Thursday, February 27, 2014

Three biggest mistakes that new authors make

A guest post by author consultant Barb Drozdowich

I’d like to thank Scott for inviting me to share some thoughts today. 

I’ve published four books focused at helping authors. They cover a variety of subjects and basically represent needs that I see in my day job,  teaching authors Wordpress and helping them with various social media issues.

Let me start by saying that I love working with authors every day! They create the books that feed my soul and my world would be pretty empty without them. 

I often say that I think that it is sad that we expect authors to be jacks of all trades. Most of the authors that I meet do an incredible job of creating magical stories that we lose ourselves in. It’s not enough, however. As you all know, authors are now expected to wear all the book promotional hats. 


That being said, we need to get on task. What do I feel are the three biggest mistakes that new authors make?

In my opinion, the first mistake that many authors make is they do not start building their author platform far enough in advance of publishing their books. 

Ideally, authors should start working on their platform when they start writing their book. I’m not the only one to think this way. The blogosphere is filled with similar advice.

The platform: where the author begins the journey to success.
Photo by Matt Cornock used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical 3.0 Unported License.
I’ll take this advice one step further and suggest that your author platform consists of more than a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook account. You want to make it as easy as possible for readers, both new and old, to find you. Google is the world’s largest search engine and because of that, Google+ must be part of your platform. You don’t need to understand the specifics of why, just know that Google+ will play a significant role in being found easier in Google searches.

The second mistake that authors make is ignoring the importance of presenting a professional face to the world. 

The look of your blog and the cohesiveness of your branding across your books and your various social media platforms is very important in today’s book selling world. The attitude of “I’m just not very technologically advanced so people need to take me as they get me” doesn’t fly. This sort of author often has a blog that looks like a thrift store.  It has sidebars stuffed with mismatched graphics and no discernible way to easily buy their books, or follow their blog. 

If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you need to find a way look professional. Look at your site. Without scrolling down, can readers follow you on all your social media and buy at least one of your books? Isn’t that one of major reasons why you have a blog?

The third mistake that authors often make is not asking for qualified help for things that they don’t understand. 

Authors take writing classes or go to writing retreats, but are reluctant to get help with the other aspects of publishing a book. Because of that reluctance, they try to do everything themselves, or they ask for help without qualifying the help.  

I find that people who look for help, don’t ask the right questions. It seems logical that you would ask whether a putative consultant knows enough to help you with your particular question — but it’s more important whether that person understands the unique needs of an author? A blog can be a technological wonder, but if you can’t use it, what good is it? 

If you are spending hours struggling with your blog or another part of your author platform, when are you writing? Isn’t it worth your time to get a few hours of instruction or a few hours of help so that you can spend more time on your next book?

Technical help doesn’t need to be expensive and it isn’t hard to find. What may be difficult to find is competent technical help. With the explosion of indie publishing, many people are hanging out a shingle and waiting to take your money. Choose carefully and ask a lot of questions!

Today’s book-selling world is global. You are selling your books to people around the world — not just the people you meet at your next book signing. Make sure that you are prepared to market your books to the world.

Barb Drozdowich

Social Media and Wordpress Consultant Barb Drozdowich has taught at Colleges and Universities, trained technical personnel in the banking industry and, most recently, used her expertise to help dozens of authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world. She owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular Romance Book blog, Sugarbeat’s Books.

She has written four guidebooks in the Building Blocks to Author Success series: 

Find Barb:

Facebook  |  Twitter  |   Google+

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday blog: Real numbers — The truth about self-publishing

This past January, Digital Book World reported that nearly 80 percent of self-published authors and more than half of traditionally published authors earn less than $1,000 a year from their efforts.

That report has generated a lot of debate. Some very honest and brave independent authors have put their own statistics up against this argument: 
Hugh Howey — arguably the most successful indie author these days — and another, anonymous indie author compiled statistical research and put the lie to the DBW claim. They point out that the DBW report is so broad as to be useless — it includes books of all types, and does not include ebooks sold by Amazon, the biggest book retailer in the world. 

