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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!


Shameless Promotion

I’ve been yacking about my supernatural mysteries for a while now.  So I’m excited to announce that Mixing It Up with Mortals, Muddy River Mystery Two, is finally available on Amazon.  And I love the cover Michael Prete designed for me.  Hope you like it, too.

muddy river 2 cover

When Raven Black, fire demon and Muddy River’s enforcer, moved in with Hester Wand, the lead witch of the town’s coven, who also teaches at her school for magic, he pictured them spending lots of quality time together.  But his job keeps him busy, and her job ensures lots of people pop in and out of their home.  So, to surprise her, he buys lake property for weekend getaways.  When he drives her to inspect their retreat, though, suprise turns to shock when they find two dead bodies in the visitors’ cabins at the far end of the lake.  Even worse, the victims are mortals.  Raven can’t just dispose of them. He feels compelled to let loved ones know that the young man and woman died, even though he can’t reveal how that happened.  They were both drained, instantly mummified.  He learns that a sheriff in a nearby town is working on another case that’s similar, so he and Brown join forces to find the killer.  And that’s when things get interesting…and deadly.


I was surprised to see a passionate blog from mystery writer, Sherry Harris, today, asking for writers to respect each other.  And I am always surprised when I hear that certain writers or writing groups attack other writers or writing groups on twitter or Goodreads or Facebook.  I mean, what’s the point?  And what does that say about them?

I’ve mentioned before that I went to a book signing where a newspaper reporter, a literary author, a nonfiction author, and a romance writer were giving a panel, and the reporter, not people in the audience, gave the romance author a horrible time.  He told her that she was  so talented, she should write “real books.” To which she replied, “I think writing about love and relationships IS writing real books.”  (I was proud of her).

Every writer dreads getting bad reviews from readers, even when we know there’s no way to please everyone.  I was so happy to see a thread on Kensington’s Facebook Between the Chapters page where bloggers and readers seriously discussed whether they felt comfortable giving reviews below 3 stars because they didn’t want to ruin a writer’s rankings if the book didn’t appeal to them but might be perfect for another reader.  We all have different preferences and tastes.  The responders gave thoughtful, serious consideration to the subject, even the bloggers who insisted that they felt compelled to warn other readers about books with a myriad of grammar mistakes, etc.

If bloggers and readers try to support authors, why wouldn’t fellow writers?  We know how hard it is to write a book–any kind of book.  And we know how hard it is to live up to readers’ expectations.  And every genre has them.

When I wrote romance, my wonderful editor let me try just about anything I wanted to, as long as I followed the ingrained rules of the genre.  Readers expect boy to meet girl.  Okay, maybe that’s too narrow.  These days, boy can meet boy and girl can meet girl, but whatever the set-up, there’s some kind of attraction.  Then there are obstacles and misunderstandings, etc. before boy wins girl…or whatever.  I followed that pattern.  It’s what makes a romance a romance.  BUT in book number three, I wanted to have a heroine who’s always attracted to the wrong kind of guy, Mr. Wrong, first BEFORE she notices Mr. Right standing in the background.  I’ve met my share of smart, wonderful women who fall for guys who aren’t good for them, but luckily for Paula (in my book), Chase isn’t about to let that happen.  My editor was fine with the idea.  My readers?  I got mixed reviews.  I hadn’t broken the rules of romance, but I’d bent them.

For cozies, my editor told me no foul language and when Jazzi and Ansel go in the bedroom, fade to black.  I can refer to them feeling frisky but it stays behind locked doors.  I’m fine with that, but some readers don’t even like them referring to their libidoes.  Some readers don’t like how much beer and wine they drink at meals.  And that’s all right with me.  They come to cozies expecting a CLEAN read.  That doesn’t mean I can’t write a good story, a good mystery.

If not cussing or having sex makes a writer inferior in some peoples’ minds, I don’t agree.  EVERY genre has a formula and comes with certain expectations.  Even literary.  It’s hard to write anything well.  And even if a genre isn’t one of my favorites, I can still appreciate the skill it takes to write it.

Whatever you’re working on now, good luck.  And happy writing!


Cover Reveal

I’m lucky enough to get to share Joan Hall’s cover release for her third book in her Driscoll Lakes series.  I think this cover is pretty awesome.  It sets the mood for a mystery/suspense, don’t you think?  See for yourself.

Joan Hall--May 7--Unclear Purposes Smaller

Some people take secrets to the grave…

Three years after her husband’s murder, Christine Lawrence still struggles for balance. She has a rewarding career and a close circle of friends but feels oddly unfulfilled. Worse, the close relationship she once had with her teenage daughter has grown increasingly strained.

