November 30, 2010

Where Will You Be On Saturday?

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:22 pm

If you go to the website, you can check out all the progress there’s been on Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

New stores (and states) added every morning this week.

We’re in Saskatchewan now. Mississippi, too. Both coasts. And a lot of places in between.

This is all thanks to booksellers, bloggers, and book lovers. During this long, slow slog of a submission it has buoyed me immensely to see how many people care about books–and are excited by them.

So, where will you spend Saturday December 4th?

I’ll be at Watchung booksellers with my kids, my dear friend, and her kids. There will be puppet making, a book signing, treats–and maybe an impromptu discussion with the children about what they love about stories and stores.

Bookstores, that is.

Thanks for celebrating with us!

November 26, 2010

Guest Post: Karen McQuestion

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 6:02 pm

A Scattered Life

In the midst of all the wonderful hullabaloo (what is a hullabaloo anyway?) with Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day comes a very different sort of post. A post from an author who entered this world from the other side of the fence. Suspense Your Disbelief is an equal opportunity employer when it comes to all things writing and books. And so even though I adore bookstores as I will adore that deep, hot soaking tub if I ever get one, I am fascinated and impressed by author Karen McQuestion, who, with a little help from Amazon, made it in an otherwise almost entirely self-propelled way. Karen contributed her Made It Moment last year. And now she returns with an update that will blow you away.

By the way, I don’t usually do this because I want this blog to be for every reader, every writer–as many readers and writers as possible–and not a reflection of my particular tastes. But I have to say–I ordered a copy of Karen’s first print novel as soon as it came out, and I heartily recommend it. A one sit read.

And now, Karen…
Karen McQuestion

Last June when I shared my “Made It Moment,” I thought life couldn’t get any better. During the prior year, I’d self-published six books on Amazon’s Kindle and sold a slew of ebooks, resulting in a film option and publishing contract for my novel, A Scattered Life. It was a wild ride. Even though I planned for it, waited for it, spent years writing and revising and submitting, getting a publishing deal still took me by surprise (not that I’m complaining).

Since that time, I’ve contracted with my publisher, AmazonEncore, for four more of my previously self-published books. Three of them are already out in paperback and ebook, and the next two will be released in April, 2011. In the space of two years, I’ll have gone from failed novelist to the published author of five books. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t been open to trying something new. All told, I’ve sold over 75,000 ebooks on my own.

My story has been covered on NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and on ABC’s World News Now and America This Morning. In September of this year, my first book, A Scattered Life, was mentioned on Good Morning America when it made the number five spot on the Kindle bestseller list.

On occasion someone will congratulate me and say I deserve my success. It’s nice of them, yet hearing this makes me very uncomfortable. I did work long and hard, but there are plenty of excellent writers who’ve done the same and are still waiting for their day in the sun. It’s unfair, I know. I’m not entirely sure I deserve my good fortune, but I’ll take it anyway.

The best part of this whole thing is the knowledge that people are reading and enjoying my books. The second best thing? Generating an income so that I can consider writing my job. To be able to do what I love, connect with readers, and get paid for it? I’m in writer heaven.

I hope that my publisher will be interested in the book I’m working on now, but if they opt not to publish it, I love that I have other options. As long as my manuscript meets the approval of my circle of trusted readers, I wouldn’t hesitate to self-publish again. It’s all been good.

Karen McQuestion’s essays have appeared in Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author of six books self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, one of which, A Scattered Life, caught the attention of an L.A. based production company and became the first self-published Kindle book to be optioned for film. It will be published by AmazonEncore, Amazon’s new publishing division, on August 10, 2010. McQuestion lives with her family in Hartland, Wisconsin.

November 18, 2010

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, Part II

Filed under: Kids and Life,The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:27 am

Last night I went to sleep on an email from someone offering to to get her relatives involved in Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

Her relatives live in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Idaho, and Washington.

One of my favorite bloggers, Peg Brantley, is going to write something, and get the word out in Colorado.

A bookstore owner in Tennessee just wrote.

Plans for the Day are growing. People seem to really like the idea.

And why not? Back in 1993 when Take Your Daughter to Work Day became established, there was a real need to show girls what kind of jobs they could hold in the future–who they might become.

Today, most women work, and my daughter would look at me cross-eyed if I suggested that once upon a time, it would have been difficult for her to become a doctor.

Right now it’s once upon a time that’s threatened.

