Emily Littlejohn’s first full-length novel Inherit The Bones landed an agent and a good contract with a major publisher—in one of the fastest sales the agent had ever seen. Was it luck? Emily says luck may have played a small role, but so did hard work and listening to experts—being open to feedback from both the agent and her editor.
As Emily puts it, books are not written in a vacuum.
This week, A Season To Lie releases and it features the same protagonist, police detective Gemma Monroe, solving murders in the fictional Colorado mountain town of Cedar Valley.
Emily is a former librarian who has been obsessed with mystery and horror novels since she was a child.
When she’s not placing her heroine in precarious situations, Emily can be found enjoying the beautiful Colorado mountains with her husband and growing family.
A Season To Lie releases on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Emily Littlejohn's website.
Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs
For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.
Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com
Back in the 40's Abraham Maslow(1) put forth the proposition that humans are motivated by needs. Maslow postulates that each low level need must be satisfied before the next higher need can be addressed. It makes a certain sense. Without the foundation, you can't build walls. Without the walls, you can't build the roof. His pyramid of needs has served as a model for understanding human behavior ever since.(2)
I maintain that a similar hierarchy exists in social media marketing.
Marketing is about getting people to do what you want. Doesn't matter if you're selling toothpaste, insurance, or an elected official. Your goal is to get people to do the thing you need them to do. Buy the toothpaste. Enroll in the plan. Vote for the person. For that to happen you have to influence the public's behavior.
Mass marketing has been with us almost forever. From the Molly Malone to carny barkers. From paperboys to fast food restaurants. From magazines and billboards to television and radio. Mass media has developed some pretty compelling models regardless of what scale the seller operates on. The mass marketing is getting your message to as many people as possible in the hope that some tiny fraction of people will hear your message and take the desired action.
Social media marketing has only really been a thing for the last twenty years or so. The desired result - get people to take the desired action - is the same but the process is different. Social media marketing strives to get your message to only those people who want to hear it so that a large percentage of those people will do what you want. Mass market techniques are antithetical to social media because social media messaging is controlled by the receiver, not the sender.(3)
That's a long set up to understand the three levels that govern social media marketing.
Interaction is the base. Without some level of interaction, nothing else is possible. It's where you get likes, retweets, and followers. It's requires nearly nothing of the receiver - only that they don't block, unfriend, or unfollow you. Most social media marketing advice tells you how to grow your numbers but not how to move up the pyramid.
Engagement is the next tier. This is where people actually pay attention to you, maybe talk back to you by leaving comments or adding their own ideas to a re-tweet. Engagement is a required - but not sufficient - condition.
Influence is the goal. Just like mass media marketing, social media marketing works to get people to do what you want. For authors - particularly self published ones - it's "buy the book." There are other less demanding goals that you might pursue - sign up for the email list, leave a review, tell a friend - but the ultimate goal for authors in doing social media marketing is to sell more books.
Here's the thing:
Most measures of influence *kough*klout*kough* use interaction as a proxy for engagement. Advice on how to get more followers, more friends, bigger numbers only applies to interaction. Sure you need to reach people but these numbers by themselves are meaningless. How many are bots? How many just follow you because you're a joke to them? How many just clicked like because it's almost a reflex action and not any kind of thoughtful response?
You can actually get a sense for engagement by comments and quoted retweets. It's a rough measure because most engagement will come from the lurkers - that 90% of people below the surface who actually follow what you do and pay attention to it, think about it, but don't actually step out of the ether to make themselves known to you. It's why counting doesn't really work here. Numbers aren't the answer and can be misleading.
Influence is even harder to measure because the action you want people to take isn't an action done in social media. It's invisible in that realm and only shows up in sales. The problem gets compounded by delays between message and action fostered by the internet. _Once on the internet, forever on the internet._ A comment you left on somebody's blog last month could drive a sale next week. Messages you put out last year could result in actions taken next year. You find yourself in the position of seeing a spike in sales when you've done nothing to promote your work, because somebody somewhere referenced a tweet that you responded to and forgot about.
