Author Archives: Judi Lynn

About Judi Lynn

https://writingmusings.wordpress.com/ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5023544.Judith_Post @judypost on twitter Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judi-lynn

Rejection

I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!

 

 

 

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We All Have Favorites

I listened to Chuck Wendig’s podcast this week where he discusses everything about writing and marketing and death threats.  Yes, he got them, but his writing is a bit irreverent.  Still…  it’s writing.  If a reader doesn’t like it, he can toss it in the can.  I’m not good at podcasts, at sitting still and listening when there’s no person to focus on.  Lectures where I can watch a speaker?  I can concentrate for hours.  A faceless voice?  I end up fiddling, losing my concentration.  But I’m glad I made the effort to listen to Wendig.  He intrigued me to try his talk when he said that he thought series were always a matter of diminishing returns.

What?  I’d always heard that series helped a writer BUILD an audience.  And I still believe that.  But that’s not what he meant.  He meant that a writer gets fewer and fewer reviews the longer the series goes.  And he’s probably right.  Just look at some of your favorite authors’ first books compared to their fourth or fifth.  He says a writer’s ego needs some of that praise and when it dwindles, it’s harder to feel inspired to write.  Well, you can judge that for yourself.  But here’s the link to the podcast, if you’re interested: https://wegrowmedia.com/chuck-wendig-on-owning-your-voice-and-choosing-the-path-of-your-career-as-a-writer/#disqus_thread

Anyway, I listened to his talk, and then I got to thinking about series.  I happen to love them.  I’m much more inclined to buy a book in a series I love than a standalone that I’m not sure about.  And that even goes to second or third series that some of my favorite authors write.  I mean, let’s be honest.  We all have favorites.  These are my truths:

I love Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series more than her Cat Latimer or Fork to Table series, even though they’re all good.  Why?  Beats me.  I just like the mix of people more and the romance between Jill and Greg.  I still buy the other series, though, just not as many.

I love Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series AND her Hidden Legacy series.  Have I tried some of her other books?  No.  Same goes with Patricia Briggs.  I buy every Mercy Thompson book, but I haven’t gotten into her Alpha and Omega series.  And I could go on.  I love Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin.  Not so much any of the others.

Why?  The same author writes the books.  They’re writing is topnotch.  Always.  But I’m not the only reader who struggles with this.  Martha Grimes tried to write a few break away books when she got tired of writing about Richard Jury.  All readers did was complain that they wanted another Superintendent Jury.  Same with Elizabeth George and her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers mysteries.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes but had to bring him back when readers complained so much.

Why does one series click when another one doesn’t?  I don’t know.  But I think a series can help build an audience, and the readers who love one series might not buy another one.  There are no guarantees.  But that’s life, isn’t it?

Have a great week, and happy writing!

 

Don’t Panic

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I’ve been blithely writing away, Ta da da, happy as can be, on Muddy River mysteries for a while now.  As if I didn’t have a care in the world.  I mean, I’m self-publishing this series, so there are no deadlines.  Right?

Except there IS a deadline for the next Jazzi Zanders mystery due–number 5.  But it’s not until Nov. 4th, months away.  Except…it takes me months to write a Jazzi cozy.  I still wouldn’t have actually counted out the months on my fingers except that I went to Amazon and accidentally found this: https://www.amazon.com/Body-Apartment-Jazzi-Zanders-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07TT2RWQ5/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=The+Body+in+the+Apartment%2C+Judi+Lynn&qid=1562355467&s=gateway&sr=8-3.    A blurb for book 4, that doesn’t even come out until March 17, 2020.  Kensington was way ahead of me…again.

That made me seriously look at how much time I had to do what.  And all of a sudden, the lazy days of summer didn’t look as lazy anymore.  Yes, I panicked.  I couldn’t dawdle around finishing Muddy River 3.  I glued my fanny in chair, hit the keyboard, and wrote like the crazed person I occasionally become.  And today, at last, I finished the last chapter of the first draft.  RELIEF!  I can pass the pages on to my trusty critique partners and start work on Jazzi 5 on Monday.

And I’m even pretty much on track.  I shouldn’t have to buy stronger hair dye to cover any more gray hairs trying to get it done in time.  I won’t have to rush it.  I think that always shows (at least when I do it).

So, now that I can take a deep breath, I can settle down in front of my computer and write one scene or chapter a day every open weekday for months and months without having to try to write a kazillion pages in a short period of time.  I can breathe again.  And enjoy the summer.

Hope you had a great Fourth and happy writing!

(And if you live elsewhere in the world, hope your fourth was great anyway:)

Is bigger really better?

I’ve been thinking about what makes one book sell lots and lots of copies and why another book doesn’t.  I belong to a writers’ group, and I used to believe it when published authors told me, “If you write a book that’s good enough, it will sell.”  Blah!  I don’t believe it.

