Friday, May 27, 2016

Kicking and Screaming into the Social Media Mosh Pit

Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

by Paul D. Marks

Yes. And Oh yes.


I went kicking and screaming onto Facebook a few years ago. Publicist and friend Diana James “gently” suggested that I should go on Facebook.

“I don’t want to see pictures of what people had for breakfast…or worse,” I said.

So, after much cajoling from Diana I took the dreaded step and signed onto FB. At first I didn’t know what to do, how to use it. I was an evil lurker. Of course, since I had few FB friends I didn’t have much to lurk at. So I’d check in every few days or so, still not knowing what to do, but gaining a few friends here, a few friends there.

And eventually I started posting. Don’t remember what those early posts were. But not too long after I started on Facebook I began to find my way. I began to post things that meant something to me or that I related to. Things like pix of my breakfast: cereal can be fun and entertaining pop art. And pix of my scars – want to see them? Just kidding.

Actually, I started posting things about noir and film noir and putting up “Film Noir Alerts” when I knew a noir movie was coming on television. Also stuff about mystery and noir writing, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, et al. And I started posting about Los Angeles and LA history, something I’m very much into on many levels. I began to be known as the LA Guy or the Noir Guy. People I’d never met in person would come up to me at conferences and other events and say, “You’re the Noir Guy”. I had to plead guilty.

And then when White Heat came out I put up some posts about that. And other people shared them. And I think it did help get the book known, get reviews and make sales. But the key is, as everyone says, not to only push your books. People get majorly turned off by that. Be a friend. Be part of the community. Comment and share other people’s posts. Participate.


Twitter’s another ballgame altogether. A ballgame where it’s impossible to see the ball and more impossible to know the rules. Like: Don’t use more than three hashtags. Fine. Uh, now what the hell is a hashtag? And where do I find the hashtags that apply to what I’m posting? Can I make up my own hashtags? Would you like some ketchup with your hashtags?

Twitter, to me, was a mess when I first signed up. Tweets would fly by faster than a speeding bullet. I couldn’t figure out how to use it. How do I make – uh, get – friends? I mean followers. Who/how do I follow someone? How to do I participate in a conversation? And HOW THE HELL do I say anything in 140 characters? And DOUBLE HOW THE HELL do I say anything at all when I’m retweeting and now I have 3 characters left to add my own comment to? It’s enough to make you batty.

And then I heard the bugle. The cavalry was on the way led by Captain Tweetdeck and Colonel Hootsuite. Oh no, more things to worry about. But no, these were good things. And the light shined down.

Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are “social media management systems” – say that five times with a mouth full of cereal. They help you organize Twitter, the tweets, the followers, everything. So I signed up for both and magically Twitter became manageable. And I began to use it.

You can create lists and put different people or groups (like magazines, writers, friends, publishers, etc.) on different lists and then put them in different columns.  These columns allow you to see things more clearly and at a more even and manageable pace. And it makes all the difference in the world (at least to me) in terms of being able to use Twitter (though you can manage other programs on these systems as well).

A small part of my Hootsuite Dashboard.

I find that Tweetdeck is good for some things and Hootsuite for others. So I use both. But it’s too much of a “lesson” to go into here and explain the intricacies of each. Suffice to say, they both make Twitter much more user friendly and once you get the hang of them you’ll be able to use Twitter to much better advantage. But like with FB or any social media, you shouldn’t use it only to promote your books. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do some promotion. Just have fun with it.

In closing – other social media & tying it up:

There’s about 33 million different social media. I’m also on Tumblr, Google+ and Pinterest, and use them to varying degrees. For a while I had been doing a fair amount on Tumbler, but nothing there lately. It’s not that I don’t like it, it just comes down to the time spent and it adds up. Some other social media that I signed up for I really never did much with. There’s just so many to choose from. But you have to pick two or three, maybe a couple more. Because you just can’t focus on all these things. It’s too hard to follow people and too hard to keep up with your own accounts and you’ll never have time to write.

Have FB and Twitter made me a NY Times Bestseller? No. But they have definitely helped get me more readers and connect with people with similar interests, which is more than I could have done by going on a cross country booking signing tour …and it costs a lot less. And I figure now there’s not a state in the country that I couldn’t have lunch with someone if I happened to be passing through – and if I do I’ll be sure to post the photo of the meal. Hell, there’s several countries on different continents that I could have lunch with someone I know from social media.

