Tag: Little Spot for Stories

Two thumbs up for cozy mysteries

To a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1980s, the Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert was the fount of all wisdom. His weekly Siskel and Ebert: At the Movies PBS show, with its famous Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down scoring system, was in regular rotation on lazy Saturday mornings, when my sister and I would flop in front of the TV with bowls of cereal. Because it was the 80s, our mother let us add spoonsful of white sugar to our Cheerios and eat them along with big glasses of milk sweetened with Hershey’s syrup. Apparently, in the 80s, everyone had magical pancreases.

But back to Ebert. This bespectacled, almost cartoonishly jowly Midwesterner somehow embodied the personality traits of a sharp-witted pundit, a polymath genius, and a four-year-old at a birthday party. His arguments with his co-host were literate, civilized precursors to the hair-clawing, manicure-ruining brawls that populate today’s reality TV. Their arguments were every bit as viscous and sometimes even personal, but their disagreements also expanded minds and showed that it was possible for even well-intentioned experts to disagree.

I recently rediscovered that Saturday morning slice of my childhood when I saw Life Itself, a documentary that chronicles Ebert’s diagnosis with jaw cancer, and the aftermath of the disfiguring surgery that spared his life but destroyed both his face and his ability to speak. The documentary is wonderful, even for those who lack the childhood attachment I have. The film is chock-full of touching, profound, hilarious revelations, but it was one quote, as Ebert discussed his scathing review of Blue Velvet, that has stuck with me for weeks:

“Drama holds a mirror up to life, but needn’t reproduce it.”

For Ebert, Blue Velvet’s sadomasochistic depiction of Isabella Rossalini’s character, and by extension the actress herself, crossed a line between art/drama and exploitation. This brought me back to the struggles I had in choosing a comfortable genre in which to write. After my first agent unsuccessfully shopped the Mount Moriah cozy mystery series, she advised that I switch gears and write Romantic Suspense, which she assured me would sell more easily. That genre, also known as “woman in peril” usually features dangerous, even psychopathic, criminals and gritty scenes of life-threatening action. Following my agent’s advice, I started a novel about a female psychiatrist who treated patients suffering from severe phobias using 3D virtual reality immersion. Similar to the villain in the movie Se7en, my baddie was killing my heroine’s patients one-by-one by reproducing the circumstances of their virtual immersions in real life. Terrified of spiders? Well, you’d find yourself trapped in a room full of tarantulas. And so on. Pretty good plot, eh?

Here’s the thing, though. When I worked on that book, I felt gross. It was hard to edit, because I didn’t like going back reading what I’d written. Yes, those horrible things—mental illness, murder, torture, cruelty, happen. But I didn’t want to be the one to give voice to those things. So, I chucked that idea, dropped the agent, and published the Mount Moriah books myself with Nicole Loughan’s Little Spot imprint. There are murders in my books, and baddies. And things like domestic abuse and prejudice are not glossed over. But I try not to hold my reader’s gaze on them for too long, and I never want to inflict unnecessary suffering on my characters. Mostly, my books try to radiate positive energy. Sometimes, when I read a passage I haven’t read in a long time, it will still make me chuckle. That’s the vibe I’m most comfortable putting out in the world.

I’ll leave it to others to meticulously reproduce mass starvation, individual privation, war atrocities, and child abuse. Turns out when I hold up a mirror to life, I want to hold a fun house mirror.

Amazon, 650. Traditional Publishing, 0.

Since the beginning of January, I’ve made about $650 in royalties from my novel, A Murder in Mount Moriah. That’s a little over $100/month, on average, for the arithmetically challenged. While that’s not exactly “quit your day job” money, I’m proud of it. It represented hundreds of sales (at $2.99 or .99 cents each for the Kindle title, which represents the vast majority of purchases). This doesn’t, of course, include the many thousands (10,000+) of free downloads via Amazon marketing schemes. I’m hopeful that once I have two or three more titles in the Reverend Lindsay Harding series, my writing income stream will grow considerably and provide a little contribution toward my daughter’s college fund/bail money.

In addition to deriving satisfaction from gaining an audience from my book, I feel that this income bolsters my belief that I made the right choice by aligning myself with Little Spot for Stories. Little Spot is essentially a platform for self-publishing. The editor, Nicole Loughan, is herself a successful indie author whose “Saints” series became an Amazon bestseller. Nicole vets the books she publishes under her imprint and provides marketing advice. What she does not do is play the dysfunctional game that most literary agents and book publishers do.