Howey and his unnamed partner dug deep and found that e-books account for 86 percent of all genre fiction, and that  independent authors outsell the Big 5 commercial publishers combined in genre fiction.  There’s a lot of analysis in the report, and I recommend you read it

Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and several other books, candidly revealed her own sales, revenues and cost figures on her books. While Toby treats the writing as an art, she approaches publishing as a business. She invested $12,000 in editing, design, production and marketing of her first book, Blood Orchids, and netted over $100,000. She still makes money on that book, and views all her nine books (with one more coming in March).
Independent author Jami Gold blogged about two more analytical reports that took apart the DBW claim about most independent authors making under $1,000. Jami’s original post was reblogged by book consultant Kristen Lamb. It turns out that professional independent authors, those who use professional editors and designers, market their books as a business and continue to publish several titles, make considerably more money. 

About 50% of respondents make more than $10K when they have 4-7 self-published books available, and 20% make more than $50K. At 12-20 books available, over 50% of respondents are making 50K or more, and 30% are over $100K.

In short, independent writers who treat writing as a business or profession, rather than as just a hobby or game, can make a comfortable living at it.

What’s a professional writer? 

Being professional means:
  • publishing regularly, developing a catalog of titles
  • using a professional editor – someone with background experience in the publishing industry
  • using a professional cover designer
  • marketing and promoting strategically and using professional services appropriately.

Getting into the category will cost you money, but not as much as giving up 90% of your earnings to a commercial publisher, and certainly not as much as forking out thousands to a vanity publisher or something like one of those “become a published author” scams. And it won’t cost as much as you give up by not doing these things.

I have to admit, I’m remiss on one dimension: the regularity of my publishing my own books. It’s been a year since I published my second novel, One Shade of Red, and it’s going to be at least three more months before the next title is ready for publication. It’s tentatively called Out of the USSR, but that may change. I may just call it Maurice.

It’s so refreshing, indeed inspiring, to get this honest number-crunching from some people who are making a profession from being independent authors, and showing us all there is a business model and a path that work.

Want to find more indie authors who are working the dream? In addition to those mentioned above, check out:

And many more that I just don’t have time or space to list here, and many I haven’t had the chance to read, yet. But keep coming back to the blog for reviews and interviews with independent authors.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The SAVING RAINE blog tour: Excerpt

The master of the thriller, Frederick Lee Brooke, stepped boldly into a new genre with his fourth novel, Saving Raine. Written Words joins the blog tour with Excerpt 2 — but first, what's this book about?
It’s 2021, and personal drones are a fixture of daily life, but due to constant upheavals food is scarce. Rival militias, the terrorist group March22, and draconian restrictions on travel complicate the task for 19-year-old Matt Carney as he starts a harrowing road trip filled with deadly obstacles, including Predator drones raining down homeland security missiles, to save his girlfriend, Raine.

Excerpt 2: 

“Can I send out a couple of drones?” Benjy asked quietly. The captain gave a quick nod, his hand on the wheel, watching his instruments and the river at the same time. The mate stood on the bow, keeping watch.

Matt followed Benjy and watched him launch the Tornados. “One upriver, the other downriver,” Benjy said. “Just for the heck of it.”

The sounds of the engine were damped so low, you could hear the water slapping against the steel hull. The eerie quiet and steady breeze made it a pleasant journey. They were crossing the Mississippi. The river was only two miles wide here, but he felt a thousand miles closer to Raine already. 

Matt felt a thrill once again at the memory of that bluebird he’d chanced to see this morning, that brilliant flash of blue. Suddenly he remembered the last time he’d seen a bluebird. It had happened the day he’d met Raine, while walking in that stretch of forest on the west side of Chicago. How could he have forgotten?
A few minutes later, when Benjy walked purposefully over to the captain to show him something, Matt followed, curious.

