Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label publishing. Show all posts

14 August 2016

Pricing Your Book

by Leigh Lundin

Shareware and Bookware

You’ve heard or tried or even purchased shareware, programs that independent or amateur developers offer to try before you buy. Prices vary wildly, from a dollar or two on up, sometimes way up. An acquaintance who wrote an application complained he wasn’t making money from his shareware program. Setting aside that no one gets rich writing shareware, he was asked why he charged $45.

“Because it’s worth it,” he said. “I deserve to get $45. If I charge less, it will take longer to make money. Besides, Macrosoft Blotto costs $49 and I undercut them.”

Face Palm

For the hundredth time, I lamented that we aren’t educated in economics. To be sure, it’s not an exciting subject, but it’s essential to living in a modern age. Just as judges should have law degrees, politicians should be required to pass an economics exam. Without an understanding of economics, their decisions about budgets and taxes, fiscal and monetary policy are nothing but guesswork.

Unlike some of our shareware friends, merchants in the Apple and Android stores price much more sensibly, usually charging no more than a dollar or two. Why is charging $1 better than charging $45?

Because the guy with a $1 program is likely to sell thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or more, while the fellow with a $40 application will sell only a few. The lower the price, the more an item will sell.

book sales based on price
price sold made
$9 1 $09
$8 2 $16
$7 4 $28
$6 6 $36
$5 10 $50
$4 15 $60
$3 21 $63
$2 32 $64
$1 72 $72
Making Book

Let’s turn our attention to publishing, particularly ebooks since we won’t have to factor in printing costs. You write a brilliant 200 000 word opus, Gone with the Wind in the Willows. Sadly, traditional publishers, those dastardly gatekeepers, don’t appreciate your Cinderella superheroine and the Trotskyite plot in an 1880s Wild West space setting.

Curse those professionals! What can you do? You publish electronically. And because it’s that good, you price it at $9. Your dismayed financial advisor asks how you arrived at that price. Obviously yours has many pages and $9 seems a lot less than $10, which all the really, really good books cost.

So you go to market and sell… exactly one.

After thanking mom, you wonder what went wrong? Disgusted, you slash a dollar off the price now set at $8. You check back the next month in case one or two sold. And… two it is. You thank your sisters and price the damn thing at $5.

That month, you sell ten for a total of $50. Not great, but better than previous months. Still, you made more money selling those velvet Star Wars paintings at roadside rest stops.

units sold as a function of price
Reality Bites

Realization dawns that a Lamborghini will remain out of reach a while longer. Obviously your financial advisor was right about overpricing, but maybe you can still make a little beer money, the cheap stuff, nothing imported.

In disgust, you price your novel at $1. Looking at the numbers sold in previous months, you should sell a lot if you slash the price to just one American greenback, one Canadian loonie, one New Zealand kiwi, one aussie, one euro, one quid… You don’t care anymore. At a dollar a copy, you won’t see a profit until next Tisha B’Av.

Weeks later, you glumly look into the ebook site and a funny thing has happened. Your sales report says your book sold 72 copies. Wow, that’s great. You’ll never grow rich, but you’re excelling and you just finished your second book, Salomé versus Godzilla. If you can get a hundred novels on-line, you might be able to retire from the garden gnome insurance industry you’ve been slaving in.

You become curious about pricing models and wonder what sales might be at different price points. In the following months, you methodically adjust the price and graph the results. You discover that the lower the price, the more money you make.

You’re no John Floyd, but you write hundreds of stories, giving you an opportunity to test market price sensitivity. You carefully map price versus sales of your latest works. In the process, you learn a few surprises. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred and one, the lower the price, the more you make. Except…

units sold increased but revenue dropped
price sold made
$9 1 $09
$8 2 $16
$7 4 $28
$6 6 $36
$5 10 $50
$4 15 $60
$3 21 $63
$2 32 $64
$1 60 $60
Thrown Curve

For the initial eight months of Conan the Badass, sales figures match those of the first. Although projections suggest month nine should return sales of $70-75, that doesn’t happen although the graph still looks positive. For month nine, sales nearly doubled, but you made only $60. What happened?

You need a different graph, one that reflects not just sales, but revenue, the total dollar amount taken in each month.

