Today’s Books Are Cool feature is about Marcia Turner, indie author of murder mysteries. Marcia has recently published two very different books in the genre which we’ll take a quick look at first before hearing from Marcia about her books and writing.

misplaced coverMisplaced Loyalty was Marcia’s debut detective novel. Patsy Hodge won’t be second best – not in her job as a police detective or to another woman. After a relationship with a man at work who turned out to be married, she transfers to another area and finds herself working for the prickly and opinionated John Meredith. She forms an uneasy alliance with another female detective in Meredith’s team, Tanya, as they investigate what at first appeared to be suicides but are now realised to be assisted suicides – in some cases, very assisted. Patsy proves to be a very sharp investigator, which antagonises Tanya, but she’s not the only enemy Patsy makes. Surprisingly, her biggest initial enemy, her boss Meredith, proves to have another side. He’s been frankly a complete bastard to women in the past, but it’s time to change. Especially when Patsy appears to be in real danger. However, whether two such strong-willed people can make as successful a private team as they do a professional one remains to be seen.

This is a supremely successful murder mystery with rounded, convincing characters who grab your attention and an extremely clever and unpredictable plot. There’s tension, terror, intrigue, humour and romance, and this book will appeal to anyone who likes any of those elements since it’s so readable and entertaining.

Next up is Murderous Mishaps.

Muderous Mishaps CoverFive work colleagues meet up at the reasonably nice St James Hotel for a weekend of pampering and self-indulgence. There aren’t many other guests there – a few priests, an elderly couple, a much younger people and a few others, including a hotel inspector. So Suzie, Jenny, Debby, Charity and Anna should get plenty of attention from the spa staff and the dishy French barman. Hotel manager Gina Brown determinedly keeps standards the highest she can, despite the fact that this weekend she’s having to deal with Cornwall’s heaviest summer rain in decades, power failures – and a dead body. It’s enough to drive anyone to drink, and several people overindulge over the period!

The police arrive swiftly to deal with the body and with the weather meaning no one can leave the hotel, it shouldn’t be too hard to solve the crime. And there’s no shortage of perpetrators ready to own up. When DI B asks for a confession, several guilty parties jump up. So who really did commit the crime? And just how many murders were there?

There’s a lot of entertainment to be had from this lively, clever and very funny murder mystery. Marcia Turner has woven a fascinating plot and she has a lovely, natural writing style. You’re there with our fun five leading females as they tease each other, take part in the karaoke competition, and although they get the claws out on each other occasionally, they’re genuinely kind and caring. They take other guests, notably Barbara and Simon, under their wing and look out for each other. And only one of them might be a murderer…

Marcia Turner has a great eye for detail and the close-knit community she creates in this hotel draws us in. Every single one of her characters is complex and truly intriguing. No little mannerism or quirk escapes the author’s eye. The plot is ingenious, to say the least, and keeps us interested, puzzled and guessing to the very end.

marcia picAnd now, over to Marcia!

Tell us briefly about Misplaced Loyalty.

Misplaced Loyalty was my second full length novel, although the first published. The first novel I wrote was Murderous Mishaps although written under a working title of “Whodunitchiclitthing”. Once I’d completed that, I decided to see if I could write a serious whodunit. I wanted it to be a little different, so I threw a will they won’t they into the mix. It was a huge learning curve in just about every way, and eventually absorbed every spare minute of my time. Once I had finished it, I missed the development of the characters and began to plot out the next in the series, whilst editing/rewriting what eventually became Murderous Mishaps.

What’s the story behind the story? Why did you write the book?

As mentioned above, I was coming to the end of writing Murderous Mishaps, and wanted to write something less frivolous. I saw a news item on a poor man who had been badly injured and wanted to end his life. He had been an active sportsman and father, and found himself a quadriplegic, unable even to feed himself. He was brave enough not to take the option to end his life quietly, but challenged the law through the high court, wanting to be given permission to end his life legally, and on his terms. He did that to both protect his family and those that would have to help him, and to provide hope to others in a similar situation. He lost his case and his reaction was harrowing. He died a few weeks later. I began to wonder, what if? What if there was someone willing to risk helping those who saw no future, irrespective of the law? Those whose lives had become so retched, that death was the most palatable option. But what if that person started making the decision as to when the time had come?

I wanted to consider the argument from both sides. I wanted to show that there are people, who, for one reason or another, truly had reached the end of their life as they see it, and the misery it causes them waking up each day. I countered this by showing that some days they were glad that they had seen their loved ones one more time, and that giving others control over their existence could prove fatal. I wanted to question that if such an agreement had been made, at what point does the decision to end your life pass into the hands of others.

Was it an easy story to write?

Surprisingly, yes. I had the basic premise as to how the victims would die, and I knew I wanted to show that whilst these awful things were going on, life for everyone else carried on as usual. I think that’s why I introduced the will they won’t they element. Meredith & Hodge were desperately trying to find and stop the villain, whilst trying to decide whether or not to become involved with each other. I would confess though, that I didn’t decide finally ‘who did it’, until I was over half way through.

Which character are you most like? Patsy? Jasper? Meredith?

Hmm. That’s a tough question. Probably a mixture of Patsy and Meredith, weighted toward Patsy. I am quite calm and pragmatic about most things.  I don’t like to be the center of attention, I’m quite happy to be on the peripherals looking in, but more often than not get dragged in to the thick of things. When I explode, which is rare, it is of that moment and then I move on.