So yes, in answer to the question today – yes yes yes. Social media is great. I’m a total convert. So, uh, here’s what I had for breakfast.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Buy My Book Buy My Book Buy My Book Buy

By Catriona

Everyone back from rushing out to the bookshop because of that irresistible message?

Then I'll begin.

Q: Do you use social media to market your books and, if so,  how do you know if it's working?

A: No.

I got a Facebook author page five years ago because my editor told me to (and I'm a wimp), then I got a Facebook person page because friends kept asking why they couldn't tag me. I got a Twitter account round about the same time because . . . I can't remember why. Probably someone I needed to be in touch with didn't use Facebook.

And don't get me wrong: I post news, events, trade reviews, new jacket designs and some truly thrilling pictures of my laptop and bundles of printed paper on the author page. Stirring stuff. If someone should stumble across my website and click the Fb button, there are writer-y things to see .

But it's the other page where I feel at home and spend most time. On my personal Fb page I talk about the monster zucchini I'm accidentally growing if I'm not careful, that time I hosed my screens with the windows open, that other time I reverse parked into the no-parking sign, the Chewbacca mask lady, and why I can't spell beureu  beaureu "bureaucracy". No faking.

It's not marketing though, is it? It's just life. I love that even though I'm thousands of miles from my family and I don't see them for ten months at a stretch, I know what my great niece's birthday cake was this year and that my mum's wisteria is blooming. When I talk to my sisters on the phone, they know how I've been and I know how they've been and we can just witter on a load of mince (like we always did) without having to do a massive catch up.

It's exactly the same with friends I first met on Facebook or only know on Facebook - we just hang out, keep up with one another, share all of life's rich strangeness. We soothe sorrows when the world delivers a kicking (as it does), share joy when the gods smile on us (as they can) and let one another rant when only ranting will do.

And, because I'm a writer, a lot of my Facebook friends are other writers or the blessed readers (thank you!) as well as the occasional scientist-in-law. So it's inevitable that we talk about the books we love, the books we're reading, looking forward to, have just bought, are saving for a long flight . . . And almost as inevitably some of the books some of us are reading are books others of us have written. But again, it's not marketing, is it? It's just the love of books. (And the Chewbacca mask lady.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Real vs "real" by Cathy Ace

Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

The "public" me - currently in??
When this blog appears I’ll be heading from Swansea, Wales (where I’ll have enjoyed a few days with Mum and my sister having just attended CrimeFest in Bristol, England) to Toronto, Canada where I’ll be attending the Crime Writers of Canada AGM, the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet and the Bony Blithe Awards. If it weren’t for social media, I’d have been hiding in a deep, dark hole for a couple of weeks without having had the chance to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world of mystery writing, reading and the interconnectivity that has become my “norm”.

I use the digital universe to stay connected, build relationships with fellow authors, with readers and many other different groups of people 24/7/365. It’s a part of my life. In the nicest possible way, I hope it’s not the most important part of my life; I think reality should fill that role, and there’s already a big chunk of my time that’s spent in the imagined worlds I create as a fiction author, so I strive for a balance. 

Do I use social media to market my books? Absolutely. Do I think it’s made a difference?  You’re reading this in the digital universe, so you’d probably be better positioned than I would be to tell me if my presence here impacts the possible success of my work. I hope it does. I hope that taking the time to connect with people around the world brings my work to their attention in such a way that they are engaged and intrigued enough to give it a go. I’ve “met” a huge number of people this way who I know read my books, and (thank you!) write to tell me they have done so and have enjoyed meeting my characters. When I’m sitting at my desk tapping away at my keyboard all alone (save the company of my lovely Gabby and Poppy – the world’s best chocolate Labradors!) knowing there are real people reading my work helps a great deal. 

The "real" me, at work in the garden with my dogs
I’m happy with my own company, and that of my fictional characters. But it’s good to know real people in the real world are enjoying the people and the worlds I create – even when they use digital means to tell me so. Thanks to all those of you who connect with me out there in the ether – you’re all part of my REAL life. 

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in hardback in February, and book #1 THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER was published in trade paperback on March 1st) and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #7 THE CORPSE WITH THE GARNET FACE was published in paperback in April). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Tweet Conundrum

Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it makes a difference? RM
As my first book only came out in March, I have no data to offer, so I will talk about whether social media convinces ME to buy books.