Keep interaction going by remembering that - on social media - "yes" is conditional but "no" is forever. Foster engagement by being engaged with your audience - don't robo-tweet, reply to comments, like and +1 posts. Remember that your goal is not numbers, but engagement. A mailing list of 20,000 names where only one or two percent click through to your book is much less valuable than a list of 1000 names where eighty percent open and fifty percent click through. It means you have more influence and it's influence that gets you sales.
- Maslow, A.H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation". Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96. doi:10.1037/h0054346 – via psychclassics.yorku.ca.
- The other model is called the "expectation theory" - or sometimes "drives theory." It suggests that people are motivated by experience and that a person's motivation to undertake a task will be based on prior experience and their expectation of how much they'll enjoy the reward they'll get from doing it. Restated: If you expect to enjoy your day on the job, you'll be more motivated to do it than if you expect your day will suck. If your day doesn't suck (or doesn't suck as much), you're going to be more motivated to go back tomorrow and vice versa.
- Social media is "pull." The receiver pulls messages they want to get by controlling who they're willing to get messages from regardless of channel. Mass media is "push" because messages are pushed to every receiver who uses the channel regardless of whether the receiver wants it or not.
On Thursday, Nov. 2nd, I had the privilege of attending the book launch party for Twins of Orion: The Book of Keys by new author Jennifer Rose. It was a magical evening of celebration. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jennifer Rose for a couple of years now. I have talked to her about her story at length on several occasions. I have even beta-read Twins of Orion for her. For Jennifer, the book launch was the culmination of a decade of struggle and dedication. I was happy to be there for her.
But something magical happened on that night. Something that made me proud of my participation in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now, before I explain what happened, let me digress for a moment.
I have had the pleasure of knowing local authors in the Rocky Mountain community for about four years. I have been to almost a dozen book launch parties. The party has always been a reflection of the writer in question. Some have been in bookstores. Some have been in bars. One was on a university campus. I have even been to a book launch at the Hard Rock Café and another at a tea shop. Usually they are casual affairs with about two dozen people. We laugh, congratulate the author and catch up with friends we haven’t seen in a while. We dutifully buy a copy and have it autographed by the author.
Jennifer Rose’s book launch was something different.
At the beginning of the evening there were about twenty people, including close friends and Jennifer’s immediate family, who came from out of state. However, as the evening processed, more and more people showed up. Towards the end I counted over sixty people at the Tattered Cover Aspen Grove. The place was packed!
Jennifer Rose gave a talk about her story, how she came up with the idea and her writing process. Then she sang! (Jennifer is a professional musician.) Her music enchanted the crowd. There was a raffle and I even got to emcee the event.
As my wife and I drove home, we reflected on why so many people showed up. The only answer we could come up with was that RMFW is family. We support each other. We hold each other’s hands in times of sorrow, and we stand by each other in times of strife. We gently correct each when our stories are failing. On Thursday, we celebrated.
Former conference chair Corinne O’Flynn was there, with Indy Writer of the Year Wendy Terrien. Corinne said, “Jennifer Rose comes to everything. She is always supporting everyone else, how could I not come?”
Like any relationship, like anything else you value, the more you put into RMFW, the more you will get out of it. There are amazing people in this organization who will support you and guide you on your journey to publication.
Do you need a critique group? We got’em.
Do you need to learn about craft? Stop by one of the Saturday free programs.
Need a writing retreat with fellow writers? Yep, we got that, too.
Want to dig deeper into a subject? Then sign up for an online class!
There is a wealth of knowledge, talent and dedication in this organization. There is also a spirit of collegiality and support. There is no competition among us. We all root for each other.
I think it’s important to remember this. The craft of writing can be very lonely. At some point, we all have to shut our door and write our story. When we struggle with our characters' motivations, or try to wrap our heads around the midpoint of the story, we can feel like no one will understand. This is especially true if you’ve kept your story a secret from judgmental family and friends. Or, if you’re just a shy person whose story is very personal.
