Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

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Death (Deck of Lies, #3)

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Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4)

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Hope's Rebellion

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Regarding Justice

"The unfolding of characters motives, histories and discoveries of lies were just fun! I wanted to know what happened  next."


 "The writing was fast paced and descriptive without being overbearing."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at The Readers Heartstring. Read the whole thing before you get your copy of the book!

Books on Film: The Grinch

In late November and all through December, holiday-themed movies flood the theaters. People want feelgood stories, intense dramas, laughter and action. They want to be entertained, and they're doing it indoors because it's winter and it's cold. Filmmakers need holiday-themed stories to create all those movies. One of the most unusual picks, and one of the better book-to-film adaptations you'll find, was created by Dr. Seuss.


The Book

Arguably the most well-known children's book author of all time, Dr. Seuss has created unforgettable stories like Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat and 1957's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a holiday-themed treat starring my very favorite color, green. 

It's because the Grinch is green. He's the hero, or anti-hero, of the story, and he's a good one. He lives on a mountain above Whoville, where Christmas is celebrated with gusto. The Grinch hates the Whos. They sing, they dance, they exchange presents and eat food -- they annoy him. So the Grinch decides to take away their celebration, and steal Christmas.

A bold plan. To carry it out, he's going to need a red suit. If you're wearing a red suit and screwing around underneath trees on Christmas Eve, people are going to think you're Santa Claus. This is just simple logic. It follows that he's also going to need a sleigh -- that's to hold the presents -- and a reindeer. A sleigh and a big bag, you can pretty much find that at any hardware store. But a reindeer...this requires several days of intensive tracking and hunting in the northern territories, and clearly the Grinch doesn't have this kind of time. So he puts an antler on his dog instead, a handy enough solution in a pinch. 


And the Grinch steals Christmas. He goes down into Whoville in the middle of the night. He takes their ornaments, their stockings, their brightly-wrapped packages, even the roast beast they're saving for the Christmas dinner feast. Yeah, that's right -- he takes it all, down to the last scrap. During his night of silent, Christmas-stealing terror, the Grinch encounters just one witness: Cindy Lou Who. This little Who wakes up to find the Grinch in her home, but all is well on account of the red suit (proof of the unimpeachable logic). Cindy Lou thinks he's Santa, and the Grinch pats her on the head...and sends her back to bed. 

Don't worry -- there is a surprise ending. The Grinch doesn't simply go back to his mountain and laugh the day away, or anything like that. If you don't know the story, I'm officially shocked. It's very well-known, highly popular...and the entire basis for an adaptation that's already 60 years old. Even if you've never seen the book, you probably know the book.

The Films

A 22-minute TV special is one of the best-known adaptations of the story. Look for it on TV during the holiday season, and you'll find it. 

Dr. Seuss himself worked on the animated adaptation made in 1966. He wasn't really into the idea at first, but after seeing some animation and hearing some of the songs he agreed. Seuss wrote the lyrics for the songs and the extra lines in the story himself.

He didn't narrate it, though. That honor was given to Boris Karloff, who had a perfect voice for this particular story. Thurl Ravenscroft sings the theme song that's such a big part of the adaptation. The animation is very true to the original illustrations in the book, and the narration is almost exactly the same as the text of the book.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas wouldn't become a feature film until 2000, when Ron Howard turned it into one. But turning a very short children's book into 90 minutes of film...takes a little stretching. 

The feature-length film begins beautifully, with narration by Anthony Hopkins that lifts Dr. Seuss's words straight from the page. The viewer meets the Grinch, played beautifully by Jim Carrey, who looks just exactly how he ought to look (only three-dimensional, and not animated). He's up in his mountain home damning the Whos who live down below. 

Then, we get to meet some of those Whos. The movie takes us down into the village in the days before Christmas, where we meet Cindy Lou Who and her parents. There are other characters as well, like the Mayor of Whoville and Martha May Whovier. The Whos look just as they ought, and they're frantically celebrating the season by shopping, decorating, shopping, decorating, and sending Christmas cards and packages (presumably, to the Whos who live in Whotown and Whocity). 

In a word, it's fabulous. No detail was left out. The film is lavish in all matters of set design, costuming and makeup. The dialogue is first-rate as well. Because there simply isn't enough story to fill an entire film, more has been added. Viewers are exposed to the Grinch's back story, and we even uncover a love interest. Cindy Lou becomes a fully-realized character, whose goal is to find the spirit of Christmas and get past all the obsessive shopping, decorating and eating.

