avatar would be just another sci-fi adventure without the deep-rooted threat to the indigenous people of Pandora — the threat to their core beliefs. For me, that’s gold, and James Cameron is a master at this kind of storytelling.

Patricia Sands:
  • A compelling style that immediately engages.
  • Strong imagery that draws me into the emotion of the scene, setting or location.
  • Creativity that captures the imagination.

What makes you keep reading a book?

Patricia Sands
Patricia Sands: All of the above (answer #1), plus a good plot and well-developed characters.

Sydney Landon: Connecting with the characters. Otherwise, I lose interest and have a hard time finishing.

David C. Cassidy: The characters. Whether they’re larger than life or just the guy selling hot dogs on the street, I’m always observing characters in books and movies. I watch. I listen. I learn. The best books have all those little nuances in the characters that make me want to follow them to the bitter end.

What are some books that you weren't able to put down until you finished them?

David C. Cassidy: Abarat by Clive Barker; The Thief of Always by Clive Barker; In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom; Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Sydney Landon:  Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James; The Faces of Evil series by Debra Webb.

Patricia Sands: There are few books that I begin and don't finish.

Do you consciously try to emulate these books? If so, what form does that take: plot, structure, characters, settings, author's voice and word choice?

Patricia Sands: No, not consciously. However, I know that the more I read, the more I become aware of incorporating the traits I admire of other writers into my own style.

Sydney Landon: No. I believe every author has a certain style and that generally comes through no matter what. 

David C. Cassidy: It might be the sincerest form of flattery, but I don’t consciously do it. I would say most authors don’t, but I would also say that unconsciously, we probably do. It’s natural to emulate those we admire. I’m a photographer, and the only way I became the creative photographer that I am was by studying photographs of the photographers I admire. That didn’t mean I went out and copied their style. It meant that I learned new ways of thinking — new ways of looking at the same subject. Some of my biggest influences in writing have come from three very different authors: Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Mitch Albom — and I’m probably a hybrid of all three to some degree. I’ve studied their work and a lot of other authors from different genres, and have tried to incorporate their techniques in all facets of my writing. Not by copying strict rules or things that they’ve done, but rather their way of thinking or looking at the world and the characters who inhabit them in different and unique ways.

Do you try to avoid any of the techniques or conventions followed by your favorite writers?

David C. Cassidy: For me, each story has a different feel to it—the writing has a different feel to it. I just write it. I don’t worry if someone sees or doesn’t see similar techniques used by other authors. You can’t shackle yourself by saying, “Oh crap, King did this like this.” Why? Because at one point, King probably said, “Oh crap, Poe did this like this.” And Poe probably said, “Damn that Shakespeare. He took all the good stuff.”

Patricia Sands: No. Many of my favourite writers have decidedly different styles than mine. I believe it is important for each of us to find our own unique voice and hone that craft.

Sydney Landon: Not at all.  I never know where a story will take me and what means I'll use to get there.  I've probably tried them all.

What rules of writing do you intentionally break?

Sydney Landon: Grammar. Sometimes the rules say it's wrong, but it sounds so right!

Patricia Sands: None intentionally and probably several unintentionally.
What rules of writing do you intentionally break?

David C. Cassidy: Every last one. Even speling and grammer if I have to. Seriously, I do uphold one rule: There are no rules. I don’t get the whole “don’t do this, don’t do that” mentality with writing. I cross genre boundaries in stories—does it lessen the whole? Not for me. It adds to it. A great story is like a great photograph—the best photographs tell the story exactly as it needs to be told.

Thanks very much, all!