You’ve learned lowering the price increased demand, increased it so much that customers started buying. To recap, in your first month, you sold one copy at $9 for a total of $9. The second month, you sold 2 at $8 each and made $16. When you lowered the price to $5, you made $50.

But your fickle customers didn’t meet expectations when prices hit the $1 mark. Although consumers bought fewer copies at $2, you made more money. Most interesting, you’ve discovered this without doing any math. Sure, a market professional could derive a y-intercept equation, but you don’t need it. All you require are revenue numbers and a sheet of graph paper.

lowering price increases sales, but…
Sweet Spots

Economics textbooks usually graph in nice, straight lines, but occasionally consumers behave in less predictable ways. This can happen with fads and booms, anti-cyclical products, and a concept called inelasticity.

Coffee tends to be inelastic… consumers will pay almost any price. A parent with a baby must buy milk and diapers; they have no choice. Once identified, patterns can be mathematically followed and foreseen.

Occasionally luxury goods prove inelastic. Packard was a premier motorcar favored by the very rich and desired by ordinary hoi polloi. When Packard priced an automobile like a Chevrolet, sales collapsed. The company had inadvertently devalued their brand. Once anyone could own one, nobody wanted one.

Your model might turn out to be a flat line or inelastic. That can happen in two ways. The bad way is that not even your mom buys your brilliant biography, the one titled Karl, the Sixth Marx Brother. The good way is that your Harry Potter and the 50 Shades of Godawful Grey flies off the shelf no matter how much you charge. One can always hope.

Soft Spots

Contrarily, the volatile nature of fads makes trends difficult to anticipate. In the latter 1990s, Ty Warner’s Beanie Babies mania became an incredible craze, retailing in limited editions for $5 and reselling as much as $5000 on-line with a few going for six figures. At one time Beanie Babies comprised 10% of eBay sales. Like other fads, the bubble burst. Ty Inc. no longer lists Beanie Babies among their toys. Most Beanie collections now sell in bulk for 50¢ apiece.

Some products can be labeled anti-cyclical. The Great Depression brought about textbook examples of movie attendance, ice cream, and women’s hosiery. Grand movie palaces were built and, for the price of a nickel, gave people sanctuary for a few hours and a chance to forget their troubles. A three-penny sundae might be the highlight of a dreadful day standing in unemployment lines. At a time when many things were going wrong, silk hose could make a woman feel more positive about herself. In a down market, sales of these products rose.

revenue as a function of price…
sometimes things go wrong

In setting your price point, plotting units sold (books in our case) versus price tells only part of the story. The real key is plotting revenue (price x units) against price. Consider the graph above and then this one.

According to the trend line, the book should have sold 70 or 75 copies, but thanks to quirks of buyers or a softening of the market, the audience didn’t behave as expected.

If you meticulously plotted your sales revenue on a graph, you see the ideal price point isn’t $1, but $2. This isn’t typical, but public tastes and trends can develop quirks. A popular author might publish novels in her mainstream series at $2 a copy and her lesser offshoots and novellas at $1 each. In this case, pricing aids in ‘product differentiation’, helping the customer distinguish merchandise.

The Bottom Line

Your mileage may vary. Generally, the lower the price, the more books you will sell and the more money you will likely make. Graphs help explain what happens behind the scenes. E-publishing provides a huge advantage in that your manufacturing costs are practically nil. If you’re going to take your novel to market, seize that advantage and give your book its best possible chance.

What is your experience?

“Until next Tisha B’Av” (pronounced “tish-above”) is an expression meaning an indefinite time, like saying “second Tuesday of next week” or the “twelfth of Never”.

12 October 2015

Changes Are A Coming--Part 2

Jan Grape
As most of you already know, changes have come and things keep changing almost daily. Is publishing as we know it dead or dying? Are we heading for a world of "No real books?" Maybe, and seriously I hope not. E-readers are the future but for a little time longer I hope we continue with books made with paper.
Some words from my friend and fellow writer, Noreen Ayres regarding changes in the publishing landscape. She wrote this to the American Crime Writers League but, agreed to let me share it with all of you.
Advice proliferates in carefully thought-out newsletter pieces which a writer has stolen time to offer, the same for author blogs, and as topics in panels at writers' conferences. For instance, intricate advice is available in the July/August MWA newsletter as to how to go about self-publishing, an effort that formerly carried a stigma that has largely since vanished.