Why do I call it a dysfunctional game? The best-selling indie writer Hillary Rettig explained this beautifully in her recent article about the current Amazon vs. Hachette standoff. She explains how, for her, me, and many others, there is no contest between Amazon and traditional publishing. Amazon has giving writers all the tools they need to reach audiences, and they compensate writers at a reasonable rate for their efforts. Writers have control of the quality of their work, and control over marketing decisions. Meanwhile, traditional publishing is, for a writer, frequently fraught with peril and disappointment.

Here’s my experience with the world of traditional publishing, as an illustration. I finished writing A Murder in Mount Moriah about three years ago. Hopeful little author that I was, I duly submitted query letters, using the wonderful website Query Tracker, to the major agents representing my genre (cozy mystery).  I was overjoyed when my very first letter, to a BIG TIME AGENT, yielded an immediate request for a full manuscript and a period of exclusivity. After months of nervous waiting, the BIG TIME AGENT came back with a “thanks, but no thanks.” My next round of letters (and I sent multiple this time, because that whole exclusivity thing is a load of bullocks), scored me my very own BIG TIME AGENT, someone with several titles on bestseller lists and an impressive client list. Now, this agent knows her stuff and has all the right (write?) connections. She was excited about my manuscript, and I was over the moon.

Then began another round of waiting. She sent the book to the Big 5 publishers (e.g. Penguin, Kensington, Minotaur, etc.). The responses, when they eventually came after many, many months, were positive, but no one wanted to take on the series. Here’s a snippet from one:

“I thought the writing was very strong and I greatly enjoyed Lindsay’s character-she has a wonderful voice for a protagonist-funny, down to earth, and instantly endearing. I had a few second reads and the overall feeling was that the hospital setting was just too difficult to make work for our line.”

I also had editors say it wasn’t “cute” enough, wasn’t “crafty” enough (lots of cozies involve baking, knitting, etc.), or that their marketing team couldn’t figure out how to “visually convey” hospital chaplaincy.

Ultimately, my agent strongly encouraged me to give up on the hospital chaplain book and write something grittier and more hard-boiled. I don’t blame her for giving up. Publishing is a business, and the sooner a writer understands that, the better. The problem is, though, that I don’t want to write about some latter-day Josef Mengele psycho killer who spends his days stroking a cruel-eyed Persian cat while plotting out the details of his next gruesome rape or murder. (He is, obviously, laughing maniacally all the while). I don’t want to describe how this killer then wove a macramé owl out of the intestines of his unfortunate victim and fed the victim’s toes, one by one, to the cat (who is also laughing maniacally all the while).

Self-publishing has given me the freedom to tell the stories that I want to tell, and to try to find an audience that wants to hear them.

All of this is not to say that I wouldn’t consider traditional publishing. I’d still love to do that. But self publishing on Amazon has given me a basis for negotiation. I don’t have to take any old offer that I get. If traditional publishing can score me better than $100/month, I’m all ears.

 

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 2

Read part 1 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan

Minty Fresh Mysteries: What three qualities do you think it takes to become a successful indie writer?

Nicole Loughan: 1. Honesty – Publishing on your own means that nobody has yet put their stamp of approval on your work. You have to do that for yourself. You have to be honest with yourself about your writing and how good it is. I have been writing fiction for about ten years, a lot of it sits in a drawer collecting dust. Some of it I sent to my sister or friends. The response to other stories was typically, “it was good but I just don’t have time to finish it.” Clue: If your friends didn’t like it enough to finish it, chances are it wasn’t good enough. If the people who like you personally don’t have time to finish your book you will be hard pressed to sell it to strangers for $2.99.

2. Be willing to learn – I can’t stress that enough. In the beginning I learned how to do everything myself. I created my website www.littlespotforstories.com. I learned to write code, insert widgets that were functional. I learned basic design and html. I learned interior book formatting and mobi pocket conversions. I have probably banked more than 100 hours of reading time about how to self-publish.

3. Have a thick skin – Negative reviews and negative reactions are all part of the game. There are people who look down on self-publishing and they will make themselves known at dinner parties. My plan of attack is to have a plate of olives nearby to eat when they start talking about it. Then there is the negative book reviews. I got my first one within 10 days of publication. It hurt at the time, but I later realized how lucky I was to have a genuine review so quickly. A friend of mine gave me great advice that I will share here. She said never respond to a review. Even if a reviewer says “I don’t like Times New Roman Font and your book is in Times New Roman” perhaps another person will come along who doesn’t like Times New Roman and say “Thank you for the review. I can’t read another book with that terrible font,” and that review will have been a help to them.

