Authors Behaving Badly … by Kris Neri

By Kris Neri

???????????????????????????????As Charles Manson once said, “Are people strange, or am I just crazy?” Call me naïve, but as a published author myself, I assumed other authors must interact with booksellers as courteously as I do. I've always believed intelligence and sensitivity to be typical traits among those who write. For the most part I've found that to be true. But I’m also a bookseller— my husband and I own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona. During my nine-year tenure as a bookseller, I've discovered that, for a substantial minority, common sense among authors is not as common as you might think.

So here are a few of the things I've observed that the authors among you, and those who hope to be, might want to avoid:

* Don't threaten the bookseller. Even before we opened our doors, someone wrote to say, “I have many friends in that area, and I'm going to send them all to your store to buy my books. But if you don't carry them, they'll never shop there again.” Now I like threats as much the next person, but that one got my back up. I decided they would sell snow cones in hell before we'd carry those books. To date, nobody has asked for one.

* Don't expect the bookseller to take a loss for you. This advice is directed to those published by presses that don't offer traditional terms. Someone emailed us to say she was published by a small press and asked if we could host an appearance for her. I told her to send a copy of the book, and I mentioned if wasn't available through traditional outlets, she would have to provide it on consignment at a 40% discount. For a store to take less means they must sell that book at a loss.

The “small press” turned out to be iUniverse, a subsidy press that only offers a 20% discount and doesn't allow for book returns — two conditions that make it impossible for most stores to carry their books. Yet the book was well written. But when I offered to give her an appearance, she thought it was time for negotiations. “I just bought a $32,000 truck,” she wrote in an email, “I can't give you 40%. I need to make money from this book.”

Okay, let me take a moment here to laugh my butt off at that idea. I wish I could say this was an isolated case, but it's happened too many times. Every spot on a bookstore shelf is a space that could just as easily go to someone else. When it's a book of marginal interest, that's a gift. If they have any issue with anyone, it should be with publishers who aren't professional enough to understand how other books are sold, and price and sell their books accordingly.

* If you don't read, keep your mouth shut. I assumed that, like me, everyone who writes is also a reader. Man, was I wrong! Incredibly strong numbers of published authors display no interest in any book without their own names on the cover. Okay, that's their business, and in my opinion, their loss. But why would anyone who hopes to sell copies of their books share that fact with the members of their audience. Yet they brag about it, displaying superior contempt for those who are so uncool as to still read. Then they're surprised when those uncool people don't choose to buy their book.

* Don't tell them where they can buy books cheaper. Some authors who do read will note for their audience all the covers of books in our bestseller section that they have read. But they don't stop there. Oh, no. They share how much less they paid for those books in Costco, the supermarket or used on Amazon. Then they're surprised when someone asks how little their book is going for used online.

* Don't treat a bookstore like a free swap meet. Some authors have discovered that they can make more money selling their own copies of their books direct to the store's customers. We learned that the hard way, when an author seized a moment alone with a customer to sell her own copy of her book for cash, rather than the ones we had stocked. Do you think there’s a chance we would ever have that author back?

Well…you get the idea. Authors should display the same level of courtesy to booksellers that they show in every other area of their lives. And if they aren't polite and considerate — they should learn how to do be.

Now, most of the authors who visit our store are great! They're considerate, fun, and they see booksellers as their partners in the book-selling process. But the numbers of rude, thoughtless authors are higher than I would have imagined. Wouldn't you think that, if they aren't naturally courteous, they'd be more practical? Selling books is hard. Why sabotage the efforts of the people trying to help you? Some days I think it would just be easier to sell “Authors Behaving Badly” DVDs on late night TV.


Neri_Revenge cover artKris Neri writes the humorous Tracy Eaton mystery series, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the latest of which is REVENGE ON ROUTE 66, a madcap romp along the Southwestern Mother Road.

She also writes a humorous paranormal series, featuring a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her latest magical novel, MAGICAL ALIENATION, was a 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner for fantasy. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and other organizations, including the Sisters in Crime Guppies. And with her husband, owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.