 

And now we’d like to hear a little bit about your latest novel Murderous Mishaps.

My “Whodunitchiclitthing” was born from a conversation with a friend. She had been asked to help someone who had ‘killed’ their partner with an odd weapon. The conversation ended with her saying, “They wouldn’t believe you if you wrote it down!”  I wasn’t working at the time, and having always enjoyed writing I thought, why not? I sketched out a story where I was able to drop in many of unusual and amusing things that had happened to my friends and colleagues over the years. I borrowed a pet irritation from here, and a mannerism from there, and my cast was born.

It’s fair to say it’s less serious than Misplaced Loyalty, even though we have a few bodies. Was it more fun to write?

Not really, as it was supposed to be farcical, and because I’d never attempted anything like it before, I found getting some of the scenes to work without overdoing it really difficult. I’d love to write stories that make people laugh, and admire writers who seem to be able to do so effortlessly. It was never supposed to be a comedy but nor was it serious, and when I decided to publish it I was concerned that readers would think I meant it to be taken seriously.

Your lady characters in Murderous Mishaps are successful, glamorous businesswoman. I get the feeling you’re one too. Who are you most like out of Anna, Jenny, Debby, Suzie and Charity?

Glamorous is not a word I would ever associate with myself. It made me laugh reading the question. However I was a Regional Director for a large corporate for many years and I was competent at my job. I suppose if I had to choose a character most like myself, it would be Anna, sensible, reliable, a tiny bit adventurous, and so not totally boring.

enid-blytonWhat’s the main appeal of crime fiction?

I like reading all types of fiction but I like to be challenged as the story develops. I grew out of Enid Blyton at about nine years of age, and started reading Agatha Christie because that was mainly what was lying about.  I like to work out what, why and how with whatever I’m reading, and when I came to writing Murderous Mishaps, it seemed natural to drop all the things I wanted to include into a whodunit.  Surprisingly, some of my favourite novels are not related to crime in anyway.

Did you design your covers yourself? What was your aim in the designs?

I found a graphic designer quite by chance, gave him a brief synopsis of the stories and he came up with various designs. With both Misplaced Loyalty and Murderous Mishaps the covers jumped out at me. With Ill Conceived the second in the Meredith & Hodge series I did give him several of my own ideas. I am not artistic in anyway shape or form, but I know what I like. The aim with Murderous Mishaps was to ensure readers knew this was not a serious read. With the other two, I wanted to catch the eye and whilst depicting perhaps a little of the story, ensure that it raised more questions than it answered.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

I don’t think there was an absolute moment. I’ve always enjoyed making up stories. I would find myself in situations where on the face of it everything was normal, but someone would do or say something that wasn’t quite right. I would find myself making up dramatic reasons for it, just for my own amusement. The reality of course was far more boring. One day I simply sat down in front of the laptop and started writing fuller versions of my thoughts and exaggerations.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?

To research how things work as an indie author. Join as many writers groups as you can find time to attend both on line and in person if possible, and learn by other people’s mistakes. I am not at all technical and managed to make as many mistakes with the first upload of Misplaced Loyalty, as was possible to make. I also didn’t consider how I was going to promote it to anyone other than people I already knew. So, do your homework first and be prepared. I now have the legacy of some reviews which would have been great if it wasn’t for the mistakes I made. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty it get yourself an editor!

This is your baby. You have nurtured and developed it, you have done your absolute utmost to give it a good start in the world, and then you let it down at the final hurdle by sending it out into the world without first making sure shoelaces are tied, and it trips up on the first outing. That can be corrected of course, but some damage will already have been done. It would be so much better to avoid the fall if at all possible. An editor will tie the laces for you.

And finally, anything else our readers need to know about you?

Not really, I’m just an average mum, wife, or work colleague. I happen to disappear for hours on end in front of a laptop, and I sometimes ask odd questions at inappropriate moments much to others amusement. Such as, “can you get DNA from urine?” whilst eating dinner.  Other than that I’m normal!

Thanks Marcia!

You can buy Marcia’s books here:

 

 

 

Ramblings in Ireland by Kerry Dwyer is really two books in one. One the one hand we have a humorous, incisive look at expat life as seen by this witty, fascinating author, but which only hints at all the experiences she has clearly had. On the other we have an enjoyable travelogue that depicts Ireland with all its outward charm and friendliness. This precisely reflects how Ramblings is used as the title to depict Dwyer’s thoughts and observations about various matters and also the physical unhurried walks that Dwyer takes on holiday. France-based, the author and her husband take their first child-free holiday for a long time and end up in Ireland when other holiday plans go awry. However, they’re as happy to be there as anywhere more exotic and the trip introduces them to a wonderful country and allows the author the chance to tap her rich imagination and share her point of view about many and various things with us.
Kerry Dwyer has a wonderful eye for detail and uses it to depict very clear mental images for the reader of everything she experiences. We can see the full Irish breakfasts on the plates in all their glory, picture husband and wife teetering on a fogbound, narrow ledge and get a good idea of what everybody they meet looks like. We get a clear feel for the friendly atmosphere they encounter everywhere. We also learn what makes this author tick – her likes and dislikes, her optimism, her enthusiasm, her love for Jinx and her husband. Just occasionally the reproduced conversations go on a little too long, but that’s a minor and easily forgivable fault given the general excellence of this unusual, quirky gem of a book.

