• January 16, 2015

    On Crime Fiction and Sales (a guest blog)


    Analyzing sales trends is a tricky business. Predicting them is almost impossible. But when thinking of what type of crime novel sells, be it the cozy or the more violent thriller novel, there are a few clear issues that emerge. Are readers looking for reassurances that traditional narratives offer, or is violence the allure?

    One model of analysis that is illuminating is the Nietzschean dialogue between Dionysian and Apollonian energies [1]. If Apollo represents law and Dionysus chaos, then crime fiction is built on a fundamental friction between the two. And proportionally, the largest part of any crime novel is the narrative showing the seductive uprising of forces that threaten to destroy society. There may be a certain voyeurism at play here, as the reader is allowed to witness things he would not ordinarily see, as he is given a peek into lives that are as exciting as they are flawed. But ultimately the narrative thrust is towards the vindication of law.

    That is one thing that is a recurrent feature: most crime fiction is redemptive. The plot and story are often driven by criminal subversions and focus on the damage done to peoples’ lives by criminals, while the protagonist, often a detective, struggles to catch the culprit, but in the end order is restored and justice served, often lawlessly where revenge is part of the plot. Justice is a prevailing theme, but it is one that is interpreted in many ways. The police procedural traditionally relies on the investigation and the judicial system to restore order, while other novels mete out poetic justice to the wrong doers. These are some of the shared themes of crime novels, but the approaches are all different.

    Agatha Christie wrote addictive cozies that centre on a period of English history when class dominated social interactions. Her core strengths are her plotting and protagonists. Poirot remains an undeniable force among detectives. Christie’s novels are

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  • January 15, 2015

    Thursdays with Amanda: The Importance of Networking on Twitter


    Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. You can also check out her marketing skills on Fiverr. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    I barely have any Twitter followers!

    No one tweets me! Heck, no one even retweets me!

    My Tweets fall on deaf ears!

    Have you ever wondered why Twitter isn’t working? Have you ever stared blankly at your Twitter home page in a painful attempt to write something that is reTweetable? Favorite-able? Enjoyable? And then have you whittled your overly long message down to 140 characters (link included!) and sent it out to the masses only to go…unnoticed?

    If this fits you, know that you’re not alone! Many struggle with Twitter, and it’s understandable. We treat it like we treat Facebook. We throw something out there and wait for the interactions to roll in.

    But Twitter isn’t like Facebook. With Twitter, you have to be far more relational.

    It’s a scary thing to promise marketing results, because let’s face it…marketing is a gamble each and every time. So I was a bit hesitant when I set up my Fiverr account. I felt fairly confident that I could (and can) provide social media copy that gets results, but I had doubts. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to go back to my clients and tell them that I don’t know how to help them. That I’ve done my best and my best isn’t working.

    But eventually, I put my fears aside, created my page, and told a few people about my account.

    The general idea behind the services that I offer on Fiverr is to help people

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  • January 14, 2015

    Before You Write: Part 2, Developing Your Characters


    brick green no smile b:wLast week, I started a new series about some pre-writing strategies that can help you preemptively fix problem areas in your manuscripts. Since not every author is going to find every strategy helpful, however, I included a list of questions to ask yourself about your writing process to help you in figuring out which pre-writing exercises are worth your time. I’m talking today about some character development tools that you may find helpful if:

    • you struggle with writing multi-dimensional characters/relationships
    • you find yourself getting bored with your characters partway through a manuscript
    • you’ve struggled in writing dialogue for specific characters
    • you’ve ever been uncertain of a character’s motivation
    • you’ve received feedback about characters acting “out of character” or being inconsistent.

    If any of those sound like you, some of these tools/exercises can help pave the way for a smoother, more informed relationship with your characters throughout the writing process.

    Interview Your Characters

    I’ve mentioned this approach to character development before, but it’s worth repeating. I often read decent, well-written manuscripts that start out with several pages/chapters of backstory and character introduction that I, as the reader don’t need to know right away (and sometimes, at all). What generally happens is that as an author begins writing about a character, that character continues to grow/take shape in the author’s mind and all of that new information ends up in the manuscript, slowing down the opening of the story and delaying the action. While it’s true that a lot of authors learn about their characters by writing about them, that material shouldn’t necessarily end up in the book, and definitely shouldn’t be dumped in a big chunk at the beginning of the narrative. Instead, consider filling out an interview questionnaire for each character that figures substantially in your story, taking some time to answer/invent the answers to a wide variety of questions that reveal the character– physical appearance, family, childhood, education, places

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  • January 12, 2015

    Je Suis Charlie


    The shooting of writers, editors, and cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris last week should be remembered by every writer, and everyone in publishing, because it’s an attempt to shut up people who want to tell stories and influence the culture.