New songs are added, and the original Grinch theme song is punched up a little. The scene of the Grinch stealing Christmas is perfectly re-created from the book to the film. It is one of the top five top-grossing holiday films of all time. Yeah, it's that good. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you've already seen it, see it again. It's the holidays, and green's the color of the season.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Writing 101: Conflict and Obstacles

If your main character doesn't have conflict and obstacles to overcome, then your story probably isn't complete. In life, things get hard. The going gets tough. Enemies appear. I want to see that in your book...and then, I want to see the main character defeat them. This is why your main character is also known as the hero


Nobody Said Life Was Fair

Here's the thing: you want readers to identify with your main character. Nobody's life is just perfectly smooth sailing. We all get crushes on people who don't like us back, spill something on ourselves at the worst possible time, get caught in the rain or in an embarrassing situation. Some people face extreme challenges, and often these make for the best stories. 

If your character faces no obstacles and lives a life free of conflict, I'm not going to find it believable. Even worse, I'm probably not going to like this character. Conflict and obstacles are an essential part of every plot. You don't necessarily have to have a villain, a character in the story who opposes your hero, but you do have to have something that keeps us from our goal. If the character is trying to solve a crime, put a nosy so-and-so in the way. If the character is trying to be prom queen, put an opponent into the mix. Or, mix it up and don't use a character at all. Maybe something happens to the main character with no outside help -- the hero falls and breaks a bone, and now they're physically limited. Conflict comes in many forms, and writing is a great way to explore it. 

Everyone faces challenges, and your main character should have the same experience. It's most rewarding to readers when the hero overcomes those challenges in order to get to their ultimate goal. Removing these obstacles shouldn't be neat and easy, because life so rarely is. Perhaps it's a story about a girl who's in love with a boy, buy he's got a girlfriend already. She's an obstacle. The more difficult she is to remove, the more rewarding it's going to be when she's finally out of the way. The struggle is the story, and that's what great writing is all about. 

You've already got everything you need to write about conflict and obstacles when you're writing fiction. As a writer, you've already faced all sorts of challenges in picking the right words, in facing your own fears, in finding courage and even in facing down those who oppose you. Now, go write about it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing 101: Should You Ever Give Up?

I was inspired by a hashtag that I just happened to notice when I went to write this post, but it's a thought I've had before. It's easy advice to say "don't ever give up!" "follow your dreams!" and all that other inspirational nonsense, but it can be hell to live it. It's also unrealistic. Should you ever give up? Well yeah, maybe. 


A World Full of Books

This past year, 2012, which is nearly over (but not quite), more than 2 million new books have already been published. Just this year. In the United States alone, approximately 400,000 books have been published this year (10 Awful Truths About Publishing). That's wonderful, a great testament to the popularity of reading and literature. We are preserving a record. We are creating entertainment.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Judgment: Now Available!

Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4) is now available for Amazon kindle! The book will be available for Nook and other devices later this week, so keep checking back for links. 



Cashing Out

Do I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

How can I, when the truth will destroy us all? Now that I’ve started telling lies, I can’t stop. Not until all this is over, and I’m free of the family that never felt like mine. Maybe it’s wrong. Maybe I’m a bad person.

But it’s definitely the only way I’m ever going to escape them. I have to take the opportunity, no matter how terrible it is…don’t I?

Writing 101: No Writer is an Island

When I was very young, and dreaming of becoming a writer, I had a vision in my head of what it would be like. I would sit in a very quiet and serene room, all by myself, just creating brilliant words all day long. Now I know that sort of thing isn't possible -- and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want it if it was. If you're self-publishing, you're doing a whole lot of work all on your own...but you probably aren't actually alone. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that the people around you are always contributing, too.


Hey, There Are Other People Here

Plenty of self-published authors don't live alone. They may have pets, or kids, spouses or roommates. All of these animals and people are capable of affecting the way you write your book. The people closest to writers are usually a big influence; certain characteristics from your mate may seep into the characters you put on the page. But they influence and affect you in other ways, too, and their contributions can't be overlooked. 
  • Space
The people who share your space with you make a difference, both good and bad. Make sure they understand that you need your own space to work and write, and really shouldn't be disturbed. And tell them how much they mean to you, from time to time. When the people closest to you are supportive of your efforts, you'll feel a lot less stressed about self-publishing.
  • Time
You need your friends and family members to give you the space to write, and that means you've got to give them something, too. Don't forget to make time for the other members of your household and others who are close to you. Do not spend all of your free time writing, though it is compelling to do so. Make time to maintain a social life, or at least something like it, and always take some time just for yourself while you're at it. Everyone has to recharge and reset, and you cannot think about writing all of the time. You'll burn yourself out, and make yourself nuts. 
  • Sharing
The people in your immediate household are your best sounding board. Ask them to read your work, bounce ideas off of them, get their input and their help. They're going to be much more gentle with you than any reviewer, and they're a wonderful first test for any ideas you have. If you're thinking of something that sounds really out-of-the-box, check it against those close to you and see how they react. 