You can buy the book here:

NightBuddiesStickerCover300dpiThe content of this book is spot on for a young audience. John Degraffenreidt has exciting adventures at night-time when, of course, adults think he’s in bed and asleep. Outwitting grown-ups is always appealing to kids! John’s buddy, the red crocodile Crosley, is in a bit of bother. Some imposters that look like him are causing trouble so Crosley and John need to stop them.

This book offers likeable and intriguing characters, with the larger than life, irrepressible Crosley, a crazy, imaginative plot and plenty of fun. However, it’s the presentation that’s the controversial element in this book. I love the way different typefaces are used to make each page look as lively as story it’s telling is. That’s a nice touch and it works brilliantly. Less so, in my opinion, the language. Most of the characters have their own dialects and what they say is spelt how it sounds, at least to the author’s head. As Crosley says in the introduction: “If there’s a word ya can’t understand, just say it out loud an’ then ya’ll get it. Hey, just don’t spell it that way at school or in a spellin’ test! If ya want, make a game outta findin’ all the misspelled words in the story!”

A touch of over-eagerness there to make it acceptable to spell words wrongly? Maybe. Confident readers won’t have any problems with it but kids who find reading more of a challenge may be a little perplexed. The danger with writing in a dialect is that it becomes annoying after a while. It’s a fun, well-intentioned ploy that would work perfectly with an older audience, but can be very hit and miss with younger kids.
Also, fermez la! isn’t something French kids would say anywhere near an adult! Teachers don’t tolerate it in the schoolyard either. (I live in France and have three bilingual French-English kids.) I’d have preferred to see ‘Taisez-vous’ so a bit more research there would have been good. My last minor moan is that there are rather too many very long dashes around the place too. Any mannerism used more than moderately becomes irritating.

However, pedantry aside, this is a lively, fast paced book that is fabulously illustrated by Jessica Love and makes for entertaining read.

You can buy the book here:

 

We all know how important a cover is for a book or ebook. Well, so is the title, but this doesn’t always get as much time and effort put into it as it should. And especially, authors don’t seem to be doing much if any research to see if the title they want has been used. It’s not a great idea to give your book the same name as one that’s already out there.

Recently I’ve read across the following books with titles that turn out to be very popular:

Scorpio Rising: I read the book of this name that Monique Domovitch had authored. But amongst many others, Alan Annand, R. G. Vilet, Daisy Denman, Rosie Orr, Alex MacDonough, Richard Katrovas, Ms Scorpio N and Mark Sheldon have also written books with this title.

The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson (excellent, by the way): Oral Roberts, Richard Copeland, John Mulinde, Penny Dawne, Edythe Draper, Kristen Bretweiser and Jeff Gunhus have their versions too. Again, that’s only some of the authors who had the same idea. There are a lot of Wake-Up Calls (plural) out there too that could get confused.

Passion in Paris: Rusty Blackwood, Adam Carpenter, Helen Hardt, Robyn Grady all have versions.

Losing It by Simon Lipson (do read this guy) has rivals by Zaria Garrison, Melanie Douglass, Lindsay Rech, Laura Fraser, William Miller, Valerie Bertillini – and those are just from the first page of results on Amazon.

The danger with using a title that’s already been employed is that it makes it harder for readers to find and buy your book. They might be looking up your Gardening with Nail Scissors but come across someone else’s tome of this name and buy that instead, not realising their mistake. Or, when they call up the title on Smashwords, they find six other books with the same name, all of which have snappier covers than yours and so one of them gets the sale instead. Heart-breaking isn’t it?

But other people have the same idea as you do, and sometimes at the same time. And there’s nothing you can do about that. My ‘The Witch’s Dog’ came out pretty much alongside Frank Rodgers’. And I’d checked to see if there were other ones out there before I settled on my choice. The stories are completely different, but they’ve got the same name. There’s an ‘Escape from the Volcano’ out there now, very similar to my ‘Escape the Volcano’. My ‘Oh Dad’ of 1999, has been followed by one in 2000 and another in 2008. ‘Oh Santa’, again the only one at the time, is the name of a Christmas collection of songs by Mariah Carey’s. OK, not a book, but the same title which gets in the way when folk are looking for my masterpiece. And ‘Beat the Hackers’ as a search term pulls up CDs by Beat Hackers, a rap group!

So, you can’t avoid the problem happening completely, but I would strongly advise you to come up with as original a title as you can to keep your book totally unique. Maybe others of the same name will come along later, but at least you got in first!

I mentioned book bags in a previous post. A book bag is always a nice present. It’s traditionally a bag, hence the name, but you can equally have a book box or book parcel, which contains a book together with some appropriate items to go with it. A book bag for a cookery book, for example, would have some cooking items in it too – perhaps a pinafore and a rolling pin. Now that the ebook is here, there’s no need to include the book anymore. You supply that separately to the recipient. But you can still give the bag of associated goodies.

Here are ten ideas, starting with three of my books, followed by seven great reads I’ve enjoyed this year:

1. Best of Blog in France (Non-fiction about expat life in France.) A bottle of French wine and some French cheese, one of the varieties that comes in a round wooden or cardboard box, would be most suitable as well as practical. But anything French will do!

