Author Archives: Liesa Malik

About Liesa Malik

Liesa Malik is a freelance writer & marketing consultant living in Littleton, CO, with her husband and two pets. Liesa has built on her writing interest with a long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website: LiesaMalik.Wordpress.com.

Bouchercon Delivers the Thrills

By Liesa Malik

Bouchercon, the world’s largest fan-based crime, mystery, and thriller convention was held in Long Beach, CA this past weekend.  Colorado’s literary community was well represented, and several RMFW members attended, including writer-of-the-year, Shannon Baker, Programs chair, Mark Stevens, and authors like Mike Befeler, Christine Goff, and Susan Spann.  As one fan said, “What a party it was!”

What is Bouchercon?

Malik_Bouchercon3Bouchercon (or B-con) is best understood by looking as much at what the convention is not, as what it is.  B-con is not a writer’s only event.  There are no technical sessions on POV, or filling in the middle of your story.  Nor are the casual discussions centered around whether or not Indy-publishing is going to take over the writing world, how to find an agent, or how you’ll get going on that next manuscript.

But the convention is still packed with information important to anyone who writes or aspires to write a great story. And the big reason for this is found in the attendee list.

Who goes to Bouchercon?

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

The guest list for this event is huge.  Approximately 2000 authors, editors, agents and fans come together to talk, sell, and acknowledge great writing.  It is not unusual to have a conversation with such greats as Jeffrey Deaver, Sue Grafton, or Deni Deitz.  Just as important, are the conversations you have with librarians and heavy duty readers, many of whom read as much as a book a day.

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

“This convention doesn’t have just over-the-top fans,” said Mark Stevens. “They aren’t hunting down the famous writers, but are thoughtful readers. ”

“It is a very humbling experience,” said Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer of America author, Catherine Dilts.  “I’ve had a few readers tell me that this is their big vacation of the year.  That thought reminds me to keep trying my best to write a good story.  I’m in the entertainment business and my books are for these readers.”

The Anthony Awards

Malik_Bouchercon1Catherine is right, both figuratively and literally.  Each year at Bouchercon, attendees vote for their favorite works of crime fiction.  These votes result in the Anthony Awards, named after Anthony Boucher, a science fiction writer who was very influential with his many years of writing mystery reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times.  This year’s winners included William Kent Krueger, best novel, for Ordinary Grace; Matt Coyle, best first novel Yesterday’s Echo, Catriona McPherson, As She Left It, and John Connolly, best short story, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository.”  More Anthony awards can be found at Crimespree Magazine’s website.

If You Go

Bouchercon is an annual event, and well worth the effort to attend.  Many conference attendees reserve their places for “next year” while still at the current convention.  If you decide to go, here are some tips from one newbie to another:

  • Wear comfy shoes and clothes.  Even if the event is in one or two buildings, there is a lot of walking.
  • Bring SWAG. There are many opportunities to hand out your information.
  • Go to the panels.  These showcases of authors’ works add an extra dimension to your own efforts, and the moderators ask insightful questions that you can mull over when you get back to your writing desk.
  • Network.  If you’re looking for readers, you’ll find them.  If you want to work on building your author presence in our community, again, there is a lot of bang for your buck here.
  • Bring a little cash.  Rumor has it there is a poker game going on here and there and someone willing to lighten your load.
  • Have fun.  The biggest names in the industry seem to focus on this, and it seems a good lead to follow.

And as was echoing throughout on Sunday, “Had a great time!  See you in Raleigh!”

Going for the Big Time—Getting your book in Barnes & Noble

Bu Liesa Malik

Okay, so you’ve written a book. And you’re getting it published, either traditionally or through independent means. Today, this isn’t enough. Today, more and more, sales and marketing have become the author’s responsibility.

How do you sell your book? Can you get it on the shelves of big stores like Barnes and Noble across the nation? The straight answer is probably, no. But there are booksexceptions here. You can get your book shelved at all of the big stores when you become a USA Today or New York Times best selling author. Or when you’re rich and famous. Or you grow your book business as most small businesses grow—store-by-store and reader-by-reader.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Natalie Vande Vuss of the Barnes and Noble at Wadsworth and Bowles in Littleton. She gave me the bookseller’s perspective on stocking and selling your book. And it all starts with a little understanding . . .

booksellerUnderstanding the business

“We all want the same thing,” said Natalie. “We all want people to read, and we want authors to write. That’s important. This is a business I enjoy because it’s a business about ideas. Here you’re shopping for your head.”

Unfortunately, while we may all be after this same goal, everyone is reaching toward it from different directions, so it’s vital to understand your bookseller’s path to selling your book.