Sydney Landon lives in Greenville, South Carolina and has spent the last twenty-five years working in accounting. Sydney met her own prince charming in 2000 and received the most romantic proposal on a pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, thus creating her eternal love for the city. The fact that her future husband was a fellow computer geek completely sealed the deal for her. She credits him with keeping her calm and rational while also understanding her need for a new pair of shoes every other week. They have two children who keep life interesting and borderline insane, but never boring. The idea of the Danvers’ Series popped into her head and refused to go away. She started writing the first story never imagining that it would ever be finished. Three months later it turned into her first book, Weekends Required. Within a few months, it had quickly made the best-seller list on Amazon, and went on to make the New York Times Best Seller List.  Barely taking a breath between books, Sydney followed up with the second book in the series, Not Planning on You. Within the first month, this book also became a best-seller. The third book in the series, Fall For Me was released in February 2013 and became a New York Times Best Seller.  The fourth book in the series, Fighting For You releases in paperback in February 2014.  Sydney is currently working on the fifth book in the Danvers’ Series. When she isn’t writing, Sydney enjoys reading, swimming and being a mini-van driving, soccer mom.

Sydney is a member of BestSelling ReadsVisit her website.

Author, photographer and half-decent juggler David C. Cassidy spends his writing life creating dark and touching stories where Bad Things Happen To Good People.

Raised by wolves, he grew up with a love of nature, music, science, and history, with thrillers and horror novels feeding the dark side of his seriously disturbed imagination. He talks to his characters, talks often, and most times they listen. But the real fun starts when they tell him to take a hike, and they Open That Door anyway. Idiots.

David lives in Ontario, Canada. From Mozart to Vivaldi, classic jazz to classic rock, he feels naked without his iPod. Suffering from MAD (Multiple Activity Disorder), he divides his time between writing and blogging, photography and photoshop, reading and rollerblading. An avid amateur astronomer, he loves the night sky, chasing the stars with his telescope. Sometimes he eats.

David is a member of Independent Authors International. Visit his website.

Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada most of the time, Florida some of the time, and the south of France whenever possible. With a happily blended family of seven adult children and, at last count, six grandchildren, life is full and time is short. Beginning with her first Kodak Brownie camera at the age of six, she has told stories all of her life through photography. She is the author of the award-winning novel, The Bridge Club and her most recent release, The Promise of Provence. The latter is an Amazon best-seller that was also featured on the Movers & Shakers Digital list.  Thanks to reader demand, a sequel to The Promise of Provence in in the works! Put your feet up and be carried away to the south of France in this delightful novel.  Her stories celebrate the rewarding friendships of women and examine the challenges life often throws in our paths. Becoming a published author at this stage of her life was not on her agenda but she knows now she will never stop writing.

Patricia is a member of BestSelling Reads. Visit Patricia's

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book promotion steps to take before you publish

 Guest post by David Small, the Wandering Promoter

This Monday blog features guest blogger David Small, author, international hockey coach and entrepreneur. His new book, The Wandering Leader, launched on Valentine's Day and is already climbing the Amazon bestseller lists in non-fiction.

David hails from Kenora, Ontario — I town I spent many summer weeks in as a youth. It's not exactly known as a hotbed of literature, and it's been literally decades since I crossed paths with anyone from Kenora. I couldn't resist asking him to blog about his approach to self-publishing and his success in promoting his book — lessons we can all use. 

Over to you, David: 

A couple weeks ago I published my third book called The Wandering Leader. This book is about leadership, world travel, and chasing happiness. I define a “wandering leader” as someone who is in a leadership role, but doesn’t have all the answers. They sometime have to improvise or fake it until they make it. As JRR Tolkien said; “Not all that wander are lost.”  Sometimes I feel the same when I am promoting a product. I fake it until I make it. 

I want to share with you my marketing blueprint for how I ended up going from a nobody, to landing on the Amazon bestseller list. Hopefully my experiences in marketing and promoting my book will help you, or give you some ideas to promote your own products in the future. 

Pre-launch required reading: Platform by Michael Hyatt (hyperlink address:

3 weeks before launch week: write down different ways you can generate exposure during your launch week. Here are examples that I used during my launch week: 
  • launch team (very important)
  • media interviews/Press Releases
  • podcasts 
  • guest blog posts
  • images and social media production
  • promotions and giveaways.

