Thursday, February 27, 2014

Do You Have a Writing Question for TKZ? Let Us Know!

It's time for something new! Do you have a question about writing, marketing, or your work in progress? We're collecting questions from readers over at our email address: 

killzoneblog at gmail dot com

One Thursday each month, we'll use some of the questions as a launch pad for discussion. 

Let's kick off this idea today in the Comments. If you have a question for one of our motley crew of bloggers, or for the TKZ community, go ahead and post it in the Comments. We want to hear from you!

45 comments:

  1. Okay, I'll start with two related(ish) questions:

    First, I'm still hoping to go the traditional route, because I think (no data, just a feeling) that "hybrid" authors who already have some name recognition from trad published books tend to be more sustainable when they go into e-publishing (not to mention we teach in NC, which means we can't afford the bills we have, let alone cover art, pro editing, etc). Do you guys think there is any merit to this, or has the landscape changed to the point that going solo right off the bat affords you just as much a chance to make it work?

    And second, Nancy mentioned getting your book ready for iBooks, Smashwords, and the like. Do people still put much faith in the Kindle Select Program, or does it seem better to go with the "all e-markets as soon as it's ready" strategy now if you're self-pubbing?

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    1. I'll take a run at this, Jake. When talking about "chances" or "odds," there is a larger potential payoff, but longer odds, going trad. So you factor that in with your desire. See the detailed back and forth on this over at Konrath's blog.

      As far as KDP Select, it's still a good way for a new author to start building a readership. That's what you need at the start, eyeballs on your work. But then you need more work. Quality product over time, building a fan base (and an email list) all are key.

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    2. My opinion, Jake, is to go for traditional publishing first and let your publisher build your readership. Then you can strike out on your own -- or stay with traditional publishing. I've been traditionally published since 1997 and make a good living at it. I was dropped for two years by my first publisher and worked a lot of low-paying jobs, which became the basis of my Dead-End Job series. My 13th book in that series just came out. Keep in mind I'm not a computer maven, so I'd have to pay people to edit, design a cover, distribute, etc. Trad publishing has its problems, but it's been a good match for me.

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    3. I agree with Jim that KDP-Select might be a good way to give away free books and get the word out for a new author, but I'm not a fan of the program in general. You rally up your ranking on the free book side, but you paid side flounders in the mean time and you lose momentum when you put the book back to a dollar value.

      The best thing you can do to build name recognition is to keep writing and offering books every few months--and build your virtual shelf with quality books. Develop a plan to promo different books throughout the year so the Amazon rank jumps and keeps you up there. You may not see a lot of benefits until you get 7-8 books out there.

      That's why I recommend authors try having an iron in the traditionally pubbed fires. Get to know what a house can do for you. If you can do both (trad pub and self pub), it will enrich your experience.

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    4. Jake, I've enjoyed solid sales through Amazon for almost 2 years now as a self-publisher. KDP has been great for me. I tried Smashwords for a while but sold very few books through them, and lost my advantages of being enrolled in of KDP Select, like their Kindle Matchbook program, their Kindle Countdown Program, freebies, and their loans program (I get about $2 every time someone borrows one of my books). Plus lots of ways they promote my books. I wrote an article about all the advantages of Amazon and KDP here: “Thanks, Amazon, for Promoting my Books for Free!” http://crimefictioncollective.blogspot.ca/2013/11/thanks-amazon-for-promoting-my-books.html

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  2. My w.i.p has elements of crime, mystery, and thriller along with literary flourishes. The piece will not fit into any single, well-defined marketing category. Am I better off writing more toward emphasis on a single genre?

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    1. As long as it's well written, and you understand the genres you're combining, it can find an audience. But publishers like books to fall within defined niches. So if this is your first book and you'd like to be published traditionally, I would suggest tailoring it toward a specific genre as you edit.

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    2. I personally love a cross genre story. Editors and agents think in terms of how a book might be shelved, but with the advent of ebooks and digital content, how a book is shelved in a brick and mortar store is less of a concern, I would imagine.

      I totally agree with Kathryn that they story needs to be well-written to capture an editor's or agent's attention. Let them worry about how to pitch it. Usually they'll pick the largest element that they can emphasize. But I'm not a believer in chasing trends. Write the book you want to read and do it well.

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    3. Anonymous, it's best to emphasize one genre if possible. Why not just call it "crime fiction"? That should cover it.

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    4. I think a great book will sell no matter the genre it crosses. That being said, publishers like to be able to categorise it for marketing though - I think as long as it's 'crime fiction' it would be okay.

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  3. This is a question that came in a while back:
    "As a new author with really no literary training, I find the daily blogs to be so helpful to me. I have notes on my bulletin board filled with your sage advice.

