Smash the Tomatoes: Dealing with Bad Reviews

Not long after my book released, I ran into an acquaintance in Hollywood. “I saw your book on Amazon,” he said. “Sorry about the reviews. Man, that must suck!” (Geez. Nice seeing you, too!) At the time, I had two critical reviews, and over 20 positive. If there’s one thing we can be certain of about reviews, it’s that the doozies will stand out.

A friend and fellow writer recently asked me how I deal with bad reviews. I’m so glad she did, as I consider myself somewhat of an expert. 😉 I’ve likened my brain to a teflon pan when it comes to rejection and criticism, thanks to my acting and modeling days. I learned early on that my job was simply to do my best, and view gigs and pay as frosting that would eventually come if I kept at it. I still believe that.

I expected some harsh reviews and mixed feelings on my novel. I write about controversial topics in arguably unconventional ways. Writing the stories I’m compelled to write matters more to me than writing a “safe” book, or aiming to please the masses. I seem tough, right? Grrr… I can deal!

Tiger blog

Well, usually. I let a couple of reviews bother me early on. One, in particular, seemed snarky and cutting. Like obsessing over a tiny blemish on an otherwise blemish-free face, they seemed to grow and fester. “It’s all anyone will see!” No, but…

Let’s face it. There are some seriously sucky aspects of bad reviews. They affect us and others more than they should, stand out like snowmen on a balmy beach to anyone looking (geez, enough with the analogies!) and have the capacity to hurt longer and more deeply than positive reviews feel good. Blah humbug! So what can we do?

Plenty, in my opinion. I’ve found that a little perspective check can go a long way toward thriving amidst what can feel like a rotten tomato-throwing war.

Reassuring Facts About Bad Reviews

1. We all get them. The more reviews we gather and books we sell, the more likely bad reviews become. It’s generally part of the deal, and shouldn’t make us less like authors, but more.

2. Many of the most celebrated books gain a significant amount of bad reviews. Based on Amazon.com reader reviews:

When reviewers throw tomatoes, make ketchup!

When readers chuck tomatoes, make ketchup!

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou 407 reviews, 66 critical (1 or 2-star)

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
590 reviews, 87 critical

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
961 reviews, 108 critical

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2,243 reviews, 256 critical

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larrson
4,107 reviews, 800 critical

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
19,468 reviews, 7,136 critical

The list could go on, and on…

3. Many bad reviews are badly written. Nothing against people with lower IQs or limited literature savvy, but I appreciate the fact that many of the best reviews I’ve read (of my own book and others) are well-written critiques, composed by sharp and prestigious reviewers. Snobby? Maybe. But it helps.

4. The “star” system is flawed. Do you know what the 5 star levels specifically represent on Amazon? No one does, because it’s different for everyone. The layperson  could simply be having a bad day, see the star system differently than we do (consider ‘5’ the best book they’ve ever read, for example), or misuse it entirely.

5. Some bad reviews are better than none, and bad ones may even help. People tend to review books they love or hate, which isn’t necessarily negative. Numerous studies have shown that bad publicity boosts book sales—familiarity and popularity being bigger contributors to consumer decisions.

6. Price-drop promos make bad reviews more likely. When we run a price special, some folks will nab it simply because it’s cheap or free. They may not read romance novels, for example, but download yours for free, dislike it solely because of the genre, then blast away in a review. Frustrating, yes, but it’s nothing personal or worth beating ourselves up over.

(**The promotions are still worth it—trust me. It’s easy to focus on the bad reviews that evolve afterward. Focus instead on the increased downloads and positive reviews that arise.)

7. At the end of the day, they don’t really matter. My agent hasn’t seemed to care about poor reader reviews, nor have publishers who’ve picked up indie authors for mega-contracts, production companies that choose novels to base films on, or loyal readers, lovers, friends, plants or pets. If anything, beloved fans will probably root for us even more—and possibly bake us cookies.

Turning Tomato Wars Into Ketchup

(That’s my Minnesotan/optimist way of saying, turn rotten reviews into something positive, and don’t let them matter more than condiments do within a healthy diet. Even Minnesotans don’t serve ketchup as a main dish. Ew.)

  • Read reviews in moderation. It’s natural to peek in on occasion, and to read all reviews early on. But I feel that our time and energy are best saved for worthier pursuits. (There’s a reason that many celebs bypass reviews—and their careers carryon, perhaps better so, for it.)
  • Refrain from lashing out at the reviewer, or pleading friends and family to make up for it with praise. These are great ways to attract more attention to our bad reviews, and get unfriended, unfollowed and dis-liked throughout social media. (Reviews will come. We don’t need to beg.)
  • Re-read positive reviews. Read them out loud if it helps. Print them out, or paste them on your desktop. Positive feedback should empower us, so let it. By letting bad reviews bother us, we’re empowering the wrong thing.
  • Remind yourself that YOU ROCK! We all have moments or days of “Oh man, I totally suck!” But you’ve written a book! That’s a huge, admirable, worthy accomplishment. And it’s probably touched more than a few readers. True artists carry on, with or without a few tears along the way.
  • Laugh at them. Given the proper mindset, bad reviews can be downright hilarious. (If you’d rather, giggle at Ketchup Man. He won’t mind.) Giggling at famous authors’ bad reviews can also be oddly therapeutic—if only because many are insanely off-base and grandiose.
  • Stay captivated with book-writing—not review-reading. The best medicine for hurtful criticism, I feel, is focusing on writing another book. Get lost in story; that’s what counts. And since your next book is going to be EVEN BETTER than your last, phooey on whoever made you feel bad. (Did I just say phooey?)
  • Seek support. If self-encouragement isn’t enough, reach out. Most of us want to help one another, and no one understands as well as fellow scribes.