Remember, when it’s time to come out of your writing nook and face the world: You are not alone. We are your tribe.
Follow Jason on Twitter @evans_writer
Like his Facebook Author page: Jason Henry Evans
Read his personal blog at www.jasonhenryevans.com
Welcome again, Campers.
Last month, we talked about the inciting incident in a romance novel. And if you’ve been following along, you know that our framework for this series of articles is Jami Gold’s Beat Sheet for Romance (found here). We’re sticking to the three act structure for these articles but, as I’ve said before, you don’t have to stick to it like glue.
There’s an old adage about three act structure that in Act One, you get your hero up a tree. In Act Two, you throw rocks at him. And in Act Three, you get him out of the tree.
After the inciting incident comes the end of the beginning. As Jami states: The end of the beginning is when the hero and heroine are forced by external plotting to spend more time together and start making decisions that reflect their desire for each other.
This could mean several things. First, the external circumstances are pushing them together and they are making decisions to stop that from happening. Or, as the external circumstances push them together, they make decisions from a desire to force that to happen more.
In this section, developments arise that raise the stakes and cause the hero and heroine to reinforce their goals. Often this sets them at odds with each other or at emotional odds with their goals. This turning point is what thrusts the story into Act Two.
This turning point completely changes their relationship. It’s a wrench in the gears thing. Enter the main conflict between your hero and heroine - the thing that’s going to force them apart. It might be new information. It might be new orders from a boss. It might be the entrance of an old flame. Truly, it’s the moment when these two people realize that this is not going to be a cake walk. And usually they make this realization separately, in their own minds and hearts.
In Hero’s Journey language, this turning point takes the characters out of their normal world and thrusts them into the journey - a journey from which they can never go home. Even if they do “go home,” things there will never be the same.
By the end of Act One, your characters will likely have stated - either in their heads or actually out loud - that they want nothing to do with the other, nothing to do with a relationship with the other. No way, no how. But the final plot point of this Act will not give them that choice. It will make it impossible for them to walk away. Not until. . . So at the end of this piece, your hero and heroine are completely “up a tree” with no way of escape.
Until next month, your homework is to watch a few chick flicks and figure out where this happens (hint: in a movie, look a third of the way in) and how the writer accomplishes this. Feel free to post your insights. Or, as an alternative, share some of these “points” from a favorite book. Even yours.
Next month, we’ll get into Act Two.
Of course, don’t forget: BiCHoK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.
Such a calm word—moderator.
Merriam Webster: “Someone who leads a discussion in a group and tells each person when to speak: someone who moderates a meeting or discussion.”
I’ve been going to book conferences for years and for some reason this year I sat in on a few panels led by some truly awful moderators.
I’ve also seen some knock-outs.
So I’m offering the following suggestions and recommendations.
I mean, holy cow people! If you get asked to moderate a panel at Bouchercon (the annual conference for mystery writers and mystery readers) it’s very possible that several hundred people will be watching. Listening. It’s their chance to meet new writers, get to know them. As moderator, it's your job to give them a showcase moment.
ELEVEN RULES FOR BOOK CONFERENCE PANEL MODERATORS:
1. Read your panelists’ latest books. Really read them. Don’t skim. Get to know their themes and characters. Yes, this takes time. But the moderator gig is a good one—for you, too. Don’t give it short shrift.
2. Study up on your panelists’ bios. Do a bit of research and dig out a fun fact or two about their lives—it might come in handy.
3. Speaking of bios, don’t use up a quarter of the panel time reading introductions. The bios are in all the programs. A couple sentences will do. Thirty seconds! Think top line of Wikipedia. Sample: “Stephen King writes horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 54 novels and six non-fiction books. He has written around 200 short stories. His bookshelf is crammed with major awards.”
4. Huddle with your panelists before the show. A huddle on email is fine, sure. Tell them how you’re going to run things. Send them a few sample questions to give them an idea of the issues you want to cover. Help them look good. The more they can prepare, the better their chances of leaving a good impression (and not stumbling around for an answer).