2. The Smelliest Cheese in the World (Fiction) Now this is a kid’s book, but adults would enjoy it too. If you’re giving it to a grown up, then give them some smelly cheese too – stands to reason! Roquefort or Auvergne Blue are good ones. For younger readers, since the story also features socks, then a pair of those would be perfect.

3. Oh Santa! A chocolate Santa, a skipping rope and a Santa hat would be good choices.

Now for those other ebooks that I’d thoroughly recommend:

4. Big Backpack – Little World: this is a wonderful and entertaining account by Donna Morang of her experiences as an ESL teacher. See the guest post by Donna on this website. The ideal accompaniment would be a rucksack. The author spent a lot of time in Mexico, and in fact now lives there, so some Mexican food like a box of tacos or a jar or guacamole, or a bottle of Tequila would be excellent too.

5. Sunshine Soup by Jo Parfitt: this is a book about expat life with a good bit of cooking thrown in. A soup recipe book, or a set of nice soup bowls would be suitable.

6. Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark: this is about Melissa who works for a TV station. It’s chick-lit/rom-com. I reviewed it here. During the story she revamps her look. Give the recipient some make-up or a voucher for a facial or a massage.

7. A Song for Europe by Simon Lipson: this is rom-com at its best with the Eurovision Song Contest at its heart. A CD of all the songs from one of the Contests would be fitting (2010 and 2006 were really good years). Anything Euro would go well with this book. Failing that, go here  to get souvenirs with the European flag on them!

8. The Lingerie Castle by Markee Andersen: well, lingerie would be good with this book! Or a football. You’ll have to read the book.

9. Lye in Wait by Cricket MacRae, a home crafting mystery. The heroine is a soapmaker so fill a book bag with beautifully handmade perfumed soap.

10. The Wake-Up Call by Jonas Eriksson: gritty rom-com starring an overstressed, overstimulated executive, so I’d suggest decaff coffee, bath bombs, scented candles or a lavender-filled sleep mask.

Hope these are helpful!

 

This week has seen the holiday whirlwind book blog tour by Lauren Clark for her smashing book Stay Tuned. (I reviewed it here.) Here’s a fascinating and inspiring interview with this energetic writer.

Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. For as long as I can remember. Of course, my parents always remind that I also wanted to be an Indian princess named Tiger Lily, but that dream was more short-lived. On a serious note, I do have fond memories of spending my summer days toting stacks of books back and forth from my house to our town’s library. It always seemed like a magical place, with endless stories to get lost in.

You worked as both an anchor and producer after graduate school. How did that influence the writing of Stay Tuned?
So much! It was an accident, really, getting into broadcast journalism. I always thought of myself as a behind the scenes kind of girl, but after my first day on the job, I loved it and stuck with it for the next 6 years. Working in television is never boring. There’s always a story, always the next show. The camaraderie in the newsroom is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s like living in a big, loud, mostly happy, very dysfunctional family every day.

What gave you the idea for Stay Tuned?
True story:  A few months before I took my first television job as a part-time health reporter, the two main anchors at one of the local television stations (who were romantically involved) got into a fistfight. They were outside the building, in the station parking lot. Shortly thereafter, they were both fired. In the months that followed, the two of them bantered back and forth in newspaper editorials, threatened lawsuits, and fueled all sorts of crazy retaliation stories. I never forgot about that incident and always thought about what might happen if such a fistfight happened on air, during a newscast. What would happen? How would it be handled? Who would fix this kind of mess?

What did you learn from being on air?
It’s very humbling, really. As a producer, especially, you are in charge of what’s being put out there—the news stories people watch and talk about each day. It’s a big responsibility to get it right. Not just sometimes, but all of the time. There were many sobering days—car accidents, house fires, school shootings—and those stories should be told with sensitivity and care. It’s someone’s son or daughter or parent. Everyone matters.

What was your most memorable experience as an anchor or reporter?  
I was on set during 9-11. I remember sitting there with our weatherman and waiting to be cued to go back on air after the commercial. CBS cut in and showed footage from a plane crashing into the Twin Towers. It was surreal and awful. We were all in shock. It didn’t seem possible. All I wanted to do was go home and hug my son.

Was it a difficult decision to leave television?
Yes and no. I loved so many parts of broadcasting. I was able to meet fascinating people – Vice Presidential Candidate Geraldine Ferraro, then-New York Attorney General Eliott Spitzer among many others. I adored the people I worked with, especially the folks behind the scenes. I was also fortunate enough to win several AP awards for anchoring and reporting.

On the flip side, I worked crazy hours (2 am – 10 am) and, as is typical in the industry, I received very little vacation time. I anchored every holiday (Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, you name it) and wasn’t able to spend much time with my young son. After more than six years, I “retired” from TV news. It was then that I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

How long did it take to write Stay Tuned?
About five years, all said and done. I wrote several other novels before that—and those manuscripts will never see the light of day! When I began Stay Tuned, I had just given birth to my second son, so my writing time was very limited. After putting it away for several years, I picked it back up about 12 months ago, brushed it off, and had an editor-friend look it over. We made some changes, tweaked the story, and fine-tuned the plot. A few months back, I was offered a contract with a small publishing company. Another friend introduced me to the talented and fabulous Emlyn Chand at Novel Publicity, who helped guide me through the entire publishing process. It’s been a wonderful journey!