“Each Barnes and Noble is unique,” said Natalie. “I can be three miles away from another store and have a completely different customer base. So the community makes a difference. And each building is different. We don’t build cookie-cutter stores.” She said that the stores all have their own layouts, number of bays, end caps, and tables. And the sales will be different from store to store.

“Once you’ve been in the market a little while and the customers have come in and are making their purchases, and you’ve tracked what you’re selling, you determine what to buy based on what your store needs.”

The other huge determinant of getting your books onto a Barnes and Noble shelf is whether or not your book easily fits into the established system. “There may be a product from a mom and pop out of their garage, and it may be a great item, but how is the payable system going to work? How is the reorder system going to work? How, if it goes to the register in sales, is it going to be re-ordered? There has to be some sort of system in place where what someone is trying to sell fits into our process systems for how we manage profit.”

Natalie mentioned Ingram, Books West, and Partners Publishers Group, as distributors whose systems are compatible with Barnes and Noble’s book stores.

The challenge with smaller or independently published books and books-on-demand is that each title requires processing by hand, and as Natalie said, “In our business staff hours are limited. If I have to go outside all of my systems, and go on a clipboard, it’s going to fall way down on the priority list.”

Where you can start . . .

Let’s say you have a book that fits in Natalie’s system, or you’re willing to do the extra work necessary to get and keep your book on the shelves of the store. As an author, where can you start building your presence?

“Please, make an appointment,” said Natalie. “What a lot of authors do is they just pop-in, and they want to talk to you for an hour. You do not have an hour to talk to them right then because maybe you just got 300 boxes in your back door.” She also said that it might be a different titled person you talk to in each store (remember, every Barnes and Noble is operated uniquely with only general structure and a majority of stock ordered out of New York).

And don’t expect your Barnes and Noble contact to be your personal trainer in how the n=bookspublishing industry works. ” I had a gentleman do that to me on a regular basis. Once a week he would pop in and want an hour of my time. I couldn’t do that. It got to the point where when I would see him I would avoid him.” Natalie said she didn’t want to do so, but she just didn’t have the time to meet with him on his whim.

To Natalie, a best practice would be to go into a store and let whomever you talk to know that you’re a local author. Then ask who the person is at that store that handles the type of event you would like to have. Ask if you can set an appointment to meet that person. Then have a short agenda when you do actually get together.

 . . . And finish

The big day comes. Barnes and Noble have agreed to host a book-signing event for you. Natalie said that a surprising amount of authors think this is all they have to do.

“What you have to understand,” said Natalie, “is you need to help me help you. I’ll provide the space. We’ll have employees at the register, we’ll order all the books, and we’ll do all that kind of stuff, but just like Random House would want to sell it and promote it, you’ll have to do that.”

And when your book signing is over? You have to have follow-up in order to keep books flying off the shelves. It is your marketing plan more than anything done at a store that will sell your books.

“Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?”

By Liesa Malik

The first post on this topic was published on August 22 (Hachette vs. Amazon–Do We All Lose?) As before…any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

As the battle between Hachette and Amazon continues over the pricing and distribution of ebooks, Authors United took a second swipe at the on-line giant by publicly asking individual Amazon board members to reconsider the sanctions imposed on Hachette authors.

In May, Hachette and Amazon broke away from the bargaining table and took their disagreements public. While stories about the conflict started showing up in the press, Amazon apparently took out its wrath on individual authors who happen to be represented by publishing giant, Hachette Book Group. These authors, many of whom are household names, had things like competitive pop-up ads cover their author pages, delayed shipping of books, and removal of buy buttons from some of their titles.

I sat down with author Douglas Preston (co-author of the best-selling Pendergast thriller series, as well as several fiction and non-fictions works of his own) to talk about what authors may want from Amazon.

Photo credit: Christine Preston

Photo credit: Christine Preston

“We’re not taking sides in this dispute, but simply asking Amazon not to target authors,” said Mr. Preston. “Basically, there is a lot on the web misrepresenting our position, so this is a good opportunity to reinforce what we’re trying to say.”

The quiet and thoughtful writer said he decided to take action when he noticed his sales drop by 60% to 70%. “I wrote a letter hoping twelve brave authors would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses.” That’s how Authors United was formed.

The letter, an open missive to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, asked the online retail giant to curtail the harmful practices that were hurting individual authors. The letter went viral.

In response, Amazon started Readers United, with more verbiage to debate Mr. Preston’s assertions.

Then, in the week of September 14-20, Authors United decided to take the additional step of contacting each board member of Amazon. In part, the new letter reads:

“No group of authors as diverse or prominent as this has ever come together before in support of a single cause . . .”

“We are literary novelists, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and poets; thriller writers and debut and midlist authors. We are science fiction and travel writers; historians and newspaper reporters; textbook authors and biographers and mystery writers. We have written many of your children’s favorite stories.”

