Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekend Reading

I just bought THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stiegg Larson and cant wait to dive in. If you haven't read the first novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO, pick it up immediately.

If you're heading on vacation, pick up a copy of BOCA KNIGHTS by Steven M. Forman. It's about a retired cop who moves down to Boca Raton. Forman does a great job describing the over the top characters and all the silly politics that go on in the city of retirement communities. If you happen to be Jewish, you'll enjoy the book even more as parts of it are reminiscent of PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT.

Finally, Laura Caldwell's last installment of the Izzy McNeil trilogy, RED WHITE AND DEAD, releases this weekend. Be sure to complete your collection!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writer's Block: Author Marketability

I've spent much time discussing ways for authors to market their books, but what about authors marketing themselves? In a perfect world, only the writing would matter and readers wouldn't care how attractive or charming the author was. But, we're not in a perfect world. Your marketability matters.

Marketability Factor: Conversation Skills
If you can't talk about your book, people aren't going to want to buy it. Talking and relating to people is half the process of selling a book. Most of the books I purchase are written by authors that I've met and spoken with. If I didn't enjoy their conversation, I assume I won't enjoy their book. If you have a tendency to be awkward in social situations, practice with someone you feel comfortable talking to.

Marketability Factor: Platform
We can't all be lawyers or bomb experts or former CIA operatives. Most of us are everyday people who happen to write books. But having a platform doubles your marketability as an author. Go through your book, go through your life, what makes it special? Do you have any hobbies that relate to the book? Is there something in your heritage or culture that would appeal to readers? As a publicist, I do this for authors on a regular basis. There's always something.

Marketability Factor: Contacts
The more people you know, the more people you know who will buy the book. Knowing the right people can lead to media exposure, awards, and topping bestseller lists. If you've been attending writing conferences or stockpiling Facebook friends and twitter followers, you probably have more contacts than you think. Remember, when you go out on tour, most of the audience will be people YOU bring. You can't count on the bookstore to draw a crowd. But if you pull from your contacts and have a great turnout, the bookstore is sure to have you back.

Marketability Factor: Charm
It makes sense that the more charming you are, the more books you'll sell. Authors like Barry Eisler, Marcus Sakey, or Laura Caldwell could probably sell me an essay from 3rd grade for twenty-five bucks. This sort of ties in to conversational skills, but charm is something more. It's about knowing how to relate to people. Not all of us are born with this gift. It may take practice. Attend the panels at writer's conferences and observe the authors that get a lot of attention. They're funny, are able to speak to an audience and relate to other people. Keep this in mind when your talking to a potential reader, agent, or reviewer.

Marketability Factor: Drive
Agents and editors love a writer with drive. They know their client will produce good work in a timely manner and do everything they can to get their career off the ground. Readers will respond to dedicated authors, especially those who work hard to reward their fans with contests and signings. No one likes a lazy bum. Charm and charisma can be difficult to attain. Working hard only requires putting in the effort.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Retiring Top Ten Tuesdays

As you may have guessed, blogging four days a week has proved to be too much. Therefore, I have decided to retire Top Ten Tuesdays until further notice.

Stop by tomorrow for a brand new Writer's Block Wednesday!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Must-See Monday

Stop by Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark) on Wednesday, July 29 for the Bookslut Reading Series. The literary blog hosts an evening of non-fiction writers Adam Frank, Luke Bergmann, and Rachel Shteir. I haven't heard any of the readers before, but if nothing else, Hopleaf has a great selection of beer!

The 2nd Story reading series returns, this time to Red Kiva (1108 W. Randolph) also on Wednesday, July 29th at 7:30pm. Writers/preformers Rosie Forrest, Larry Kerns, and Julie Ganey read original work set to live music.