5. Write meaningful questions that show a bit of insight and analysis. Look for genuine comparisons among your panelists’ works. And also how the works diverge—setting, style, narrative voice, level of morality, anything.
6. Write those questions down and then make them tight and clean. The more the questions are precisely about the writers on your panel, the better. Stock questions lead to stock answers. Stock answers are snoozeville. Develop questions designed to provoke debate or, at least, solid discussion. Do not show up and ramble your way into a question.
7. Speak up. At Bouchercon this year in Toronto, one moderator spoke as if she was in a back booth in a dark restaurant whispering like a nervous informant to the FBI. If she smiled more than the Mona Lisa, I missed it. If you’re not up for showing a bit of enthusiasm, don’t take the gig.
8. Listen to the answers! You may have a list of questions, but react to what’s being said. Engage. It’s a dialogue. You’re sparking conversation. On the other hand, cut off the spotlight hogs. (You can warn your team about your expectations on the issue of rambling on during the pre-panel huddle.) You are in charge so … take charge. And if other panelists are too brisk with their comments, probe deeper. Press for more detail.
9. Pretend it’s the only panel that matters. Your panel is NOT just another panel. This is YOUR panel. It’s the only one as far as you’re concerned. The writers you’re leading? If they are on one panel during the whole conference, then this is their moment in the spotlight—even if it’s 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. It’s your job to make that light bright, entertaining, meaningful, and fun.
10. Leave time for audience questions. If you’re running a 50-minute panel, leave at least five or ten minutes for the audience. If there are none, have a few more questions ready to go.
11. Leave yourself out of it as much as possible. That includes criticizing something that’s been said. Even if your impromptu quip is meant to be funny, it’s a really bad idea to accidentally put one of your panelists down in front of a crowd. This ain’t about you. Wait your turn to be a panelist and hope for a good moderator. A really good one. Like you.
One of the things agents and editors will often say is “Don’t write to the market.” The idea is that by the time you finish the book, the market will have moved on and something else will be popular. Unfortunately, the writers who usually get the most interest in pitch appointments are those who are pitching something that is popular at the time. Those writers also often end up selling those books, because even though agents and editors may really be looking for something new and different, their marketing departments want something that’s a sure bet.
Gone Girl came out five years ago and was immediately a sensation. It “created” a new sub-genre: the domestic thriller, with a twisty-turny plot set within the intimate circumstances of a relationship/household. The phenomenon grew as the movie came out, and then Girl on the Train and several other “girl” books had huge sales.
Suddenly, the domestic thriller/psychological thriller was the hot ticket. Of course, writers had been writing books like that for years, but now editors were clamoring for them. Other unpublished writers thought “I can do that,” and started writing them, too. Some of them sold those books, probably thinking they were finally breaking out and embarking on a great writing career.
Fast forward to this year, and I can tell you, as someone who purchases popular fiction from literary journals, that there are dozens of domestic thrillers being published. Dozens. I order quite a few, because it is a popular genre. But I can’t possibly buy even a majority of them. I have to spend our budget on other types of books for other readers. There are just so many domestic thrillers to choose from. And the longer the trend goes on, the pickier I have to be.
I think about those writers who wrote those books that are coming toward “the end of the wave,” and I feel bad for them. Because their books are probably going to tank. No matter how good they are, their books are going to get lost in the staggering pile of similar books. And suddenly, those writers’ new careers, which seemed so promising, will be over. Some of them will reinvent themselves and write something else, and find another genre where they will be successful. Others, who are really prolific and determined and energetic, will go the indie author route and keep writing the same kind of book and building their fan base and also be successful. Some of them will flounder around for years trying to find “the next big thing” so they can get another shot. Some of them will, probably, at least for a while, quit writing.