Achieving Your Writing Resolutions

By Kris Neri

Neri_Revenge cover artSure, January 1st is just a date on the calendar. Still, there’s something about a new year that makes us want to reboot our hopes and dreams, and bring a new determination to achieving them. For us writers, often resolutions include taking our craft to new levels, or finally finishing that WIP that’s dragged on too long.

But with determination comes pressure, and too much pressure can make writing sputter to a halt. To help you to achieve 2014 writing resolutions, I’d like to take a look at writer’s block.

First of all, if you find yourself stalled, don’t panic. You're not the first writer this has happened to. Writers practically invented procrastination. Many of us would rather perform the most dreaded household chore, instead of writing a paragraph or two. Whether your writing has sputtered to a halt, or if you simply can't begin, the inertia you're experiencing can be overcome. Here are some things to consider:

•  Identify the cause: Perhaps the problem isn’t with you, it’s with the material. Maybe your mind is trying to tell you that the way you’ve planned to write the next scene isn’t working. See if taking the book in a new direction eliminates the problem.

•  Perfectionism: Sometimes the problem isn't that you can't write — it's that you refuse to accept the level you're writing at. Writing is a craft that develops with effort over time. If you've shut down the flow of your creativity with your own unreasonable demands, you must allow yourself to write a flawed first draft. Remember that cliché: All writing is re-writing. You’ll perfect it later; for now, get it down.

•  Fears: If anxiety is hobbling you, you need look at what you’re afraid of. Loads of writers before you have let fears overcome them: fear of success, fear of failure, fear of telling the truth, and so many others. The thing to remember is that all of those fears involve something you may have to deal with in the future. Can you put them aside for now and just concentrate on the work before you?

Here are some tips to get the process started again:

•  Write something: Even if you throw it away later, at least you’ll have begun. Sometimes even copying something you've written before can help.

•  Start small: set yourself a goal as modest as just writing a paragraph. If you can comfortably expand on that, do it—but continue to keep your goals manageable, until you’re past your discomfort.

•  Start from a strength: every writer has some area that come especially easy, be it dialogue or action scenes, etc. Start writing in the area where your confidence is strongest, even if it’s a scene that will never make it into your manuscript. If you’re able to successfully write something unrelated to your WIP, that might demonstrate a hidden fear.

Here are some other hints that might prevent blocking in the first place:

•  Establish a routine: Set aside a time to write, and treat this period with the importance it deserves. You’ll feel more prepared when you start.

•  Reward yourself: Promise to reward yourself with some treat when you manage to write. No cheating! And no denying yourself the reward once you’ve earned it, either.

•  Turn off your critical editor: If you know perfectionism is a problem, be alert to the presence of that overly critical voice in your head. Shut it down the instant you hear it. And don’t say you can’t—you turned it on, and only you can turn it off. Try giving your critical editor a stupid name and poke fun at it.

•  Use your sleep hours to prepare yourself for the next day: Many writers have discovered the unconscious hours spent in sleep can be used to ignite their creativity. Before falling sleep give yourself commands for the next day, or ask the questions for which you need answers.

•  Keep a journal: While it’s true that journaling will eat up some of your writing time, your daily musings, if you're honest about your feelings, often prevents blocking or dramatically shortens its stay.

•  Gaining strength from support: Don’t hide your block as if were a secret shame. Turn to your writer friends for help. Odds are some of them have suffered the same fate, and they might have good ideas for overcoming it.

Mostly, take the long view. You know this block will pass. Besides, for all you know this little respite might provide the insights needed to make your lagging WIP spectacular.


Kris NeriKris Neri writes the Tracy Eaton mysteries, the latest of which is Revenge on Route 66, a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award finalist, and the Samantha Brennan & Annabelle Haggerty magical mysteries, the most recent of which, Magical Alienation, is a New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner and a Lefty Award nominee. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School, as well as working as a freelance editor with many writers. She and her husband own The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ.

Transferring Mystery Writing Skills

By Kris Neri

Although I now write in multiple genres, including fantasy and general fiction, I’m glad I started my career writing mysteries. The principles involved in moving a mystery forward and unraveling a crime are adaptable to any form of fiction. If adaptation is even necessary — a crime or the element of danger or some puzzle is often involved in many novels today, including cross-category novels, such as urban fantasies and paranormal romances.