“What would this be?”

The captain studied the image of a vibration pattern for a few seconds, then gave a start. “Where is that Tornado?”

“Four hundred yards upriver.”

“Shit, why don’t I see it?” The captain wasn’t whispering now. He shoved the twin throttles forward, causing the engines to roar. The captain looked terrified. He stared intently out the window on his side, and Matt looked with him. Nothing but the breeze, the moon, and stars.

Then Matt spied it. A bow wave, some hundred yards to their right, heading straight toward them. He saw the wave, but no boat. 

“Bow wave upriver,” the captain said. “They’ve got image cancellation. Invisible till they’re on top of you. Good thing your drone picked up the signature.” 

“It’s got to be US military,” Benjy said. “What do we do?”

“We’re not going to make it,” the captain said. The oncoming craft suddenly resolved into a fully visible behemoth of three barges lashed side-by-side. Their little car ferry was actually almost far enough across to narrowly miss being run down. Matt thought the captain might be overly pessimistic.

The middle of the third barge cut through the water some twenty yards upriver, heading straight for them. That barge had to be fifty feet wide. But they were running at full throttle. The Mylar net jumped in the water behind them, no longer covering the wake as they ran at maximum speed.

“Why don’t they stop?” Benjy cried.

“Couldn’t stop if they wanted to. Momentum,” the captain shouted.

Matt stood at the stern rail and watched as the towering bow of the oncoming barge rose over them. The starboard edge of the barge sliced through the water, almost upon them. By some miracle, a distance of three feet separated the steel prow of the barge from the rear fender of their craft as it hurtled into their wake. The cutting edge of the barge chewed up the Mylar net like tissue paper. The ferry bounced in the churning water like a rubber toy, but the captain maintained control as they sped away from the barge.

“Got any weapons?” the captain shouted. “Better break ’em out.”

The loss of the Mylar net made the wake light up in the water like a movie screen. Fish leapt from the water behind them. Their big silver bodies glistened in the spotlights from the barge. Then the spotlights locked on their boat. Matt ran to the car and jammed a clip into the AR-15.

When the first shots came, he was ready.

“Two shooters, one in the corner, the other fifty yards up,” Benjy reported. He was studying the action on his Jetlink, crouched on the floor. All of a sudden the windows of the main cabin exploded, sending glass flying.

Matt let out a burst at the man in the corner. The shooting stopped from that position. Either the man had taken cover, or he was dead. The soldiers stood up there with no cover at all. Arrogant bastards. He focused on the second man and let out a second burst. Searching in the scope, he saw no more faces. Over the roar of the engine he heard Benjy’s voice.

“You got both, Matt, but the captain’s hit! Damn it, I need you in here now!”

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Who is Frederick Lee Brooke?

Frederick Lee Brooke launched the Annie Ogden Mystery Series in 2011 with Doing Max Vinyl and following with Zombie Candy in 2012, a book that is neither about zombies nor sweets. The third mystery in the series, Collateral Damage, appeared in 2013. Saving Raine, the first book in Fred’s entirely new series, The Drone Wars, appeared in December, 2013.

A resident of Switzerland, Fred has worked as a teacher, language school manager and school owner. He has three boys and two cats and recently had to learn how to operate both washing machine and dryer. He makes frequent trips back to his native Chicago.

When not writing or doing the washing, Fred can be found walking along the banks of the Rhine River, sitting in a local cafe, or visiting all the local pubs in search of his lost umbrella.

Frederick Brooke is a member of Best-Selling Reads and Independent Authors International.

Follow him on Twitter @frederickbrooke or on Facebook.  

Visit his: 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday blog: What do best-selling authors read?