The fifth annual Printer's Ball kicks off Friday, July 31 at 5pm. Head down to 1104 S. Wabash and check out the showcase from the Columbia College Book and Paper Department, load up on free books and magazines from various small presses, and participate in paper making and book binding demonstrations.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Weekend Reading

Everyone is talking about Jeff Abbot's TRUST ME and with good reason. I haven't had the chance to pick up his latest yet, but man, that guy can write! I remember reading PANIC in one sitting, my heart racing the entire time. I can't wait to see what he has in store next, but I'm going to have to clear my schedule.

If you enjoy short stories, pick up a copy of UNCAGE ME, the latest anthology edited by Jennifer Jordan. With an introduction by John Connolly and stories by Christa Faust, Victor Gischler, Declan Burke, Gregg Hurwitz and others, UNCAGE ME is full of talented storytelling.

In the mood for something literary? I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE author Stephanie Kuehnert's second novel, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, releases today. She writes wonderful characters, often the weird kids at school who are haunted by their family lives. She's not afraid to write the hard scenes, which leads to brutally honest writing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Places to Write in Chicago
  1. Book Cellar in Lincoln Square - they serve wine and you're surrounded by books
  2. Cafe Ennui in Rogers Park - funky cafe with outdoor cafe serves up inspiration with their beverages
  3. Coffee Studio in Andersonville - free Wi-Fi and is popular with many Chicago writers
  4. Harold Washington Library in the Loop - especially convenient if you need to research as you write
  5. Metropolis in Edgewater - free Wi-Fi and they serve food if you're going to be there a while
  6. Millennium Park in the Loop - plenty of benches and grassy knolls to sit away from the tourists
  7. Promontory Point in Hyde Park - peaceful scenery along the lake is perfect to channel your muse
  8. Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park - friendly staff and quiet atmosphere when there isn't a Cubs game
  9. Sheffield's in Lakeview - beautiful outdoor beer garden and a great selection of food/beverages, also quiet when there isn't a Cubs game
  10. Starbucks at North and Wells - open 24 hours for all you night owls

Monday, July 20, 2009

Must-See Monday

Uncover the lies your parents told you by heading down to Barbara's Bookstore (1218 S. Halsted) on Tuesday, July 21st at 7:30pm when Dr. Aaron Carroll and Dr. Rachel Vreeman discuss their new book DON'T SWALLOW YOU'RE GUM: Myths, Truths and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health. Haven't read the book, but it sounds like a fun read.

Columbia College professors Ann Hemenway and Eric May read original work at The Poison Pen (1128 W. Armitage) on Wednesday, July 23 at 7:00pm. Both are talented readers and excellent oral storytellers.

Book shelves looking bare? Head over to the Newberry Library Book Fair (60 W. Walton) Thursday, July 24 and Friday, July 25 12:00-8pm and Saturday, July 26 10am-6pm.

Chicago author Stephanie Kuehnert reads from her new novel BALLADS OF SUBURBIA at Women and Children First (5233 N. Clark) on Thursday, July 24 at 7:30pm. She's a fellow Columbia College grad and the author of the critically acclaimed I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Weekend Reading - Hard Case Crime

It looks like it's going to be a busy weekend, so I need some good, quick reads to squeeze in between happenings. Hard Case Crime is perfect. They publish pulp novels, some new some old, but all of them are gritty crime fiction you can stick in your back pocket. Here are the ones I'm picking up this weekend:

HOUSE DICK by E. Howard Hunt. Hunt used to be a spy in the CIA and was the inspiration for the Ethan Hunt character played by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. He writes this detective novel with insider knowledge of what goes on in Washington DC.

PASSPORT TO PERIL by Robert B. Parker. This is a cold war novel originally published in 1951 by "the Original" Robert B. Parker. No, it's not the same Parker who penned the Spenser series; this Parker is a little known pulp novelist who spent three years crossing borders without a passport and evading arrest by the Gestapo. He's another author who has the background to give this fictional story authority.

CASINO MOON by Peter Blauner. This too is a reprint, but it's a reprint of a novel which was published only 15 years ago. It's also twice as long as the typical Hard Case Crime novel. But the premise is intriguing: son of an Atlantic City Monster tries to escape the life of crime by creating a comeback for a washed-up boxer (and of course sleeping with the round card girl).