Do you read all of your reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones? Any tips to add? I always dig your thoughts.

A Peek Inside ‘Big 6’ Author Life: Amanda Kyle Williams

Thank goodness for books! Seriously. With all of the buzz circulating about Abercrombie & Fitch and its CEO’s damaging messages, I’ve had youth on the brain. Mysteries and thrillers helped me through countless teenage hardships, and I looked up to their creators long before I imagined becoming one. In a world with too many villains (*clears throat* Jeffries!), I’m particularly grateful to my author heroes.

Cup of coffee and book

Today, I’m stoked to bring you one of my favorites, Amanda Kyle Williams. Her Stranger series, starring former FBI profiler, Keye Street, is captivating, witty, spine-tingling and inspiring. Now through Sunday, you can nab its first installment, The Stranger You Seek, for only 99 cents. (Total steal!) I hope you’ll pull up a chair, and a cup of java. This author is one you don’t want to miss.

AM: I first had the pleasure of “meeting” your work, thanks to a serendipitous galley copy of your series premiere. Now, you’re about to release #3. (Time flies!) How different is it, being a further celebrated veteran?

AKW: I can tell you the writing process is very different now. It took me a couple of years to settle into my job. Sometimes just being still is challenging. Learning a new job is challenging. But I’m in the groove now. I have a routine. I’m fairly disciplined and I’m enjoying writing again, remembering why I love it. I lost that for a minute while I was freaking out. I just finished the third book, Don’t Talk To Strangers, and it’s the first time I’ve finished a book without secretly believing I’d never write another one. I hear I’m not unique in this way. Writers, as it turns out, are neurotic as hell.

AM: As a traditionally published, Big 6 (well, 5) author, are you flown around the world with an entourage who wines, dines and does all of your marketing for you?

AKW: [laughing] You’ve been watching “Castle,” haven’t you? Actually, I am treated very well thanks to a great agent, publicist and publishing house. But it’s more like I’m flown to a few cities with mystery bookstores. Great opportunity to develop relationships with booksellers and to meet readers. My books have a few translations now and that means foreign publishing houses so I was very happy to be invited to London last year to meet my UK publisher and attend the Harrogate Crime Writers Fest.

But here’s the truth, or at least my truth and my experience at my level: There’s a big push just before and after a release. Tours and publicity. It’s this crazy blast of activity in the middle of a writer’s solitary life. It’s fun and exciting. And then it’s over. And if you want to keep the buzz going, you pretty much have to do it yourself because publicists and publishers are on the next bazillion new releases. Not that they don’t work hard for me all year. They do. But their attention shifts. They have other authors. Now, if I have a marketing idea or need help, I can reach out and they’re there. The team at Random House has been incredibly available and willing. But it’s up to the author to learn how to promote, attend conferences, meet people, stay involved in the community, keep your name out there, develop social media relationships, visit book clubs, develop a website…

There’s a financial investment associated with conferences, of course. Travel is expensive. But I see it as just that—an investment in my career. A lot of authors blog, as you well know. I don’t. It’s fraught with dangers for a dyslexic writer. I’d have to employ a full-time freelance editor. It’s not something I have any interest in at this point. And honestly, I don’t have that much to say. Some days I can’t even manage a status update or something cute for Twitter so…

(Psst! She’s actually a great Twitter follow. Check her out: @AKyleWilliams.)

AM: What’s your funniest or zaniest fan story? (If your groupies are super normal, feel free to embellish.)

AKW: Oh sure. Everyone knows thriller fans are perfectly normal, right? All I will say is, my inbox gets pretty interesting. Funny story about my first tour: I went to Houston after the release of The Stranger You Seek. Murder By The Book petitioned hard for me to come to Texas and visit their store. My publicist was skeptical. First tour. No one knew who I was. Tours can be brutal anyway. It’s hard to get people out of the house and into a bookstore for a book signing even if they like the author.

So I go to Houston. Nice hotel. Good food. Published book. I’m feeling pretty important. Four people show up, including an older couple, white hair, sitting very quietly through my whole spiel. During the Q&A, I discover they’re only there because they think I’m a long lost relative from Mississippi named Amanda Kyle. [August falls over laughing.] Bless their hearts. More recently, I visited a local book club that chose one of my books as their monthly read and I was asked if I’d ever killed anyone. I took that as a compliment.

AM: Well they were lucky to meet you anyway. What lesson have you learned writing or career-wise, that you wish you’d learned sooner?

AKW: You know, I really wish I’d identified as a writer before I was a professional writer. I was writing on and off for 25 years before it was my full-time job. I think I would have found the confidence to go for it sooner. There’s value in speaking about things before they’ve materialized. It’s like looking like a success before you’re a success. Same principal.

When I began making lists of positive things to say to keep my mind for running negative loops, telling me I wasn’t good enough or talented enough, my life started to change very dramatically. It’s virtually impossible for your brain to get stuck on fear and worry when your mouth is saying something positive like, Everything I Touch Prospers and Succeeds. I’m creative. I’m talented. I have new ideas all the time. I write many books. I have these affirmations posted around my house—on the fridge, inside the medicine cabinet, over my bed on the ceiling with painter’s tape. Turning off that little voice that was holding me back infused my writing with some confidence.