“Collectively, we have sold more than a billion books. Amazon’s tactics have caused us profound anguish and outrage.”

Mr. Preston said, “This feels like betrayal. Amazon wants authors to put up author pages, which is mutually beneficial, but we help them sell our books by listing other authors we like, reviewing other author’s books, and occasionally writing blogs for them about books we like to read. We’re happy to do this because everyone benefits.”

Then Mr. Preston’s voice took on an edge. “To add gratuitous insult, when you go to my page and pull up one of my books, a big pop-up window emerges suggesting I might enjoy another book (not by a Hachette author) at a better price.”

Mr. Preston said that he’s always had warm feelings for Amazon, and is himself, a Prime Member of the on-line store. But with this conflict his feelings may be undergoing change. “They (Amazon) shouldn’t block sales or inconvenience customers. I can’t get my own book in less than a few weeks.”

Was the second letter effective? That remains to be seen, but last weekend (September 20th) an annual secret soiree held in New Mexico for big name authors and hosted by Amazon was missing some invitations—significantly, invitations to Hachette authors or those who have publicly shown support for Authors United.

I asked Mr. Preston in August if he could see a happy ending to the dispute. “What I hope,” said Mr. Preston, “is that we can create a healthy eco-system in publishing for Amazon, for Hachette, for authors to be able to support themselves and feed their families.

Side Note: Attempts to contact representatives for either Amazon or Hachette have been met with refusal and reference to public relations bulletins. While I will keep an eye on this situation, this ends my entries for the RMFW blog for a while.

Hachette vs. Amazon—Do We All Lose?

By Liesa Malik

Personal Note: It has been several years (decades) since I last worked on news copy, and my journalism background is very rusty. Therefore, I have to admit to writing this with bias, and let you know that any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

Whether you love it or hate it, big business is here to stay, and stay involved with our lives. This is the story of two giants in the publishing industry and how we as authors might be involved.

BREAKING NEWS . . .

In May 2014, the New York Times broke a news story sure to rock the publishing industry. Hachette Book Group, fresh off an anti-trust lawsuit by the government, was the first of five major publishing houses required to re-negotiate pricing issues surrounding the ebook business. And talks weren’t going well.

On the surface, the lines of this dispute were clearly drawn and easy to form opinions over. Hachette, as the publisher, would set prices for ebooks in a similar fashion to pricing for hardcover books. Some ebooks would be offered for sale at $12.99 up to nearly $20. Most of these ebooks were authored by some of the biggest names in the industry – James Patterson, Malcom Gladwell, Stephen Colbert, Douglas Preston, and more—and demand for these books would easily cover the prices asked.

On the other hand, Amazon wanted the books priced at no more than $9.99. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has a standing phrase, “your margin is my opportunity.” His focus is to bring the lowest price to everything Amazon distributes to the consumer. And that includes books.

Some problems here:

  1. The publishers claim the right to price their own products (often developed with hefty advances, public relations campaigns, and the costly editorial superiority of large publishing houses). If Amazon is allowed to price the books at below cost, the big houses could soon be in financial trouble.
  2. Amazon called foul over that thinking. In a printed statement the company said, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market—e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.”
  3. The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the pricing dilemma even before this latest dispute arose. In an April 2012 article, WSJ reporters wrote “publishers feared that $9.99 would cement consumer price expectations and make it difficult to charge more (for books) in the future.” That fear drove competitors into an alliance between the five major publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, MacMillan Publishing, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster) and Apple computer, in which a new sales model would allow higher pricing to exist across the board. That’s when Amazon complained and the government stepped in. The publishers and Apple ended up with millions of dollars of restitution to pay, and the demand that new negotiations take place.

THE PR WAR BEGINS

Soon after the break down this spring, Hachette and some of its authors began reporting on the semi-secret punishing tactics Amazon was using to drive down Hachette sales on Amazon. This is significant because Amazon owns 41% of all book sales and 61% of ebook sales in the U.S. The tactics being used were:

  • Slow delivery of book orders. Amazon claimed Hachette wasn’t sending books over on time, and Hachette claimed Amazon was holding them back from consumers.
  • Removal of “Buy Buttons” from some titles
  • No ability to pre-order expected releases
  • Competitive advertising on a Hachette author’s page that recommended different titles (by other publishers) at a better price.

These punitive actions were met by huge complaints in the press. Stephen Colbert even produced a questionable hand signal to the distribution giant. 

THE GLOVES COME OFF

As more and more authors found out about, and voiced concerns over, Amazon’s “bullying” tactics, Amazon tried offering to pay the authors 100% of its sales of their books while the price war continued.

