May 10, 2011

Made It Moment: Janet Benrey

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:39 am

Dead as a Scone

Please welcome Janet Benrey to the blog! Janet has the distinction of a) talking about one of our favorite topics here–To E Or Not To E much?–while b) simultaneously being the 75th Made It Momenter. I was very excited to read her thoughts on this brave new world, and I think you will be, too.
Janet Benrey

Once upon a time I was a writer who was published traditionally by a royalty-paying house. Sales were okay. Do I hear a yawn? Then into my once-upon-a-time world came a new device called the electronic reader and the yawn became a grimace. Earnings declined as readers began to bypass paper for e-books with lower-paying royalties.

But all that changed one day when Amazon created the Kindle and became a publisher. Faster than a flying bullet, it was possible for a writer to publish an e-book without an agent and without a traditional publisher. The ground had shifted.

All of a sudden more than a few authors were making serious money e-publishing. Others began to e-publish their books, too, and everyone began to talk about it. Really.

Let me back up – I write cozy mysteries with my husband Ron. We have written three different cozy-mystery series. Because of this shift in the publishing paradigm, we have launched as e-books through a small e-book publisher, our Tunbridge Wells tea museum mysteries, Dead as a Scone and The Final Crumpet.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

We are convinced that one e-book is harder to sell than many.We say this because we have one romantic novella – Building Love –floating out there by its lonesome, selling modestly. However, our tea-museum mysteries are doing better than we ever dreamed of, and certainly better than they did in bookstores. What is making this so?

Buzz is.

We believe that once readers find you, and if they like your first book, they will buy all of your books in your genre and buzz will start as a consequence. Notice I said, in your genre.

Even if you are traditionally published you won’t sell in substantial numbers without buzz. Your publisher can’t create buzz. Only readers can.The importance of readers posting reviews on your Amazon/BN book pages cannot be underestimated.

Which brings us to marketing. Consider this old advertising adage: 50 percent of advertising works. No one knows which 50 percent. The same seems to be true of marketing. Do something. Anything. And pray for buzz. Once it starts, you’ll make serious money. If it never starts, you probably won’t, and there may be nothing you can do about that except write another book and hope buzz starts.

The second reason our e-books are selling is pricing. Readers love low prices. Much like in the good old days, books have once again become an impulsive purchase. Pricing should encourage impulsivity.

The third reason, my two cents, is the book’s cover. If you write cozies, then the cover should scream cozy. Likewise for thrillers.Covers are critical. Your e-book must stand out on the crowded e-book shelf.

Finally, titles count. A title should say something about the book – reflect its theme if possible. If the title is flat and makes no sense, this may hurt sales. We have no stats to back this up, but we have discussed re-titling our out-of-print mystery series set in Maryland. The earlier titles just didn’t work. It’s an experiment. I’m guessing we’ll know right after the books go up on Amazon.

So how do you get your book to fly off the shelf?


  • Writing the best book possible and hoping readers recommend your book
  • Wrapping your e-book in a stunningly suitable cover
  • Pricing your e-bookto encourage impulsive purchasing
  • Marketing like crazy
  • Giving your book a title that works for your genre
  • Telling your fans there’s a new book on the way.

Happy marketing!

Janet Benrey has worked in many different aspects of book development. She has served as as the editorial director of a small press, a book publicist, a novelist, and a literary agent. She has co-written nine romantic suspense novels with her husband Ron, plus a romance novella that she wrote independently.

May 9, 2011

Made It Moment: Kaye George

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:39 am


Kaye George has been having (to my mind) so many Made It Moments recently–a story in the Guppies collection by SinC, an appearance at a great mystery con, the chance to sign her very own novel–that I wasn’t sure how she was going to choose just one for this forum. I was surprised by her Moment…and I think you will be too.