AM: If you weren’t a writer, and could take on any skills/traits, what would your dream alternate career be?

AKW: Seriously, I have no skills except that I can write a little and I’m really good with animals.

AM: If you could have any celebrity endorse your book, who would you choose?

AKW: Um… Oprah. [August cheers too loudly.] I mean, come on. She sells the hell out of books. But seriously for me, for the big rush, I want one of the big boys. Right now Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and Lee Child (Jack Reacher series) are my fantasy cover blurbs.

AM: Lee Child would totally blurb you! We shared smoothies once. I’ll put a word in. (Kidding—pretty sure he’s forgotten my name.) What aspect of the author’s life do you find most rewarding?

AKW: Besides typing The End? I guess reading back something you really struggled with, honed and revised, and discovering that you managed by some miracle to say what you wanted to say, or create the emotion or suspense you were going for. Because when I start a scene, it’s not like that. It doesn’t come rushing out of me, perfectly shiny and polished. It’s a painstaking process, word-by-word, building from the foundation up.

The other thing would be getting mail from a reader who really gets the character or was touched by something in a book. I talk a lot about addiction in the series. I hear from a lot of folks in recovery. I get mail from from former cops and private detectives and dedicated crime fiction readers. It’s really great when you’ve gotten it right for them. All the hours pay off in those moments.

AM: Beautiful. Tell us about your 99-cents promotion, and what we can look forward to next.

AKW: My publisher decided to run a nice little promo on the eBook edition of the first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek—$0.99 wherever eBooks are sold in the U.S. The promotion runs through May 19th.The 3rd book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, is scheduled to release February 11th. We thought this would be a great way for new readers to discover the Keye Street Stranger series and jump in at the beginning in advance of the 3rd release.

*****

Great indeed. If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll all race over to Amazon, B&N, or wherever else you e-book shop, and check out Amanda’s work.

Isn’t Amanda Kyle Williams fabulous? Any thoughts to share with her? Do you relate to her “neuroses” as much as I do??? Sure we’d both love to hear from you.

Image
In the sweltering heat of an Atlanta summer, a killer is pushing the city to its breaking point, preying on the unsuspecting, writing taunting letters to the media, promising more death. Desperate to stop the Wishbone Killer, A.P.D. lieutenant Aaron Rauser turns to the one person he knows can penetrate a deranged mind: Keye Street, an ex–FBI profiler and former addict who now picks up jobs where she can get them. But the last thing Keye wants is to be pulled into the firestorm of Atlanta’s worst nightmare. And then it suddenly becomes clear that the hunter has become the hunted—and the stranger she seeks is far closer than she ever dared imagine.

Available on Amazon, iTunes, B&N and more.

Criminal Cupid: A Thriller Threesome

There’s nothing quite like a threesome to turn the mundane, plain or pleasant into pure excitement, making the stress and monotony of everyday life irrelevant, if even for a few adrenaline-soaked hours.

Forget roses, greeting cards and candy hearts this Valentine’s Day. You deserve a threesome!

Wait. Put your clothes back on! You knew we were talking about books…right? Okay, good. Because Kristine Cayne, CJ West and I have a sweeter-than-chocolate treat for you. For two days only, February 13th and 14th, we’re offering three thrillers for 99 cents each. Purchase three books for a chance to win an I Survived A Thriller Threesome t-shirt (a $20 value). Purchase one of our books for $10 off of a t-shirt (payable to me via PayPal).

How to play:

Purchase the following for yourself and/or others via Amazon. You must purchase three e-books for a chance to win a threesome tee. Though it’d tickle our frisky fancies if you purchased all three, any combination works. In other words, if you’ve read CJ’s book and loved it, you’re welcome to gift it to three friends. Or you could gift two of Kristine’s book to friends and nab mine for yourself. You get the idea. Then in the comments below, let me know that you’ve made three purchases. (How often do you get to say things like, “I ordered my thriller threesome!” ???) If your name is drawn, I’ll request proof of purchase. We’re giving away six shirts, so your chances are good!

The playmates:

Threesome t-shirt back

Addicted to Love, by CJ West:

Wes Holiday sells his landscaping business and retreats to a quaint mountain town to heal after ending a ten year relationship with a woman he couldn’t bring himself to marry. In three weeks he is so captivated by a hair stylist that he deprives himself of food and sleep to be near her. When the local sheriff is murdered, Wes is recruited to keep the peace in the town his parents built, but he knows nothing about law enforcement and he’s struggling to understand how a woman he just met can dominate his every waking thought. Soon the idyllic town with a penchant for romance is rocked by a bizarre series of murders that defy explanation and it is up to Wes to stop a raging epidemic of violence. Purchase via Amazon

Deadly Addiction, by Kristine Cayne:

When beautiful police sergeant Alyssa Morgan enters his life, Rémi Whitedeer never expects her to upend it. Not only does she have his hormones in an uproar, she’s also threatening to take the position he wants–Chief of Police for the Iroquois Blackriver Reservation. But Alyssa is more than a Barbie cop. Her ends-justifies-the-means philosophy, so different from his own, challenges Rémi on every level. With her sharp investigative skills and her fearlessness, she leads Rémi to confront bitter truths about his family and his standing as a man of mixed race within his tribe.