What’s next? A sequel or a stand-alone novel?
Dancing Naked in Dixie is next (stand alone title) and I’m so excited to share that it’s been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Chick Lit Writers “Get Your Stiletto in the Door” Contest (Winner will be announced December 20, 2011).

Dancing Naked follows the story of a talented but scattered travel magazine writer who returns from overseas only to find out she’s on the verge of getting fired. To save her job, she reluctantly accepts an assignment in the Deep South. She’ll be writing an article about Eufaula, Alabama’s annual Pilgrimage event, which is a long-standing spring tour of antebellum mansions (the location is featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s movie, Sweet Home Alabama). Upon arriving in Eufaula, Julia falls in love with the area, its cast of charming characters, and her handsome tour guide. When she discovers that a developer has big plans to buy up many of the historic homes and turn the area into a tourist site, it’s up to Julia to save the day.

What is your writing schedule like?
With two growing, active boys and a busy husband, finding time to write is like looking for a missing Lego piece in a houseful of toys (Moms should appreciate that!) I often get up very early and write while everyone else is asleep or go to the lovely campus of our local university and shut myself in a study room. I love it there because I have to shut off my phone and I don’t have the password for an internet connection! No distractions! Of course, I do frequent two or three local coffee shops and draw inspiration from my daily dose of caffeine and good friends!

Who are your favorite writers? Favorite books?
Gosh, there are so many! My all-time favorites include Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Chris Bohjalian, John Grisham, Amanda Eyre Ward, and Lisa See. I also love Lisa Scottoline, Janet Evanovich, and James Patterson. Favorite books include: Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (this is a children’s book that I’ve read over and over to my two boys).

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Read. A lot. Write. A lot. Revise. A lot. I’m not joking.

Anyone can write. Writing well is different. It takes focus and tenacity and determination. I’ve heard Stephen King quoted as saying, “The first million words are practice. Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers, says, “It takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything.” Just to be clear, at 4 hours a day (28 hours a week), that’s 7 years. I’m not quoting the experts to scare anyone or be a harbinger of doom. It’s the truth.

Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s brilliant and so true and funny in so many sections. If you’re serious about becoming an author, learn as much as you can. Read blogs and books about the craft, network with other writers, or go to a writer’s conference. Above all, write!

 

Don’t Miss Out!

Extension to the photo competition: Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions. You now have until Sunday 4 December to upload your photo.

I noticed a Tweet the other day that said: “Someone should write a properly informative article about turning backlisted titles whose rights have reverted to authors into ebooks”.

Well, I’ve done that with quite a few of my books now so I decided to take up the challenge and put together an article about it.

My kids’ books were published by Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland between 1998 and 2006. My O’Brien titles are still going strong but Mentor pulled out of children’s publishing in 2007 and remaindered all their stock. The rights reverted to me. I bought a truckload of my books – actually, just a palletload – at a bargain price and have been giving these away to visitors to our gîte and fishery.

Coming soon!

Then in January of this year I got a Kindle and very quickly become a total convert to ebooks and indie publishing. I began writing a non-fiction travel memoir, Heads Above Water, about moving to France from Ireland and our experiences in the first few years here. I also got cracking on a racy fishing mystery story. But those were going to take time and I wanted to get something out there in the ebookiverse quickly. So I turned to my backlist. I figured it would be good practice to learn about formatting and epublishing using those, and it would also get my name out there before the new books came out.

I have nearly thirty children’s books to my name and the majority of these are Mentor books so I had plenty to choose from. But having changed computers several times since writing the books, tracking down the files containing them was proving tricky. So, nothing daunted, I retyped the first one. I chose Beat The Hackers. These needed a lot of updating since I’d written it in 1998. (It began its life as Beat The Millennium you see but I was overruled by my editor and had to change it.) Anyway, there were references to floppy disks that needed to be changed to USB keys and I had to move the action into the future. It had been set in 2004/5, but since that hand now passed I rescheduled it for 2013/14. This took some time since it was a 30,000 word book, but it was good typing practice and I enjoyed it.

However, if you face the same problem of missing files, I would suggest you scan the text of your books in. I got my eldest son onto doing this over the summer for me. He was cheap, and it saved me a lot of time. Luckily I’ve since come across some back-up CDs with my stories on them, so that’s speeded things up even more. There are plenty of OCR programs out there, many free to download, and they’re easy to use.

Caiti's cover design

So, the text was taken care of. What about the cover? The artwork for the book belonged to Mentor. I could have contacted them to ask if I could use it, and hopefully for free. It’s always an option to talk to the publisher and negotiate to use the original artwork. They may or may not co-operate. However, I wanted a new look for my updated book, and I’m lucky in having a daughter who can do very cool things with computer graphics. She created a super new cover for me. I’ve also had some lovely new covers drawn for me by a family friend, the talented illustrator Roger Fereday. I admit I’ve been very lucky in having such artistic family and friends.

But if you’re not a designer and don’t have access to one, and can’t afford an artist to draw you a new cover, don’t despair. You can create a perfectly acceptable cover using a photo and some nice typeface. I have done several using Paint, which isn’t very high spec as graphics programs go. Aim for 600 x 800 pixels wide and you can’t go far wrong.