If you don’t know an exact date your product with be available across all retail channels, it’s okay to let it be live on some channels and wait for all other channels to come live. You don’t need a big “pre-launch” or “official launch day” — just pick a day on the calendar. You’re the boss. 

2 weeks before launch week: Start to research blogs and podcasts that are in your field. For example, my book is about leadership, so I spent time researching podcasts and blogs in leadership, management, or coaching. I contacted about 30 podcast producers and 30 blogs. Aim for about seven to ten agreements in each category. This will drive traffic during your launch week. Ask that the post or cast be published during your launch week with links to your site or book. 

1 week before launch week: Talk to your book launch team. This is one of the most important ways for you to get exposure. These are friends, family members, and people you know who have a social influence. I was lucky to have NHL hockey players that I used to coach who were willing to help me during my book launch. One NHL player tweeted about my book and instantly 30,000 people saw it. That’s great, personal exposure. Offer to buy a copy of your new book (or whatever your product is) for anyone who helps you during your book launch week. 

Send out a press release to local media. They often like to do human interest pieces. Get on your local radio station to talk about your book and your goals. 

Book launch week: Start your promotion. Don’t spend money on click advertising; instead, buy cool prizes from companies you love and give them away to people who buy your book. I am a big support of Star Alliance air network, so I gave away travel vouchers (fitting because my book is about travel). This cost me approximately $400, which was the most I spent on advertising during my entire book launch. 

Give yourself a target to hit during that week, and a deadline to hit it. This creates a sense of urgency with your buyer. People like to support a race or goal. If you ask your friends and family to buy your product and you think they’re going to drop everything and do it, you’re wrong. I have some family members that I love dearly, but who have never gotten around to buying or reading any of my work. People just don’t really care. If you ask them to buy your book within a given week, so you can reach your sales goal, they’re more likely to do it. I said I want to reach 500 sales within the book launch week. 

Learn about the bestseller list. The Amazon bestseller list can really help you out (if your product is available on Amazon.) This list is updated hourly, and looks at overall popularity, as well as sales within the not-so-distant future. Because I asked people to order my book during book launch week, it put my book sales up to a high point during the first week of availability. Then in the second week all those sales landed it on the Amazon Top 100 list for the categories the book is published under. Being on the Top 100 list is huge because it gives people another reason to get off their butts and buy your book. You can ask them “help me reach the #1 best seller on Amazon by ordering a copy of my book today.” This gives your buyer a sense of urgency and a feeling like they’re a part of your success. I had 136 clicks and 127 orders in 24 hours. This in turn shot my book up to #7 on the bestsellers list. Which then gives you even more fuel to light a fire under your customers’ butts. If you’re that close to the #1 spot, people will get crazy and buy four or five copies of your book in hopes you’ll keep jumping up the list. 

My book passed authors like John Maxwell, Dan Millman, Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, and Dr. Phil in the category Books > Self-Help > Success. I used their names to grab attention in my social media campaigns and keep people interested. I also reengaged my book launch team for a second round of social media sharing with the target to help the book get to the #1 spot. 

For my book launch team, I created a guide and a hidden page on my website for them to use as reference. There I put sample tweets, images with quotes on them, link short codes, and excerpts from the book. People are busy, so make it idiot-proof for them. Copy and Paste and they’re done.  

When you’re promoting a new product, don’t get discouraged when people don’t leap up to buy it. Be genuine. Use your relationships and personality to ask people to buy it, but don’t harass them or spam them (until you make the bestseller list, then spam everyone you know — the higher you climb up the list, the more likely people are to help.) Good luck! 

How have you promoted your product launches? What worked for you or didn’t work for you? 

About the guest blogger:

David Small is the author of the bestselling book The Wandering Leader. In this book, David explains how leaders don’t need to be perfect, but they should get things done. He focuses on seven areas of leadership that everyone can grow in; career, financial, social, physical, spiritual, intellectual, and family. David has been a professional ice hockey coach for over a decade and is an officer in the Canadian army reserves. David has guest lectured and been a keynote speaker at leadership events around the globe. 

Visit his: