Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Delving

I’m on a little vacation today, so I’ll just point you to a site that’s good for either some in-depth research (great pics of the white pine weevil here) or some serious procrastination. You decide.

The Encyclopedia of Life


Friday, August 28, 2009

Open Pouch. Eat.

When it comes to learning new software packages (and many other things, as well), there are two kinds of people in this world. Those who read the manuals and those who don't.

I'm a manual* reader. Whenever I get something new, my first order  of business is reading the owner's manual or instruction sheet (Buy a new camera. Read the manual. Buy a new laptop. Read the manual. Buy a new flavor of Pop Tarts. Read the manual.). How else will I know how to use the product to its maximum potential?

My thirst for knowledge isn't limited to the manual provided by the manufacturer. I'll often go and get a How-To book. I'm especially fond of Pop Tartst-for-dummies-book-coverthe Dummies or Idiot's Guide Series (insert your own joke here). And I like to read every page so I don't miss a single helpful hint or trick. Hey, you never know when you'll need to call up the Cyrillic alphabet font in order to compose that letter to Cyril.

I realize there are some people born with the ability to figure out how software works by just sitting down and banging on the keyboard. I'm not one of them. On those rare occasions I try that approach, I end up getting just far enough to mess things up. Then I get royally frustrated. Then I throw things and stomp my feet and say bad words. And the kicker: I have to read the manual anyway to figure out what to do. I say it's better to open the manual in the beginning.

Evidently, I haven't passed this gene on to my children. They just install their software, double-click, and dive right in. They don't need no stinking manual.

Oh well, at least I'll know who to go to for help.

Today's bonus quiz question: Can you guess what software package I've recently purchased?**



*On-line guides, PDF instruction documents, paper manuals--it doesn't really matter. Although, I do like the feel of paper in my hands...

**My wife made me promise to state the following, in CAPITAL LETTERS. THIS PHOTO LOOKS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING LIKE ALAN ORLOFF.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are We There Yet?

For many, August means vacations. For others, staycations, daycations, and playcations have become the rage.

None of these float your boat? Don't despair, because I've stumbled upon some other, lesser known, options:

sun Raycation - Grab a beach towel and a chaise lounge and head out to the backyard to catch some sun. Don't forget your sunscreen! (For those of you with fair skin, try a Shadecation.)


Graycation - Take a trip to an Elderhostel

Naycation - Whatever the kids want to do, you tell them "No."

Neighcation - Horseback riding

Baycation - Who wants to fight ocean beach traffic?

Haycation - Visit the farm

Yaycation - Take in a few ballgames (root, root, root for the home team!)

Hooraycation - (See above) bobby-flay_med

Bobby-Flaycation - Gorge yourself on a Food Channel marathon 


Paycation - Spend your time off shopping -- on-line, QVC, E-Bay, in a real store. It doesn't matter!

Lessweighcation - Time to get on that new diet!

Oy-Veycation - When your Jewish grandmother comes to visit

Been on any good 'cations lately?


Monday, August 24, 2009

A Few Blogs to Start the Day

I start every day at the computer reading blogs. All types of blogs: writing blogs, agent blogs, marketing blogs, even blogging blogs. (I know, I know, I read too many blogs--I should be writing!).

I especially like the group blogs (glogs?) where a variety of bloggers participate. Sometimes the groups are organized around a theme, sometimes all the bloggers write for the same publisher, sometimes it's just a bunch of friends with something to say. I'm part of a group blog myself: InkSpot.

Here are just a few of my favorite mystery/suspense group blogs:

The Kill Zone
The Jungle Red Writers
Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room
Writer Unboxed 
The Outfit: A Collective of Chicago Crime Writers

Check them out! (Even though you should be writing!)  


Friday, August 21, 2009


You can tell when people have passion. The glint in their eyes, the bubbling enthusiasm in their voices, the frantic energy in their hand movements when they talk about what excites them. It's the fire inside that drives people toward a goal, often against long odds.

Passion and creativity seem to feed off each other. Go to any art, craft, or hobby show, and you'll see "creators" of all stripes, using a variety of media to produce works that are elegant or complex or just plain awesome.

Almost without exception, they're passionate about what they're doing, about what they've created with their minds and hands and hearts. They have to be, to endure uncomfortable metal folding chairs for hours, often getting weird looks and weirder comments about their objets d'art. And the pay? For most, I'd wager the money they receive doesn't begin to cover the costs of the materials, let alone compensate them for the hours and hours spent on their craft and the basement full of "not-quite-perfects."

Writers are a passionate bunch, too. Passion wordle

I can tell passionate authors from the first page, through their voice. Their passion is what gives the story that extra oomph, that unique sparkle. I know if authors have passion, I'm going to get a good story.

These days, writers also need passion to get their book into the hands of readers. I don't see how writers could spend months--or years--working on a single project, without any assurances that it will get published and read, unless something spurred them on.

This passion was on display at the Virginia Festival of the Book I attended back in March. Held in Charlottesville, the Festival is a great event, bringing scores of authors together with their readers to talk books. There are panels, lectures, how-to sessions, displays, and, of course, book signings.

After lunch, the keynote speaker, Brad Meltzer, set up shop in the lobby to sign books. The line snaked all the way through the lobby and down an adjacent hallway. Close to a hundred eager fans waited patiently for a chance to get their book signed by a famous author.

But it was the action in the back of the lobby that grabbed my attention. This area was reserved for authors to market their own books. I'd wager that no one--outside of a small circle of friends and family--had ever heard of these authors. Many were self-published, some were with small presses, some were with microscopic presses. Their genres ranged from local history to memoir to military strategy to "making better times happen" through chrono-cognitive therapies (technically, probably not a "genre").

There were no lines stretching out the door for these folks.

Instead, these passionate authors-turned-salespeople hustled. They had a product to sell--one they fervently believed in--and they stood beside their little tables, doing whatever they could to attract the browsers. Some shook hands of everyone who passed, some resorted to calling out like carnival barkers, others gave away candy or bookmarks or postcards or Xeroxed pamphlets containing excerpts. All sported broad smiles.

It wouldn't surprise me if Brad Meltzer sold more books during his single signing than any of the other self-pubbed authors sold throughout their book's lifetime.

But I do know this--they share one thing.


(This entry has been “simul-posted” on InkSpot)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Read This

Here's another recommendation:

No_Mercy_cover If you like your thrillers thrilling, and your action novels full of action, then head to the bookstore and pick up John Gilstrap's latest, NO MERCY.

From the back cover:

"Deep inside the dangerous world of rescue operations, one anonymous hero pays no ransom, takes no prisoners, and breaks every rule. Meet Jonathan Grave...

No names. No feds. No trace evidence. That's how Jonathan Grave operates. As a freelance specialist in covert rescues, he has to work outside the law to get things done--especially in highly sensitive hostage situations. But when an Indiana college student is abducted, and Jonathan's meticulous plan explodes into a deadly shooting spree, the local authorities are out for blood--and they're not alone. Someone wants to control a devastating secret...someone rich and powerful...someone willing to capture, torture, and kill anyone to get it. Even the people Jonathan loves most..."

Every so often (okay, frequently), I like to read a book where a no-nonsense, kick-butt hero takes on the bad guys and teaches them a lesson they'd never learn in school. NO MERCY satisfies those primal urges perfectly. Gilstrap is a master of pacing and this one grabs you in its clutches, refusing to let go until the final page.

NO MERCY is the first installment in a new series, and I hope Jonathan Grave sticks around for a long time.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Been A Long Time, Mr. Peanut

I decided to clean my office.

This is a task I think about frequently, but that's usually about as far as it gets. This time, though, something compelled me to follow through.

I'm not one of those people who can function only in an uncluttered space (thank goodness!). I can write sitting amidst mounds of books, papers, electronics, CDs, furniture, clothing--whatever. Actually, I find all the junk makes for good footrests.

So why now?

I'm not sure. (Aside from the fact that it's been about five years since I last cleaned, and the dust bunnies have all grown up and had their own little baby dust bunnies. Heck, there are about fifteen generations of dust bunnies inhabiting the corners and crevices of my office.)

Maybe it's the scent of the approaching school year. As a kid, I'd always thought of September as kind of a "fresh start" to things.

Or maybe it's the fact that it takes me an inordinate amount of time to find anything, if I can find it at all.*

But I also think it might have something to do with what's going to be happening over the next seven or eight months. I have a (strong) feeling that I'll be doing a lot more "non-writing" activities as my book release draws near. And I suppose I'll need some more space to store all those bookmarks, business cards, ARCs, galley proofs, envelopes, and whatever other neat (or completely unnecessary) items for the book launch.