Kaye George

I don’t know if I’ll ever know for sure if I’ve Made It. My first novel has just come out and I have no idea if I can sell enough to warrant a second. But I remember the first Moment when I thought I had. I was living in Dallas and had finished my first viable mystery, or so I thought. An agent in the Galleria Towers was named Poirot, I noticed, and I considered that a sign. Surely he would like my mystery!

I called him on the phone and we met in his office! Just like that. We talked a short bit about my writing and I left a copy (yes, a printed, paper copy–this was a few years ago) with him. For the next few weeks I tried hard to breathe normally.

Finally a call came from his secretary that I could pick up my manuscript. At first, I had no idea if this was a good or a bad thing, but it didn’t quite seem like a offer of representation. OK, after a few minutes of thought, I knew it was a rejection. But I drove to the office building, parked, took the elevator up, and there on the secretary’s desk, was my manuscript. She handed it to me with a smile–to soften the blow, I assumed.

On the top was a sticky note. I’ll never forget what it said: Author will pick up.

Author! He called me an author! I was so over the moon I almost forgot it was a rejection. I WAS an Author. That’s when I started telling people I’m a writer. (Seems a better conversational word than author.)

That manuscript went through much more critiquing and rewriting and hasn’t found a home yet, although I hope it will someday.

My next big moment was when my first short story was accepted for publication. We were living in Holliday. If you’re not from Texas, you won’t know that it’s near Wichita Falls. Even if you are from Texas, you might not. Hey, you might not know where Wichita Falls is, but it’s in northern Texas, toward the west, almost on the Oklahoma border. It’s tiny and isolated. We had moved there for my husband’s job and I had quit programming to write full time. I told people I had retired, which is another way of saying all the jobs I wanted had gone to India and I couldn’t find a decent one in this country.

I had nothing much else to do but write. No excuses. I continued working on that novel, started another one, and returned to writing short stories, as I done in high school and college. Then I decided to submit some of those. Rosalie Stafford, who edited “Web Mystery Magazine” (which is, alas, no more) emailed me to tell me she wanted to print my story, “Flash Mob”, and I screamed my head off until I was hoarse. I ran around the house like a spooked cat. It was ridiculous! For days afterward, every time I remembered I was going to be published, I let out another scream. We didn’t have any neighbors living close by, so why not?

There have been other milestones: getting more stories accepted, getting paid for some of them, being on a panel at a conference, then on more panels at more conferences, winning contests with my writing, being asked to speak at my local Sisters in Crime meeting.

Then came my 15-minutes-of-fame weekend. I was nominated for an Agatha award for a short story published in 2009 and got to walk around at Malice Domestic in 2010 with the most beautiful green ribbon appended to my badge: Agatha Nominee, in gold letters. Everywhere I went people congratulated me, some even said they had read and liked my story! I felt like a celebrity. There isn’t a picture of me from that conference without a big goofy grin on my face. (Except one in Crimespree Magazine where I had my mouth wide open, explaining something during the short story panel.)

But the latest and greatest, the culmination of the nine years I’ve spent full time on this, since “retiring” from programming, is the publication of my novel, CHOKE: An Imogene Duckworthy Mystery. This is the seventh one I’ve written (if you count two that you really shouldn’t count). I’m working on SMOKE, which is the sequel to CHOKE.

Mainly Murder Press is my publisher. My official release date was May 1, 2011. I really feel I can die happy now. I’ve signed my book for people who bought it at Malice Domestic!

Kaye George, an Agatha nominated short story writer, is the author of CHOKE, published by Mainly Murder Press, as well as A PATCHWORK OF STORIES, a collection of her previously published stories. FISH TALES: THE GUPPY ANTHOLOGY contains her story, “The Truck Contest”. She reviews for “Suspense Magazine”, and writes for several newsletters and blogs. She, her husband, and a cat named Agamemnon live together in Texas, near Austin. Visit her homepage at, or her blogs and

May 5, 2011

Made It Moment: Kate Thornton

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:50 am


I love it when a Moment-er also happens to be an author whose work I know. I recently reviewed Kate Thornton’s short story “It Doesn’t Take a Genius” on Amazon and can honestly call it an absolute kick. I love a good vigilante story, and Kate nailed this one. Her INHUMAN CONDITION is high on my TBR pile, so if you love short story collections, please check it out. And now–without further ado and all that–let’s hear what Kate has to say about success in this biz.

