Nikki Lanier in the Hot Seat

Glossed Cause

Who are you like?

One of the most common questions a writer hears is: Who are you like?  In other words, what (famous, more talented, richer, that I would have heard of) author are you like?  Of course, as authors we would always like to respond – I am like no one! I am a unique snowflake of infinite genius!  Bow down before my staggering work of novelistic achievement!  Possibly at this point is where we also start investing in a parrot, flowing robes, and a pencil thin moustache to twirl.  I’m not saying all authors would go full Disney villain. Clearly, the eyebrows and make-up require a more high-maintenance lifestyle than most of us are cut out for.  I’m just saying, nobody likes to think of themselves, as “just like” somebody else.

However, temper-tantrums and eyeliner aside, it is a useful question.  It does let people know where they should look for you in the library and where you fall on their reader spectrum.  For the record, I usually answer this question with – Janet Evanovich.  My series Carrie Mae Mysteries is female centered spy series, with plenty of hunks, humor, and huge action scenes.  However, I also write in another genre – contemporary fantasy.  I write modern day fairy tales about fairies, vampires, and what happens when a mermaid meets a SEAL.

Writing in multiple genres used to be very “not done” because the publishing houses found it hard to market.  The prevailing wisdom was that readers don’t read multiple genres (uh… say what?), Self-publishing has opened the door for authors to write whatever their unique snowflake heart’s desire, but it’s still a risk, and a challenge for those doing the marketing, to figure out what to say to the question – who do you write like?

I guess for now, I’ll have to go with this answer – I write like my fingers are fire with sheer greatness and my mascara is totally, totally on point.

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Originally posted on 8.10.16 at The Stilettog Gang

 

Batting my Lashes

leglampawardIn August I will be the recipient of an award from the local business newspaper – The Business Examiner.  Each year, The Business Examiner, holds a Top 40 Under 40 event celebrating business persons under the age of forty in Tacoma.  This year, my business partner and I are among the recipients!  The event includes a photoshoot for all the recipients and the resulting images get shown on the website and at the event. So of course we did what any sensible business owners would do when on the receiving end of a MAJOR AWARD (careful, it’s fra-jeel-ay)– we put eyelash extensions on the business account.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, eyelash extensions are individual fake lashes that are applied with careful hands, tweezers and glue to your real eyelashes.  The effect is that you have somehow magically grown giant cow length eyelashes.  Unlike a standard set of fake eyelashes that glue on to the eyelid above the lashline, these look integrated into your own lashes.  Basically, your eyes now look like every mascara commercial on TV.

The Stats:  In my neck of the woods they cost about $100 (plus tip) and last about two weeks.  At two weeks you can get a “fill” appointment that can cost $50, but wait until three weeks and that will cost more.  They take about an hour and fifteen minutes to put in and you must be ok with having your eyelids taped in place and have someone poking around on your lash line.

The Pros: As I said, your eyes now look like a mascara commercial ALL the time.  This is great when you just woke up and have no make-up on.  Somehow, I look delightfully rumpled instead of my normal slightly dead.  Since one of the rules is that you can’t wear mascara on them (impossible to clean without taking them out) there is less make-up time involved in getting ready.  And for the most part, people really can’t figure out what you’ve done to look so smashing.

The Cons: My eyes were a bit red and others report a stinging sensation on the first day.  For me, I just felt like I had grit in my eyes for the first two days.  Also, every once in awhile one of the falsies twisted around and stabbed me in the eyeball. Youch! They do have to be treated GENTLY.  If you’re a side sleeper, be prepared to lose a few early after they get ground into your pillow overnight.

Conclusion: If you’re looking at a week with multiple events, particularly ones where you’ll be featured in photos, eyelash extensions might be the way to go.  My business partner had the awards photoshoot, a family picture photoshoot and a high-school reunion in the same week – that’s the kind of week that makes the cost and effort worthwhile.  I probably didn’t need them for one photoshoot, but I’ve enjoyed batting my giant lashes for a few weeks.

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The Red String of My Mind

In the cop shows, whenever the intrepid detective (Watching the Detectives, Elvis Costello) is working on the massive conspiracy that killed her mother/lover/those six girls we never met, but who really give our character a reason to act, the case is always shown as pictures (Pictures of You, The Cure) tacked up and connected by red string. I don’t know what set designer came up with the red string, but they ought to get royalties. It’s so common that if I worked at a craft store and someone bought red string I’d think they were a serial killer, a cop thrown off the force for refusing to quit the case, or a grandmother of toddlers stocking up for Christmas. I bring this up for the reason that it is a fitting visual for the song lyric littered wasteland (Teenage Wasteland, The Who) that is my brain.