“That was not a real offer,” said Douglas Preston (co-author with Lincoln Child of the Pendergrast series) “It was an attempt to divide authors from their publishers.”

Mr. Preston dove into the fray with a letter that quickly circulated among the famous and not-so-famous author community. “I wrote that letter hoping twelve brave souls would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses. The letter went viral,” said Mr. Preston.

On August 10th that same letter appeared as an advertisement in the NY Times and immediately faced tremendous support, and large skepticism.

Authors like Stephen King, Donna Tartt, and Philip Pullman “signed” and endorsed the letter, while Amazon called Mr. Preston “entitled” and “an opportunist.” The Amazon team was referring to the successful career Mr. Preston has built as an author, and hinted that personal greed was the reason Mr. Preston may have written his letter.

NOW IT’S OUR TURN

The above notes only nick the surface of the publishing world at work. Some other salient points to ponder include:

  • If Amazon succeeds in cowering Hachette, will it be able to use this battle to set up negotiations with the other major publishers to its advantage?
  • Are consumers right in their demands for the lowest possible price on books? Is there such a thing as a “free lunch” in publishing?
  • As authors, are we receiving a fair deal from publishers who have little to no cost in converting our paper and hard bound books to ebooks?
  • In the past, Amazon had a program called “The Gazelle Project” where small publishers were pressured out of existence with similar tactics. In a Hachette published book by Brad Stone, The Everything Store, Mr. Bezos is supposed to have set the tone by saying Amazon “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Since that became public knowledge, the program name has changed to the “Small Publishers Negotiation Program.”
  • While Amazon sells 50% or more of all books sold in the United States, those sales represent only about 7% of the giant distributor’s sales. Are the big five gazelles now?

I tried to reach representatives from the biggest two players in this situation. I was essentially told “no comment,” and given links to press releases and public letters.

Next month, I will write up interview notes from Mr. Preston–one man, one voice who has shown once again that there is power in words.  The question is, will those words stand up to legitimate, albeit, hardball tactics by Amazon?

Collecting People

By Liesa Malik

How many books have you read recently on building characters? Not building character—as in developing your own moral compass—but building characters that you can write about in your next novel? A quick search on Amazon recently pulled up over 100,000 titles when I searched for “books, characters in fiction.” Whew!

As commercial fiction writers we know that good characters are some of the most important ingredients to any story. Where would we be if Scrooge weren’t such a delightfully well-rounded reluctant hero?

We’ve often been instructed on how to build characters, but today I want to talk about collecting them through real life adventures. Characters are in the people all around us. If we learn to use our powers of observation, and note people continuously, our stories will have a real boost up when seeking publication.

Here are some ideas for your “collecting” process:

  • Have a place to keep your collection. This could be a spiral notebook, a file on your computer, or a binder with tabs for collecting and sorting your observations. Thing is, try to keep this collection in one place. Mobility simply gives you opportunity for losing precious work (I still have a poetry book out in Atlanta, Georgia somewhere. Grr!)
  • When you’re in a restaurant, look around. Find the most interesting or the most boring, cutest or ugliest person in the room and jot down a quick biography of him or her. So what that you don’t know them? You’re working on fiction. Pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes and note things like the way they use their flatware, whether they’re glued to their phone or are looking about, how they sit, how they chew, how they interact with the room around them. Give them a name that truly suits them. Bingo! You’ve just “collected” your first person. Here’s an extra tip. If you go to a bagel or coffee shop each morning, as I do, you’ll see the same people over and over. In the course of a week, you could build quite a lot of notes and history about your character. Pop them into your collection file. When you need that character, he or she will be ready to polish and run with.
  • Make a list of lists. Sitting around for fifteen minutes? You could play a game of Sudoku, or you could make a list of lists. Pull out your trusty notebook and jot down lists of people to remember. Start with the phrase “My favorite ___ is . . .” The favorites is a list of occupations or roles of people in your life: teachers, neighbors, relatives, movie stars and so on. At a later time you can choose one of these favorite roles and list actual people, or choose one favorite person and write about them.
  • Drive around and snap a photo of a house you’ve never been in. Okay. Got this idea from the July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, but I just love it. They didn’t say to take a photo, but what the heck? Live dangerously. You could only be accused of stalking, prowling, or “casing the joint.” Once you have the photo or a clear image of the house, write down the story behind it and the people who live there. Bonus! You’re learning to describe setting as well as build characters.
  • Be a busy body. Whenever I go to get a haircut or chat with someone on my street, inevitably people tell me stories from their lives about relatives I’ll never meet, or bosses who only get worse with each retelling. When I get home I try to jot down at least part of my friends’ story. It’s good for building a character. One word of caution. When it comes time to retell any true tale, try to change something significant about the person gossiped over. I mark these notes with a phrase like “true recollection” and the name of who told me this, so that I know how much needs to be changed around.