Kate Thornton

There have been several moments when I really felt like a writer–Made It Moments that have defined and shaped the direction of my writing.

The first time was way back in the mid-to-late nineteen nineties when I was just starting to write short stories. You see, I knew someone who really could do with killing. This person had done something quite terrible and I knew I wouldn’t really feel quite the same about the world until I had set the balance of things right.

But I had a very good job, which I loved, and a security clearance to go with it. I knew that murdering someone would take away everything for which I had worked so hard.

What to do?

I sat down and wrote out a satisfying scenario in which I let the s.o.b. have it with a variety of weapons. Then I started to take my little scenario a bit more seriously.

Finally, I wrote it up as a vignette, eventually fashioning my first real short story.

It did not feature paperweights or even that awful person – but when I saw it published in David Firks’ legendary Blue Murder Mystery Magazine, I felt like a writer.

I felt like a real writer when I received a check for the story, my first payment for writing anything. Okay, that was a Made It Moment if there ever was one.

The story, Just Like in the Movies, is a favorite in my new collection, and holding a print copy of INHUMAN CONDITION in my hands must be the best Made It Moment yet. But I like to think life holds a lot of wonderful Made It Moments and that we Make It in many ways.

I can’t help but look forward to the next one.

Kate Thornton spent 22 years in the US Army before deciding on a more dangerous career in short stories. With over 100 in print, she continues to write mystery and science fiction and is currently working on a cozy novel featuring dead bodies and a cute doggie.

May 4, 2011

Made It Moment: Lonnie Cruse

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:42 am

Fifty Seven Traveling

I’m so glad to welcome Lonnie Cruse (who happens to have *the* most perfect name for at least one of the mystery series she writes) to the blog. Lonnie is a genuinely lovely person, for one thing. For another, her Moment encapsulates a dimension of hope, and a reason for writing–something I myself often forget. Read on to see how we all “make it” simply by setting down words on paper.

Lonnie Cruse

First, I want to thank Jenny for letting me share my “Made It Moment.” There are few of these moments in nearly everyone’s life, which makes them so special. Wedding day. Birth of child day. Birth of a grandchild day. Getting your book into print day.

Like most mystery readers/lovers, for years, probably even decades, I dreamed about writing a mystery AND getting it into print so others could read it. So, why didn’t I try sooner? Somehow I thought “real” authors had formal training, college, journalism job, etc, and the novel police would hunt me down and arrest me just for typing that first chapter.

Then I read a couple of mystery novels written by very well-known authors that had HUGE plot holes in them, and the author and/or editors didn’t catch them. In the first, a character hands over to the sheriff a very important note/clue, and a chapter or so later, she still has it in her purse. In the other book, someone knocks on a door and the main character answers, invites the visitor in, and then ignores her for the entire chapter. I thought it was rude until a couple of chapters later when the lead character begins to chat with the visitor. Solution: the scene had been moved up a couple of chapters but not the “door knock.” And no one noticed. Hey, I could do that poorly if I wrote a book! Maybe I could even do better? Why not give it a shot? I gave it a shot.

It took me one long year to write/re-write the manuscript, and four more long years of working with a good critique group, entering writing contests (entered seven, placed in the top ten in four of them, which let me know I was on the right track) and multiple submissions to publishers with multiple resulting rejections. I cried over the first rejection and one of my lovely daughters-in-law sent me flowers. I cried over the second and she told me to get over it, no more flowers would be forthcoming. She was right. I got over it. At long last, a small but upcoming publisher gave me a three book contract. I started the book when I was fifty-five years old, and I held the first hardback copy in my trembling hands one month shy of my sixtieth birthday. Ahhhh. Right on par with marrying my sweetheart and giving birth to my sons/holding my infant grandsons. My first “Made It Moment” as a writer.