What can a writer in the early stages of their career learn from all this? There are lots of things to think about: Are you the kind of writer who can write to the market? Do you have lots of different types of stories in your head? Or are there really only one or two genres that truly call to you? Can you write fast? Are you a natural marketer, someone who knows how to promote themselves and is comfortable doing so? Are you comfortable “writing to live” (i.e., making money writing is your main goal)? Or do you “live to write” (i.e., writing feeds your soul and you need the satisfaction of creative expression to be happy)? Is your main goal to be published and get that validation? Or do you really want a long writing career?
These are things to think about before you go down the path of writing to the market. It’s a tricky, sometimes treacherous route. There can be huge rewards at the end. Or there can be desolation and despair. In this era, when there is so much information on writing, so many tools and resources, it just makes sense to think about the hard realities. I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish we could all go back to being starry-eyed, creative dreamers, hoping for our lucky break. But you can indulge those things. You just have to put all that emotion and passion and heedless longing into the creative process. Which is something that will never break your heart or let you down.
The villain in a thriller is generally not your run-of-the-mill murderer. He is someone with a goal in mind, and he is driving toward that goal, regardless of the damage he causes along the way. While he may enjoy that destruction, whether human (serial killer, assassin, strong-man dictator) or property (arsonist, bomber, unscrupulous land baron) he could just as easily be someone who reluctantly sees the damage he leaves in his wake as an inevitable cost to the good he thinks he's doing (religious fanatic, environmental extremist, patriot assassin). While she may be evil, to me it is much more fascinating to read about the villain who thinks she is the hero of the story, who is a true believer in a cause she has either lost perspective on or has just gone too far in support of.
Either way, his plans are greater than a single act, usually building to some larger, ultimate goal that our protagonist must prevent. In the book Silence of The Lambs, [SPOILER STARTS] Buffalo Bill is building himself a lady-suit [SPOILER ENDS]. In the film Taken, [SPOILER STARTS] Marko is seeking to keep a steady supply of fresh flesh for his human trafficking operation [SPOILER ENDS]. In my own book, Presence of Malice, [SPOILER STARTS] Gerald Gannery is determined to gaslight his partner for the embezzlement of which he, himself, is guilty in order to free himself up to take a lucrative development deal for cable TV [SPOILER ENDS].
The villain's evil usually comes not just from his own selfishness, but from his willingness, even eagerness, to accede the pain and suffering of others in order to meet his aims. Even if she agonizes over each and every life taken, she takes it anyway because to her, the end will justify whatever means she sees necessary to apply.
In a thriller there is the concept of the ticking clock, which I will explain in more detail in the next and final part to this post, but I wanted to mention here (and will most likely repeat next month) that the ticking clock doesn't necessarily have to be a literal clock. In many cases it is the deadline for the fruition of the villain's plans, whether arbitrarily set by him or by his own need for urgency due to other schedules being enforced upon him (the president's plane departs, a shipment to be hijacked is en route, the laundry truck departs the prison, etc.).
As I mentioned before, my favorite villain is the one who thinks she is ultimately doing good, or better yet the one who is besieged by guilt over her own actions but compelled to do them anyway. But there is also something to be said for the gleefully evil - the serial killer, the psycho musician convinced he is a soldier for Satan, the unhinged skinhead with a hidden lair full of torture victims, etc. Whatever your taste, always remember that to keep the tension, either the villain must not be redeemed, or if she is, it must already be too late to stop the events she has put in motion (or seemingly so, until our hero takes action).
I wanted to spend time on henchmen and other companions of the villain who must be defeated on the way to the villain himself, but that will have to wait for another, longer discussion on villains.
Meanwhile, what are your favorite villains? What bad guys do you love to hate? Let me know in the comments, below.
Jayme H. Mansfield found fiction in her own family history.
Rush, her second novel, is based on the life of Jayme’s great-great grandmother and the details of her involvement in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893.
Using original letters from the era and her own research in Oklahoma, Jayme found out that “tall tales” about her ancestor weren’t so tall—and would make for a good novel.
Jayme H. Mansfield is an author, artist, and educator—and feels a bit incomplete when she’s not juggling all three balls.
Her award-winning debut novel, Chasing the Butterfly, is a book club favorite and Amazon bestseller.