This is such a fun topic that I could brainstorm all day with you. Bet you have some great ideas too. Why not comment here and let everyone know your best character-collecting tip?

Or join me this Saturday at the Lakewood Art Council’s Art Gallery, 85 S. Union Street (behind the Wendy’s) from 1:00 to 2:30. I’ll be talking about repurposing books into arts and crafts and signing my book, Faith on the Rocks. Bet the place will be full of characters.

Critical Questions with Sandra Dallas

Sandra DallasIt’s no great secret that next to advances and royalty checks, book reviews are an author’s best friend. But getting reviews are hard to come by, and no guarantee of success. Just ask Sandra Dallas, current columnist and book critic for fifty years with the Denver Post, and who is also a successful author.

“I don’t know how many books are published a year. Isn’t the figure around 400,000?” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a huge volume. You may run two to four reviews a week. What then are the chances of getting a book reviewed? It’s very discouraging for authors.”

And from the reviewer’s perspective life isn’t any easier. “Reviewing is a sideline,” said Sandra. “The Post stopped paying last year, and they never paid much anyway. It’s not keeping bread on the table. National reviewers are paid more, but local papers don’t.”

LOOKING FOR GOOD NEWS

On the bright side, Sandra said that the Post has a new editor for it’s book section; one reason Denver authors should consider themselves lucky. Many papers have done away with this section entirely. And the new editor has hinted at more articles about authors.

Also, with more blogs on the Internet focusing on book reviews there may be opportunities for writing reviews of your own to build a great reputation and add another plank to your author platform.

If you do want to write reviews for public consumption, here are some thoughts Sandra shared about the process:

WHEN TO CRITIQUE AND WHEN TO SAY “NO”

“When I started out, I was told by Stanton Peckham (the Post’s book editor at the time), ‘If a book isn’t very good, don’t review it,'” said Sandra. “‘Why give space to a book that isn’t very good, when there are so many good books out there?’ You review only the books you think are worthwhile. And keep your reader in mind. Your loyalty is not to the author. Your loyalty is to the reader.”

Sandra spoke about new critics and their biggest challenges. “You can tell a novice reviewer by a couple of things. Number one, they love to point out errors. They will take a date that’s a year off and make a big deal out of it. And then they love to be clever and to be critical. And they love to write negative reviews. You see a lot of this in blogs. I think usually they’re trying to be clever at the author’s expense.”

She said that one time a book review blogger just creamed one of Sandra’s books, and then closed by saying that she would review War and Peace in next week’s blog. There was a chuckle to go with this thought.

WHAT TO WRITE IN A BOOK REVIEW

First, you should love reading. Really love it. As Sandra’s sister says, “Hell for us (readers) is being someplace without a book.”

Then, when Sandra does a review, she says she usually keeps a paper or the book’s press release in the book and jots down notes and page numbers as she goes. This is because she rarely keeps a book she’s been given to review, so she doesn’t like to mark them up before giving them away. Occasionally, with an ARC, she’ll underline texts she wants to use.

“I look for interesting things—for catchy phrases—for summations of the book,” said Sandra. “But your job is not to please the author or to promote the book. Your job is to tell readers about the book.” She noted with another light laugh that some authors who practically beg to have their book reviewed will often focus in on the one negative she might point out at the end of a review and give her a hard time for that, forgetting that having a generally positive review is rare and valuable.

ABOUT SANDRA

Sandra didn’t start life as a book critic or author. From journalism school at the University of Denver, she joined the staff of Business Week Magazine, a true thought leader in its heyday, and still a strong voice in business as a member of the Bloomberg Press conglomerate of business news sources. She became the first woman bureau chief and covered the Rocky Mountain Region on a wide variety of subjects, “not just business, but about issues that business people needed to know.”

Then, about 25 years ago, she turned to fiction. “It was kind of a fluke,” she said. “I had never intended to write fiction. I didn’t even read fiction. And I just sort of fell into it, and I love writing it. You know that old line about someone asking you ‘do you like writing?” And the answer is ‘no, but I like having written.’ Well, I actually like sitting down and the writing process of seeing what happens with fiction. I really enjoy it.”

Today, Sandra Dallas has thirteen novels and ten non-fiction books published.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SANDRA?

This fall she has two new books coming out. The first is targeted toward children readers between ages ten and twelve. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky comes out in September, and A Quilt For Christmas, and adult novel will appear shortly after.

“My last novel was called Fallen Woman, which was about the murder of a prostitute in Denver in 1885,” said Sandra. “I originally called it Holiday Street, because that was Market Street’s original name, and this was the red light district. So my agent said, ‘You have to change the title because your readers are going to think this is a Christmas book.’ And then she said, ‘Why don’t you write a Christmas book? Why don’t you write a Christmas quilt book?’ And so that was the origin of this book.