Whenever I have a story noodling around in my head, but haven’t moved it to the level of having an outline, my natural writing style is to pick out scenes that I want to write, type them up, and save each scene to it’s own word document. As you can imagine, this creates a number of random word documents that might be hard to keep track of. But I have a system, most often I’ll name the document the song lyric associated with it. As a book grows, frequently these scenes become chapters, and those document names become chapter titles. Which is why the original table of contents for Bulletproof Mascara, the first of my Carrie Mae Mystery novels, read more like a playlist than serious literary subtitles. Sadly, editor made me change most of them – now they simply hint at the songs they reference. Apparently, the only people more uptight that literary rights lawyers or music rights lawyers. But you can still rock out to the Bulletproof Mascara playlist simply by visiting my youtube page (youtube.com/CarrieMaeMysteries) – please enjoy the musical stylings of David Bowie, James Brown, Simon & Garfunkel, Tech9, Morcheeba, and (of course) more.

Originally posted on 7/13/16 at The Stiletto Gang

Mascara Meh

I was going to say that I was in an on-going search for mascara that gives my lashes the appearance and silkiness of toddler, or one of those ridiculous boy who have won the genetic jack-pot of eyelashes, but don’t have any use for them. But to be perfectly honest, after the last debacle of a mascara purchase I’m simply looking for mascara that doesn’t leave my face covered in speckles of black.

This month I moved on to Scandal Eyes Show Off by Rimmel.  It had a fancy looking brush and exciting packaging design. I base many of my purchasing decisions on packaging design.  My theory is that if you’re the kind of company that can hire a decent graphic designer and then ALSO pay to get their design printed, then chances are that you make a decent product.  Surprisingly, this works fairly often.

However, in this case I was disappointed.  The mascara was clumpy.  It was flaky.  The weird ball brush tip actually got in the way when applying.  Either I needed to use only the ball tip or I need to cut it off so I could use the rest of it.  None of it was so hideous that I threw it away and ran out to buy a different tube; it was just mildly annoying.  And for these reasons, Scandal Eyes does not receive the Carrie Mae seal of approval.  On to the next mascara!

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A Mascara Massacre

When I received the usual fistful of useless bits of dead tree along with my receipt from Walgreen’s I almost chucked the entire lot in the trash, but decided to do the environmentally responsible thing and chuck them in the recycling at home.  Imagine my surprise when, once home, I realized that one of the coupons actually had value to me. That never happens. It’s always twenty coupons for spam and baby food or spam baby food. I read and re-read the coupon, checked the fine print – it really was a coupon for a FREE mascara.  But, but, but… I love FREE.  And mascara – I love mascara!  This can’t be right.  I read the coupon again.  Yes, it definitely said free mascara.

The next week, I trotted in, picked up my mascara, handed in my coupon and waited for the other shoe to drop. Nope, still free.  I walked out with a tube of Revlon Ultimate All-in-One mascara and floating on a cloud of euphoria that can only be generated by free make-up products.

A week later that cloud had evaporated under the wilting heat of real life testing. This mascara is possibly the worst mascara I have ever used. At first glance it looks OK, the formula seems a little thick, but hardly unsual.  But two hours after applying I look like the member of Our Gang known as Freckles.  The mascara leaves a nuclear dust cloud of black particles strewn across my face and clothes. I would have less mess on my face if I simply threw the mascara brush at myself.  This more than any other product I have ever owned has caused people, including strangers, to say, “Um… you’ve got a little… something?” while tapping awkwardly at their face.

Conclusion: Yes, I got free mascara, but I got what I paid for. Definitely NOT Carrie Mae approved.

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Organizing My World(s)

An author’s job is not just to tell a story, but to decide how a story should be told. Is it better in first or third person? Is it told in one long march of words or are their chapters? We have to decide genre, tone and feeling. And once those decisions have been made an author must create and track the main plot of the story – the one that we struggle to capture in the blurb text on the back cover – as well as the sub-plots, underlying themes, and finally, the characters themselves.  All of those pieces require not just the ability to write, but also the ability to track information. Because, as any serious reader will tell you (sometimes at great length), consistency and details matter greatly to a well written book, and while we can rely on an editor for some items, they are only human and can only catch so much.  It is in an author’s best interest to provide the cleanest manuscript possible.

I’m currently working on two vastly different stories: the fourth Carrie Mae Mystery Glossed Cause and a Romance Horror novella Wild Waters.  Each story comes with an array of characters, research and plot twists that to be perfectly honest I can’t hold in my brain.  Possibly pre-production of a toddler I could have kept hold of all the details, but no longer. Now, to keep all my worlds organized, I must rely on a system of notes, plot outlines and spreadsheets.

CM-characterlistFor the Carrie Mae books I track characters with a spread sheet that notes who they are (name, basic role, job or company) and also what book they have appeared in or if they have been deleted or omitted from a book.  I also have a rather extensive style sheet that helps me keep track of how certain things, such as chapter headings are formatted and whether or not I’m consistently formatting things like “AK-47” and “INTERPOL” the same way over multiple books.

plot graphFor Wild Waters I’m writing in two different time periods – WWII and Vietnam ­– and they each use distinctive slang that I organize in a couple of basic lists.  There are also multiple character points of view and it is important to keep track of what characters know and when they know it, so that each plot point is revealed at the correct time. Tracking character arcs are more difficult and sometimes require multiple ways of visualizing.  I will frequently write out the plot from each characters point of view or I will graph it out on a virtual whiteboard, utilizing the main plot points.