    One of my questions is the passive voice statistic in Word. Routinely I monitor the passive voice (Vials, my first book clocked in at 7% after editor edits), my WIP is hovering at 4%. Is there a range of acceptability on that statistic? I did a Google search on it last year, and there was a comment somewhere on the internet that major publishers reject any book over a certain percentage. Would one of you bloggers comment..."

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    1. While we're waiting for the experts to reply, my thinking is that knowing when and why to use the passive voice is more important than sheer percentages.

      "The Voyeur" by Robbe-Grillet uses various distancing techniques (one of which is the passive voice) at the beginning of the novel, and gradually reduces the frequency of such distancing techniques as the protagonist becomes more involved in life.

      If your query letter reveals a story where the protagonist is being forced, for example, to participate in something, I suspect many agents and publishers might forgive you for using the passive voice...depending on the story, of course, because almost any story finds the protagonist being forced to make choices, or you're not putting him or her into enough tough situations.

      Having said that, debut authors really need to show within the first five pages that they know what they're doing. You're taking a huge risk, in my view, if you use too much of the passive voice.

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    2. You're absolutely right, Sheryl. It's about the language and keeping everything active, rather than a set percentage. If one is relying on a percentage rather than the sense of language, one is likely to hit wide of the mark.

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  4. I sent these questions to your blog email address, but I'll post them here.

    Where do thriller readers hang out (other than on Goodreads)?

    How do you target specifically to thriller readers?

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    1. Thanks, Sheryl! I'll let the gang jump in on that one.

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  5. Speaking of genres, what's the difference between crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense? It seems like crime would encompass them all.

    Thanks

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    1. I once heard a description of the difference between thriller and mystery, which stuck with me: in a mystery, a bomb goes off on stage, and the detective spends the rest of the play figuring out "whodunnit." In a thriller, the audience sees someone plant the bomb under a bed. The rest of the story is about preventing it from exploding.

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    2. I like the term Crime Fiction to encompass all subgenres: espionage thrillers, murder mystery, police procedural, cozy mysteries, etc.

      Kathryn explanation is excellent. A mystery is usually centered on a crime and trying to figure out whodunit, but in a thriller, protag(s) are trying to stop the crime from happening or escalating and the pace is faster.

      Suspense has similar elements to thriller, except that I see a thriller as more visceral and intense.

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    3. Jordan & Kathryn--
      I've been told that the distinction between mystery and thriller is that a mystery emphasizes plot (finding out whodunit), whereas thrillers emphasize characters. But I'm not sure this is very useful: great mysteries have solid characters, and good thrillers generally don't short-change plot.

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    4. Barry, even though most people consider a thriller to be a sub-genre of the mystery category, Kathryn's example above is a good way to look at it. Let me say it in a slightly different way: a mystery starts with an event (murder) and spends the rest of the story figuring out who caused it. A thriller starts with the threat of an event and spends the rest of the story figuring out how to prevent it. If a mystery is a whodunit, a thriller is a howdunit.

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    5. JCWrites, I think all those genres come under the label "crime fiction." Here's a blog post I wrote on the differences between mysteries and thrillers, which is also a chapter in my book, WRITING A KILLER THRILLER: Nov. 5, 2013: Thrillers vs. Mysteries http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/guest-blogger-jodie-renner-thrillers-vs-mysteries/

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    6. I read your blog post, Jodie, and I agree with you.

      I think (I hope!) it's an over-simplification to say that all thrillers start with the threat of an event and trying to stop it, although at some point, usually fairly early, stopping an event does become the major issue.

      Another factor is usually that the protagonist is in grave and continuing danger, whereas that's not always true for mysteries.

      The stakes are generally higher in thrillers than in mysteries.

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    7. I agree with all of your points, Sheryl.

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  6. I Googled "Thriller Readers" and Thriller Reader Demographic" and came up with some interesting hits. Also try "thriller reading groups" and "thriller reading genres." Those should keep you occupied. Another idea is to lurk around the thriller and mystery sections of your local bookstore.

    There used to be a wonderful bookshop in DC called Mystery Bookshop I think. They always had cool stuff going on. I haven't checked out Spy Museum in a while, but the often have videos of author presentations that are interesting. Usually a couple of ex-KGB dudes will show up and join the discussion. It's like old home week.

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    1. The Spy Museum sounds like a great place to hang out!

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    2. Thanks, Jim.

      I'm having one of those "Now why didn't I think of that?" moments. Duh.

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  7. For the KZers: In December, I self-published a mystery, the first in a series. The second book featuring the same lead character is due for release in April. But as I wait to hear the take on it from a hired-gun editor, I have come to see that the second book is not really a mystery (whodunit), but a what-happens-next story. I am concerned that by calling it a mystery, readers expecting a story that fits the category will feel I have misrepresented the new book. What do you advise--re-defining the series simply as "crime fiction," or "women's suspense," etc? There are several more stories in the pipeline for this character, and I don't want to put people off.