What I see in either traditional or self-publishing is an exhausting list of marketing and publicity demands requiring an author to have the vitality of a twenty-year-old, the available time of an unemployed person with no family demands, or the madness of an obsessive/compulsive idealist with ironclad armor. Bleak as it goes, some of us will simply say thanks for the wonderful party as long as it lasted and now it's time to move on to other endeavors and pleasures-if we can tear loose.

But I do want to offer this thought. When I heard Walter Mosley in the middle of his career answer the question about how to get published, I was (sadly) amused. He said he didn't know anything about anything, nothing at all. And let's not forget screenwriter William Goldman, in his "Adventures in the Screen Trade", offering his famous statement about the movie industry: "Nobody knows anything." What it means for any of us is that doors open for seemingly no reason and shut for the same. If we keep on and don't publish again, there's a bunch of trash for relatives to figure out what to do with. If we keep on and do publish, we make new friends, and friends are the second-best gift of love after family, wouldn't you say?

Just one more thing while I'm rattling on. The article I learned the most from as editor of our ACWL newsletter contained responses to my interviews with our true-crime author members. I will always admire the extra hard work of those whose research includes interviews of crime investigators, victims, or even perpetrators. If you're still "out there," authors, thanks again.

It is easy to get discouraged nowadays about publishing Yet I know people who are writing books like crazy and getting contracts from publishing houses. I think it still is true that you have to be read by the right editor at the right time. And the right time can be crucial. An editor admitted to me once that she bought a manuscript simply because she had set a coffee cup down on the top page, leaving coffee rings, so many times she was too embarrassed to send it back to the author and it just so happened she had an open slot. She immediately sent a contract. Okay, the book was good, not great and the editor hadn't totally decided to accept or reject but she did accept to keep from sending it back. I remember a writer years ago saying, getting published it like playing that arcade game where the Big Claw hovers over a pile of plush toys and occasionally the claw reaches down and grabs a winner. That's just about how it works.

However, many writers are turning to publishing books online as E-books. Some are putting their back list online as E-books and are making fairly good money doing so. Some publishers are publishing a book in hard copy and in their own imprint form of E-books. I know some authors who are doing both. Publishing with an established publishing house and also publishing new books as E-books. And many writers are using online publishing totally, having given up on being published by a brick and mortar publisher. Either way you go has to be what you think is the best thing for you. Where you can make enough money to continue this fond habit we have of wanting to tell a story.

My best advice is to Keep On Writing.

Now: A funny, frustrating cautionary true tale. Two weeks ago I went to Round Rock Kia, a car dealership in a northern suburb of Austin, to consider purchasing a newer pre-owned vehicle. It was late afternoon when I arrived around 6 p.m. I soon was test-driving and deciding on a brand new Kia Soul. I like the car a lot and since it was the last of the month and the 2015 line was closing out I was able to get a reasonable deal. Something I could afford. By the time I had signed reams and reams of paper, promising a pint of blood and the next male child born into my family I was ready to leave the dealer. I was the proud owner of what the company called an Alien Green 2015 Kia Soul. I called my sister a few minutes before I left as she lived nearby and I wanted to go by and show-off. It was 10 p.m. when I left the car place. I drove around the block and onto Interstate 35. Approximately a mile from the car dealer, I was sideswiped. My brand new car went...Kerruunnch. I wasn't hurt. My airbags didn't even deploy. My side view mirror was destroyed.

I couldn't believe it, there was a white car that passed right in front of me and there was an off ramp. I saw the car go off and I followed, thinking they were going to pull over and we'd exchange insurance information. Nope, they weren't into that. Stopping, I mean. I had slowed down looking for a place to pull over while the white car, way up ahead now, sped up and hopped back on the freeway. For a minute I thought I should follow and get their license number but then I realized it was foolish to do that. I pulled over and called my sister and told her what had happened. She reminded me that the police wouldn't come out they'd just have you fill out an accident report.