The answer is no. But maybe only because my To-Read list is so long that I don't go looking for more to add to it.
Wait, though. My reading list is long, yet I do keep buying books. So what's the draw? Never (so far at least) is it because a writer on Facebook or Twitter has given me a powerful hook-line, flashed a beautiful cover, and told me I should read their book. Never works!

I'm tempted to try a new author because I've met them, more often in person, such as at a writer's festival, or heard of them through book reviews or word of mouth. Or if I hear a good radio interview, ninety percent of the time that makes me at least want to read the book. If I don't follow through it's only because of limited time and money.
Bottom line is: interviews, reviews, and meeting the writer in person is what sells me.

So what do I get out of social media if not marketing?
I agree with Susan that posting on Twitter is like throwing a pooh-stick into a stream (she called it a riptide actually). Away it goes and vanishes. Facebook is a lot the same. Will anybody buy my book if my posts are wise or witty? Probably not. My gut feeling is that the time I spend on social media really isn't cost effective, if all I'm after is to sell books.

But I've discovered that's not the main reason at all.
In the beginning, last year sometime, I seriously disliked this feeling of being trussed and prodded onto this thing my publisher called my social media platform, or what I considered a gang-plank to hell. For a while it caused me such grief I even considered mutiny. But I stuck with it. I learned to not take it too seriously, and then actually to enjoy it. The turning point was when I was told it's like a ... party. You walk into a room full of people, strike up a conversation here and there, don't worry too much about what you're missing. Have fun, be nice. Get to know people. Then say too-da-loo and duck out. Probably nobody will notice, but that's okay too.

It's an art, and I've got much to learn. How do you use links and hashtags to best advantage, for starters? What are the critical SEO algorithms to ride? What is an algorithm? What is SEO?
To me, social media can be a time waster one day, invaluable the next. I've learned a lot. I've discovered many interesting articles and am following some great newsletters. It can be an excellent resource pool. I cheer for friends' books launched and goal posts reached. Cockatiel videos can be very funny, and there's no end to household tips (use bulldog clips to manage your USB cables!) or inspirational writerly quotes. I've made connections, and maintained them, and I'm sure that going forward I'll learn how to use the media more effectively.

These days I've fallen off my platform a little, due to the need to get back to the real world of making cold hard cash, not fairy stickers.
Also I've learned that been introverted applies to online parties as well, and I need some time out.

That's about all I can say about it right now. But I've remembered there is actually one book I bought entirely due to Twitter promotion, and that is a guide on how to use Pinterest, because I haven't got a clue. Still haven't, but I haven't got around to reading it yet either. It's at the bottom of my list!


Monday, May 23, 2016

Please Friend Me

Q: Do you use social media to market your books, and if so, do you think it’s made a difference?

- from Susan

This is a hard question and (spoiler alert) one I can’t really answer. But let me break it down and take it in parts:

Do I use social media?

Yes, I cop to that. More than I should. Facebook is addictive and I have an addictive personality. I have soooo many friends on FB and would have so many more if I accepted the friend requests from the hundred or so manly looking guys dressed in army fatigues who apparently are tabula rasa when it comes to any details in their lives except having dogs or young children they can be photographed with.

Do I use it to market my books?

Yes, in that I mention new books, very occasionally share a particularly good professional review, and invite  - no, beg – people to come to book readings. Using Twitter is like getting swept away in a riptide. You just dive in somewhere and then kick your way to safety as soon as you can. For me, five minutes a day is it, but I do try to let it be known I am an author and do have allegedly witty novels on the market about art and crime. Pinterest? Yes, Hilary Davidson gave a room full of authors a challenge a few years ago: A Pinterest page for every book. So, I do it. It’s fun and a complete distraction from writing. No one has ever said, “I loved your photos of Santa Fe so much I had to run out and find a coy of Murder in the abstract.” No one. Instagram is beyond me so far. Blogs (here and occasionally on my own site and often as a guest on other writers’) all the time. Some delightful back and forth. No rush on Book Passage’s stock.

Do I think it makes a different in marketing efforts?

I observe that a good number of people (to whom I am forever grateful) show up at most book events if I’ve put out the word on social media. When people show up, they mostly buy a book. But does the social media I initiate and control influence anyone to search out and buy the book on their own? I have no idea, none at all. No bookstore tells me here’s been a flurry of interest about any of my books after a brilliant Tweet or a few new of photos on a Pinterest board. I don’t get nominated for awards because everyone knows my name and the title of my newest book by the time the ballots come out. And, in truth, I think the honest answer is no one knows where in all the non-writing activity authors have to do is the magic key to success.