Creative Commons image courtesy
This week, I asked two very different writers to tell us what they look for in the books they read.
Kathleen Valentine writes a mixture of horror, humour and historical novels, novellas and stories, including The Old Mermaid’s Tale and the award-winning Depraved Heart, which could be described as paranormal romantic suspense.
Alan McDermott is the bestselling author of the Tom Gray trilogy, which has been profiled on this blog before. His writing is fast-paced, tense and explosive.
You’d expect them to have very different reactions to books, and in a sense they do — but I think that you’ll find some parallels, too.

Name three characteristics of books that you like. What makes you keep reading a book? What are some books that you weren't able to put down until you finished them?

Kathleen Valentine: The number one thing that I look for in fiction is a sympathetic character that I can care about. There seems to be a trend these days toward characters that are just awful—mean, calculating, whiny, self-absorbed. I refuse to spend time with people like that in real life so why spend time on the page with them? I want at least one character I can root for.
I'm also drawn to place. It doesn't have to be an exotic or glamorous place, just a place that I can imagine spending time in. Then, of course, comes a situation that interests me. It doesn't have to be intricately plotted but it does have to engage the characters. Writing style is also important to me. It doesn't have to be overly descriptive but I get bored with passive voice, clichéd descriptions, and repetitive word use.
Two books that I've recently read that I found hard to put down were The Orchardist and The Light Between Oceans. Both had central characters that were deeply flawed but had beautiful hearts. The settings were also mesmerizing—an orchard in a canyon and a lighthouse on an island. They were wonderful reads for me.
Alan McDermott: Easy. They must be fast-paced, full of intrigue and realistic. Like everyone else, I have my favourite authors, but I will abandon their book if I’m not being drawn in after a couple of chapters. Tom Clancy did that very well, and his books kept me mesmerised. I particularly enjoyed Rainbow Six and Red Storm Rising, books I have read more than once.

People say that a book must have a beginning, a middle and an end, but I like those which start and never let up until the last page.

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?
Alan McDermott: Clancy was the master at having multiple scenes going on at the same time, and he brought them together cleverly. I tried that with my first three books and was happy with the result.
Kathleen Valentine: No, not at all. I think I have a pretty distinctive voice—at least that is hat my readers tell me. I think sometimes characters in books will inspire me to want to create a character with many of the same qualities. For instance in Donna Tartt's The Secret History I was mesmerized by Henry Winter that I think parts of him have crept into a couple of my male characters.
Do you try to avoid any of the techniques or conventions followed by your favourite writers?
Kathleen Valentine: Not really. Most of my favorite writers—James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane A.S. Byatt, Isabel Allende—have very unique voices and if I tried to emulate them it would be foolish. I do aspire to write as well but that's just a dream.
Alan McDermott: Yes, I try not to go into too much detail about surroundings and what people are wearing. If the protagonist is in the jungle, let the reader know if it’s raining or not, but don’t explain how green everything is. Okay, mention the bugs and other wildlife, but not every other page. I don’t like padding out a story for the sake of hitting a word count. I’d much rather race through and finish a book in a couple of days than spend a month getting to the climax.
What rules of writing do you intentionally break?
Alan McDermott: I think I break just about every rule there is! I know that some authors study the art of writing for years and make sure they structure their books in the “conventional” way. That’s absolutely fine, and I wouldn’t knock anyone for approaching writing in that manner.

I left high school aged 16 with a C grade in English and that’s about as far as my studies went, so for me, the only rule is: entertain the reader and make them want to come back for more!

I write my books the way I like to read them, and that means keeping the action going, and introducing new twists whenever I can. A lot of authors may criticise my books for not following all the rules, but we are living in the Internet era, where attention spans are dropping with every passing day. Folks are used to reading an article on the Internet and then moving on to the next one. If we keep producing books that don’t first grab the reader and then keep a strangle hold on them, we risk losing the next generation of readers. I’m confident that my books will stand that test of time. I’ll never win a literary award, but hopefully I’ll continue to make a living, and that’s what matters to me. Thirty thousand people have read my third book, which suggests my style of writing has already built a following.
Kathleen Valentine: I don't think I do but that's because I don't pay attention to rules in the first place. I pay attention to grammar and punctuation, etc. but writing rules? I don't think I even know of any.
Thank you for these insights, Alan and Kathleen.