First of all, I’ve read plenty of wonderful manuscripts that no one will buy.  Why?  Because writing is one thing, but publishing is a BUSINESS.  And TRENDS matter.  If publishers decide that no one’s buying memoirs these days, they aren’t going to buy one–unless the person’s name alone will sell copies.  If they decide that if an author puts the name GIRL in the title, they’ll have a best seller, suddenly you’ll see LOTS of titles with that word in it.  GOODBYE GIRL, GIRL ON THE TRAIN, THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW, etc.  When they decided, a while ago, that horror was saturated, they dumped plenty of good horror writers to find someone who might be writing the next trend–whatever that was.  And by the time you figure it out, it’s probably close to over.

One of the members of our writers’ group keeps telling us that if we want to sell BIG, we need to write about characters who are bigger than life, who face problems that are so big, they seem insurmountable, and a little shock value only sweetens the deal.  He’s probably right.  It reminds me of the book Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas.  He gave similar advice.  The stakes can’t be small.  They have to be higher.  Readers turn pages when the stakes make them chew their fingernails to the quick.

I read yet another blog where a cozy writer went to a conference and a thriller writer (she didn’t give a name) sneered at her work.  First of all, that says a lot more about HIM than it does HER.  But I think it’s part of the same mentality.  Cozies take place in small towns with murders that are more personal.  The amateur detective isn’t fighting a ticking clock to stop a serial killer or to save the world.  But, does that mean thrillers are better than cozies?  Not in my opinion, regardless of the stakes.

Part of me–the sarcastic, cynical part that only creeps out when I’m aggravated–believes a whole lot of success in life can be put down to luck.  Yes, you have to be prepared for it when luck strikes, but sometimes, it takes its darn sweet time.  Or sometimes, it does a disappearing act and first you see it, then you don’t.  I’m not taking away from talent and hard work and persistence.  Without those, even if luck strikes, you can fail.  BUT, sometimes the planets align and sometimes they get cranky with each other.  And what is a trend if not a fluke when something unexpected happens and a book gets so popular that everyone else jumps on the bandwagon to have something similar because no one saw it coming?

And how do we define big and small anyway?  Is it by events or how much emotional impact a story has?  Is it by how much I care about the characters?  How strongly the story affects me?  If I wring my hands, hoping that the protagonist finds a happy ever after, is that big enough?

I wish I had answers.  I don’t.  Sometimes, I like big dramas that cover big landscapes, and sometimes I like small, intimate stories that move me or make me laugh.  So, what makes one book a bestseller and the next not so much?  Serendipity?  Where everything==plot, pacing, characters, and voice all come together in the right balance at the right time?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But whatever you’re working on at the moment, good luck!

And Happy Writing!

Pets in stories

I have pets in both of the series I’m writing.  Well, Claws isn’t really a pet.  Calling a familiar a pet is considered an insult.  And Claws would take offense at that.  But including an animal in a story means that you always have to keep that animal in mind when you’re writing.

I critiqued a manuscript once where the female protag found a kitten and brought it home, and everything was all sweet and cuddly for that chapter, and then the kitten disappeared.  The author got busy with plot and pacing and forgot the poor thing.  No one even fed it.  A writer friend of mine–J.L. Walker (who writes great romantic suspense)–complained to our writers group about a book she was reading.  The protag walked into town with his dog, told it to wait while he went into a shop, then he met a friend and left with him and did all sorts of things, and J.L. kept wondering, “Is the poor dog still waiting outside the shop?”

In my Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series, Jazzi’s hottie boyfriend has a pug named George.  Ansel takes George everywhere with him–to work, to stores, to friends’ houses.  He pampers George extravagantly.  He carries George up and down stairs, because George gets nervous going up and down them.  He takes George’s dog bed to every house that he, Jazzi, and Jerod work on as fixer uppers.  George shows a lot about Ansel’s character, and the dog adds a lot to the books, but I can’t race off and forget about him.  When Ansel and Jazzi stop to grab sandwiches on their way home from work, Ansel buys a small hamburger for George.

George, the pug

Jazzi has two cats, Inky and Marmalade, but they stay home, so I only have to include them in scenes when Jazzi and Ansel come home or spend time cooking or cleaning together, etc.  Marmalade’s a good kitty.  Inky chews the heads off flowers and knocks vases over when he thinks Jazzi hasn’t spent enough time with him.  And like all cats, when you walk in the door, they want attention and to be fed.