Tall hunky Rémi Whitedeer, of the panty-melting grin and the smoldering green eyes, flips Alyssa’s world ass over teakettle. She’s always had a laser-like focus on the job, but Rémi proves a constant distraction. His inner strength and sense of purpose strip away the winner-take-all attitude Alyssa wears like armor. Soon she’s longing for more–a more that terrifies and intrigues her. If he finds out the fine line she’d walked while undercover, will he still want her? And will she ever find the courage to let him–or anyone–that far in?

When Alyssa and Rémi uncover a drug-fueled scheme involving a biker gang from Alyssa’s past and a militant sovereigntist group led by Rémi’s cousin, they are forced to choose between their growing love for each other and the lives they’ve worked so hard to build. Will Rémi and Alyssa have to leave everything behind–even their identities–for the chance of a future together? Purchase via Amazon

In Her Shadow, by August McLaughlin:

One woman locked in a basement, nearing death and longing for escape. Another baffled by the inexplicable symptoms wreaking havoc on her life. Both are lost and alone, yet somehow connected. And time is running out…

Near the tenth anniversary of her parents’ unexpected death, Claire Fiksen, a lovely young Harvard-grad and gifted psychologist in Minnesota, develops bizarre symptoms of an eating disorder that threaten her fledgling career, her relationship with a handsome young medical student, her grasp on reality and, soon, her life.

When her beloved grandfather reveals that there may be more to her parents’ death than she’s realized, Claire’s pursuit of healing becomes a desperate search for answers as she delves into her family’s sordid past. Meanwhile, someone is watching her every move, plotting to draw her into her own twisted web of misery. Claire has something he needs, and he’ll stop at nothing to obtain it. Every step Claire takes brings her closer to the truth and danger. And her life, she discovers, isn’t the only one at stake. Purchase via Amazon

Thriller Threesome shirt

For more more writerly, book and threesome fun, pop by my fellow playmates’ blogs:

Blogging with Kristine Cayne  ♥  C.J. West: Suspense. Creativity. Action

Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day and, if you choose to play, a very thrilling threesome. 🙂

August, Kristine and C.J.

Have you ordered your Thriller Threesome? Do tell! Spicy details and creativity welcome!

Lutefisk and Happy Hangovers: A Thrill-Fest Release Party Wrap Up

Have you ever partied so hard that the next day your head feels like a bowling ball and your energy, the pins it knocked down? I have, a few times. My last round was unlike any other, only partly because I spent the party home alone, sipping cyber cocktails. Who knew a virtual release party could be so A) fun B) laugh-inducing C) intoxicating or D) draining? Last Thursday’s IN HER SHADOW Thrill-Fest Release Party on Facebook was a rip roarin,’ lutefisk-lovin’ good time.

My non-virutal hangover was beyond worth it. Joy from the party carried over, and lingers still. THANK YOU, all who participated. Whether you were dancing your cyber-butt off with Concepción, gossiping behind my back with Mike and Janelle, feasting on virtual treats, playing trivia with trivia goddess Karina or simply lingering in the background, your positive vibes were felt, and means more to me than lutefisk is stinky.

A few highlights:

Before the party even started, early birds helped choose my outfit. Thank goodness they chose Cat Woman. I wasn't feeling the tundra look...

Before the party even started, early birds helped choose my outfit. Thank goodness they chose Cat Woman. I wasn’t feeling the tundra look…

One of my favorite blogging pals, Coleen, got the disco ball rolling—with her FEET!

One of my favorite blogging pals, Coleen, got the disco ball rolling—with her FEET!

Supper

After several rounds of snow-tinis, we feasted like thriller-loving Minne-snowtans…

Laughed until we cried, thanks to Lynn Kelley's fantastic review. (Way to "show, not tell," Lynn!)

…then laughed until we cried, thanks to Lynn Kelley. (Way to “show, not tell,” Lynn!)

And wrapped up the night with after dinner drinks and, uh, snow globes.

After loads of dancing, laughing, game playing and chit chat, we wrapped up with after dinner drinks and, uh, snow globes.

Last but not least, who could forget the randy pirate who promised to star in the film version one day, the book-pimping rappers or the...interesting sequel title coined by a Hollywood starlet? Not ringing a bell? Take a look at the video my friend, John Chang, helped me create. We hit the Hollywood streets with an iPad, iPhone, a Kindle and my eager, book-blabbering mouth:

Added thanks to all who entered the Thrill-Fest Giveaway raffle. The winners are…

IN HER SHADOW – signed copy + author interview: Jenny Hansen, Cora Reidenbach and Scott McAllister
FANGS OUT by David Freed – signed advance copy + author interview: Tim O’Brien
RUN TO THE GROUND by D.P. Lyle – signed copy + author interview: Andrea W. Hunt
A HUMAN ELEMENT by Donna Galanti – signed copy + author interview: Gloria Richard
INTO THE DARK by Stacy Green – signed copy + author interview: Ellis Shuman
LOST AND FOUND by Amy Shojai – signed copy + author interview: Kourtney Heintz
THE STRANGER IN THE ROOM by Amanda Kyle Williams – signed copy: Andrea W. Hunt
THE STRANGER YOU SEEK by Amanda Kyle Williams – signed copy: Lynn Kelley
IN HER SHADOW – signed book cover print: Kristine Parker—the trivia tackling queen!

Congrats, winners! Keep an eye out for an email from the author or me, standing in as his/her virtual assistant. 😉

For more party shenanigans, visit IN HER SHADOW Thrill-Fest Release Party on Facebook. I’ll leave it open until the paperback releases, by February 1st. Thanks again, all!