MFM: Amen, sister. I look forward to hearing more from you next week in the third and final part of our interview!

What does it take to make it as an indie author? Interview with Kindle bestselling author Nicole Loughan, Part 1

Do you have what it takes to make it as an indie author? Kindle best-selling author of the Saints Mystery series, Nicole Loughan, shares details about her journey to indie author success.

Image of Nicole LoughanAuthor Interview, Part 1: The Road to Indie Authordom

Nicole Loughan has written two murder mysteries she swears are magic. Not that they have any mystical properties written within the pages, but the success has been close to supernatural. Her first mystery, To Murder a Saint became the #70 best-selling book on Amazon in January, topping the best-selling Mystery and Women’s Sleuth charts. The book has sold thousands of copies since publication in May of last year. She realized what an astronomical feat that was when she learned that most self-published books only ever sell 100 copies. Nicole has not left her day job. Instead she continues to write as the humor columnist “The Starter Mom” and food and features for two Philadelphia daily newspapers. 

Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): I know you write a syndicated humor column, “The Starter Mom.” How did you make the transition from breezy humor to the darker themes you explore in your Amazon best-selling Saints’ Mysteries?

Nicole Loughan (NL): The humor column is harder for me than writing mysteries. I started as a “real” journalist 15 years ago. I covered community, politics and crime. Occasionally, in those early days I would write features and fun stuff like the column. I evolved overtime and became strictly a features writer, but I still had to follow the rules of journalism: a catchy lead, using inverted pyramid style, heavy on facts and telling the story with quotes. I was looking for a challenge when the opportunity to become “The Starter Mom” came along and boy did I get it. I did not realize I was so used to journalism that I would have a hard time putting myself into the story and adding opinion. It was hard to not follow the structure of a news story. I think the first starter mom was 700 words and took me about six days to write it.

MFM: How did you get started in indie publishing?

NL: I am not against the traditional publishing establishment. In fact I am represented as a newspaper and magazine writer. I like having representation. They take care of the cash, tax forms and technical problems. When I wrote “To Murder a Saint” I did not know where to start. It was a novella and I could not find any agents who were looking for novellas. After exhaustive searching I found three publishers taking novella submissions. One was Random House. I got a personal and very encouraging rejection from their Alibi division. The two other places I sent the story to took more than four months to give me a response. I am not very patient so I was constantly googling things like, “how long do queries take” and “is it a good or bad sign that my query has been out for half a year?” Eventually this googling led me to the site of J.A. Konrath and I learned about the new way to self-publish, digitally. Konrath talked about the importance of a good story, a good editor and a good graphic designer. I had a good editor I had been working with on other projects, Erin McNelis and a fabulous graphic designer friend, Geneveive LaVO. These were people that already had good industry reputations and were hired by large organizations for their skills. I pulled my queries from the other two publishing houses and hired my friends. I feel fortunate in a way. I have only ever queried three places and had one query rejection. I can say my manuscript was only rejected once prior to publication.

Read part 2 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan
Read part 3 of MFM’s interview with Nicole Loughan

Publicity from Goodreads giveaway

My Goodreads giveaway closes out on January 15th, so enter today!  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/75303-a-murder-in-mount-moriah. So far, about 500 people have entered to win. The vast majority of those have added A Murder in Mount Moriah to their to-read lists, which, if those people also have the automated Goodreads feeds to Twitter or Facebook, could mean a whole lot of eyeballs looking at my book cover. I’m really curious to see how many of those will translate to sales. Presumably, people don’t buy the book during the giveaway period, in case they end up winning. I guess I have to hope that the “losers” will stumble across it on their shelves in a few weeks’ time, see the positive reviews, and buy a copy. In other news, I had a nice sales bounce last week when my fellow Little Spot for Stories author Nicole Loughan‘s series became a Kindle bestseller. It looks like a few dozen people checking out the Little Spot website picked up my book as well as hers. I think I also picked up some sales from my recent New River Valley Voices reading, the recording of which has been in heavy rotation on the local public access station.

Author Interview

Pop over to the newly redesigned Little Spot for Stories website to learn more about A Murder in Mount Moriah, which has been selected as a finalist in The Next Novelist’s novel competition, and about my Bloody Scotland award winning story “The Best Dish”. http://littlespotforstories.com/?p=380