Add caption
Kathleen Valentine is the author of three novels: The Old Mermaid's Tale, Each Angel Burns and Depraved Heart and numerous short stories and novellas. Her Beacon Hill Chronicles, including The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge and The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, are Amazon Top Sellers. Her blog,, has been read by thousands of readers since its beginning in July 2005.
Her most recent work includes The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt and The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild. She has been listed as an Amazon Top 100 Author in Horror. She is a member of BestSelling Reads. Kathleen lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, America's oldest seaport, and is writing every day. Her website is

Alan McDermott is a husband, father to beautiful twin girls and a software developer from the south of England. Since 2005, he has been working as a software developer and currently creates clinical applications for the National Health Service. Alan’s writing career began in 2011 with the action thriller GrayJustice, and his subsequent Tom Gray trilogy has been picked up by Amazon division Thomas and Mercer. Alan is a fellow founding member of Independent Authors International.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day to the one I love

Image by MiloDarkAngel, DeviantArt.
Used under Creative Commons licence. 

One kiss from you, I'm on fire
Heat across my face
Spreads through my body at once.

I love you, Roxanne.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Win an iPad Mini full of signed books

Do you love reading great books by the best creators of new fiction and non-fiction? Then jump on the first e-book giveaway contest from BestSelling Reads for 2014, and you could win not just riveting e-books, but also a great device to read them with: a new Apple iPad Mini.

Visit BestSelling Reads now and enter the Rafflecopter. Well? What are you waiting for?

Need the address again?

Tell your friends!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Valentine's Day excerpt treat: Love Comes Later

For Valentines Day, Written Words presents an excerpt from the opening of Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s award-winning Love Comes Later.

This novel won Best Indie Book, Romance, 2013; was a Finalist in the Romance Festival New Talent Award in 2012 Best Novel; and a Finalist in the 2013 eFestival of Words.

They returned from the funeral to gather at the home of the grieving parents for the ’azaa, the receiving of condolences. Abdulla rode in the back seat of the Land Cruiser, his father at the wheel, his cousins and brothers messaging friends on various applications. For him there was no sharing of grief. This was his burden to bear alone. 

He was the last to climb out of the car, but the first to see Luluwa hunched on the marble steps of Uncle Ahmed’s entryway. The lines around her mouth, pulling it downward, aging her face, drew his attention; the stooped shoulders spoke of a burden heavier than grief for her sister. His mother saw it at the same time and hurried over to the girl, concerned. 

Yalla, what is it?” she said, pulling her up. 

Luluwa shook her head. 

“Go inside, habibti,” said Abdulla’s mother, but Luluwa shook free and drew back, panic in her wide eyes. Abdulla’s mother turned her face back to the men. Then they heard the shouting. 
“When? When did this all start?” Hessa’s voice screamed, raw and startling, from inside the open door. “Leave this house.” 

The family halted in their tracks, exchanging uncertain glances. 

Ahmed emerged, looking shaken but defiant, a weekender bag in one hand. Abdulla’s father, the eldest of the brothers, stepped forward and took him by the arm. 

“Everyone is upset,” he whispered harshly. He was trying to lead him back inside, as his wife had done a moment ago with Luluwa, when Hessa burst forward into view, her face aflame with indignation. 

“Tell them,” she spat at her husband. “Tell them now, so when you don’t come back here everyone will know why.” 

The words made no sense to Abdulla. His first thought was to speak up and still the voices. He had already forgiven Ahmed in his mind. The accident hadn’t been his fault. “There’s no reason to throw him out,” he called out, half-climbing the steps. “It was my fault, not his. I should have been driving them.” 

Hessa turned towards him and laughed in a way that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “Who needs to throw him out when he’s leaving?” she said. “Leaving his daughter to a house with no man to look after her. She might as well have died with her sister.” 