I’d love to hear from you. If you attended the party, what stood out most? What other virtual events have you enjoyed the heck out of? Any highlights from one you’ve thrown? How do you feel about lutefisk???

IN HER SHADOW Thrill-fest and Release Party!

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I called my mom, sniffling. “You should rest,” she said. “You just birthed a novel.”

baby book names

Yes, as a parent and poet, Mom gets it. I hesitate to draw many parenting/writing comparisons, not having kids myself. Judging from what others who do have shared, however, numerous parallels fit. “Birthing” a book is intense, exciting, gratifying, sometimes painstaking and frustrating work, all made more enjoyable, manageable and profound by the support of others. So I suppose I should now welcome you all to my “baby” shower. May the diaper games begin! 😉 Kidding. As bizarre fun as that sounds, I think we’ll venture elsewhere, starting with what matters most at this party: you all.

I can’t thank you all enough for joining me in my journey this past year-plus, in whatever capacity you have. I wish I could list everyone I’m grateful to by name, but that would be about as breezy to read as one of those “old fashioned” phone books. Here are the highlights:

I’m particularly grateful to my parents for never saying “don’t” and always saying “dream;” my husband, for reading nearly every word of my every draft and tolerating my maniacal writer-dom in ways even I sometimes can’t; my friend and mentor Mike Sirota, for running my pages through the Simon Cowel-like ringer and being there through days dark and bright; my agent John Rudolph for believing in me, thinking outside of the box and helping me become a stronger writer; digital publishing manager Yassine Belkacemi for uploads, formatting and fielding my endless questions with considerable patience; Steena Holmes for her beautiful work on my cover and tireless support; and my furry and feathered office pals, Zoe and Wombley, whose animal-love I thrive on.

To my blogging friends, the WANA crowd and Jedi master Kristen Lamb, fabulous folks I’ve met through Bouchercon, ThrillerFest and the Southern California Writers Conference and friends I’ve fallen in writer-love with through words and pages, THANK YOU. I hope you know you’re like permanently implanted in my heart. 😉

Now for the FUN STUFF!

I’m stoked and honored to invite you all to the IN HER SHADOW Thrill-Fest Giveaway raffle. Some of my favorite thriller authors have joined in by offering up some spectacular prizes. Up for grabs include signed books by Amanda Kyle Williams, David Freed, DP Lyle, Donna Galanti, Stacy Green and Amy Shojai. I’ll be giving away three copies IN HER SHADOW, hot off the presses in a couple of weeks, each accompanied by an interview with me.

A lowdown of the prizes:

Each prize includes a signed book and, in most cases, an interview with the author. The interviews may be conducted by phone, Skype or email and, potentially, shared on your blog or website. You can also gift your prize to a thriller-loving or “writerly” friend. The interview details will be worked out via email, based on the author’s preference and what works for you, at the raffle’s end. Check out these tantalizing covers:


raffle books

How to enter:

Hop over to the GIVEAWAY tab on my Facebook page, using this link. The raffle widget will guide you through a variety of simple ways to support participating books and authors. While not necessary for the raffle, I hope that when you visit the authors’ Amazon pages, you’ll click that little “like” button if you indeed like what you see. You can also gain raffle points by commenting on this post. (See below.)

The raffle ends this Saturday, January 12th at midnight. You can utilize every raffle option once daily, today through Saturday, for a maximum of 50 raffle points per day. Not too shabby, right?

For even MORE fun, join me and my friend Karina, the Goddess of Terrifying Trivia, tonight for a virtual launch party on Facebook. We’ll be giving out more prizes and having a heck of a lot of goofy, thriller-related fun. The party goes from 5pm to 9pm PST, and you’re welcome to pop by for a virtual drink or linger all party long. You can also join us on Twitter: #InHerShadow. For further details, visit:

IN HER SHADOW Thrill-Fest Launch Party on Facebook

In Her Shadow - Finalx2

I hope to see you there! So much love and gratitude,

August

*Using the following prompt, post a comment below between today and Saturday for another chance to win. I’ll give 10 extra points for the most creative comment. Ready…set…GO!

How is writing like or unlike childbirth or parenthood?

Behind the Story: 10 Questions About My Novel

Where would writers be without supportive writer friends? I don’t even want to think about that. I’d rather think about Donna Galanti, the fabulous author who invited me to The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, a series designed to introduce readers to new authors and books.

Donna is the author of the paranormal suspense novel, A Human Element, which New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry calls “an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart.” To learn more, visit her website: http://www.donnagalanti.com.

To purchase A Human Element, visit:
Amazon:
http://tinyurl.com/dg-the-Kindle
B&N:
http://tinyurl.com/dg-he-Nook
iTunes:
http://bit.ly/QXL8NS

10 Questions

The following questions and answers pertain to my first novel, which will pre-release this month and officially release in January. (Holy be-jeezus! *breathes into paper bag*)

August writing

Work in progress…

1: What is the title of your book? IN HER SHADOW

2: Where did the idea come from for the book? When I was 18 and working as an international model based in Paris, I nearly died of anorexia. IN HER SHADOW is loosely based on that experience.