Basically, the principles are the same whether a story involves a body found before the fireplace in an Agatha Christie-type vicarage or if a time-traveling pharaoh is secretly creating unrest in Egypt to reclaim his throne. (Hey, that’s not a bad idea.).

I’d like to share with you a couple of the more manuscript-killing mistakes I’ve seen in my students’ and writing clients’ works, in the hopes that, if you’re making these particular errors or an equivalent in your WIP, this will help you to sidestep them.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in student WIPs is that there are no false trails. In mysteries those are called red herrings, but false trails are a necessary part of most novels. If your protagonist knows precisely how to meet her goal easily and instantly, the journey is unlikely to engage too many readers or to fill an entire novel. Strangely, though, I’ve had more students fight me on this point, insisting that false trails aren’t realistic.

Actually, that’s precisely the way real life works. With any problem, we pursue the most obvious solution first, and only try less obvious solutions when that fails — usually because, at the start, we can’t see the full extent of the problem. To use a real life example I dealt with recently…imagine you’re ready to leave your house, but you can’t find your keys. You look where you usually put them, then you check your purse (Assuming you carry one — adapt the example if you don’t.), eventually removing everything in the purse in search of them. Then you look in rooms that you might have carried your key ring into…. Finally, it occurs to you that you changed to another purse briefly yesterday. (Why did you do that? Got me. I know why I did, but not why you might. Work with me here.) When you look into that alternate purse, you find the keys slipped into a pocket. You see, you didn’t remember changing purses, and until you factor that into the equation, you didn’t see the full picture.

That’s the way it works in a novel, too, only on a more complex scale. Our characters don’t always appreciate the full extent of the problem their goal represents, and they grasp at what seems to be the most obvious solution at that time. As long as the false trails are organic to your storyline, and not some device you’ve created simply to slow your protagonist’s success, they will engage your reader.

Another common problem I see is that newish writers sometimes share too much and the wrong kind of relationship backstory. In the crime genre, that usually means the history shared between the victim and villain, or the heroine in danger and the bad guy pursuing her in a woman in jeopardy suspense novel. New writers often justify their backstory faux pas in terms of fairness to the reader, but full disclosure at the start doesn’t actually benefit readers. Readers want their vicarious adventures to involve both struggles and surprises. If you lay out precisely what’s coming, with a detailed explanation of why, you can kiss surprise goodbye.

And this principle has broad implications for every kind of novel. If you want any element to play out with a strong, surprising impact in the climax, you can’t push that element into the reader’s face prior to that high point. That element has to be there, mind you, sown in subtly, but you don’t want to draw attention to it. Not too early anyway. We novelists are like magicians, engaging in slight-of-hand, luring attention away from true nature of the trick, so the surprising outcome will have greater impact. We’re always saying, “Look here, don’t look there.” Until, that is, we’re ready for “there” to take center stage.

I love that genre-bending has become so popular today. Not only does it let us reach into other areas for new readers, it also lets us stretch our imaginations beyond previous limits. Mostly, though, by looking at writing tools at their most fundamental level, we see how to adapt them to new arenas. That means we fill our toolboxes with great new writing tools.


Kris NeriKris Neri writes the humorous Tracy Eaton mystery series, featuring the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, the latest of which is Revenge on Route 66, a madcap romp along the Southwestern Mother Road. She also writes a humorous paranormal series, featuring a questionable psychic who teams up with a modern goddess/FBI agent. Her latest magical novel, Magical Alienation, was a 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award winner for fantasy. Kris teaches writing online for the prestigious Writers’ Program of the UCLA Extension School and other organizations, including the Sisters in Crime Guppies. And with her husband, owns The Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, AZ. She welcomes friends to her website, her Facebook page, and her blog. Follow her on Twitter.

Special Giveaway: Kris is giving away one copy of her book, Dem Bones' Revenge: A Tracy Eaton Mystery, to one U.S or Canada resident who leaves a comment on today's post before midnight Mountain Time Friday, August 23rd. The winner will be announced here on Saturday.