Yuba, no,” Luluwa cried, moving toward her father, but her mother grabbed a fistful of her abaya and spun the girl around by the shoulders. 

Abdulla’s mind whirred to compute what they were witnessing. A sudden white-hot rage stiffened his spine. His gaze narrowed on Ahmed. So the rumors were true, he thought. 
“He doesn’t want me and so he doesn’t want you,” Hessa hissed, nose to nose with her daughter. 

The family froze in the entryway as understanding sluiced them like rainwater. Ahmed stood for a moment in the glare of their stares. He shifted the weekender bag into his opposite hand. 
Saoud, the middle brother, stepped forward to question Ahmed, the baby of the family, but Hessa wasn’t finished yet. “Go,” she screamed at her husband. “You’ll never set foot in any house with me in it ever again.” She collapsed onto the floor, her abaya billowing up around her like a mushroom, obscuring her face. 

Saoud moved quickly to stand in front of his brother as his wife helped Hessa up. “Think of your daughter,” she added pointedly. “The one that’s still alive.” 

Abdulla brought Luluwa forward. Her face was tear-streaked and her body trembling so hard it was causing his hand to shake. 

“Keep her, if you want,” Ahmed said, his glance flickering over Luluwa’s bent head. “My new wife will give me many sons.” He sidestepped Mohammed and Saoud, continuing on down the stairs towards his car. 

The look Hessa gave Luluwa was filled with loathing. She dissolved into another flood of tears. 
The girl darted inside. Abdulla followed as his parents tried to deal with the aftermath of his uncle’s leaving. His aunt looked as though she might faint. His cousins’ faces were ashen. 

Mohammed and Saoud murmured in low voices about the best way to deal with their brother’s child. She couldn’t live in a house with boys; one of those boys, her cousins, might one day be her husband. 

He followed Luluwa’s wailings, sounds without any force, the bleating of a cat, like one of any number roaming the streets of the city. Without a male family member to look after her, she would be as abandoned as those animals. And, in the eyes of their society, as susceptible to straying. He found her on the sofa, typing away on her laptop, and hoped she wasn’t posting their family’s mess on the internet. Wedged next to her hip was an opaque paper bag stamped with their grandfather’s name, the white tops of a few pill bottles visible. 

Abdulla came and sat on the sofa next to her, unsure of what to do next. He was assaulted by her screensaver, a photo of Fatima and Luluwa on the evening of the wedding reception. He hadn’t yet arrived with the male relatives; the bride and the rest of the women were still celebrating without hijab. His wife’s eyes stared back at him even as her sister’s now poured tears that showed no sign of stopping. 

With trembling hands Luluwa wrenched open the bag of medicine and dug around for pills. She let the laptop slip and he caught it before it hit the floor. As he righted it, the heading of the minimized Google tab caught his attention: suicide. For one moment he allowed himself to admit that the idea she was apparently contemplating had begun to dance at the edge of his own mind. 

“Don’t,” he said. “What will we do if both of you are gone?” He put the laptop aside and, as if calming a wild colt, reached out slowly, deliberately, to take the bottle from her shaking hands. With little effort he wrenched it from her, and with it any remaining shred of strength. She dissolved into incoherent sobs, a raging reminder of what it meant to be alive, to be the one left behind. 

Abdulla folded her into his arms, this slip of a girl who used to hide his car keys so that her weekend visits with her sister and brother-in-law wouldn’t have to end, this girl who had already lost so much, a sister and now a father and mother. Instead of shriveling into himself, as he had felt like doing from the moment he saw his family in mourning, Abdulla’s heart went out to Luluwa. He murmured reassurances, trying to reverse the mirror of his own loss that he saw reflected in her eyes. 

“We can do this,” he said. “She would want us to.” 

She pulled away to look at him. 