3: What genre does your book come under? Psychological thriller

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Unknown actors, probably, although I could see Claire Danes playing the lead character, Claire Fiksen, and Ted Danson playing her nemesis.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Stop with the synopsis insanity! Do you have any idea how many of various lengths I’ve had to conjure lately? Um, I mean… Wow. I’m SO GLAD you asked. 😉

Here’s the back blurb:

One woman locked in a basement, nearing death and longing for escape. Another baffled by the inexplicable symptoms wreaking havoc on her life. Both are lost and alone, yet somehow connected. And time is running out…

Near the tenth anniversary of her parents’ unexpected death, Claire Fiksen, a lovely young Harvard-grad and gifted psychologist in Minnesota, develops bizarre symptoms of an eating disorder that threaten her fledgling career, her relationship with a handsome young medical student, her grasp on reality and, soon, her life.

When her beloved grandfather reveals that there may be more to her parents’ death than she’s realized, Claire’s pursuit of healing becomes a desperate search for answers as she delves into her family’s sordid past. Meanwhile, someone is watching her every move, plotting to draw her into his own twisted web of misery. Claire has something he needs, and he’ll stop at nothing to obtain it.

Every step Claire takes brings her closer to the truth and danger. And her life, she discovers, isn’t the only one at stake.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? It will be self-published in collaboration with my agency, Dystel & Goderich.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Roughly one year and 300 workouts. (I do some of my best writing and editing at the gym.)

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a toughie… I suppose if you blended Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, The Sixth Sense, Requiem for a Dream and Mary Higgins Clark’s work together, you might end up with an In Her Shadow-like smoothie.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book? Life. 🙂

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I like to think of IHS as a dark, suspenseful story that has the potential to inspire and provoke thought. It takes on some heady issues, including eating disorders and sexual violence, but it’s really a story about family, hope and survival—the lengths we will go for those we love. It also features some romance and an incredibly sweet dog.

In Her Shadow - Finalx2

Below you will find authors who will be joining me by blog next Wednesday, answering questions about their own novels. I ADORE these writers, and hope you’ll check out and bookmark their links. Happy reading!

1. Shannon Esposito

2. Steena Holmes

3. M.G. Miller

4. Ellie Ann Soderstrom

5. Alexandra Sokoloff

6. Bob Yehling

I’d also like to thank Gina Fava and Tameri Etherton for tagging me in TNBT Blog Hop earlier on, before I was ready to share. You both rock!

What project or work pursuit are you working on? Any additional questions for me, regarding my novel or anything else? I may not have all the answers, but I promise to try my darndest. 😉

 

Punch-Drunk Indie: A Gratitude Party

“If serotonin is the Zen-master among neurotransmitters, dopamine is Pollyanna, responsible for the highs of infatuation, new love, joy, self-confidence, and motivation.” — Deborah Bloom, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer

I’d have to add publishing decisions to Bloom’s list. As if I wasn’t stoked enough about Girl Boners! 😉 Sadly, they aren’t on today’s menu. Welcome to #ThrillerThursday, the day I feature whatever else I find thrilling.

Those of you who read my post on self-publishing with an agent know that I’ve been deciding whether to do just that.

The moment I spotted “consider self-publishing” in my agent’s email a few weeks ago, giddiness filled my belly. I felt as though I’d been clocked on the head by the love monster—woozy, butterfly-filled and punch-drunk in LOVE. My inner Pollyanna took over, proving the Zen-master obsolete. I’ve learned to listen to my gut, and it was screaming.

I knew I shouldn’t make such a huge decision on the spot, so I researched like crazy, thought and dreamed about it (when sleep was possible), until I had all of the answers and affirmations I needed. Soon, my brain had caught up with my gut and I braced myself to run around yelping officialize my decision.

Then…Sandy struck. The largest Atlantic hurricane on record blasted the Northeast with 85 miles per hour winds and torrential rain, flooding streets and buildings, cutting power and taking lives. That morning, I sat huddled on the sofa, watching the news with suffering from what felt like a nation-wide emotional flu, making my indie decision seem trivial. But I was also inspired.

Atrocities like Sandy show us how connected we all are. They also bring out incredible strength, resilience and compassion. While I’m still head over heels with with my  choice, Storm Sandy brought me back down to Earth and enlarged my gratitude in one gargantuan, if pain-staking, fell swoop. I suppose that’s positive on another level; I can share my decision without screaming so loud your ears hurt. (You’re welcome. ;)) So without further ado…

To say I’m stoked is a major understatement. More will follow on the specifics, but for now, I’d like to invite you all to party with me “pimp and promote” style, a term coined by the fabulous Chuck Wendig, with a slant toward gratitude.

In the comments below, post two links you’re GRATEFUL for:

1) Pimp out one of your own links, such as your Amazon author page, Facebook fan page or a blog post.

2) Promote someone else’s book, blog, author or fan page.

This is a fun way to gain and give exposure, particularly if you take the courteous route by checking out others’ links. (No one wants to party or promote solo. Ask any indie. ;)) Post now and pop by later, or check out others’ links before posting your own.

I’ll start by pimping my interview with David Freed, author of the Cordell Logan mystery series. David is a spectacular writer and person I’m grateful to call friend. He’s also an award-winning journalist, dog lover and pilot with a wicked sense of humor and a passion for Mexican food. (What’s not to love???) For more fun, connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m honored to promote one of my favorite indie-divas, Steena Holmes. Author of the award-winning best-seller, Finding Emma, Steena is as sweet as the chocolate she adores, and as supportive and driven as Megan, the indomitable mother in her novels. She’s also a mother of three, wife to one and a talented graphic and book cover designer who’s doing a brilliant job on mine. (Yeah-hoo!) To learn more, check out her wonderful website.