In my Muddy River series, Hester’s a witch with a familiar that’s an ocelot–Claws.  Familiars have extra powers that regular cats/ocelots don’t.  When Claws battles beside Hester, acid fills his claws and fangs, so that when he scratches and bites, foes suffer.  Just like Ansel and George, Hester takes Claws with her nearly everywhere she goes.  So I have to include Claws in many of the scenes I write.  I often scribble on the side of my plot pages, “Don’t forget Claws!” because I can’t tell you how easy it is to start having my characters walk and talk and interact and let Claws slip my mind.  Familiars recognize and like each other, and since no mortals live in Muddy River, they’re allowed in shops and eateries with their witches.  Either that, or they go hang out with each other.  I make a point of mentioning where Claws is in nearly every scene.

Claws--an ocelot

If you’re thinking of adding an animal or a pet to whatever you’re working on, I think they add a lot to a story.  But you can’t just trot them out when the mood suits you.  They need to be woven into the lives of your characters.  I didn’t realize quite how much work that would be when I wrote them into my books.

Whatever you’re working on, Happy Writing, and an early Happy Summer Solstice!

The business side of writing

At writers club this week, we had three great readers but still had time to spare.  That’s when Les B. brought up the article in the Wall Street Journal that an investment company is buying Barnes and Noble.  That got everyone talking about marketing and whether it’s better to get an agent and a publisher or to self-publish.

People in our group do both.  Some self-publish because they love the freedom.  And they still get enough sales to make them happy.  Some self-publish because they just want their books available for family and friends.  Two members are actively looking for agents.  That’s a nail biter job in itself.  And I self-publish AND have a publisher because I want to write two different kinds of mysteries, and I didn’t think I could get a taker for my supernatural series.  Let’s face it.  Some genres are a lot easier to sell than others.   And, to be honest, I wanted to see what would happen if I stuck Muddy River on Amazon on my own.  Ilona Andrews wrote a great post about the pros and cons of each: http://www.ilona-andrews.com/hybrid-authors/

Going it alone, though, means that it’s up to you to attract readers to your book.  And I think that’s getting harder to do.  True, writers have to work at promotion, even if they have a publisher, but they at least have some backup.  One thing you can do with or without a publisher is a blog tour.  Sometimes, they work.  Sometimes, they don’t.  But so far, Kensington has signed me up for a blog tour for every one of my books when they  come out.  The more work that goes into the blog tour, the better it is.  I’ve written 20+ individual pieces for a single blog tour before, so that each site has something unique to offer.  The one tour that only featured cover reveals and excerpts with a blurb wasn’t very effective.  Why would readers keep reading the same pitch over and over?

Advertising helps.  There are a crap load of books out there.  You need to find a way to get a reader to find yours.  Today, on twitter, I found a link to how to sell more books with Amazon ads.  I tried that once and bombed.  My friend tweaks her ad as she goes, and she’s been successful with it.  Here’s the article I found: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/how-to-sell-more-books-with-amazon-ads-for-authors/

I’ve tried Facebook ads, but those are really hit and miss for me, too.  Still, you can invest $20 to boost your post and give it a go.  (I’d read the article on Amazon ads to get ideas first).

We all know that nothing beats BookBub, but trying to get a slot there takes a miracle or more.  And they’re expensive.  Luckily for me, Kensington put The Body in the Attic on Bookbub and they’re putting The Body in the Wetlands on it July 10.  I’m a lucky girl, and I know it.  Still, if you can’t get an ad, you can get some traction there.  I highly recommend becoming a BookBub partner, signing up and doing an author profile, listing the books you’ve written, and then–and this helps–recommending other authors’ books and reviewing them.  I recommend books under my name for urban fantasy–Judith Post (https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judith-post?list=reviews&review_step=search ) and under my pen name, Judi Lynn (https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judi-lynn)  The good news is that when people follow you on BookBub, BookBub sends them a notification when you add one of your own books to your book page.  That means, if you have 100 followers, an e-mail goes out to each of them when you publish a new book.  The more followers, the better!

I just paid for an ad for Mixing It Up with Mortals on BargainBooksy at Written Word Media and dropped the price of my book to 99 cents. https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/about-us/#  And it did what I wanted it to do.  It got the book in front of a lot of new readers.  It’s only the second book in the series, and I’m not expecting big results.  That usually takes a while, if you get lucky.  I’ve had luck advertising on The Fussy Librarian, too, but that site’s pickier–you have to have at least 10 reviews with a 4.0 average, and I didn’t have 10 reviews yet, (sigh), so I went with Booksy.  For The Fussy Librarian: https://www.thefussylibrarian.com/advertising

There are other things you can do to help promote yourself and your book.  I’m going to use Ilona Andrews again (because I read her on twitter).  She posts snippets of whatever book she’s working on, on her webpage and then feeds that onto twitter: http://www.ilona-andrews.com/working-on-hidden-legacy-5/

I do the same thing.  I use weebly to put up cover reveals, new books, and free chapters.  Then I feed that onto my twitter account.  I think of this page (my blog) as a way to reach writers, and my webpage as a way to reach readers.  C.S. Boyack includes little snippets and news about the books he’s writing on his blog, too.  I think it’s effect, but it takes both–posting the snippet AND linking it to twitter.  My webpage: https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

C.S. Boyack’s posts:   https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/its-a-brain-purge/?fbclid=IwAR16n0RCckMZ-L3E-DxWF4H9jsxtJC5XzFsY3gNt6jEUhyfnKGjz6q7Bcoc   

Which brings me to three places that authors can promote themselves for free:

an author Facebook page  (Look up the Facebook page for some of your favorite authors and see what they do).