I drove to my sister's house and started to get out. That's when I discovered my door wouldn't open any more than a couple of inches. My brother-in-law said he could bang that binding metal out for me but I was afraid the insurance company might consider that tampering with the car so we left it alone and I drove the 65 mile trip to my house. Now picture a 76 year old woman with bursitis in the left hip and two knees that aren't the best, trying to climb over the console to get out the passenger door. Took several long minutes before I noticed the hand hold above the passenger door and lifted my "large bootie" out. I had been a little afraid I'd have to spend the night in my new damaged car.

Next morning I call my insurance agent at State Farm and verified that I was indeed covered and that my insurance covered a rental car. I had two things scheduled that I needed to go to so I made arrangements for the repair shop to get my door open for me. They did and the next day I took my new damaged car to be repaired. I got my car back yesterday and it is fixed good as new.
Thank goodness I wasn't hurt. Thank goodness I had good insurance. And now I don't have to worry about getting a ding in my new car. It's already been dinged.

However, I'm hoping karma has already bitten the driver of the white car and keeps on biting.

Until next time, drive safely.

03 June 2015

There's a contract out on me

by Robert Lopresti

I did something unusual this week.  I signed a publisher's contract.

Well, technically I have signed a lot of such agreements over the years.  Mostly for short stories, a few times for books.  But this one feels different.

First of all, it's for nonfiction, a book related to my day job, not to the world of mysteries.  But that's not the important difference.

You see, every contract I have signed in the past has been an agreement that a publisher would put out something I had written.  This time I am agreeing to write something.  In other words, I am committing myself to have a book that meets certain specification finished by a certain date.

That's right.  I have a deadline.

I wrote a rather cranky piece many years ago about fellow authors who complain about the tyranny of deadlines.  My point was that some of us would be thrilled if an editor was waiting for us
to write THE END.  When you are having a bad day at what Rex Stout called the alphabet piano it is depressing to realize that no one but you gives a damn whether you keep pounding away or go outside and fly a kite.

Be careful what you wish for, because there is now a big publishing house at the other end of the country where, I like to imagine, an editor is standing with his arms folded, one foot tapping, watching the calendar pages slowly turn, and waiting for my masterpiece to arrive.

So, excuse me if I keep today's missive short.  I have fifteen months to crank out 110,000 words.  Wish me luck.

08 September 2014

Introducing Callie Parrish

Last Monday, Jan Grape wrote about the Meet My Character Blog Tour.  Tagged authors write about their main characters by answering questions on their blogs.  The writers then invite one to five other authors to join. Jan tagged me, so here goes:
1.  What is the name of your character?  Is he or she fictional or a historic person?
THERE'S A BODY IN THE CAR, these Callie fans showed
up dressed as Callie on the left and Jane on the right. They
definitely matched the way I see these characters as I write
about them although Callie is known to dye her hair 
frequently so is occasionally blond.
The main character of my first six books is fictional Callie Parrish. Her full name is Calamine Lotion Parrish.  When her mother died giving birth to their sixth child, Callie's father got drunk--really drunk. This was his first daughter and the only thing female he could think of was the color pink.  The only pink that came to mind was Calamine Lotion.  Callie frequently thanks heaven that Pa didn't think of Pepto Bismol.  If you don't recognize the particular shade of pink in front of me in the above picture, it's a Victoria's Secret pink bag which contained a gift from Jane.  

2.  When and where is the story set? 

Callie's adventures are set in contemporary times and primarily in the fictional town of St. Mary located near coastal Beaufort, SC. In the series, Callie and her BFF, visually handicapped Jane Baker, have encountered murders in other places such as a bluegrass festival on Surcie Island and a casket manufacturer in North Carolina.

4.  What should we know about him/her?

Callie works as a cosmetician/Girl Friday at Middleton's Mortuary for her twin bosses, Otis and Odell Middleton.  After graduating from St. Mary High School, she left St. Mary to attend the university in Columbia, SC, where she married and worked for several years as a kindergarten teacher. After her husband "did what he did" to make her divorce him, she returned to St. Mary where she spends time with Jane, her daddy, her five brothers, and whoever she's dating. She likes working at the funeral home better than teaching kindergarten because the people she works with at Middleton's lie still instead of jumping around all the time, don't yell or cry, and don't have to tee-tee every five minutes.