I look at some of the most successful crime writers in my circle and what I see is they work hard at everything – from research to writing, to cleanly edited published books, to book tours, to Facebook posts, and contests, and charming book events – everything.

So my answer to the unanswerable question is: Who knows, but who’s ready to go silent and see what happens?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Take A Stand! (Or Not!)

By Art Taylor

I'm not sure how I can add much to what my fellow panelists have offered this week in terms of the benefits and challenges of writing a standalone versus writing a series mystery. Alan's take yesterday struck a nice balance between efficiency and comprehensiveness on that question—advantages and disadvantages on each side.

Several of my fellow short story writers have used recurrent characters in their works, if not continuous plotlines from story to story, but in my own work, I've largely started fresh each time—each story a new beginning, new characters, new situations, a new world. In fact, I'd never even considered revisiting any of my characters until Del and Louise—the title characters in my book On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories.  Their first appearance in "Rearview Mirror" was also intended to be their last: a full narrative arc, a complete and completed tale. And it wasn't until several years later that I wondered what might have happened next and started on the story that eventually became "Commission." From there, the series grew—more adventures, more stories, and then a book of them, ultimately designed (with a little retrofitting on the first two) as the novel in stories. Here again, however, that book was ultimately planned not as the first in a series but as a standalone itself: a series of stories, yes, but then a novel with its own full narrative arc—the overarching tale both complete and completed.

Never say never, though—right? As anyone who's read the book can recognize, I've left the ending open for these characters to maybe pop up again with more adventures down that longer road.


My last post here at Criminal Minds came just after Malice Domestic, where I was fortunate to win the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for On the Road with D&L, and I've been very fortunate since then too, with the announcements for this year's Anthony Award finalists. On the Road is in contention for Best First Novel there as well, and Murder Under the Oaks, a collection I edited for last year's Bouchercon, was named a finalist for Best Anthology or Collection—and congratulations as well to my Criminal Minds compadre Catriona McPherson, a finalist for Best Novel for The Child Garden. Hooray!

I'm feeling spoiled on all counts, and I'm looking forward not only to Bouchercon in New Orleans but also to maybe hosting some of my fellow finalists here before long. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Can’t Pin Me Down

by Alan

DSC_0075Do you prefer to write a series or a stand-alone and why?

From a writer’s perspective, both have their advantages and disadvantages.

When writing a series, you can “reuse” the entire world that you’ve created: characters, setting, themes. There’s no need to keep reinventing the wheel. There’s no need to bang your head against cinder block walls trying to describe yet another quirky, but lovable character (or maybe that’s just me?). This appeals to my desire to be efficient.

In a series, you can map out multi-book arcs, both in character development and in plot. If you want to take a character on a long, spiraling soul-sucking journey into the depths of despair, you can do it over the course of several books!

But all’s not rosy when it comes to writing a series. You can’t kill main characters. And you’re stuck with the characters you’ve created, so if you’ve made a questionable decision (or three) along the way, you have to live with it.

As a writer, it can be a challenge to keep coming up with believable/interesting stories without getting stale. And I suppose it’s possible that at some point, you might get bored writing about the same cast of characters living in the same place year after year after year (although I wouldn’t know for sure—the farthest I got in any series was Book Two!).

Of course, the advantages and disadvantages of writing a standalone are pretty much the opposite of those above.

So, which is my preference, as a writer?

I’m going to take the wimpy easy way out and say, “It depends.”

It depends on the idea I’m planning to work on. Some ideas don’t lend themselves to a series, while others are ideal for a series. Of the seven books I’ve published, five have been standalones and two were part of a series. Of the last three manuscripts I’ve written (and not yet sold), two are first books in a series and one is a standalone.

As a reader, my answer is a little different. Although I’ll read anything that’s a good story, I probably have a slight preference in reading a series, because then I know I’ll have more books featuring characters that I enjoy spending time with.