More books can be found on the Hard Case Crime website. I'm also a fan of THE CUTIE, KILLING CASTRO, and MONEY SHOT.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bonus Must-See

Indie rock band, 20 Mark Helga, will be playing at the Elbo Room (2871 N. Lincoln) tomorrow night. Show starts at 8:00pm, they go on at 9:00pm. Tickets are available online and at the door. Here are the links:

Their shows are always a lot of fun and the Elbo Room is a great venue. I'll be there, so stop by and say hello!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Writer's Block: Revision

Writing is rewriting. We've been told this hundreds of times. The first drafts is just the beginning. There will be a second, a third, possibly a fourth. Plot points will change, scenes will be deleted, characters will be killed off. For me, this is the part of writing I dread. But I've gone through this process enough to learn a few things.

Get some distance. You cannot finish draft one and immediately go back to the beginning and begin draft two. You're too close. Put the book in a drawer for a few weeks, even a month. If you remember your work too clearly, you won't see what needs to be changed.

Cut, cut, cut. It's been said so many times, it's probably cliche: kill your darlings. Those beautifully written scenes, the ones that aren't really forwarding the overall plot, get rid of them. If it makes you feel better, put the deleted scenes in a file folder, just in case you need them. But you won't.

Add, add, add. Often times we are so roped up in the writing, that we forget to add texture to a scene. Look at the sections that are mostly dialogue or action and add description, internalization, depth. Even action sequences deserve to be slowed down and described; it often makes them more suspenseful.

Play with Structure. The order of chapters is not set in stone, nor is the timeline of your story. Don't be afraid to switch events, switch chapters, or change the major turning points. Sometimes a first draft is more like a 400-page outline. You're working out the structure of your story, and in the end, it may need to be changed.

Get feedback. During the revision is when you really need your critique group or other first readers. It's very easy to get stuck or to not know if something is working. Talk it out with your trusted readers, give them portions of the revision to read. The feedback won't only help you see needed changes, it will give you motivation to keep going.

Feel free to leave your own revision tips. We've all been there and if you're like me, it can be a stressful/frustrating part of the writing process. But in the end, you'll have a better book, which makes all this craziness worth it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Book Marketing Tools That Don't Require Leaving the House:
  1. Blogging
  2. Calling in to book clubs
  3. Electronic newsletters
  4. Mailing books to independent bookstores and libraries (if UPS comes to pick them up!)
  5. Posting short stories to sell on Amazon
  6. Radio interviews
  7. Sending postcards and giveaways to fans
  8. Social Networking (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
  9. Soliciting book reviews from newspapers, magazines and websites
  10. Submitting listings to local papers and websites advertising your book signings

Monday, July 13, 2009

Must-See Monday

Head over to the Hungry Brain (2319 W. Belmont) on Monday, July 13th at 8:00pm for a reading hosted by local literary magazine The2ndHand.

Voice your opinions at the Women and Children First community forum on Tuesday, July 14th at 7:30. Stop by the bookstore (5233 N. Clark) and let the booksellers know what you hope to see in the store's future.

Laura Caldwell signs copies of RED HOT LIES and RED BLOODED MURDER at the Webster Place Barnes and Noble (1441 W. Webster) on Wednesday, July 15th at 7:30pm. Joining her will be debut novelist and fellow Chicagoan, Henry Perez.

Or, check out The Book Cellar's Local Author Night (4736 N. Lincoln) at 7:00pm on the 15th. This month's featured readers are Robert Rodi and Bryan Gruley. Seems like an unlikely pairing aside from both being talented writers, but it should be a fun night.

Head back to WCF (5233 N. Clark) on Saturday, July 18th at 7:30pm for the Sappho's Salon Anniversary Show. Readings by poetry duo Aquamoon and local author Kathie Bergquist.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Weekend Reading

Lots of new releases this week which means you'll have plenty to read over the weekend!