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    1. Barry, I'd just call the whole series "Crime Fiction" or do some revisions on the second book to add more mystery or suspense.

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    2. Barry, I don't understand what you mean by a 'what-happens-next' story because strong narrative drive for almost any story requires the reader to want to know what happens next, doesn't it?

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    3. I think it's important to recognise that every book in a mystery series should contain a self-contained mystery to be solved - this is what readers expect. My recommendations would be to take a step back and evaluate the second book to see if it could stand alone as a story and whether there's a sufficient mystery in the plot that would keep readers engaged.

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  8. Sheryl--
    You're right, of course. Whatever the story, getting people to want to know and turn the page is the name of the game. I mean that neither mystery (whodunit) nor thriller (howdunit) describes my story. I rely mostly on dramatic irony to generate interest: my central character and her friends don't know what the reader does--that they are being followed by two very bad men. One of them commits a murder in the opening chapter, so there's no question about who/what he is. So how these two parties will come together, and what will then happen is essentially the heart of the novel.

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  9. Barry: Your book - The Anything Goes Girl - sounds great and your website looks fantastic. However, all of your Amazon links are misfiring, which is a shame, because your book is available on Kindle Prime. Fix those links, man!

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    1. Jim--It's really good of you to tell me this. I didn't know, and will get on the case right now. Thank you, and thank you again!

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  10. This is yet one more reason why TKZ is awesome. I've been lurching around with identifying the genre for my manuscript.

    It has the ticking clock of a thriller, but has a self-contained murder as well. Also the bow-chicka-bow-wow of a romantic suspense, but not the happy ending. Using Jodie's definition above, I am calling it a crime drama with components of thriller and romantic suspense.

    Terri

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    1. ... or you could just call it a romantic suspense, Terri. :-)

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  12. My WIP is a paranormal mystery. My MC must solve the murder of her parents from her childhood, when new evidence surfaces. When she is entrusted with the renovation of one of her uncle's properties, she is greeted by a ghost from the Old West who wants my MC's help to solve her murder back in 1871. So, my dilemma is that I have the present, the MC's childhood, and the Old West timelines. I am wondering the best way to handle this without resorting to too much exposition/info dump. Most of this is backstory. I have considered splitting it into sections from each time period with different points of view. Is this the best way or do you have a better idea for me?

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    1. You might want to check out THE SOURCE by James Michener, Rebecca. It tells the stories of characters across centuries, which are discovered during an archaeological excavation of a tell in Israel. He uses a framing device as the transition between the various centuries and character stories. Every time the archaeologists pull an artifact from the tell, the story switches to the time and place of that artifact's era, and jumps into a new character's head. In your story, rather than using an interaction with a ghost, perhaps your MC could find an object from 1871 in her uncle's property--that object can become the "frame" that launches the other woman's story. Just something to consider. :)

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    2. Rebecca, read the YA book HOLES by Louis Sachar. He does an excellent job of jumping back and forth to 3 different time periods!

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    3. Thank you both for your suggestions. I will check out both books. :)

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  13. Basil left his account logged in and went to bed. So we thought we'd (being Fiili, Gnilli, Bofin, and Berthold....actually Berthold is only with us bodily at the moment...he sampled a bit much of Basil's homebrew stout beer, very black and thick and sweet that stout, and is presently lying on top of the computer boxy thing where it's nice and warm and the fan noise hides his snoring quite nicely) anyway, we have a question and we hope the accent is not too thick as we type, we do try to make it easy for the Americans to understand ... simple yet nice folk you all are, don't ya know.

    Gniili: Indeed, quite nice folk. They make nice sandwiches ya know.

    Fiili: So...erm...You ask'em Gniili.

    Gniili: Erm....uh....I think Bofin should ask.

    Bofin: What? I wasn't even in the room when it happened.

    Gnilli: And I'm not the one who thought the Delete button meant 'Delight' button.

    Fiili:How was I to know it would make the words dissappear?

    Gniili: Somebody needs to learn to spell.

    Bofin: I thought he printed the whole thing before going to bed. I remember his saying so, for surely I do.

    Fiili:Which brings us to the question....
    Do any of you know how to get very dark black and sweet stout beer stains out of ...give me that wrapper there....um..."Hammermill® Laser Paper, 8 1/2" x 11", 24 Lb, Pack Of 500 Sheets" ?

    Gniili: Yeah, and getting that beer out without scritchin' up the black ink letters that Basil put there just an hour ago...with the zippy-zapper-box on his desk.

    Fiili: Yes please help....preferably before six in the morning when he wakeses up.

    Bofin: Told you not to give Berthold the spigot.



    Fiili: We'll wait here....

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    1. Bofin, Fiili, and Gniili, You guys are all in big trouble, lol!

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    2. If I ever get the opportunity to meet some of you all at an event, I must remember to stay alert, stay sober, and not doze off on the couch (or corner of the auditorium).

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