How about you, readers? What’s your favorite mystery/thriller series?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Series vs.Standalone

By Tracy Kiey

I have only written a series, so I can’t say if I’d prefer writing a stand-alone. However, when I wrote my first mystery, Murder at Longbourn, I never envisioned it turning into a series (frankly, I never thought it would ever get published). But somehow the Fates smiled on it, and I wrote four of the Elizabeth Parker mysteries.
My current series is loosely based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. Rather than Nick and Nora Charles, my protagonists are Nic and Nigel Martini. She is the ex-detective, and Nigel is the wealthy socialite. And instead of a wire-hair fox terrier named Asta, Nic and Nigel are aided in their investigations by a large bullmastiff named Skippy. (For those of you who were fans of The Thin Man movies, Skippy was the real name of the dog who played Asta.) 
As you probably deduced, I am fan of The Thin Man movies. To me, the appeal lies mainly in the relationship between Nick and Nora; especially their rapid-fire banter. They are wealthy, glamorous, and urban and obviously enjoy each other’s company. That said, I don’t think fans watch the movies to see them develop or grow either as individuals or a couple. In fact, I think the introduction of Nicky, Jr. was a huge misstep as Nora was suddenly was thrust into the role of ‘Mother.’ Hollywood seemed uncomfortable with a glamorous, martini-swilling mom, and Nora became a little duller after the arrival of Nicky, Jr.
Right now, I have no plans to change the dynamic between Nic and Nigel; their role, so to speak, is to amuse and solve crimes.  In that sense, they are similar to a Miss Marple or Poirot mystery (not in craft or imagination, mind you, just in character development). Neither Miss Marple nor Poirot changed very much – if at all – over the course of their sleuthing careers and that suited me just fine.
I imagine it is easier to write about characters you already know. You are already familiar with their personalities, their likes, and their dislikes. There is no need to flesh them out. If your series is set in a fixed location, that too might make it easier to navigate. However, there is something appealing about finding new characters, locations, and adventures. And I could see how writing about the same character time after time could become somewhat tiring or even annoying. We’ve all heard how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle found Sherlock so irritating that he attempted to kill him off only to have to resurrect him due to public demand. Even Dame Agatha Christie tired of her Poirot. According to her grandson, she longed to “exorcise herself of him,” but was unable due to his popularity with readers.
I think it would be fun to one day write a story in which when I type “the end,” it really is the end. There would be no need to leave some plot point unfinished or undeveloped. But until then, I am happy to write about Nic and Nigel as they sip cocktails and banter their way through another mystery. And speaking of which, the latest in the series, Killer Cocktail, is now available!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What about you?

By R.J. Harlick

Do you prefer to write a series or a stand-alone and why?

Although I think I answered this question not too long ago, I thought I would give it another go, this time from a different perspective; as a reader.

I write a series, because I love reading series. When a character engages me, I like to follow their lives as they romp from book to book. Picking up the next book in a series is like visiting an old friend. I do read standalones, and have enjoyed many, but my first choice will always be for a book that is part of a series.  

I suppose you could say it started with my initial foray into mystery reading when as a child I picked up my first Nancy Drew book. I’m not sure how many I ended up reading, but let's say it was a lot. Although Nancy more or less remained the same person from book to book, I didn’t care. I liked her antics and the fact she always caught her man or woman as the case may be.  

My girlfriend’s mother had a whole set of Agatha Christie's, which we proceeded to devour. While I enjoyed her standalones, the books I enjoyed the most were the ones from her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot series.

Other British authors whose series characters I have enjoyed over the years have included P.D. James’ Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford. But I will admit I did try some of her standalones written under her Barbara Vine’s pseudonym and really loved them. Though she’s an American author, I’ll also include Elizabeth George’s Inspector Thomas Lynley in this list. But I wish she would stick to him and not have Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers take over as the main protagonist, as has happened in the last few books.

Canadian series characters I like to spend time with include Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks, Gail Bowen’s Joanne Kilbourn, Barbara Fradkin’s Inspector Green and Giles Blunt’s John Cardinal.

In the depths of winter, I loved nothing better than to transport myself vicariously to the heat of Florida with John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. In fact, I chose to use a colour in my Meg Harris series titles as a homage to John D. I particularly love spending time in Wyoming with Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire and of course I can’t forget Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch or the good times spent with Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee in the South-west.

Before I finish I should mention the two Swedish series I enjoy, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander and Camilla Lackberg’s Erica Falck and her husband, Detective Patrik Hedström.

So what about you? Which do you prefer reading, standalones or series? And which books have resonated with you?