Callie's time teaching five-year-olds led her to stop using some of the language she grew up with living in a house with only her father and five older brothers.  Instead, she "kindergarten cusses," which consists of "Dalmation!" when she's irritated and "Shih tzu!" when she's extremely annoyed. She has a Harlequin Great Dane dog who's named Big Boy though he acts more like a girl dog. Callie is a talented banjo player and vocalist, but she's not perfect. She can't cook, and she's flat-chested which led her to wear inflatable bras because she's scared of breast-augmentation surgery.

5.  What is the personal goal of this character?

In the first books, Callie's goals (besides solving murders and her own personal survival as well as Jane's) were to convince Jane to stop shoplifting and to comfort families by providing peaceful memory pictures of their deceased relatives. She also wanted a closer relationship with her redneck father and to meet a romantic interest as unlike her ex-husband as possible.  She achieved these goals except finding the right romantic interest, but she's still looking.

6.  Can we read about this character yet? 

The top three Callies were published by Berkley Prime Crime, and the
first three on the bottom row were published by Bella Rosa Books.  
 Kudzu River is not a Callie Parrish mystery.  In fact, it's as far from cozy
as possible.  Kudzu River is a novel of abuse, murder, and retribution 
that's scheduled for release by Odyssey South Publishing in November.  
The six Callie Parrish mysteries are all available electronically. The first three are out-of-print, but used copies can sometimes be found on Amazon.  Callie books four through six are available in print and electronically from Bella Rosa Books and on Amazon.

7.  Who do you tag?

I've tagged Janice Law, and her Character Blog will appear right here on Monday, September 22, 2014.  A surprise Character Blog is scheduled for my first Monday in November.  If you're interested in participating in the Meet Your Character Blog Tour, let me know. 

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you. 

30 August 2014

Why Writers Drink

“Recent studies show that approximately 40% of writers are manic depressive. The rest of us just drink.” (I sold this to a comedian during my comedy writing years.)
THE ARTFUL GODDAUGHTER launches this Monday on Amazon, Kobo and in bookstores.
This is the third book in the Derringer and Arthur Ellis Award-winning comedy series about a reluctant mob Goddaughter who can’t seem to leave the family business.

As it happens, I also finished writing the 4th book of the trilogy <sic> this week.  I am now in that stage of euphoria mixed with abject fear.  Here’s why:

Below are the 8 stages of birthing a novel, and why fiction writers drink.

1.  JOY – You are finished your manuscript.  Damn, it’s good!  The best thing you’ve written, and it’s ALL DONE and on deadline!  Time to open the Glenlivet.

2.  ANGST -  You submit manuscript to your publisher.  Yes, even though they’ve already published 5 of your novels, you still don’t know if they will publish this one.  Will they like it?  Is it as funny as you think it is?  Is it garbage?  Glenlivet is required to get through the next few days/weeks.

3.  RELIEF - They send you a contract – YAY!  You are not a has-been!  Your baby, which was a year in the making (not merely 9 months) will have a life!
Glenlivet is required to celebrate.

4.  ASTONISHMENT – The first round of edits come back.  What do they mean you have substantive changes to make?  That story was PERFECT, dammit!  They got the 15th draft, not the 1st.  Commiserate with other writers over Glenlivet in the bar at The Drake. 

5.  CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT – The changes they require are impossible.  You’ll never be able to keep it funny/full of high tension, by taking out or changing that scene.  What about the integrity?  Motivation? And what’s so darn bad about being ‘too slapstick,’ anyway?  This is comedy! 
Can’t sleep.  Look for Glenlivet.

6.  ACCEPTANCE – Okay, you’re rewriting, and somehow it’s working.  Figured out how to write around their concerns.  New scene is not bad.  Not as good as the original, of course (why couldn’t they see that) but still a good scene.  Phew.  You’re still a professional. 
Professionals drink Glenlivet, right?

7.  JOY – They accept all your changes!  YAY!  All systems go. This baby will have a life. 
Celebrate the pending birth with a wee dram of Glenlivet.