    I represent a lot of suspense writers. Imagine one day you’re sitting at your desk, writing the latest bomb-in-the-briefcase story featuring a con man and a bad cop, when suddenly some nut bursts in, yells something about your stories pulling people away from thinking moral, uplifting thoughts, and tries smashing your computer. I represent a lot of Christian writers. Imagine one day you’re at a signing at a Family Christian Store, when you’re interrupted by a violent atheist who wants to stop everyone from reading about God. I represent several Catholic writers. Imagine coming home to find your place defaced because some crazed Protestant disagrees with your theology. We just don’t appreciate violence aimed at shutting up someone who wants to tell a story, and we need to take a stand to defend those who are being persecuted for nothing more than writing a joke.

    Look, I find several of the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo offensive and immature, and would never post them on my blog. But the quality of their work is not the point. I value the freedom writers have in our culture to say what they want, to explore crazy ideas, and, yes, even to say something offensive. Humor and satire are ways of pointing out what’s wrong with the world or the government or the culture, and it’s the sign of a mature person to be able to laugh at himself or herself. Laughter can offend, but it can also offer perspective.

    Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is very funny — sure, it slants decidedly to the left, and his mash-ups of Fox News clips and conservative speakers can be misleading and unfair… but

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  • January 9, 2015

    Creative Marketing Strategies (a guest blog)


    Authors are great at pulling from life’s experiences, good and bad, to make their stories the best they can be. When it comes to marketing those stories, however, they often hide under the covers and pray the book takes off with any strategies or effort on their part. Oh, if only they had a magic wand, something creative and fun, to help get the word out about their books. Then the process of marketing could be as enjoyable as the task of writing.


    Those of us who are represented by MacGregor Literary are blessed because Chip and Amanda give so freely of their time. They want us to excel as marketers and give us the tools to do so. Their yearly marketing seminar is above and beyond. I’ve attended for three years running and always come away with a thousand ideas running through my head.


    Then again, I’ve always been a creative soul. I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb doing a song and dance number. Mom says my first sentence went something like this: “Hey, do you want to put on a show?” Okay, okay, totally lying about that part, but it’s true that I thrive on creativity. So, when it came to the task of marketing my books I decided I needed a unique, fun approach. I began to explore new options: using Facebook groups, for instance. Back in 2012 I came up with a fun virtual cruise idea to market my novel Queen of the Waves. Chip was kind enough to let me blog about it at the time. Since then I’ve used every creative angle I can think of to plug my books.


    I complied some of my ideas into an ACFW Continuing Education course titled Creative Marketing Strategies: Innovative Marketing Tip FOR Authors FROM Authors, which I co-taught with Kathleen Y’Barbo and Anita Higman. The response was

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  • January 8, 2015

    Thursdays with Amanda: Winner Chosen! (2015 writing project challenge)


    Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. You can also check out her marketing skills on Fiverr. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


    Last week I invited you to share with me the various projects you’ll be working in 2015. I believe there is something inspiring about writers sharing ideas with others. There is something about making a public commitment to PURSUE a project that makes it so much more real (and we all know how working on a book alone, on your own, can many times feel like you’re pretending at this whole writer thing). So I’m very glad that we got a good response to my post. I’m glad for the thirty-some of you who took me up on my challenge and made your 2015 goal project public.

    And as promised, I’ve chosen a favorite! Here are some things that I considered when reading through the submissions:

    1. Does the project have a strong external plot? It’s easy to focus on the internal arc (what are their fears and how do the characters change on the inside?), but a pitch is all about the external. What happens TO these characters? That’s what I’m more concerned about at this stage in the game.
    2. Does the project sound different? I see a lot of pitches, a lot of story ideas, and so I’m alway on the lookout for a book that is unique. Something that either I haven’t heard before or something that is different enough from the status quo.
    3. Do I want to
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  • January 7, 2015

    Looking back at my predictions…


    So one year ago I offered ten predictions about the future of publishing. I thought it would only be fair to have a look and see how I did. My notes from January 1, 2014…

    1. I predicted that Amazon was going to finally start a series of brick-and-mortar stores. Accuracy: Moderate. They started some kiosks, and have created some pop-up stores in Seattle and San Francisco, and are exploring a store in New York. But they haven’t gone after retail stories in a big way yet.

    2. I predicted Barnes and Noble would be sold, but remain in business. Accuracy: Not exactly. Instead of being sold, the original owners came back and repurchased the company from others. They bought out a bunch of shareholders, cut ties with Microsoft, and have tried to re-take control of their brand. And hey, they’re still in business, which is a good thing for writers.

    3. I predicted we would see a bunch of publisher mergers. Accuracy: Pretty good. HarperCollins bought Harlequin, and Hachette bought Perseus, Hyperion, Black Dog & Leaventhal, as well as several smaller presses. We didn’t see a Simon & Schuster and HC marriage (or a S&S and Hachette marriage), but the number of players in New York dwindled.