Next I got to grips with converting my files into a format suitable for uploading to Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t as tricky as I feared, but first time round it took a while. I went for Kindle first. Files need to be in web page filtered format. This isn’t hard and if you follow the instructions on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, it’s very straightforward. I make use of MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer to check that the finished product is going to look good on Kindle. I convert the file I have ready for Kindle using MobiPocket which leaves you with a .prc file. The Kindle Previewer opens this and simulates how your book will appear on a Kindle so you can go through and spot any layout or other errors and correct these before submitting to KDP. Both MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer are free downloads. The ebook takes around 24 to 48 hours to appear on the Amazon websites.

Formatting for Smashwords looks a bit scarier since there are more instructions, but basically, get your file into .doc format – not .docx – and you’ll be OK. The Meatgrinder, the conversion tool, tells you if there are any ‘Autovetter’ errors that you need to put right. I only ever got those the first time I formatted a book for Smashwords. Since then, I’ve been spot on every time. A tip – go for what Mark Coker calls the ‘nuclear approach’, i.e. you paste your original Word file into Wordpad to strip out all the underlying formatting that Word loves to shove in, and then you repaste into Word and start from scratch. Once you get the hang of what to do, it’s a piece of cake. I’m no techno-junkie, but I cope fine. Your ebook appears on Smashwords’ site very quickly.

You can create a great cover with a good photo

Smashwords will distribute to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony providing there are no Autovetter errors in your book. It also distributes to Kindle, but this is an extremely slow process so I always publish directly myself to KDP.

Pricing is an issue to consider. I have made most of my ebooks free. I’ve made money out of them already and I want to get my name known. Plus it’s sad but true that many readers are reluctant to shell out even 99 cents for an ebook! There is a lot of free content out there at the moment. I think this trend will die down eventually, since it’s unsustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon in the meantime to get out there.

So, in a nutshell, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to turn your backlist book to which you retain rights into an ebook:

  1. If you don’t have an electronic version of your book, retype or scan it.
  2. Update the text if necessary.
  3. Proofread it carefully yourself and get at least a couple of other people to read through. Since it’s already been published there should be a minimal amount of typos etc – in theory!
  4. Commission / create a new cover if you can’t get permission to use the old one.
  5. Ditto for any illustrations if you intend to include these.
  6. For steps 3 and 4, consider using photos instead of illustrations to save money.
  7. Create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP if you don’t already have them.
  8. Convert for Smashwords and Kindle. This is very straightforward and quite achievable with a bit of time and effoet, but there are folks out there who will do it for a small fee for you (such as me!)
  9. Upload your files and then get busy with publicising your book!
  10. Tell EVERYONE how clever you are.

So go for it, and good luck!

How well and for how long can you realistically expect a Christmas book to sell? I have a children’s Christmas ebook out, Oh Santa!, so this is a very pertinent question for me! However, I haven’t been able to find many concrete facts and figures on the Net.

Printed copies of Christmassy books will have been selling for a month or so now. The publishers brought out their books aimed at the Christmas market back in October to allow time for word to spread and sales to pick up. But ebooks aren’t quite the same. You don’t have to wait a week for them to arrive in the post or plan a trip to town to buy them so you don’t tend to purchase as far in advance. You get them within seconds of hitting the ‘buy’ button. Also, ‘word’ is spread via instant social media rather than via slower newspaper articles or magazine reviews and so that happens quicker.

When is the best time to launch a Christmass ebook? November still feels too early, and it would seem a lot of people share that feeling since I’ve only sold a handful of copies of Oh Santa!, which is priced very reasonably at 99 cents! So I’m going with December. You can’t avoid Christmas once kids start opening the windows on their Advent Calendars. Tomorrow I’ll make available a Smashwords  coupon code so that folk can get the book for free, but just for 24 hours. I can Tweet and Facebook that to get some attention. I’ve come across a couple of Christmassy virtual book tours scheduled to take place in December, and that seems a nice idea too. I’ve probably left it too late to organise one for Oh Santa!, but we’ll see.

Ebook sales can in theory continue right up to and including Christmas Day itself since those shops won’t shut and you’ll get the goods immediately. But how can you give an ebook? Well, with Kindle books it’s easy. You gift a book to someone. You buy it and specify where it is to be delivered. And Smashwords? You can choose and buy a book and download it in the suitable format, and send that as an attachment to the recipient via email. Please don’t abuse the system and send it to loads of people though. Think of us poor starving authors! I’m not sure what the Nook system would be. Barnes and Noble refuse to sell me anything, including ebooks, since I don’t live in the USA so I don’t have a lot to do with them!

In the next few days, I’ll be suggesting some ‘book bags’ you can put together to go with some of my ebooks as Christmas pressies to make them more fun. Most of my ebooks are free, by the way, so they’ll make budget-friendly pressies! I’ll also come up with some lists of great ebooks for anyone and everyone you might need to be buying for.

Well, I’m taking part in a book blog tour for the first time. The book in question is Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark. Here’s my review of it:

It’s not often I can’t put a book down, but Stay Tuned came into that category. I read it one go. The turkeys were waiting mournfully for me to put them to bed, the llamas were left thirsty – I got lost in the story and remained glued to my Kindle till I finished.