8.  ANGST -  Are they kidding?  THAT’S the cover? 

Melodie Campbell drinks Glenlivet just south of Toronto, and lurks at  To be clear, she loves the cover of The Artful Goddaughter (Orca Books).  

11 December 2012

The Dark Valley of Unpublished Stories

As I have mentioned in earlier postings, I have a few unpublished stories concealed in my trusty desk.  It's not important how many; we're not bean counters, right?  No, we're writers, artists of the highest order, sensitive people who see the world a little...oh, alright then, more than ten, but less than fifty.  How's that?  And yeah, a couple of novels stuck in a drawer somewhere.  You happy now?  Sheesh!

Sometimes, when I've run out of writing ideas, I take a little walk down memory lane and enter the valley of unpublished stories.  It's usually twilight in the valley and a little misty.  The path, overgrown and difficult to follow, threads its way through years of literary endeavor; an elephants' graveyard of lofty aspirations.  Here and there, nearly hidden in the undergrowth, headstones lean drunkenly, lichen covered and barely discernible.  Approaching with a mixture of dread and nostalgia, I wind my way through their titles: Anti-Intruder, Wisdom (I must have been channeling De Maupassant when I picked that title), Green Messiah, The Writer's Wife, The Book of Yaroes, etc...   All so beautiful...and they never had a chance.  What a loss to the world, I cry.

Then, when I'm feeling especially foolish, I'll dig one up and flip through a few pages.  That's when I get the cold water in the face and couple of sharp, stinging slaps for good measure.  Not every time, mind you, but a lot.  So I get a little flushed and ask myself, "You did not submit this...did you?  What were you thinking?  Your writing sucks, dude!"  Said walk through the valley comes to a screeching halt and I get busy with the old shovel and spade.

They're not all bad, of course, and some show a little promise--some more than others.  But they all offer a few lessons in writing, as well as illustrating a little personal history.  It's a bit like thumbing through the high school year book--yeah, that's you alright...but not anymore, Sonny Jim, not anymore.  My choice of subjects is revealing in terms of where I was in my life at that time.  Happily, my efforts appear to improve as they march through the years.  Two reasons occur to me for this: Firstly, practice makes perfect--my craftsmanship improved with repetition, as well as a lot of trial and error.  Secondly, I hesitate to say I've grown wiser, but I've certainly matured since I began, and the writing shows it, I like to think.

One thing that I notice is that in the earliest stories I relied more on atmosphere and a sense of place than I do now.  They were more like walk-through paintings, murals, perhaps--action and dialogue were clearly aspects of story-telling with which I was less comfortable.  As the years passed it became evident that my confidence in those areas improved, though I still approach dialogue with trepidation--sometimes it flows well, and at others it's a struggle.  I hear that I am not alone in this.

Writing action sequences has become one of my favorite things to do now.  It seems the easiest to me, which is probably why I like it--you don't have much dialogue to worry about, the setting is generally already established, and it's a great way to reveal aspects of the characters without a lot of obvious narration. 

My stroll through the graveyard of stories reveals that I have almost consistently avoided use of first-person.  It seems that, from my earliest days as a writer, I have side-stepped this convention, in spite of the fact that some of my favorite stories are told in exactly this way.  I have no explanation for this.  Perhaps some psychological insight might be contained in this observation, if only I had the psychological insight to do so.  Writer, know thyself.  Or is it better not to?  Do we become too mannered the more self-aware and, possibly, self-conscious that we become?  Or is it liberating in the sense of making one comfortable enough, and confident enough, to make the most of one's own talent and experiences?  I am of two minds on this subject, as I am on so many when it comes to writing.  Mostly, I just want to write, and write real good, without having to work too hard at it or know myself uncomfortably well.  This seems funner to me.

But the revenants in the Valley of Unpublished Stories seem to say otherwise.  "Go thou from this vale of tears," they command.  "Go dwell in the sunlight amongst your progeny...and work, work, damn you, so that this sad place will have no further interments.  We are your victims, do not increase our number--even if it means that you work like a dog and have less time for drinking than you'd like!  Learn from us and never, ever, repeat the mistakes that brought us to this forsaken place.  And, oh yeah, on you way out close the gate behind you and pick up that candy wrapper--that wasn't here before."