Former FBI agent, Vince Green, is battling demons of his own—painful secrets that drove him from Driscoll Lake. Newly resettled in the small town, he makes his living as a private investigator.

When Vince and Christine cross paths, stumbling over the body of a murder victim, he’s forced to confront memories he thought long buried. The circumstances surrounding the killing are eerily similar to a victim from his past.

As the body count continues to rise, Christine finds herself drawn to Vince. With a murderer stalking the streets of Driscoll Lake, neither is aware the killer has targeted her as the next victim—or that Vince’s past is key to unmasking a disturbed and deadly killer.

Joan Hall Author Box Updated 8.18






Sharing: 1 of 2 books releasing today


Staci Troilo Color Photo RT smaller

Staci Troilo writes under a few different pen names for different genres.  She’s writing The Gate as D.L. Cross.


Getting Ready

This week, hopefully, I’ll finish final proof copies for Jazzi #3 to return to Kensington.  After that, I have rewrites to do on the notes my critique partner (Thank you, Mary Lou Rigdon) gave me for Jazzi #4.  The manuscript’s not due to John Scogmaglio until June 1st, but John, Holly, and I are taking off for Florida to visit our daughter and her husband May 10-15, and  I’d like to have my deadlines out of the way before we leave.  And THEN, I’m ready to start plot points for Jazzi #5. I’m giving myself a week to do that. AND THEN I want to write Muddy River Mystery Three.

I can’t wait to start that book.  I woke up in the morning with an idea that got me REALLY excited.  (That happens a lot at the start of a book.  We’ll see how I feel when I reach the middle:)

I know I have a long to-do list.  Sounds like I’ll be keeping out of trouble for a long time, but I have my old, trusty chalkboard and I bought a new whiteboard to help me keep track of things.  And once I fill in that whiteboard with notes for Jazzi #5, I’m ready to write!

I think I told you the story of how I got the chalkboard once before, but a LONG time ago, when the movie RICH AND FAMOUS with Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen came out, there was a scene that cracked my HH up.  Candice Bergen and her movie husband are lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, and all of a sudden, she jumps up and runs to her office to scribble ideas on a chalkboard.  When she comes back to bed, her husband yawns and shakes his head.  “An idea for a new book?” he asks, already knowing the answer.  HH swears I do that to him, so he bought and installed the chalkboard the next day.

Now that I have the whiteboard, I use the chalkboard to keep track of deadlines and business stuff I need to do and can’t forget.  Unfortunately, on my own, I tend to forget more than I should.  And if I write notes on 3×5 cards, I have so many of them anymore, they get lost in the shuffle.  But I see the chalkboard every time I enter my office.  If I write something on it, I have a decent shot of getting things right.  This is my writing wall, and my desk is right across from it.

Every writer finds his/her own way to keep track of characters and story ideas.  No technique is better than the next.  You just have to find what works for you.  So whatever you’re up to, good luck with it!  And happy writing!

P.S.  If any of you have any questions, feel free to ask me.  I did my first author chat on Kensington’s Facebook page for the Between the Chapters bookclub, and I was really nervous about trying to fill an hour answering questions for anyone who showed up, but it was WONDERFUL fun.

My Inspirations by Judi Lynn

I didn’t write a regular blog post this week because I’ve been doing a blog tour for The Body in the Wetlands, and I’m just about idea’d out. (I know. Not a real word:) On top of the tour, my cousin ended up in the hospital for a short stay, so we’ve been trying to see her or take my sister up to see her once a day. So my Thursday blog fell through the cracks. To redeem myself, I thought I’d share this. It’s something I shared on Kensington’s Between the Chapters for their HobbyReads. I couldn’t get more support from friends and family for my writing. I’m pretty darned lucky:)

My friends and family know that I’m a writer, and they know how much I love mysteries.  We’ve taken a small bedroom at the back of our house and turned it into an office for me, and we lined it with bookshelves.  The shelves aren’t just crammed with books, but I showcase some of the wonderful gifts I’ve been given that tie into my writing, too.

I love Agatha Christie, so my husband bought me a clever teapot that looks like a writer’s desk.  The piece of paper in the typewriter has words “typed” on it from one of Christie’s novels.  The pages tossed in the wastebasket are filled with her words, too.  A handgun lies on manuscript pages.  Here’s what it looks like:

My sisters bought me a typewriter, too, with little mice scampering across the keys.

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