Why? The story really caught me. It was fascinating to get an insight into life at a TV station, delightful to meet characters like Melissa, Chris and Candace, and there was plenty of excitement in the plot. The relationships between the people in the story were gripping. There were attractions and hatreds, tensions, frustrations, misunderstandings and real affection. Several punches got thrown, there were clumsy passes, lots of tears but just as much laughter. And the ending is bittersweet without being mawkish or implausible.

Reality is very much the key of this book. We could all so easily find ourselves in Melissa’s shoes – juggling career and family life, trying to keep the communication channels open with a workaholic husband, striving to be fully committed in every sphere of your life.

Every single character is rounded and interesting. There aren’t any cameo roles or stereotypes. This story is peopled by a truly human set of people.

It’s a very readable book. The author has a flowing, natural style that sweeps you along and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. Definitely worth reading.

 

How to win

Now, as part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the Stay Tuned eBook edition has dropped to just 99 cents this week. What’s more, by purchasing this fantastic book at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes, including lots of Amazon gift cards (up to $100 in amount) and 5 autographed copies of the book. Be sure to enter before the end of the day on Friday, December 2nd, so you don’t miss out.

To win the prizes you need to:
1. Purchase your copy of Stay Tuned for just 99 cents on Amazon or Barnes & Noble (You’ll need it for the big contest on Friday)
2. Fill-out the form on Novel Publicity to enter for the prizes
3. Visit today’s featured event; you may win an autographed copy of the book or a $50 gift card!

…And I can win too! Over 100 bloggers are participating in this gigantic event, and there are plenty of prizes for us too. The blogger who receives the most votes in the traffic-breaker poll will win a $100 gift card as well. So when you visit Novel Publicity’s site to fill-out the contest entry form, don’t forget to say that I referred you, so I can get a point in the poll.

 

The events

Monday, Radio Interview with Novel Publicity! We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We interviewed Lauren on our radio show Sunday night and have embedded the full podcast and blogged about its highlights. Give it a listen and then leave a comment on the blog post. This is a great chance to get to know more about this fun and bubbly author. One commenter will win an autographed copy of Stay Tuned. Don’t forget to enter for the other contest prizes while you’re over there!

Tuesday, Twitter sharing contest! A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters. But on Tuesday, it could win you $50. Send the following tweet across the twittersphere, and you just may win a $50 Amazon gift card. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. The winners will be announced Wednesday morning. Here’s the tweet:  Take a break from the holiday frenzy, and read Stay Tuned. It’s fast, fun, and reduced to just 99 cents! http://ow.ly/7zA1e #whirlwind

Wednesday, Google+ sharing contest! Yup, there’s yet another awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. Two chances to win with just one click! How about that?

Thursday, Facebook sharing contest! Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see the Stay Tuned book cover included with it). It’s ridiculously easy to win! On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs.

Friday, special contest on the author’s site! Are you ready for some more fun? Take a picture of yourself with your copy of Stay Tuned either in paperback or on an eReading device, tag Lauren Clark’s Facebook page, and you can enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards! A $100 prize will go to the most creative photo, $50 to the best BFF photo, and $50 to the photo with the most people in it. An autographed copy of Stay Tuned is also up for grabs. If you need help learning how to tag a photo, you can visit Lauren’s Facebook page for detailed instructions.

 

Extract

To whet your appetites further, here’s an extract from Chapter One.

 

Alyssa Andrews was missing.

Gone, vanished, MIA with just minutes to airtime.

“Melissa, where is she?” Our news director, Joe, shot a harried look in my direction. After dealing with a broken studio camera, spotty satellite reception, and last-minute script changes, his nerves were fried to a crisp.

“She’ll be here,” I promised, knowing my confidence was a front. Alyssa, one of WSGA-TV’s main news anchors, was a constant source of angst in my already-stressful job.

She was young, talented, gorgeous…and chronically late.

This lack of punctuality was a problem, especially when WSGA ran a show at exactly six and ten o’clock every night. Not a moment later.

WSGA was Macon, Georgia’s number one news station and had been for two years running. If we wanted to keep it that way, timing was everything. Every second mattered.

I produced both evening shows, which meant—among a dozen other tasks—organizing the day’s stories, writing copy, and checking video. Each segment had to run seamlessly between three-minute commercial breaks.

Deep breath, Melissa. Send up a little prayer. She’ll show up.

The red numbers on the clock continued to march forward.

Another deep breath. Everything’s in place. Alyssa just needs to walk in and get on set…

“Tighten up on camera one.” Joe peppered the room with demands. “Mic check, now, not yesterday.”

Tim Donaldson, Alyssa’s co-anchor, obliged, counting backwards from the number five.

Joe’s thick fingers punched buttons on the massive keyboard in front of him. “Bring up the live shot.”

Still, no Alyssa.

Joe raked a huge hand through his long gray hair. “Five minutes!” he growled, with a glare into his empty coffee cup.

At this point, it was Joe’s show to run. He was in charge. I shuffled my scripts. “How about I call her?”

“She’s an adult,” he grumbled. “You shouldn’t have to.”

Joe expected nothing less than perfection. He was experienced, hard working, and a stickler for detail. Alyssa’s nonchalance made him crazy.

Which, at 9:55:36 on a Friday night, gave him the patience of a gnat. On crack.