So now it’s your turn. Do you have favorite book critics you like to read? How do you think their review process works? Are  you a reviewer? Please add to the conversation and let us know how you judge a book.

Alice Kober Has Your Reading Covered

By Liesa Malik

How many books will you read this year?

Alice KoberAs authors, we have a certain obligation to become “super readers,” which are readers, according to Alice Kober of the Arapahoe Library District, who read at least eleven books a year. If this sounds like your kind of goal, then you are doing well. But Alice may have you beat. She tries to read approximately 100 books each year.

This wonderful former host and judge committee of one for the annual Rick Hansen Simile contest at the Colorado Gold Conference has a substantial commitment to reading, writing, and all things books. A member of RMFW since 1993, Alice has made the world of books her domain.

 Super Reader

“It’s so hard for me to hang out with people who don’t read,” said Alice recently. “Reading is a passion of mine.” This is a good thing, as Alice’s role with the library is that of Adult Fiction Collection Librarian. That means she buys the print, audio, e-books, down-loadable materials and anything related to adult fiction for all of the Arapahoe Library District. “I’m an on-line shopper,” said Alice with her typical ring of humility.

Besides her personal commitment to a high level of reads for each year, Alice also posts several reviews on Goodreads. She said she used to review on Amazon as well, but doesn’t go there any more.

“I just hate Amazon reviews because they have paid reviewers. People are all saying it’s just crooked. There were authors out there deliberately panning other people’s books. I have found a lot more authenticity on Goodreads,” she said.

Dedicated Librarian

Besides her job as personal shopper for the patrons of Arapahoe County, Alice spends a good deal of her time looking for the next great book. She refers to many sources for top-selling titles that may be of interest to patrons.

“For less commercial books, I look at Indie-Next—The Independent Booksellers’ Association. And I also read Romantic Times, Locus (for science-fiction), Mystery Scene, Oprah’s list, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, New York Times Review of Books. So I’m looking at everything from literary fiction to action/adventure.”

“I look at my job as buying chocolate, in that reading is entertainment. There’s dark chocolate and there’s milk chocolate and there’s nuts’n’chews. There’s even orange centers.

“I really dislike it when some people will criticize inspirational fiction or romance or whatever. I feel that I represent the taxpayers of the Arapahoe tax district. Some people want erotica, some people want what we call ‘clean reads,’ and I try to get something of everything.”

Picking Books To Shelve

Another part of being the Adult Fiction Collections Librarian, is to develop sets of books patrons may want to read. One of the collections Alice works on is a local author set.

“We have a Colorado Author’s collection at Arapahoe County and I’ve been posting that on the RMFW loop. Those books have a special sticker for Colorado Author, and they circulate well,” said Alice. “Our patrons are very interested.”

If you are a published author and member of the RMFW loop, please contact Alice with your title, ISBN number and publishing date, so she can review your book for possible future purchase.

Some other tips for getting your books in the libraries:

  • Librarians prefer requests via email as opposed to phone calls.
  • When you query, provide links to reviews, past publishing successes and awards, and anything that shows your author platform or publication history.
  • Know and be able to articulate your reader appeal. For example, if your book is a futuristic romance then let your librarian know that it would appeal to readers of Jayne Castle.
  • Americans are visual. Make sure your cover is professional looking.
  • If you’re an independently published author, be sure your work is thoroughly copy-edited before publication.
  • Please don’t ask for a book review.
  • Remember, libraries are a great way for readers to discover new authors. Visit and get to know your librarians.

For Alice, the trends in reading constantly change, so purchasing for Arapahoe remains a challenging and fun position.

“I’ve read a lot of articles and I think people are reading shorter things. They talk about people’s attention spans changing, but there’s a Pew study on e-reading that says ‘3 in ten adults read an e-book last year. Half of them own an e-reader.’ Reading is all over the place. I keep buying my books and hoping.”

So, what’s your next read? Tell us in the comments below. Alice and all of us at RMFW would be interested to know. Maybe you can get it at the library.

J. Ellen Smith; Pioneer in Modern Times

By Liesa Malik

JEllenSmith“I’m so excited that people want to hear what I have to say,” said J. Ellen Smith, publisher and owner of the Champagne Book Group, as we talked together about our upcoming Colorado Gold conference and other writing thoughts.

Champagne Book Group publishes both electronically and in paperback formats, and Ellen will be coming from their offices in High River, near Calgary, Alberta to speak about the publishing process, meet new talented writers, and accept pitches at the Gold Pitch Sessions. She expressed a small concern, however, that writers use a professional attitude during the conference time.