    4. I predicted huge growth for reader subscription services. Accuracy: Right on the money. Oyster, Scribd, Entitle, and Kindle Unlimited took off in 2014. Amazingly, authors participating saw sales rise, and income drop.

    5. I predicted that libraries would finally resolve their tiresome debate with publishers. Accuracy: Yawn… Yeah, so Hachette finally put a plan together that libraries liked, and several smaller publishing houses started making their ebooks more available to them, but basically everyone in the industry got sick and tired of hearing about this topic. We all recognize that libraries serve an important role in our culture, and that they’re struggling to figure out how to stay in

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  • January 6, 2015

    Before You Write: Part 1, Learn Your Process


    brick green no smile b:wHappy New Year! Maybe 2015 will be the year I finally come up with a name for this Tuesday blog on craft (suggestions are welcome).

    In the spirit of new beginnings, I’m going to be spending several weeks talking about some of the pre-writing processes you may find helpful as you get started on your 2015 writing projects. The more manuscripts that come across my desk, the more I’m reminded that being a competent writer does not necessarily make someone a competent storyteller: I’ve read plenty of projects in which decent writing and a good story idea or concept were undermined by significant plot and character problems. And while the surest teacher in these areas is time/experience, there are many exercises and strategies you can employ at the front end of the writing process that can improve your story structure and character development.

    Because not every writer needs help in every area, and because each writer’s writing process is different, the first step in creating your pre-writing strategy is to evaluate what kind of writer you are and what pre-writing exercises will be the most helpful to you, personally. The goal of pre-writing is not to give you a dozen hoops  to jump through or a list of ways to help you procrastinate, but to help you make the most efficient use of your writing time by identifying your successes and preemptively shoring up your weaknesses. If your high school experience was anything like mine, you remember the frustration of being required to turn in junk like an outline, research notes, and a rough draft before you could turn in your final draft, just to prove that you went through the “correct” process for turning out a solid paper. (Well, Mrs. Jennings, I wrote my paper first and then created all that other stuff, so there!)

    Pre-writing doesn’t have to be like that; you’re an adult, and one of

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  • January 5, 2015

    What will you do in the New Year?


    Welcome to 2015, everyone. I know it’s already the 5th (Twelfthnight, if you’re into the old traditions), so you’ve enjoyed your Twelve Days of Christmas, you’ve opened presents, seen old friends and family, and toasted in the new year. Now it’s time to think hard about what you’re going to accomplish over the next twelve months.

    I know what New Year’s resolutions can be like: a weight that you carry around for a few days, then let slip. Everyone who works in a gym will tell you that the first two weeks of a new year are always busy, then things start to get back to normal. You see, most people start the year with an idea that they want to do something different — exercise more, eat less, write more, drink less, contact old friends more, waste time on Facebook less… I’m the same way. I figure the start of a new year is a good time to clean the slate, pick some new goals, and get my life in focus.

    The problem is that most of us tend to overestimate what we can do in one year (even if we underestimate what we could do in five, if we were to stay focused on our goals). So instead of setting some huge, life-changing goal for yourself in January, what if you had two or three big goals you wanted to get done over the course of the year? In other words, if you could accomplish just three things in 2015, what would they be? Would you finally complete that novel? Or run it by an good editor? Start that next book? Would you launch your new website? Or maybe you’re not going to start something — maybe this year you’re going to stop some things, in order to free up your time and focus on writing. Maybe this is the year you find a writing space, set aside

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  • January 2, 2015

    Have Tea with your Characters (a guest blog)


    Sometimes life gets in the way of our writing and we reach a slump. We’re not lazy or without a plot for our story, rather, we’re exhausted from that other life, i.e., the one we’re not writing. There are many things tugging for our attention. You know them: jobs, finances, relationships, family, kids, kids who make poor choices, parents, parents who are ill, pets, pets that bark at Jehovah Witnesses and bust out windows, lost library books, and even cobwebs and dust bunnies. Escaping into our world of characters and plot might work for a day, but then reality knocks at our office door. (In my case, I no longer have an office; I’m at the end of the dining room table, making me visible to all I live with, sort of like being at Grand Central Station. I’ve invested in a cheap pair of headphones and they seem to block out the activity around me.)

    But sometimes I just have to leave the feisty pets, the dust bunnies and the others I live with, and get out of the house. If life has made me too discouraged to do what I love—-to write, then I need time to think things through. I call it “having tea with my characters”. As I walk on a favorite park trail, I think about how each one of my characters would react if I invited them to a party with those finger sandwiches and my favorite Earl Grey. I take mental notes. If I had one of those smart phones, I could record my notes, but instead I rely on memory and the minute I get back to my car, I write down everything. Bits of conversations as tea was served, a new phrase Aunt Kazuko coined when she sat at the dinette table, the color of the sky when Nathan confessed that he missed Lucy, the brokenness Papa held when carted off

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