There is no perfect system of course, and each author must work the way that works for them. But when examining a well-written book, I am frequently in awe, not just of the beautifully constructed words or strong turn of phrase, but the underlying construction of a book.  Sometimes, I find it amazing that any books get written at all.

Digital Publishing

By Bethany Maines

Recently, I’ve been learning about the nitty gritty “how-to” of e-publishing.  While there are many how-to’s on how to put your story up for sale in the virtual marketplace, learning how to make an epub file is a lot more difficult and confusing.

As someone trained in how to make print books, this status is infuriating to me.  I can make words magically appear on paper – why is the screen any more difficult?  But as it turns out epub formatting is more akin to website programming than to traditional book design.  Both epub and websites must account for the fact that the designer can never be certain what or how the end user will view their product.  Will it be on a phone, a tablet, or a desktop screen?  Will it be a horizontal or vertical?  Which operating system will be accessing the file?  All of these factors play into how an e-book is seen and creating a file that can be used in ANY format means that many of the traditional design elements beloved by graphic designers, such as color, size, and forced white space, must be set aside. Learning to create an epub is a bit like feeding content into a slot in the wall, letting the machine in the next room whir away, and then trying to guess how the machine works by looking at the book it produces

In the last few years website programming has experienced a burst of development that can make creating a website an almost drag and drop, WYSISWYG experience.  Meanwhile, digital publishing lags behind, still in it’s infancy.

Take a look at these images of the first page of my third Carrie Mae Mystery novel, High-Caliber Concealer.  One is a screen cap from a mobile phone kindle app and the other is a photo of the printed book.

HCC-page1-epub01HCC-page1-print01

You’ll notice several differences – the large area of white space before the chapter title is gone and the fonts are not the same.  Fonts in epub’s must utilize a websafe font or embed the font within the file.  But, not all devices recognize embedded fonts, and they make a file larger and some platforms take a percentage out of an author’s royalty based on download size (you’re hogging space on their server).

However, there are some similarities that the programmer managed to achieve.  Notice how the gap between “Brunch” and “Mexico” mimics the print version?  And you’ll see that while the font isn’t the same, the font hierarchy and general sizing of the chapter information is the same as the print version.

And beyond the appearance of words on a screen there is the tricky business of making all the chapters appear in the right order and having a hyper-linked (click and go) table of contents that allow readers to navigate easily through the book.

No digital book is as simple as a word doc you type at home.  So if you see a well-crafted book on your e-reading device, take a moment to appreciate the book programmer!

Bethany’s Rules for Marketing

In my quest for world book domination I frequently peruse tips on how to better market myself/books.  Some come up with some interesting strategies that are worth pursuing and then there’s this list…

Top-10-Book-Marketing-TipsI won’t mention the name of the blog I found it on because I don’t believe in public shaming.  But let’s just assess a few of the items on this list shall we?

Comment on Blogs – The theory is that you will become recognized and friends with other blog commenters as well as those running the blog and then you will RISE TO FAME!  Or… not.  Of course, having additional friends will help you expand your fan base.  But pursuing that strategy for the sake of selling books is so lacking in any genuine feeling that it will actually turn people against you.

Bethany Rule #1 – always be your best self online.  Only comment on a blog if you have something interesting and positive to add to the conversation. Trolls don’t sell books.

Create a Viral Video – Let’s just hop right on that shall we?  We’ll get out or cell phones and film our cats and then, bam, done!  As this article on Slate indicates, only 10% of YouTube videos get more than 1000 views.  Videos these days are higher in quality and there a simply MORE of them out there than in the beginning days of social media. Here’s my attempt at a viral video – it’s awesome, you should watch it.  But I only paid for food for the crew and a make-up artist to make the video happen, everything else was done in trade.  I felt comfortable with my investment  and I view the video as a great sales tool to introduce people to my book series, but I never counted on it going viral.

Bethany Rule #2 – if you have to pay a lot of money for a product that you’re going to giveaway for free, it’s probably not worth it.

Go on National TV – Yup, I’m just going to dial up Oprah right now, promise her some bread, and book myself on National TV.  Getting air time, particularly on a National level, is one of the things that happens when you’re ALREADY famous.  There’s a reason Donald Trump has ceased to advertise.  He’s getting 15% of the national news time (according to a recent news piece I saw on my local news) and 50% of the election coverage.  He doesn’t NEED to advertise.   I’m not recommending that you be Donald Trump – one is more than enough – but being getting air time is something that you either pay for, or you get because your famous for something already.

Bethany Rule #3 – work to be locally famous.  Join groups.  Send press releases.  Volunteer to judge writing contests.  Talk to people.  Network and connect – people sell books.

The internet is full of many tips, some are more helpful than others.  I just hope that you find mine a little more helpful than the one from the blog that shall remain nameless.