Check out Theresa Schwegel's LAST KNOWN ADDRESS. She's a Chicago author and writes wonderful, hard boiled police procedurals.

Also out this week is SHADOW OF BETRAYAL by Brett Battles. Brett is another talented writer and this is the third book in the Jonathan Quinn Series. Want to catch up? Check out THE CLEANER and THE DECEIVED.

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I can't wait to pick up the first of Karen E. Olson's new series THE MISSING INK. Protagonist Brett Kavanaugh is the owner of an elite tattoo shop in Vegas. With all the story possibilities, I anticipate a long, entertaining series.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Top Ten Thursday

Top Ten Items Writers Can't Live Without
  1. Books - both for research and for inspiration
  2. Booze - how else do you reward yourself after hitting your daily word count?
  3. Coffee - caffeine and creativity are obviously related
  4. Computer - not just for writing but for distracting ourselves with YouTube and Facebook
  5. Hobbies - we all need something to get us away from the computer. H0bbies can also be the source of inspiration
  6. Libraries - for the books and the resources, but also for the readers there
  7. Munchies - can't write on an empty stomach!
  8. Notebooks - especially the ones that fit right in your pocket
  9. Reassurance - in an industry full of rejection, we often need pep talks
  10. Workshops or Writing Groups - for the camaraderie and the feedback

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Writer's Block: Conferences

I'm off to Thriller Fest this weekend while some of my colleagues are hanging back for ALA, and even though I spoke on this topic a few years ago, I thought I'd touch on the subject again.

Conferences are the perfect place to attend informative panels, meet other authors, and network with industry professionals. Some of my most important contacts I made at writer's conferences. While they can be extremely fun and beneficial, it's important to be productive and use discretion. Otherwise, you could end up spending thousands of dollars on registrations, hotels, and flights all over the country.

Consider the following before registering for a writer's conference:

Why? Why do you want to attend? How will you benefit? Bouchercon is a fan-based conference, so it is perfect for novelists promoting a book. Thriller Fest is more industry centered. Authors meet their publishing team and newbie writer's pitch at AgentFest. It's less about book promotion. Something like ALA is the perfect conference for authors because it gives them an opportunity to promote their books to librarians (very important book buyers). Make sure you're attending the right conference for the right reasons.

Cost. If the conference is local, you'll save on travel, hotel and dining expenses. If it's out of town, consider how much money you'll be spending. Is it worth it? You cannot put a price on networking and making connections, but you can choose wisely. If there are two similar conferences with similar attendees, pick the one that you can drive too or the one where you can stay with family rather than splurging for a hotel.

Once you've registered for the conferences, you'll need:

A Plan. Before you attend a conference, you should have a plan of what you want to accomplish. This may be to introduce yourself to a certain agent that you queried recently or to give away three copies of your book to possible fans. It's easy to get swept up in the camaraderie (and by that I mean drinking), and that's okay. Just keep your eye on the ball and know what you are there to accomplish.

Business Cards. People want to know who you are and how to get in contact with you.

An Open Mind. You will meet tons of people at conferences, and you may be surprised by which contacts actually make a difference. You may be dying to talk to the headlining, NYT bestselling author, but don't shrug off a fellow newbie who offers to buy you a drink. Connelly, Coben, and Lehane were all newbie's once. Bet you wish you had a blurb from them...

Networking and mingling are necessary to succeeding in publishing, whether you're meeting fellow writers, promoting your latest novel, or pitching agents. Publishing is a small community and the more people you know, the better. So if you're in New York, stop by ThrillerFest and meet some industry professionals. Or if you're in Chicago, come down to ALA and hang with authors and librarians.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Old Friends Start New Publishing House

Friends Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen are leaving their positions at BleakHouse Books to start their own press, Tyrus Books. They are both extremely talented, not to mention awesome, and I can't wait to see where this adventure takes them.