This was particularly dangerous for an unsuspecting new employee, all of twenty years old and pimple-faced, who crept up behind us.

Joe ignored him at first, barking an order to me instead. “Fine, fine. Melissa, tell Princess A. she’s needed in the studio.”

On autopilot, I punched her extension, eyes focused on the row of monitors above my head in case she decided to appear.

While the phone rang, the new kid rocked on his heels nervously. I flashed a smile and shook my head gently in his direction, hoping he’d get the hint.

Not now.

Nope. The kid stood there, coughed lightly, and waited for one of us to turn around.

“What?” </em>Joe finally snapped.

The force of the word made the kid’s body jerk back. Jaw open, unable to speak, his face turned crimson.

Joe waited about a second for the kid to talk, and then leaned back over the control panel. He pressed at switches, clearly annoyed. The kid looked sick. Joe rolled his eyes. My anxiety level cranked up ten notches.

9:58:09. Less than two minutes.

Wait…a flash of an ivory suit and blond hair.

“There she is,” I interrupted the tension with a cool nod toward the monitors.

Front and center, Alyssa sauntered into the studio, lips puckered, blowing her shell-pink nail polish dry. She slid into her seat next to Tim, and gave him a playful pat on the shoulder.

Joe muttered something I couldn’t repeat.

I stifled a loud sigh of relief and glanced around the room. The new guy was the only one in the building unimpressed with Alyssa’s arrival. With a shaking hand, he reached out and tapped Joe’s burly shoulder.

“Mr. Joe, there’s a problem with one of the machines—”

Joe’s back stiffened. He turned a millimeter in the kid’s direction and exploded. “Get your butt back there. Get one of the engineers. Fix it. Call someone.”

I caught the now-completely mortified kid’s eye, and motioned for him to come toward me. Grabbing the nearest piece of paper, I jotted down the engineer’s extension and held it at arm’s length with a kind smile. Poor guy. Lots to learn.

With a grateful look, the new kid plucked the scrap from my fingers and darted away.

Time to get started.

I settled in, gripped my pen hard, and looked up.

Okay. Alyssa’s collar was turned under. Minor detail, but sure to garner at least five viewer complaints. You wouldn’t believe what people called in about.

I leaned toward the microphone to let Alyssa know.

“Dare you not to tell her,” Joe muttered. It wasn’t a secret that the guys would willingly let Alyssa go on air with underwear on her head. She hadn’t made friends. Or tried to.

Tim, her co-anchor and current boyfriend, didn’t count.

“Just part of those darn producer duties, Joe. You know that.” I flashed him a smile and pressed the button to talk. “Alyssa, fix your collar.”

Her mouth parted into an O. Alyssa frowned, glanced down, and straightened the pale edge. Just in time.

Like a well-directed movie, the WSGA-TV opening video flashed across monitor one. Macon, Georgia’s skyline filled the screen.

My body tingled with a familiar rush of excitement. It happened every time we went on air. The cameras and lights, the beat of the music, the thrill of live television.

Here we go.

Seconds later, Alyssa and Tim appeared under the lights, their bright anchor smiles pasted on.

“Good evening, I’m Alyssa Andrews.

“And I’m Tim Donaldson.”

And on it went, without a blip, for the first ten minutes. I started breathing again after the third break.

Stanley and Sunshine, the weather cat, were ready for the five-day forecast, check.

Commercial break, check.

Sports, check. I didn’t worry about that three-minute slot. Plenty to talk about, visual stories; the anchors could get away with jokes and ad-libbing. Viewers loved it.

We rounded out the show with an inspirational kicker about a local scholarship winner, a kid first in his family to go to college. He’d won forty thousand dollars and was going to Georgia Tech to study astrophysics.

The show wrapped with a standard goodnight, credits, and a wide shot of the WSGA set.

The second the master control operator switched to break, Alyssa flounced off the set in silicone fashion. She barked into her jewel-encrusted cell phone about her min-pin puppy’s cancelled spa appointment and stomped out of the studio, teetering precariously in four-inch heels.

Yikes!

I climbed the flight of stairs back to the newsroom, relieved the night was almost over.

The phones started to ring five seconds later.

There are lots of posts appearing about how writers can use QR (Quick Response) codes, but to my mind a lot of them are missing the point. (A reminder. QR codes are those square shaped bar codes that smart phones can scan and read if the necessary app had been uploaded.) Many writers are talking about putting these codes in blogs or emails so that people can be directed to where an author’s book is for sale on the Internet, or to a review of it, an interview with the author etc. Well, a hyperlink does that just as well and more efficiently. Not everyone has the necessary hardware yet. Well, I don’t! The point of the QR code is take you from printed media to digital media. There is simply no need to have them take you from digital to digital.

They’re free to create. Here’s one I just created at http://goqr.me/ to take you to my other blog: Blog in France. It took about 10 seconds! I can now print this out and use it on any press releases or posters or such like publicity, were I ever to create any!

So, QR codes certainly have a role to play for writers but do remember that they’re intended to go from paper to digital. Here are 9 non-nonsensical places to consider incorporating them:

Poster

Press release

Bookmark

Book cover

Letterhead

Postcard

Christmas card – well, it’s that time of year!

Promotional notebook, calendar, ruler, pen, mug etc

Business card