My next “Made It Moment” came when I read a positive review of my first mystery novel, written by someone who didn’t know me but loved my writing anyhow. The reader didn’t even know me but loved my work? It doesn’t get much better than that!

And my third “Made It Moment” came when one of my grandsons mentioned to me how he’d told all of his elementary school buddies about his grandmother, the “famous author.” Sigh. Does it get any better than that? His older brother isn’t much of a reader, but he’s read Grandma’s books. I do have to sit on him to keep him from revealing the endings to anyone/everyone else at my signings. Sigh.

We all want to leave something of ourselves behind, a “footprint” if you will. Beyond leaving descendants, which, I suppose is the ultimate footprint, leaving our words in print, for others to read and hopefully enjoy, is a dream come true. Whenever I speak to a group about writing, I strongly encourage the participants to give writing a try. I particularly encourage attendees in the area of journaling family history. Once older family members are gone, the family stories go with them, unless someone writes them down. My father-in-law was full of family stories, and now that he’s no longer with us my eldest son enjoys reading the journal of stories I jotted down. I’m hoping my grandsons will enjoy the journals I keep for them of the adventures we’ve taken whenever they’ve come to visit (just as long as their mother never sees them!)

You don’t have to be a trained writer to write. You just have to have a story to tell. We all have stories inside us. Don’t let them be lost in time.

Lonnie Cruse is the author of the Metropolis Mystery Series(featuring Sheriff Joe Dalton and his deputies) and the Kitty Bloodworth/’57 Chevy Mystery Series (featuring Kitty and Jack Bloodworth and their trophy winning ’57 Chevy.) Lonnie resides in Metropolis, Illinois, home of the famous Superman statue. Check out her website at:

May 2, 2011

Made It Moment: Joanna Campbell Slan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:47 am

Photo, Snap, Shot

Oh boy, could I relate to Joanna Campbell Slan’s comment about the bar getting moved. This is a key obstacle in the concept of making it, and well worth a Moment on its own. But if you read on, you’ll see that even a book tour, a parade, and OPRAH may not convince an author that she’s made it…

Joanna Campbell Slan

Have I made it?
That’s a question I often ask myself. The truth is I keep moving the bar. My husband reminds me that when we met I told him that I would be a success if I managed to EVER get a book published. That was fourteen years and fifteen books ago, and I still wonder: What does it take to be a success in this business? Will I know it when I am?

This summer I launched the “Kiki Lowenstein World Tour,” a book tour that took me from my home in Washington, D.C., to stops in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. My Aunt Shirley came along as my traveling companion and navigator. We did pretty well until a detour outside of Indianapolis confused us.

So we were running late to the Oprah Book Club in Monroe City, Indiana, just down the road from my old hometown Vincennes. As we pulled into the community center, Aunt Shirley said, “Look at all those cars!”

“They must be having another event here tonight,” I said.

They weren’t.

Everyone was there to see me.

Most of the audience had read Paper, Scissors, Death, the first book in my series-and they were eager to read my newest one, Photo, Snap, Shot. I spent hours signing books and chatting with the crowd. Then a member of the Vincennes City Council and asked if I’d consider being the Grand Marshal at the Vincennes Christmas Parade this year.


Imagine! Being part of a parade! In my own hometown! On the very sidewalks where I once stood as a kid!

Have I made it?

Oh, I still have career aspirations and goals that I have not achieved. I am a very ambitious person. I love writing. I love every aspect
of creating a book, from conception to editing and right through promotion.

But have I made it?

Maybe. Maybe not. I prefer to believe that the best is yet to come.
Meanwhile, I’m practicing my wave so that when I sit on top of that holiday
float, I’ll look like I belong there.

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series. The first book in the series–Paper, Scissors, Death–was nominated for an Agatha Award. The third book in the series, Photo, Snap, Shot, has just been released. Visit her at or read her posts every Monday at

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