“Together,” he said. From deep in his own grief he recognized the despair that would haunt him for years, and made a pledge to keep the decay he felt growing inside him from tainting someone so young. He would bear the guilt. It was his alone to bear. 

He would speak to his father. If nothing else, perhaps Luluwa might gain a new brother, and he a little sister. Small comfort, but tied together in the knowledge of the loved one they had lost, a bond that might see them through what was to come. 

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had a baby, and made the transition from writing as a hobby to a full time passion.  She has since published seven e-books including a mom-ior for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me, a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies, a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories, and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving Peace. 

Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day to day dynamics between housemaids and their employers.

Since joining the e-book revolution, Mohana has dreamed in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website or follow her latest on Twitter @moha_doha, on Facebook, Youtube or Pinterest.

You can find Love Comes Later on Amazon and visit Mohana’s Amazon Author Page. Also, visit her Author page on Best Selling Reads.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

What do bestselling writers like to read?

Writers are inspired and informed by authors they’ve read. I asked some best-selling authors what they like to read most. This week, I’ve asked two very different authors for their opinions.

Best-selling Toby Neal is author of the Lei Crime series, set in her home state of Hawai’i; Russell Blake writes thrillers from his home in Mexico.

Name three characteristics of books that you like. What makes you keep reading a book? What are some books that you weren't able to put down until you finished them?

Toby Neal: 

I love a book with vivid characters in interesting situations most of all. I'm a voracious reader and read a variety of genres: mystery/suspense, romance, literary, memoir, sci-fi...First and foremost, the characters have to be three-dimensional and capture my interest. I also like original imagery and word choice "shaking his hand felt like grabbing a gel-filled surgical glove" is an image I remember from a new book I'm blurbing for mystery writer Thomas Matthews. Original! Memorable!  I like writing that feels confident, fresh, fast moving with a deeper message behind the outward action — and I write the kinds of books I enjoy reading.

Things I hate: 
  •     clichés
  •     formulaic plots
  •     overdescription and qualifiers: "she gasped, wailed, screeched"
  •     wandering narrative — I want to be anchored in each scene with sensory cues. New writers often launch into long dialogues that then float, unanchored, and we lose the setting 
  •     self-conscious wannabe sophistication, like no punctuation (literary can be very annoying to me).

In short, if a book has dynamic characters and solid writing, I'll read it and probably review it too!

Russell Blake: 

In fiction, I'd have to say that I look for different things depending upon my mood. When I'm in the mood for a mystery/thriller, I look for a combination of pace, plot and prose. If the pace is fast and the plot engaging I'm hooked, but if the prose does more than simply move me along, I'll be recommending the book to my friends.

I think the last book I couldn't put down was one of James Lee Burke’s — Last Car to Elysian Fields, I believe. Before that, Lawrence Block’s The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. Although these are very different styles, I found them both fully engaging and finished them within a few days.

When I'm in the mood for literary fiction, it's all about the prose. A great example of what I'm into would be Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk — quirky, unusual, but brilliant prose. Frankly, I have so little time to read these days, with my publishing schedule, I'm unlikely to have enough time to read an entire book without putting it down. But those were books I put everything aside to 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?

Russell Blake: 

Good lord, no. There's no way I could come close to James Lee Burke’s word choice or author voice, although I aspire to at least get in the same ballpark. I'd say that I tend to ignore other authors once I sit down to write — I try to learn while I'm reading, and then forget the specifics, allowing their prose to color my perception without creating something I follow.

I don't like to deconstruct when I'm reading, and the only way I could see myself emulating with any accuracy would be if I read, deconstructed, and then deliberately set out to use what I'd analyzed, which would take all the joy out of writing for me.