I not only close the gate, I put a padlock on it.      


21 May 2012

Departure of an alien, and other thoughts

Jan GrapeThe Alien in my house has returned to his home planet, taking the captured female humanoid with him.  She practically lived here with us for the past 2-3 months. No, they didn't get married, but the Greyhound Bus carried them both away this past Wednesday evening. I gave them both a hug and wished them luck in their new adventures.

Some Aliens and some grandmothers probably just weren't meant to live in the same house. Too much age difference.  His music didn't make sense to me and mine was all too country for him.  His constant, "Whaaazzup Nana," grated. All those squawks and beeps and raps from those things stuck in his ears were nerve-wracking. I guess if I'm totally honest, I'm just too ancient to be around aliens anymore. My sense of time and space, right and wrong, good and bad is just not geared for the teen-age male and I was probably too quick to react to warnings of "Danger, danger."

So life at my house is slowly returning to normal, whatever normal means.  A friend once said, "Normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer."  Nick and Nora are now my only and best companions.  They do talk back but "Meow," is fairly easy enough for me to understand.  Food, water, clean litter box and many nice strokes and face rubs keeps them happy.

I am excited to think about getting back to a more organized writing schedule. Something about other people in my house and my brain sometimes had trouble focusing on my work.  Some people write in any situation, but it's always been hard for me to focus when I'm constantly interrupted by  other noises and talking and trying to manage a taxi service.  I know writers who have small urchins who live in their homes and who seem to be able to turn them out and keep to their writing schedule.  I think I could do things like that when I was younger but that's been so many years ago I'm not sure I remember.

I have a feeling that after a few weeks I'll be able write a good story about dealing with aliens in my house and most likely it will be a good story.  Young aliens seem have a particular love of drama. Almost everything they want to see and be and do has to be the most important thought and deed of the day.  They also live only in the moment. I can barely get through a day without a little bit of planning and routine. 

In the meantime, the anthology that I co-edited, MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE is due out any moment.  I actually received author copies in the mail and was able to hold the book in my hand. That's always an awesome experience.  I'm very proud of the work my co-editor, R. Barri Flowers and I did on this anthology.  He and I both feel it's better than the first, although, MURDER PAST, MURDER PRESENT was excellent.  We have nineteen writers, all members of the American Crime Writers League, all award-nominated, and/or award-winning authors.  The stories are actually set from East to West Coast and points in between with some overseas locales thrown in for extra added flavor. Our publisher, Twilight Times, brings out lovely books and our editor/publisher Lida Quillen is a delight to work with. 

Today I attended the Heart of TX Sisters In Crime meeting and our program was by the Barbara Burnet Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation. Barbara was a mystery writer, mother, grandmother, mentor, wife and friend. She authored the Purple Sage mysteries, a short novel and several short stories and had started a second mystery series with a wonderful character whose hobby was beading.  Barbara and her son, WD had loved and traded and played with beads for many years. She was a member of HOT-SinC and was President of Sisters in Crime International, 1999-2000.

Before she was ever published and I only had a couple of short stories published, she, Susan Rogers Cooper, Jeff Abbott and I formed a critique group. Susan and I were the only ones published at the time. Susan had three or four novels to her credit, all in the Milt Kovak mystery series.

After Barb was published she began mentoring other mystery writers, helping to inspire new comers to the field. With this foundation, we honor her each year.  Aspiring writers send a few chapters and an short synopsis to published mentor authors.  I've been mentoring almost every year. Each year W.D. Smith, Barbara's son and the SinC chapter give out the Sage Award, named for Barbara's Purple Sage series. Chosen by a group of writing peers, the foundation honors the mentor chosen and to show appreciation for their mentoring.

Barbara was one of my best friends and I miss her, but am pleased and excited to help mentor new and up-coming mystery writers each year.

16 November 2011


I just read a very good mystery novel, which I don't  recommend you read.  This is not because of my natural perversity, but because I want to save you from the unnatural perversity of starting a series at the end.  Farewell, Miss Zukas is the  last volume in a series, and the reason for that is one reason I am bringing up the book at all.  It gives us a chance to discuss some of the trends in the publishing world.  I do hope I convince you to look up the early books in the series, which are available at least electronically.