Your turn! Share, share away. I can’t wait to explore your links, and hope you have as much fun as I plan to. Thanks in advance for brightening my day, and as always for your support. *raises glass*

Self-Publishing with an Agent: A Viable Option?

As many of you know, I’m not skilled at keeping my mouth shut. (This is the point at which my loved ones cringe. Don’t worry, guys. This isn’t going to be a saucy tell-all. Sorry, everyone else. ;)) While I’ve learned to temper my blurt-y nature with reason, this case calls for outage. Or so says my gut.

I’m about to make a decision many authors face: to self-publish or not to self-publish. No, I’m not firing my agent, and he hasn’t kicked me to the curb. In fact, he brought the notion up—not as a last resort, but as a viable strategy.

“The times, they are a changin.” — Bob Dylan

After 14 passes from publishers, most offering positive feedback—some very—I’m wondering if I and my book seem too risky for the current thriller market. (My words, not my agent’s.) I suspect that unique and risky are synonymous for new authors, in some publishers’ views. Or maybe they dislike my novel, writing or heck, me, for other reasons. Regardless, my novel’s not yet found a home. And I’m far from alone.

Newbie thriller authors are seldom seen in Publisher’s Marketplace nowadays, I’m told, a significant shift from mere months ago. Meanwhile, many self-published authors are having significant success. Numerous have self-published their way to publisher recognition and sizable contracts—some have been taken, others turned down because the author makes more money independently. When it works, I’ve been told, it works well. Really well.

And yet, there are risks.

  • Self-publishing still carries some amount of “amateur” stigma. (Blech, I know.)
  • Getting self-published books into bookstores can be difficult.
  • Some upfront costs are involved, and there’s no advance unless a traditional contract formulates.
  • If sales are low, authors don’t make much money, publishers aren’t interested and bridges could be burned.

I have a hard time seeing any of these risks as insurmountable. Self-published authors and books are gaining continually more respect. E-books have surpassed bookstore sales. Sales risks affect traditionally published authors, too. And I have more than a few friends who’ve been grossly disappointed by their experiences with unenthusiastic presses.

If I go the indie route for now, I’ll be expected to do more marketing and promotional work than a traditionally published author. But honestly, I function as an indie anyway. I worked my butt of with modeling and acting, even with the best of representation, and feel all parties benefited as a result. Most successful authors I know operate similarly, regardless of their publishing style.

We’ve got to work our butts off if we want to make the most of our careers, no matter what, in my opinion.

Aside from the obvious benefits of self-publishing (greater control, quick turn around, etc.) some of you may be wondering about the benefits of self-publishing with an agent, versus on your own. I’m still learning, and am sure situations vary, but here’s what I’ve gathered so far.

Agents seem to offer self-published authors:

  • Teamwork. I’ve always preferred having a qualified advisor looking out for me legally and professionally.
  • Future contracts. Agents seek and secure traditional publishing contracts if or when it makes sense.
  • Rights shopping. Agents shop additional and subsidiary rights, such as audio, film, and foreign.
  • Help with grunt work. Agents often handle copy editing, book formatting, cover design, jacket copy and proofreading. They may also guide or facilitate marketing strategies.
  • Learning. I personally believe that ideal agents help us become stronger writers, and our work more marketable.

I’ve been asking trusted authors what they’d advise, given my situation. The consensus seems to be “Go indie!” with a couple of exceptions. I’ll learn more regarding my options this week, including whether another round of submissions is wise, and plan to make a decision soon. One thing is for certain: I’m going to keep writing regardless.

In the meantime, I’ll open the floor up to you. How do you feel about self versus traditional publishing? Or going indie in collaboration with an agent? Have your views changed with the changes in the industry?

Star Struck: Meeting Heroes From Our Youth

Living in Los Angeles, I’m seldom star-struck. But partway through a writers’ conference in Cleveland, I morphed into a pile of quivering You’re my hero! mush.

I’ve just returned from Bouchercon—a convention celebrating crime fiction. In my three times attending, I’ve been struck by the incredible warmth of the community. And I’m not talking thriller-style heat. The general attitude among authors is “How can I help you?”

While the fest is a blast, it’s also work. Authors mingle about in professional/friend mode, soaking up the experience with business cards at the ready. On day two, I snapped from adult professional to quivering, twitter-pattered teen. Sitting in the front row before a panel featuring Mary Higgins Clark, my palms clammy and my heart beating triple time, I nearly burst into tears.

I first read Clark’s A Cry in the Night by Clark in fourth grade. The tattered library book I never returned accompanied me to school, bed and my first—nearly last—babysitting job. (Picture two-year-old twin boys “playing” in a bathroom to the ignorance of their book-obsessed babysitter. Not pretty.) I’d finish the book then try to repress parts before reading it again. In all, I probably read A Cry in the Night eight times. Thankfully, she had other books to fill the gaps.

Back then, the Indigo Girls, Oprah and Mary Higgins Clark were my peeps—the cool aunties I looked up to and relied on whenever times grew drab, confusing or tough. According to recent studies, I’m not alone.

Research compiled by the British Psychological Society showed that celebrity fandom often peaks during adolescence, and might function as part of our extended social networks. 