“I’ve always prided myself on being approachable,” said Ellen, “but please treat us smaller publishers with the same courtesy as the large press. Don’t shove a book at me and demand that I read it.”

A few other signs that shout out “newbie writer” to Ellen include:

  • Submissions with a copyright symbol on them. “I don’t need to be told this work isn’t mine,” said Ellen. “Why copyright something that hasn’t even been edited yet?”
  • Interrupting. Getting interrupted, especially when Ellen and another editor are in conversation, is a real put-off. There are ways to find more appropriate opportunities during the few days we have together. She chuckled on this thought. “Once, at my very first conference, some woman followed me into the bathroom and kept shoving her manuscript under the door. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept shoving it back.”
  • Inebriation. “It’s a red flag to me when I see someone who has had a few too many.” Ellen says she understands that the conference is a celebration of writing and writers, but makes a point to remember that she’s out representing her business at these affairs, and wants to be prepared to conduct business with a clear head always.

Still, Ellen has sympathy for new authors and will be looking forward to meeting them. “As a guest, they like to work you to death at these conferences,” said Ellen, “but that’s okay. It’s an honor to be invited.”

She said if she sees 30 people in her pitch sessions, it’s likely she’ll ask for full reads from about five, sometimes a little more. Her role in these sessions is to help a person feel confident and get rid of their 3 x 5 cards. “‘Now,’ I say, ‘just tell me about your book.’ I want to see the passion of the author in the pitch.” She says that she knows the journey to publishing is difficult, having been a writer herself, and she’s anxious to find and encourage fresh new voices.

The path to publishing and publisher started for Ellen in her early school years, when she would write stories that she and a few friends would act out for others. “Skits and plays, really,” said Ellen. “As a little girl, I had a vivid imagination. My stories always had humor in them. It was fun to make our friends laugh.”

Later, Ellen became a nurse, but continued to write in her spare time. She had some success, but disappointment with contracts, quality of production, and publishing houses that were disappearing as fast as they went up, stole motivation from her.

One day at a coffee shop, Ellen’s friend, Penelope, said, “You’ve been complaining for years about this. Why don’t you get going and publish yourself?” They talked over the idea for a while, and Ellen continued to mull it over.

She found a small publisher in Calgary and apprenticed for a year with them, learning the ins and outs of the publishing business.

Finally, in December of 2004, with a website and $20 in the bank, Champagne Books started work. By April 2005, they were ready for a cyber-launch of their first four titles. “I totally believe in the old saying that you don’t run before you’re ready,” said Ellen. So, for six years, she kept working as a nurse as well as a publisher. The company grew and became a leader in e-book publishing.

Today, proudly loan and debt-free, Champagne Books has ten categories of e-book fiction posted and several more titles in printed form. The company believes that eBooks are the future of publishing, and Ellen and her team are ready to lead the way.

Have You Ever Considered Writing Nonfiction?

By Liesa Malik

Gasp! As storytellers and novelists, the word “nonfiction” can sound very constraining.  It conjures up all sorts of nasty images, like:

  • Deadlines
  • Pressure
  • Talking to, or interviewing total strangers
  • Taking notes when people talk too fast
  • Maybe even boring topics to write about.

But after over twenty years in marketing, and with a degree in journalism, I have to say that writing nonfiction is a terrific occupation for those of us who aspire to becoming published authors. Here’s what I mean.

Many Great Fiction Authors Started in Nonfiction Work

Ernest Hemingway started his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and his work in the Spanish Civil War generated the background for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Stephen Crane never participated in the Civil War. Instead, his experience covering the Spanish-American War for the New York World led him to create The Red Badge of Courage.

And these are not the only journalists-turned-novelists. Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, E.B.White and many more learned the craft of writing through their reporting of the day’s news before launching successful careers in fiction.

Writing Nonfiction Improves Your Research Skills

My granddaughter once told me she likes writing fiction because “you don’t have to get all the stuff right.” As experienced writers we know this isn’t true. You cannot put your protagonist at a gold mine located in Limon, Colorado, because a little research will tell you that Limon is a flat, prairie town named after a railway man, and gold mining had little to do with the formation of the municipality.

But research can become a rabbit warren of wasted time without a plan. When it comes to writing nonfiction, writing several small articles on a topic of interest turns it into the background you may need for your next novel. Often, the response to one well-developed question will result in a full article of, say, 1500 words.

Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote several travel essays as he explored his world, and through the experience developed the knowledge that would help him write such great tales as “Treasure Island” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

If you write science fiction, your research naturally lends itself to writing science. If you haven’t the expertise to write deeply on a subject, you can still write for children’s magazines and grow both your knowledge and your credentials from there.