Jayme lives in Lakewood, Colorado, where she and her husband have survived raising three hungry, hockey-playing sons.
When Jayme isn’t writing, she teaches art to children and adults at her long-time art studio, Piggy Toes.
Rush launches Nov. 1!
Visit Jayme at www.jaymehmansfield.com
Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs
For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.
Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com
My first attempt at novel-writing was based on my brother’s experience in the transportation industry in the 1970s. He provided the basics—overall plot, knowledge of 18-wheelers and trucker jargon. I did the writing—just barely well enough to get an audiobook contract. I had an expert co-author, so writing out of my own experience made sense. The only research I had to do concerned the real-life events of the time, a little union background, and enough information to at least mention Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance.
Then I tried a thriller. One of the main characters had been kidnapped by terrorists in Lebanon so there were scenes involving the hostage conditions, escape through the backstreets of Beirut, and the aftereffects of a long incarceration with a group of prisoners who did not escape. That was before I heard of PTSD, before Google Earth, before easy online research. Needless to say, I had bitten off more than I could chew at the time. That novel sits on my shelf, still wondering if it will ever get my attention again.
I learned my lesson. My next book was set in an environment I knew well, involved characters more like me and other folks I’d met in real life, and involved an easy-to-research crime. A sequel took the same characters to a new setting, but still one I knew well.
Even the thriller, Dead Wrong, is based in the U.S. and follows a path from Florida to Denver to Fort Collins—territory I’ve traveled through many times. The crime was easy. I based the plot on a check theft ring I’d learned about first hand when I worked for a company that was victimized by a similar case.
When I decided to try a historical mystery, I still used the countryside where I’d grown up, east-central Illinois, so the research built on information I already knew. But here’s where I drifted into new territory. One of the main characters in Wishing Caswell Dead is an elderly Kickapoo Indian, a kind man often subjected to cruel treatment by the novel’s villain. There is also a French trapper, a woman who seduces another woman, and a survivor of a lightning strike. Some of the information I use is based on solid research. Other parts of the storyline are 100% imagination.
Where must we draw the line in today’s super-sensitive world when writing about places we’ve never been, characters we’ve never met, situations we’ve never experienced?
I’m an older, white female. Is it okay that I had a female character in The Prairie Grass Murders whose parents were Mexican and Puerto Rican? I often write from a man’s point of view—one character is a Vietnam vet with PTSD, another a Cuban male crime boss.
Mental illness plays a role in some of my stories. I’ve never been hospitalized for a mental illness, but I have characters in a couple of my novels who have suffered such a fate. I do know a couple of people who have serious mental conditions, but that doesn’t mean I understand their experience. Can I write from what I do know and what I discover with research?
I think most of us want to indulge our creativity and let our imaginations weave stories that might have happened, that could happen, that probably will happen someday. Limiting ourselves to writing only about our own experience would stifle that magic.
Will I try to write a novel about a young single African-American mother who lives in an old housing project in Detroit? Probably not. That experience is way too remote from my middle-Illinois farm upbringing. Traveling to Detroit to do the kind of involved research required is not something I’d do at my age and level of creakiness.
But could I write a story about a white girl living with an old grandfatherly Kickapoo Indian during a cold Illinois winter in the 1830s? I gave it my best shot!
Pat Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth novels, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders. Her standalone thriller, Dead Wrong, was a finalist in the 2015 Colorado Book Awards. A short story, “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” appeared in the 2014 anthology Tales in Firelight and Shadow. Wishing Caswell Dead is scheduled for release December 20, 2017 and is available now for pre-order in ebook and hardcover (https://www.amazon.com/Wishing-Caswell-Dead-Pat-Stoltey-ebook/dp/B074VKLK8F/).
A former accounts payable manager, Pat began writing seriously after retirement. She has lived in Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, and the south of France, but now she’s a resident of Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Katie Cat, and Sassy Dog. Learn more about Pat at her website/blog (http://patriciastolteybooks.com), on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/patricia.stoltey) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/PStoltey).