It makes sense that we look to those we admire when questioning and contemplating our identities and the plethora of changes that infiltrate our pubescent lives. The Indigo Girls taught me to play guitar, to share honest feelings through song and not place my self worth in brand-names or makeup. Oprah taught me—well, that’s another episode series. And Mary Higgins Clark cemented in me the incredible power of story. Seeing as I “grew up” to be a writer, she’s arguably the most influential of all.

Fearing I’d stand up and open the flood gates by asking Clark a question, I simply absorbed the talk then headed to the book room where I stood in line for an autograph. (Though the crowd and vibe varied, it reminded me of waiting for the Indigo Girls post-concert for the first time—minus my security blanket guitar.) By the time my turn came, time and Clark’s kindness induced calm. I thanked her, briefly shared she’s meant to me then answered her questions about my career. (Like I said, warm.) I walked away with an autograph and gratitude for what Oprah would call a full-circle moment. I’d done my inner-little-girl proud.

I don’t know about you, but as time goes on, I feel continually more connected to the little-kid me. It’s as though life’s struggles sent me on a detour then back to my authentic self. Having an opportunity to thank someone who’s played such a valuable role in my journey made Bouchercon feel like Christmas.


When we love what we do and do what we love, most anything’s possible. And while I don’t have any findings to support it, I suspect that connecting with fabulous others, putting ourselves out there, pursuing passion and expressing gratitude can make dreams we never realized we had come true. Experiences like Bouchercon show me that. Who knew a crime fiction fest could be so darn heart-felt?

Have you ever been star-struck? Or met someone you admired as a kid? What celeb makes your heart pound?

Funny on a Plane and NYC Wonder

“Hey, people who travel with their bed pillow. You look insane.” — Jim Gaffigan, comedian

Travel can bring out the best, the worst and the flat-out funniest. My recent trip to ThrillerFest in New York City was no exception. After boarding the plane in Burbank, I settled into my seat, grateful to be yawning. Yes, I thought. I’m going to sleep like a baby. With the subtle rumble of the engine below, the beloved air-pillow I raved about in my travel post and my plush eye mask, how could I not? I felt no shame puffing air into the pillow. Passengers shooting me weird looks would soon be jealous, I figured. Or… not.

I was on my last puff when something snapped. A noise like nothing I’ve heard escaped my wonder-gadget—a loud, gaseous FWAAAAAPPPPPGGGHHHH!!!! The fuzzy mass whipped up in the air, nearly schwacked the woman next to me, then fizzled down into a limp, pitiful blob on my lap. So I did what felt reasonable at the time—acted like it was supposed to happen. (You haven’t heard of those fancy flat pillows? They’re oh-so-popular in Europe. Vogue-esque. Like sleeping on a down pillow, minus the…um…pillow.) I squished it into a lumpy ball, rested my head on it and pretended to sleep. Shortly later, a major neck cramp sent me upright. I spent most of the remaining flight watching late-night TV and daydreaming of the sleep I wasn’t getting.

I didn’t think much more about my flat-and-gaseous pillow episode until a cocktail mixer that night. I was walking around, chatting with authors when I spotted people I recognized. Minutes later, I was face-to-face with friends I’d formerly only known online. As we hugged and chatted, I felt as though I’d known them in-person all along. And when the proverbial “How was your flight?” question arose, I shared my exploding pillow story. Only then did I realize how darn funny it was.

Intermingling in-person makes online relationships fuller, and vice versa. 

Studies have shown that the way we present ourselves on social media tends to be realistic. (I’m sure there are exceptions—criminals who use alternate identities to manipulate others, for example.) And I believe that friends met online are real, not virtual. But if I hadn’t have met these blogging pals in person, I wouldn’t have heard Rachel Funk Heller‘s sing-song laugh, admired Amy Shojai‘s sparkly bling or Melinda VanLone‘s sweetness, exchanged knowing looks with Ingrid Schaffenburg who seems to understand, well, everything, or felt the tenseness in the room soften when during a serious discussion, Kristen Lamb said, “Today is the best time to be an author.” Running into Diane Capri and Lee Child on 42nd Street was another highlight; they are quite the handsome pair. 😉

Melinda, Me and Rachel

Connecting with others makes our lives fuller.  

My favorite thing about ThrillerFest boils down to one word—people. Not just any people, but spectacular people who seem to “get” one another. (If there are so many of us, how can we possibly be crazy??? ;)) If you have the chance to attend a conference with people who share your passion, I hope you’ll go for it. It’s stimulating in way that’s difficult to describe.

I also spent time with my brother and his girlfriend—terrific people and artists, made new friends, met with my awesome agent, got a new request for my manuscript from a publisher (WOOT!) and had the opportunity to thank several authors in person for writing books I adore. Unlike many Hollywood celebs, the ultra-famous authors were giving and approachable. We aren’t in competition with one another, a couple of speakers said. I think that’s largely because we choose not to be. There’s plenty of room on the book shelves—and e-shelves—for more books and authors. If we choose to build each other up, we all grow—and not at the sake of our own success. Valuable lessons for anyone.

So I’m back in L.A. with my deflated air-pillow, which I haven’t had the heart to throw away. I’m pretty tired, but far more grateful.  Unlike the air in my pillow, the memories are sure to last a lifetime. 😉

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your most hilarious travel experience? Have you made friends online, then met in person? What conference rocks your world?

As a reminder, I’m accepting “I’m a writer!” photos until July 21st. I’ve received some GREAT ones, and would love more. For basic information, visit The Freedom to Write