If you write murder mysteries, police magazines may be a great place to both soak up the atmosphere and give you a venue to write up information you garner on investigating murders.

After all, it is said that writers often write to learn.

Writing Published Nonfiction Will Help Your Author Platform

Today, the author platform is all about you being a real person to your readers.  Unfortunately, while you and I know we’re “real” we may not be “real-well-known” in the areas of literature we want.

But, when you start building a reading audience by guest posting on friends’ blogs about topics you are expert in, you’ll build demand for your work.

Let’s say you have an elephant for a main character in your book (don’t laugh: think “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen). A couple of trips to your local zoo, and a few articles written based on your growing knowledge will help others to see you as the expert you’re becoming.

You’ll also gain more audience from people who are interested in elephants.

And can you hear them now? “So-and-so wrote a great article on elephants for  Zoo Lovers’ Digest. Now they have a novel out with elephants in it. Maybe I should give it a try.”

Writing Nonfiction Adds a Positive Effect to Your Bottom Line

We are all engaged with the “starving artist” image. But do you really want to go through life without the funds you’d like, just because you write for a living? Writing nonfiction articles placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs or even your own corporate business news can pay good money. Carol Tice writes a great blog on writing commercially. She has enough business that she can even afford to turn some down.

In his book, The Freelance Writer’s Bible, author David Trottier posts these popular nonfiction writing prices:

Case Studies . . . $50-$60 per hour
Ghostwriting . . . $25 – $60 per hour
Business Article . . . $.75 to $1 per word

This all adds up to great opportunity, if you’re willing to use nonfiction as your stepping stone to fiction writing success.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.

Bookends at the Broadway Book Mall

By Liesa Malik

Malik_RonandNinaElseWhat can you do when you and your spouse own more books than is possible to read in a lifetime? Open a bookstore, and end up with even more volumes, of course. For Ron and Nina Else, this is just what happened, and for the former Human Relations specialists with the government, it is a dream comes true adventure.

Ron and Nina own Who Else! Books, within the Broadway Book Mall on Broadway at Cedar. The mall houses nine vendors with a large variety of new and used titles, and a thriving community of both writers and readers to keep the place a Denver must see.

Malik_BooksonBench“We went into book selling to get rid of some of our extra books,” said Nina. She glances over at Ron and they both begin to chuckle.  The Broadway Book Mall is overfilled with books, posters, and other items on just about every surface, and tucked into every corner. Ron adds his own special perspective. “I think we’re hopeless book-aholics,” he says.

The couple, married for 28 years, has been working side-by-side since they opened a stall at the former Denver Book Mall just a few blocks north.  He is gifted in display and stocking, and she handles the bookkeeping and general operations.

As word came that the old store was closing, Ron and Nina made a play to buy it out, but the deal fell through. Undaunted, the couple took a group of nine other booksellers and re-opened at their present location. For over four years they have been a staple of the surrounding community.

“The good part of opening this mall was that we got to choose the people to bring with us,” said Nina.  “We selected them carefully, and only one person has since left—and that was for health reasons.” The criteria that the Elses used to select the vendors were:

  • The people needed to be in the new venture for the love and knowledge of books
  • They had the business skills to close out the cash register properly each evening
  • They had to be very good with people. Very.

Malik_LogoAlthough the Elses are the owners of the mall location, for all intents and purposes this is a cooperative venture with several operational decisions being made by vote.  That’s how they came up with the name.  And Ron quickly points out that the moniker is so good they could even use it if they moved to New York. Nina looks over to shake her head and smile.

Another vote determined that unfortunately, there couldn’t be a cat mascot in the store.  A few people had allergies, so that plan wouldn’t work.  Instead, the Elses put out water dishes and welcome neighborhood dogs in for a drink and a treat.  Nina prefers dogs to cats anyway, and the dogs seem to know this.

One canine friend, Carl, brings his realtor dad in frequently. But Carl is part active foxhound, and he tends to bang into corners and other things. Ron and Nina came to the rescue.  They put out plastic corner covers that they call “Carl’s Corners,” and all is well.

The Elses’ strong devotion to community and authors make them a favorite for authors in search of a good book signing venue. “From the beginning, we made a commitment to support local authors,” said Nina. As a result they tend to carry a wide variety of local authors.

“I just think local authors become such friends over the years,” said Nina. “I cherish that.”

And the Elses prove the point every day, both with their customers and their colleagues.  Laura Givens, artist and another vendor within the Broadway Book mall said, “They are definitely an old married couple, very much a pair. When Nina broke her foot Ron was as nice as butter in your mouth to her. We’re happy to be with them.”

You might even say that Ron and Nina make a perfect set of bookends for the Broadway Book Mall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.