Whatever the impetus, I've started cleaning.

I've already found some great stuff. A t-shirt (that still fits!) from my Mrpeanutninth grade baseball team (Go Reds!). My beloved red plastic Mr. Peanut coin bank. Thirty-four thousand pens and pencils, some of  which still write. Two dead laptops. Dozens of cords and cables and adapters, most for devices I no longer own. Battery testers and battery chargers and batteries, batteries, batteries. Eight used toner cartridges for my laser printer.** A clay turtle and starfish my younger son made in preschool (he's in sixth grade now). Not one, but two plastic bags of old, mismatched socks (hey, don't ask me, I only work there!). I still haven't located my slide rule, but I'm pretty sure it's in the debris somewhere.

Of course, I still have one giant question.

Where will I put all this stuff?


*I'd post a few pictures of what my office looks like, but I can't find my camera.

**I have a fantasy where I'll put each one back in and suck out every last particle of toner. I also have a fantasy where I'll find some miracle cure for my golf swing and be a factor on the Senior Tour in a few years. BTW, I've been told fantasies are healthy.


Friday, August 14, 2009

This One's for Galen

Galen Kindley left some excellent questions in the comment trail of my last post, including: "Have you achieved any 'real-world,' tangible benefits through conference attending? That is, did you realize a payback?"

Here's what I think writing/mystery conferences are great for:

  • Learning the craft of writing
  • Learning the publishing business
  • Networking with other writers, published and unpublished
  • Getting energized
  • Hanging out in the bar
  • Talking about books
  • Networking with editors, agents, reviewers, conference organizers, publicists, booksellers, etc.
  • Attending cocktail parties, auctions, movie screenings, readings, interviews--all focused on books!
  • Getting feedback on your work
  • Finding other writers to be critique partners
  • Pitching to agents, formally (during a pitch session) and informally (during lunch or at the bar or in the elevator--remember: be cool, no stalking!)
  • Meeting/pitching editors
  • Buying books
  • Seeing how published authors participate on panels
  • Did I mention hanging out in the bar?

Here's what I think writing/mystery conferences are NOT great for:

  • Making money (unless you're a best-seller and sell a ton of books during your signing)

(Note: my comments are oriented toward the unpublished writer, although many of the above benefit writers in any stage. Once you’re published and are promoting a book, your goals will probably shift more toward marketing and promotion.)

So back to Galen's question: Have I achieved any real-world, tangible benefits? Did I realize a payback?

My answer: an unqualified, unequivocal, resounding MAYBE.

I think quantifying the benefit of a conference, like counting the number of agents who can dance on the head of a pin, is difficult.

Attending a conference can be expensive. There's the registration fee, airline ticket, hotel room, food, drink, and other traveling costs. And don’t forget all those books from the book room. So, strictly financially speaking, I have not achieved a "payback" -- yet.

But almost without exception, I'm glad I attended the conferences I did. I know the direction I want my writing career to take, and going to conferences is one of the stepping stones along my path. I feel more connected to the writing community, and I've met lots of terrific writers. I've learned a ton--about writing craft, about the publishing business, and about creative ways to market my books. I've gotten feedback about works-in-progress, I've met editors and agents, and, yes, I've visited the bar.

Quantifiable benefits? Hard to say. Worth the money? In my opinion, an unqualified, unequivocal, resounding YES.

It all depends on your goals.

What are some of the benefits you've gotten out of conferences?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Have Book, Will Travel

I know it's August (I can tell by how hard the summer doldrums have hit me), but I've started thinking about my conference schedule for next year. DIAMONDS doesn't come out until April, so I'm concentrating on events after that (except for some local happenings).

Here's what I'm considering, so far:

Other possible conferences on my radar include:

(Unfortunately, Sleuthfest and Left Coast Crime are being held before April 1. They'll go on the 2011 list.)

I'm sure there are other great conferences I'm missing. Any recommendations?


Monday, August 10, 2009

Getting Blurby

The time is fast approaching when I'll be asking some admired writers for blurbs.* The other morning, lying in bed during that hazy, semi-conscious zone between slumber and full lucidity, a few potential blurbs scrolled before my eyes:

"DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD is the best book I've read since…
the last one."

"Orloff is a writer like no other."