Toby Neal: 

I've written ten books and a memoir. Seven of them are published with great reviews. I don't need to emulate anyone anymore, but when I started out in crime mystery/police procedural, I was emulating my "idols" Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner and tried to "show not tell" virtually everything. My first book, Blood Orchids, is much choppier and more gritty in writing style than later works, where I found my "comfort zone" of a more descriptive style and less bad language and gritty violence. I prefer a more PG-13 level of violence, and my readers like that, too. I've also developed a series that's unique in the police procedural genre, which features a protagonist who starts out very damaged from child sexual abuse, gradually improves and recovers over the course of six books, and grows through a subplot love story that readers are crazy about!

Most of my early author idols’ protagonists remain fairly static, and that’s come to bore me as a reader. I eventually abandoned Stephanie Plum and Sue Grafton because the main character never changed. That frustrated me — perhaps because of my background as a mental health therapist, I want my characters to learn and grow over the course of the book(s). I hear repeatedly from readers that get hooked on my books that they like that, too.

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

Toby Neal: 

I try to avoid being clichéd and formulaic (see above annoyance list) and if my favourite writers devolve into that zone, than yes, I not only stop letting them influence me, I stop reading them. For instance, I’m not reading Patricia Cornwell anymore because I feel like she’s obsessed with detail and her books have slowed down too much for me. I can take a class in forensics if that’s what I want, rather than reading that for pleasure!

I've become much more confident in my own voice and vision, and while I read a lot (as I said above) I try to expand my own repertoire by reading all kinds of things, including nonfiction that can inform my plots. One new "indie" mystery writer I really respect is Gae Lynn Woods. I wait for her books, and they inevitably are more gruesome and twisty than mine, with Texas local color — and I love the nested mysteries and distinctive characters she does. I also really respect Gillian Flynn for her truly original plots — but I hate her characters! All of them! And yet, they’re so bizarre and captivating I can’t stop reading. Now that’s a good book, that keeps you reading even when you want to stop.

Russell Blake: 

Every author I really like tends to have something intriguing in their use of language, but I don't think they follow specific conventions. None I'm able to deduce, at any rate. The hallmark of an effective author is the ability to mind-meld with the reader and transport them along, to put them in the same place as the characters, make them hear, see, smell, touch the world you've created. So beyond trying to do so, I can't say as I consciously avoid or advocate any one thing beyond clear communication while creating beautiful sentences.

What rules of writing do you intentionally break? 

Toby Neal: 

Point of view is my favourite area to surprise and bend the rules on readers.

I try to push out with new combinations of POV in every book. Lei Crime #6, Shattered Palms, coming out in March, is the first book I've written with only one, third-person POV.

My most innovative featured an investigator in third-person past tense, and a bad guy POV in first-person present tense. It made for a sometimes jarring reading experience, and I wanted readers to be uncomfortable — I was writing about sex trafficking and sadism, without a lot of gruesomeness. I wanted the reader to be in the head of a sociopath and see their way of seeing the world. It was challenging, but I think I pulled it off in Black Jasmine.

Russell Blake: 

Well, I don't believe that there are many actual rules, more like author preferences that have been laid out as rules by the dogmatic. In that regard, I don't much care about the proscription against adverbs in dialogue tags, nor am I afraid to open with the weather, nor do I particularly fear overwriting. So I guess you could say that while I know all the rules, I break or abide by them as the story mandates rather than out of some slavish devotion.

Thank you, Toby and Russell!

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. After a few stretches of “exile” to pursue education, she has made the islands her home for the last fifteen years. Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books. Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers and enjoys life in Hawaii through outdoor activities, including beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking.

Visit her website, follow her on Twitter @tobywneal, or visit her Facebook page, LeiCrimeSeries.

 A Wall Street Journal and The Times (UK) featured author, Russell Blake is the bestselling author of twenty-five books, including the thriller novels Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, The Voynich Cypher,  Zero Sum, Silver Justice, King of Swords, Upon A Pale Horse, the Assassin series, the Delphi Chronicle trilogy, the JET series, and his latest BLACK series.

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.

Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns.

Visit his blog, where he publishes his periodic thoughts, such as they are. Follow him on twitter @BlakeBooks.