Twitter.  I make myself post something on twitter every day (at three different times, if I can) and to retweet some of the posts that I especially like.  And I always list book releases, cover reveals, and sales there.  Why not?  If you’re lucky, friends and others will retweet you and help spread the word.

Goodreads.  When I finish reading a book (and I can give it 3 or more stars), I write a review for both Bookbub AND Goodreads.

One last thing–and I know, I’ve written a tome this time, but I wanted to put in my 2 cents on marketing–, some authors have great luck with newsletters.  I haven’t done one yet.  Just haven’t gotten around to it.  But Story Empire wrote a decent article on it if you’re going to give one a try (and most authors do). https://storyempire.com/2019/06/07/how-to-tweak-your-newsletter/

One more thing, I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Debbie Macomber’s advice on how to launch your book when it comes out.  Yes, I’ve shared this before, but someone might have missed it.  And it’s good. https://insights.bookbub.com/book-launch-checklist-marketing-timeline-traditionally-published-authors/

Okay, I’m running out of ideas and steam.  You’re probably ready for me to shut it anyway.  I promise not to bombard you with marketing ideas again for a while.  But if you’ve tried something and it’s worked for you, please share it with the rest of us.  And happy writing!

…I’ll Do It…My Way

I can hear Frank Sinatra as I type those words.  And I should have listened to him.  He was right.

I’ve been reading a lot of especially good advice on how to organize your book and write lately.  And some of it really sounded good to me.  So good that I decided to make up sheets for scenes in my next Jazzi novel and try to create a sort of massive storyboard.  C.S. Boyack wrote a great article on how he uses them.  And I got so excited!  I could picture in my mind how each scene would fit in a giant jigsaw puzzle of other scenes and I could move the scenes around and add scenes and who knows what else to create a brilliant flow in my book.

C.S. Boyack’s posts:  https://donmassenzio.wordpress.com/2019/04/12/the-2019-interview-series-featuring-c-s-boyack/  and  https://storyempire.com/2018/12/14/and-now-for-something-completely-different/

And the team at Story Empire have been writing great posts about how to build a Story Bible with plenty of other advice about multiple POVs, settings, and story structure:  https://storyempire.com/blog/   Staci Troilo even included charts for readers to download and use.

Every single bit of advice is good.  And I love learning how other writers work.  And I tried…I really did…. to write out scene sheets and hit beginning hooks, inciting incidents, pinch points, and more.  And it all helped me think of new scenes and ideas for Jazzi 5.  Which is good.  But when push came to shove, for me to “see” the book in my head, I’m sitting at my computer, writing out plot points like I’ve always done.  Sigh.

It’s possible that I’m too set in my ways.  It’s possible you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  (And if my friend Carl reads this, no comments!)  Or it’s possible that we each find what works for us and we’re comfortable with, and we should remember that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  Even though I do like to try new things once in a while.

Way back in my beginning writing days, I tried to develop my book’s characters by using the Goal/Motivation/Conflict charts.  But it never really worked for me.  It didn’t give me enough to “see” and “hear” my characters.  Then I tried filling out an extensive questionnaire I saw online for each one.  That didn’t work for me either.  “I had so much information, it bogged me down.  That’s when I went to a workshop given by Shirley Jump and she showed us her character wheels.  Those worked for me.  They gave me enough, but not too much.  A friend tried them, and they failed her miserably.  What works for one writer doesn’t always work for another.  That’s why all a writer can do is share what she knows and what she’s stumbled on that works for her.

When a writer shares something near and dear, it’s because it’s a hard won technique or truth that she’s probably learned the hard way.  But that doesn’t mean it will work for you.  And what have I learned?  I’ve learned to listen to writers whom I respect and to consider their advice.  And to roll all that advice into something I can use by trying this and that until I find what fits.  I’ve learned to push myself once in a while to try to get better, because a comfortable groove can become a rut.  I’ve learned that I can admire other peoples’ prose and voice and style, but I have to stay true to myself.  I’ve learned that sometimes the words come easy, and sometimes the words come hard, but I do better if I plop my fanny in a chair and write every weekday that I possibly can.

So, learn as much as you can, but trust yourself and your own voice.  And happy writing!