And reading is as much about teaching a child who they might become as any future career is.

Oh, don’t get me wrong–children today are reading. Anecdotal accounts have them reading more than ever; this is certainly what I see with my friends’ kids. But it is undeniably hard to keep a bookstore afloat, and as the Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day website indicates, bookstores–the actual physical places–can be key to developing a lifelong love of reading.

So get on board, go to the website, print out a poster and ask your bookstore if you can hang it. Put one in your child’s school.

Most of all, come on out on December 4th (since my first post we’ve changed the date so that it is always the first Saturday in December; sorry, John, and Liz, but you’re still part of the Day in my heart).

Bring the child in your life along.

Go to a bookstore and tell the staff why you’re there!

Together we can make Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day a yearly event.

November 17, 2010

Guest Post: M.E. Kemp

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:41 am

Writers will go to great lengths for their work. They delve deep into subjects they know nothing about–or find horrifying–in the name of research. They travel to far off places to ensure accuracy of settings. In the post below, M.E. Kemp discusses the literal lengths she went to for her latest novel.

M.E. Kemp


Writing’s a tough game. Extend, parry, lunge, bent knees, deadly
blades of silver — don’t forget to breathe! I’m taking fencing
lessons because I’m writing an historical mystery and one of my
characters is a fencing master. Am I taking accuracy a bit too far?
I’m too old to beat off a sharp object that could turn me into a
shish-kebob. I’m wearing a mask that makes me look like Jason’s
grandmother. The chest protector I’m wearing makes me feel like
Margaret Dumont in the old Marx Brothers movies.

Fencing masters were also dancing masters, and my novel, DEATH OF A
DANCING MASTER, relates to dance more than fencing, although my poor guy is found with a foil through his gut. In point of fact, there was a dancing master in Ye Olde Boston but the magistrates and the
ministers drove him out of Town. That gave me the idea for my story.
I like to base my books on an actual incident in history. I also like
to dance and take dance lessons on a regular basis. But court dance in Colonial days is based upon ballet, and when you’re over fifty — we
won’t say how much — twisting your feet in opposite directions for
fifth position is all but impossible. In ballet you also belly up to
the barre — kick, back; kick, back. Ouch! My thighs protest and my
calves cramp. (I won’t even go into Modern Dance. Martha Graham class leaves me with an ache in the small of my back that lasts for days.)

Still, one is supposed to suffer for one’s art, isn’t one? In
Baroque dance I can mince along with the best of courtiers, so that’s
not so bad. Baroque is what my victim uses to seduce his women pupils – ooops! I didn’t mean to touch your bosom like that…. (My own male instructors never make mistakes like that, more’s the pity. I tend to get ex-Marine Sargeants: “Bourre, jerk! Releve – higher, higher!”)

Well, I know I’ll never make it as a ballerina for the New York City
Ballet – heck, I wouldn’t even make Charwoman for the company — but at least I’ve discovered the joy in movement, and some instructors think that’s even more important than technique. There has yet to be a writer on Dancing With the Stars… Have jazz shoes, will travel!

M. E. Kemp’s first novel, Murder, Mather and Mayhem, (Xlibris) introduced two nosy Puritans as detectives. Publishers Hilliard and Harris picked up her series with Death of a Dutch Uncle (’07) and Death of a Bawdy Belle (March ’08.) The 4th book in her series, Death of a Dancing Master, is just out.

Marilyn Kemp travels around the Northeast with her popular slide-talk based upon her research, “Naughty Puritans and Saintly Sinners.” She has taught nonfiction writing courses for local colleges and libraries.

She lives with husband Jack and two cats, Boris and Natasha, in Saratoga Springs, NY.

November 16, 2010

Here we go again

Filed under: Backstory — jenny @ 9:52 pm

The editor at William Morrow who received my not-quite-orphaned manuscript (because Jennifer Sawyer Fisher hadn’t gotten to acquire it before she left the biz, it hadn’t reached orphan status) didn’t like my writing.

That’s right. Two top editors–one a legend of her time–plus another had liked it enough to want to buy the book. The fourth editor…meh.

Gives you a hint as to how subjective this business is.

My agent’s suggestion was to write another book.

This was only my second submitted novel. (Remember? The first didn’t get so much as flicker of interest. In retrospect–here, from the perspective of umpteen years later–I don’t blame ‘em. That puppy was ROUGH. But the agent who signed me didn’t think so. Again–subjective).