Learn more about Ben, Alison and Tyrus books here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Must-See Monday + an NYC bonus

The Chicago Contingent was still recovering from the holiday weekend and was a little late posting the must sees. But not to worry, there is still plenty to check out this week (and tune in Thursday for this week's top ten list)

Thursday, July 9th at 7:00pm, head out to Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park where Rosemary Harris signs copies of her latest novel THE BIG DIRT NAP.

Friday, July 10th at 8:00pm come celebrate the launch of Theresa Schwegel's new book LAST KNOWN ADDRESS. The California Clipper (1002 N. California) hosts.

Stop by the Lincoln Park Zoo (2200 N. Cannon) on Saturday, June 11th between noon and 5:00pm to visit the Digital Bookmobile. Sponsored by the Chicago Public Library, the bookmobile will help guests download audiobooks, music, and more from the library's website.

And for those of you attending Thriller Fest this weekend:

Drop by the HarperCollins book signing at the Mysterious Bookshop (58 Warren St.) on Friday, July 10th 5:30-7:30pm. Authors include James Rollins, Steve Martini, Jamie Freveletti, Sean Chercover, and Hallie Ephron.

And be sure to stop by the bar at the Grand Hyatt New York where agents, authors, and industry professionals will be mixing and mingling. I'll be there, beer in hand, so if you're in NY, swing by and say hello!

Friday, July 03, 2009

July 4th Weekend Reading

I'm going patriotic for this weekend's recommendations. Check out the following books if you're in the mood for a good read:

RED BLOODED MURDER by Laura Caldwell just released this week and is the second installment in the Izzy McNeil trilogy. If you missed the first one, be sure to pick up RED HOT LIES as well.

WHITE TIGER by Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize last year and was selected for the Indie Bound spring/summer reading group. Though it's not crime fiction, Adiga's writing is beautiful and captivating.

BLUE HEAVEN by C.J. Box is his first standalone thriller. Box is a talented writer who knows how to craft a story. Also check out his Joe Picket series and his most recent novel, BELOW ZERO.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Writer's Block: Writing Don'ts

I've written a lot about things to do when writing, but I haven't spent much time discussing writing taboos. As a reader/reviewer there are many things authors do to make me cringe (not in a good way) or worse, put the book down all together. You don't want any reader to put your book down, so here are a few things to avoid:

Coincidences. In life, there are plenty of coincidences. You run into an old high school buddy on the street, you decide to drive to work instead of taking the train and your car breaks down, etc. Coincidences don't have a place in novels. Your protagonist cannot happen to find a gun in a dumpster. Your villain's car cannot break down just as the police are on his tail. One or two coincidences in a novel are okay, but you have to earn them. Make it hard for your characters, don't take the easy way out.

Head-Hopping. This is when the point of view shifts from one character to another in the middle of a scene. It's jarring and it pulls readers out of the story. I understand that it's tempting to tell the story from all perspectives, but if you need to shift point of views, insert a section break before you do. But even that sort of feels like a cheat. I'm more impressed with a writer who can sustain a scene and convey another characters emotions or reactions without going into their head.

Stretching Realms of Believability. Yes, fiction is made up, but you want to avoid disbelief. If you create the world of your story with enough authority, readers will follow you anywhere. Too many far fetched twists or plot lines, will increase readers disbelief and possibly turn them off to the story.

Losing Your Characters. This is particularly true for thrillers where the action drives the plot. It's easy to lose sight of your characters, for them to turn into talking heads or for them to fall off the page all together. But even in thrillers, it is the characters that breathe life into the story, and if you forget about them, your story will fall flat.

Being Predictable. When you're trying to figure out where to take your characters next, the first answer is usually the most predictable one. Be creative, avoid cliche, find a solution that readers won't expect. The best part of reading is being taken on a ride, not knowing what twists and turns will come up next. Predicting the end eliminates the joy of the journey.

Feel free to comment your own pet peeves or writing taboos. I'm sure there are things I left out!