First of all, full disclosure.  The author, Jo  Dereske, is a friend of mine and a fellow librarian. (In fact, this book contains a brief mention of "Rob, the mystery writer."  He sounds like a fascinating character and I wish we had heard more about him.)

The heroine of these books is Wilhelmina Zukas, a librarian who works at the public library in Bellehaven, Washington.  And here we get into an endless series of inside jokes;  Jo and I both live in Bellingham, Washington, which Bellehaven resembles to a remarkable degree.  (She has pointed out the many benefits of fictionalizing her setting; for example, eliminating a mall she doesn't like.)

So what is Helma Zukas like?  Smart, introverted, private, small, neat...the word repressed comes to mind.  Clearly Dereske was playing with the stereotype of the librarian. (Most people in the field love Miss Zukas.)   
You see, Helma is far too complex and interesting to see as a mere stereotype.  Quiet and introverted, yes.  But meek?  Never.  In almost every book she stuns quarrelers into silence with her “silver dime voice.”  In one novel she destroys library records so that the police can’t violate the privacy of a book borrower.  (And if that seems a far-fetched series of events consider this  which happened in the same county that contains Bellingham.)  

So Helma is a force to be reckoned with.  Now, consider her best friend since fifth grade, Ruth Winthrop.  Ruth is an artist.  She is tall (and wears heels to emphasize it).  She is also loud, brassy, dresses in wild colors and is as easy with men as Helma is not.  Although these two opposites would gladly take a bullet for each other, they can't stand to be iin the same room for more than an hour.  Dereske has received many emails from women asking "How do you know about me and my best friend?"

The author’s ability to connect to her audience is relevant to my point and we will get back to it, but here is an example: I once heard Dereske read a portion in which Miss Zukas filing some cards in alphabetical order and Dereske got quite rapturous about the meditation-like peace that comes with  alphabetizing.  I don’t know how many of the audience were librarians but I heard any number of guilty giggles from people who had experienced that same pleasure.

Helma is supported (or more usually, hindered) by a large collection of associates, like the  young children’s librarian Glory Shandy,  who is always ready with constructive criticism  about Helma’s appearance.  (When someone gives Helma an unwanted  free visit to a beauty consultant Glory enthuses "He's probably very good at disguising mature skin.")  

But the two most important supporting characters are what you might call a couple of soulmates of Miss Z.  Police Chief Wayne Gallant came to town just after a nasty divorce, which means Helma has a crush on the only person around as nervous about relationships as herself.  And Helma reluctantly takes in (but never talks to or touches) a stray animal who becomes known as Boy Cat Zukas, because that’s what the vet calls him.  Boy Cat is as standoffish as his owner and they seem made for each other.

The first eleven books were published by Avon, which then chose not to renew the contract.  Dereske has no complaints; she understands that the economy forced the decision, and she was willing to call the series over.

But remember what I said about Jo's relationship with her readers?  They were insistent that  the saga needed an ending.  After holding discussions with  some mainstream publishers, she decided to self-publish.  And that brings us to Farewell, Miss Zukas,  which winds up most of the strings of the story and brings our heroine to a happy ending.

And speaking of happy endings, you can see this story as depressing  (good authors are losing publishers left and right) or positive (authors are taking control of their destiny).  But in the spirit of natural perversity I am going to end with a favorite passage from the very beginning of Miss Zukas And The Island Murders
On [Miss Zukas'] desk blotter lay a week-old newspaper article listing ten books a local group, calling themselves Save Your Kids, demanded be withdrawn from the library collection.  Two of the books, including Madonna's SEX, weren't even owned by the library, although twenty-three patrons had requested them since the article appeared....

Eve pointed to the Save Your Kids article on Helma's desk and stuck out her lower lip.  "Why ban Little Red Riding Hood?  What did SHE ever do?"

"I believe it was the wolf who did it," Helma said.  "But don't worry, she's safe.  Fortunately, the Constitution's still in effect."

If you like funny mysteries with quirky characters, you can't do much better than to take a trip to Bellehaven.