Anyway, on your second sub you still have energy. I was positively gung ho to write a third. I would write the book in the series that would’ve been first if I had known I was writing a series when I wrote the other one.

If you’re not following this, I don’t blame you.

And it doesn’t matter. What matters is that after almost a year spent first writing, then revising a new novel, it went out to the editors who wanted my first, plus the replacement editor at Morrow, and…

Not one flicker of interest.

Don’t you worry, though. I’d learned my lesson by now and was not going to be caught unawares with a whole book left to write.

I had one at the ready, and confidently, all bright-eyed and forward thinking, I sent it off to my loyal, dogged agent.

She read fast–just one of this agent’s many virtues.

I was sitting at my desk at the mental health clinic where I was still working, one day a week, my newish baby left in the care of my dad.

“Well, I read your new book,” my then agent said.

Note the “then”?

“Yes?” I answered, breathlessly.

“Um…I didn’t really like it,” she replied.

November 10, 2010

Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 7:18 pm

If I ever get famous, I am going to establish this Day.

I think it will be on December, um, 8th. It’s my childhood best friend’s birthday. Also, it will honor John Lennon, who was a friend of artists everywhere. Just as bookstores are.

Maybe that’s a reach, but who cares? It’s MY holiday :)

We need to show our children the pleasure, not just of a story, or even of a book, but of a bookSTORE.

A place of half-hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered. Where you pluck things off  shelves that are richer than jewels. Scheherazade’s lair.

Heck, who knows how long it’ll be before the words “Jenny Milchman says to take your kid to a bookstore” hold the slightest modicum of power?

Do it this December 8th anyway. Let your child pick whatever book she or he wants from the shelf. Let him or her feel it. Smell it. Pore over it.

Then read it to your child.

And as the peace sinks into you, as you see the light on your child’s face, reflect a little yourself.

The book? $14 at Amazon. That comfy chair you’re sitting on, the remnant of carpet, as seen at my favorite independent? Free at a garage sale.

The bookstore? Priceless.

November 5, 2010

Guest Post: Debbi Mack

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 5:00 am

Identity Crisis

Welcome back, Debbi Mack, whose Moment appears here. Debbi is currently conducting a 20 Questions blog tour, and as Suspense Your Disbelief readers know, I am interested in novel (pun intended) approaches to marketing. Big thanks to Debbi for including me as Question #5, which concerns e publishing (another fascination of mine).

Debbi Mack

Question 5: Why did you decide to publish your work as ebooks?

First of all, thanks so much Jenny, for hosting me on your blog, Suspense Your Disbelief. I really appreciate the chance to talk about how I became an ebook author. Believe me, it’s not like I totally planned it. It just sort of happened.

It’s funny. There was a time when I would have sworn that ebooks would never really catch on in my lifetime. That was in the early days, before the Kindle made ebooks so much easier to buy and read. That was way back when I myself couldn’t imagine reading anything other than print books.

The decision to publish my work in ebook format was made quite by accident. I happened to notice both Joe Konrath and Lee Goldberg writing about the subject on their blogs.

Mind you, I was preparing at the time to republish IDENTITY CRISIS in print through Lulu. I hadn’t even thought about publishing it as an ebook. I didn’t even know the option of self-publishing ebooks existed. However, I did know that the ebook market was expanding exponentially. It seemed that it would only get bigger.

Joe was good enough to post the information about how to get started on Amazon. I seized upon this information and acted on it. On June 2, 2009, I uploaded my novel (in Word, which converts automatically) and put up the cover. I figured, “Hey, why not? I’ll pick up some spare change here and there. At the same time, selling the novel as an ebook will increase my exposure. Besides, the market for ebooks can only grow, right?” In short, it seemed like a no-brainer. A truly no-lose proposition.

When I first put the book up, I charged $1.59 per download. (It was slightly less than the $1.99 most midlist authors with backlists were charging at the time.) I started out slow, until I posted about my book to the forums. Then, things picked up significantly. I started selling anywhere from 40 to 70 ebooks a month. Which was okay, but I thought I could do better.

In a bid to encourage sales, I dropped the price to $.99 per download. I did this in early December 2009. Suddenly, my sales went through the roof. I was selling hundreds of downloads. In fact, I sold over 1,000 downloads each month (in January and February) after I dropped the price. I was, in fact, selling so many, I made more money selling them at $.99 than I had at $1.59.