"The words turned into sentences turned into paragraphs turned into chapters. Mesmerizing!"

"I thoroughly read this book..."

What's the best way to go about soliciting blurbs? Luckily, I found some excellent advice recently. Here are two blog posts that sum up the whole "asking for blurbs" process better than I ever could:

Louise Ure at Murderati goes over some etiquette and provides a list of Do's and Don'ts. Ignore them at your own peril! Click here.

Guest blogger Lauren Baratz-Logsted (subbing in at Nathan Bransford's blog) provides a rundown of the whole blurbing routine, and she also has some fine Do's and Don'ts. Click here.

Wish me luck!


*This isn't the first time I've thought about getting blurbs (nor the last, I'm sure). See earlier post here.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thanks, Links, and Hijinks

Thanks again to Elizabeth Spann Craig for guest blogging yesterday. Her tips on marketing to libraries were terrific. Visit her blog at Mystery Writing is Murder to learn more marketing and promotion strategies. (Also go get her book, Pretty Is As Pretty Dies.)


Deb Sharp had a great spot on NBC’s Today Show on Tuesday, talking about her new book, Mama Rides Shotgun. You can see her appearance here.


I saw this funny video about book promotion on YouTube (courtesy of Richard Brawer, on the MurderMustAdvertise Yahoo Group):  Click here.


And for all you blog readers wondering how things are going with my new laptop, you can rest easy. Everything is going fine (with the exception of one operator-error)—thanks for asking!


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Promoting to Libraries

Please welcome guest blogger Elizabeth Spann Craig

ElizabethSpannCraig Getting your book onto library shelves means you’re reaching a wider audience of readers. If you’re a series writer or hope to publish more than just one book, then you’re developing a readership.  In these tough times, getting your book into a reader’s hands frequently means getting it into the library.


Here are my thoughts and tips on library marketing:

Find out which libraries have your book.  Go to, which searches libraries for content worldwide.  You just plug in your book’s name, hit the search button, and find the results.  My new book is currently listed in 84 libraries.  After your marketing efforts, go back to WorldCat to find out if your work was successful.

For a listing of public libraries, go to Public You’ll get physical addresses, phone numbers, and websites (from which you can get the library’s email address).

There’s a debate among authors as to whether old-fashioned mailings or emailed marketing work best for bookstores and libraries.  One side says that emails are too easy to ignore or delete.  The other side says that mailings are expensive and just as easy to discard.  I think either method increases our exposure.

Whatever method you use, be sure to target the acquisitions librarian.  Your email or postcard should include a cover photo, ISBN number, title of the book, publisher’s name, your name, release date, short summary, and any good review snippets (many libraries may be familiar only with your Library Journal review.)  Some authors suggest that you should also include a link to a discount bookseller because some publishers don’t give libraries discounts.

Ask friends and family in other counties or states to request their library purchase a copy of your book. This can usually be done online in most library systems.

Befriend libraries on Twitter: lists libraries that tweet. Wonder if it helps? My motto is that it can’t hurt—unless you use Twitter to spam, which is a big no-no. They may not choose to follow you back, but most libraries will.

Have bookmarks of your book printed for your local library or to include with any mailings you make.  Libraries can put these bookmarks on their check-out counter for their patrons.  This increases exposure for your book among readers.

Unfortunately, libraries are victims of the downturned economy like so many other institutions.  But they are still acquiring materials. With a little work on our part, our own novels can sit on their shelves and reach a new audience of readers. 



Elizabeth Spann Craig’s mystery, Pretty Is As Pretty Dies, was released this week from Midnight Ink. She blogs at Mystery Writing Is Murder and at InkSpot. Visit for more information.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Shout Outs

Some news about two of my fellow Midnight Ink writers:



Tomorrow morning, sometime between 9 and 10 a.m., tune it to see Deb Sharp on NBC's Today Show, talking about her new book, MAMA RIDES SHOTGUN. As Deb/Mama herself would say, "Yee-haw!"




Elizabeth Spann Craig's PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DIES was released over the weekend, and I can’t wait to read about Myrtle Clover’s mystery-solving adventures.

An added treat: Elizabeth will be the guest blogger, right here, this Wednesday. Be sure to stop by to hear some of her thoughts on the writing biz!




(Aren’t their covers awesome? I’ll be sharing my cover in the near future—and it’s pretty awesome, too!)