At one point, my book reached #3 in the hardboiled mystery category in the Kindle Store. It maxed out there. Sales started to dwindle in March. (I attributed the boom to post-Christmas sales. People had probably gotten Kindles as gifts and bought up all the cheap downloads.)

I decided to raise the price to $1.99. My sales rank dropped, but my sales still exceeded what they were when I was charging $1.59. I found this development very exciting. It told me that I could use low price to promote my book and increase sales in a meaningful way. I could, in fact, use low price (along with the usual marketing and promotion) to develop a readership.

So, as summer approached, I put on my marketing thinking cap. What comes up in May and June? Graduations. Weddings. Anniversaries. People buy gifts for these occasions. Those gifts would no doubt include Kindles. What else? Summer vacations. People would buy Kindles for travel. Instead of lugging all those print books, people would want to download their beach reads onto Kindles.

This seemed like the perfect time, in short, to offer another promotion on my novel. I dropped the Amazon price to $.99 per download again, calling it my “summer special.”

My sales (once again) took off. I was (once again) selling hundreds of downloads per month. In July, I sold 1,234 downloads. In August, I sold 1,668 downloads. By mid-August, my book became the #1 hardboiled mystery on Amazon. The rank wavered a bit until late August, when the novel held fairly steady at #1 in that category.

While some naysayers were claiming I was only doing so well because I was selling my work so cheap, I couldn’t help but think I was doing it for a greater purpose. To enhance my rank and claim some bragging rights. To increase my work’s exposure.

The test came when summer ended. I made good on my promise and raised my price to $2.99 to take advantage of the new 70% royalty rate. I held my breath and waited to see what would happen. Would you believe my sales actually increased for a while? Would you believe I stayed at #1 in that category for about two weeks after I raised the price?

As I write this, my book still ranks in single digits in the hardboiled mystery category in the Kindle Store. I’m currently ranked in the top 15 in the hardboiled mystery category for all of Amazon. And it’s still among the Top 100 mysteries in the Kindle Store. Plus, I’ve sold more than 10,400 downloads of ONE TITLE to date. I think that’s saying something.

If you had asked me, back on June 2, 2009, why I was publishing my work as an ebook, I would have told you that I did it to pick up some spare change. Today, having achieved this level of ebook success (and now a proud owner of my own Kindle), my answer is so different.

I’m publishing my work as ebooks because I’m not a complete idiot.  :-)

* * * * *

Thanks for reading, everyone! Don’t forget to leave a comment with your email address if you’d like to enter the drawing for the 10 autographed copies of IDENTITY CRISIS I’m giving away. (One entry per person, but comment as often as you like.)

The drawing will be held on my blog My Life on the Mid-List after the tour is finished. Check my blog for the entire tour schedule.

And please join me at my next stop tomorrow: Buried Under Books

Debbi Mack has published one novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, a hardboiled mystery featuring female lawyer Sam McRae in a complex case of murder and identity theft. Her short stories have appeared in the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES mystery anthology and an online magazine called The Back Alley. Debbi will have another short story published in the anthology, CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: THEY HAD IT COMIN’, to be published by Wildside Press in March 2010. After nine years of practicing law, Debbi quit in 1996 to become a freelance and fiction writer. Since then, Debbi has also worked as a news wire reporter covering the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, earned a Master of Library Science from the University of Maryland and served as a reference librarian at the Federal Trade Commission. In May 2009, she organized a fundraiser for dystonia, a rare movement disorder. A native of Queens, New York, Debbi and her husband live in Columbia, Maryland with their three cats.

November 4, 2010

Thank you, Jael McHenry

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 9:54 am

I knew that the little independent bookstore in my corner of the world couldn’t be the only one whose children’s room is always filled to over-flowing with kids on the carpet, kids standing on tippy tiptoes to reach for things on the shelves, whose narrow traffic-way often holds customers politely standing three-deep to find a book (the customers in bookstores are always so damn nice, aren’t they?)

Today on Shelf Awareness novelist and blogger Jael McHenry shows she sees the same thing. She’s contradicting Stephen King, but I am so convinced Jael is right that I’m going to allow the master to be disputed here.

Check it out!

November 1, 2010

Shelf Awareness is a gem

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 12:31 pm

Great coverage of the most recent Writing Matters panel from John Mutter, the founder of Shelf Awareness.

If you’re not already signed up for this free e letter about all things books, check it out!

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