There are other people in your life, and they can tell you that living with a writer isn't easy. Talk to them to let them know your needs, but don't forget to ask about their needs as well. Use them, appreciate them and get support from them. Your writing will be better for it, and your relationships will be a little less strained when you're slaving away at the keyboard.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Facing Death

"More twists and revelations will come right at your face."




"This book is spooky and creepy (in a good way) which makes it a  really great mystery read!"

Little Book Star has reviewed Death (Deck of Lies, #3). Read the entire review before you get your copy of Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4) this week!

Writing 101: How Do You Know When You're Done?

Write "the end" as many times as you like -- it doesn't necessarily mean that you're all done with your book. Many writers, in fact, spend more time editing and re-writing than they ever spend on creating that first draft. It's really easy to get caught up in perfecting a book, to go back to it again and again...and that makes it really hard to release your book so others can actually read it. How do you know when you're done, and when a book is really ready to be released? The answer is actually pretty simple. 


 When Enough is Enough

Some scenes just won't go away, even after you put them on the page. Some scenes demand to be re-written, perfected, over and over again. And it's easy to get caught up in that. Every writer wants to produce a perfect book. But at some point, you've got to stop typing, stop reading, and finally say done

You're the only one who knows when you finally get to that point, and it changes with every single book. When are you done writing that tricky scene? When you finally stop thinking about it. Writers re-write scenes because they can't get them out of their heads; they keep playing, and re-playing inside the mind, and changes have to be made. When you finally get that out of your head, then you're finally done. When you're done re-thinking, second-guessing and re-working, then you're finally done. If it stops keeping you up at night, stops distracting you during the day, stops haunting you when you're supposed to be doing other things, then just stop. You're done messing with it. 

When your head space is calm and quiet, it's because the work is finally done. It's because enough is finally enough. Don't go back to the book and look for more work. Trust yourself, and put it out there. You'll learn more by publishing than by proofreading for that seventh time.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Compelled to Read Justice

"What could oh so easily have been just another fish out of water story full of trite and tired cliché is instead a well thought out and cleverly written page turner."


"Jade Varden is an excellent storyteller with a deft hand at flowing prose. The story is compelling and interesting."

Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has been reviewed at Twisted Sense. Read the full review, and then get the book free as part of the Stuffed Full of Lies weekend.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Indie Author of November

Verdict Book Reviews has picked me as their indie author of the month of November! Visit the blog to see the post, and find out exactly why I got picked.



Stuffed Full of Lies

Judgment, the fourth and final book in the Deck of Lies series, will be in online bookstores Tuesday, November 27. That's only three days away! 

It gives you just enough time to catch up on all the lies before the series ends. For the rest of this weekend, the first three books in the series will be FREE when you buy them at Smashwords. Get them in any electronic format, and get stuffed full of lies. 



To get Justice (Deck of Lies, #1), use the code PA47C

To get The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2), use the code PW83B

To get Death (Deck of Lies, #3), use the code PM25K

Friday, November 23, 2012

Judgment Trailer

The day of Judgment is coming. Take a peek at the trailer to find out what the fourth and final book in the Deck of Lies series has in store for you...

video




Check the blog every day this weekend for announcements about Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4), and get the book as soon as it's released!  

Books on Film: Miracle on 34th Street

The holiday season is a special time of year, and plenty of writers have used that to their advantage. Stories about Santa Claus, believing and the holiday spirit are always going to be popular. But few are destined to gain the sort of love and popularity enjoyed by Miracle on 34th Street, one of my all-time favorites. You've probably seen the movie, but what do you know about the book?



The Book

Valentine Davies wrote Miracle on 34th Street in 1947, as a companion novelette for the film released the same year. It was actually published by 20th Century Fox, who also made the film, but it's managed to stand on its own and has sold millions of copies. The book introduces readers to Doris Walker, a rather cold career woman who works for Macy's. She's managing personnel for the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and must fire the Santa Claus she's hired at the last minute when he turns up drunk. She hires bystander Kris to take his place, an elderly gentleman who looks the part. He's so good in the parade that Toy Department head Mr. Shellhammer suggests that Kris play the department store's in-house Santa for the duration of the holiday season. Kris accepts the job and goes to work at Macy's, on 34th Street in New York City. 


Doris has a daughter, 6-year-old Susan, who has been raised in a world without fairy tales, dreams or fantasies. Doris doesn't believe in illusions; apparently she already got her fill of them with her former husband (Susan's father). Once the parade is over she goes to fetch Susan from the apartment of Fred Gailey, a lawyer who lives in the same building, and he manages to wrangle an invite to Thanksgiving dinner with Susan's help. Gailey is single, Doris is pretty, and he's hoping the dinner will only be the beginning.

The dinner goes well, but Doris's next workday does not. It seems that Kris thinks he actually is Santa Claus, like the real one, and this is cause for concern. He is taken to Macy's company psychologist Albert Sawyer, who takes an immediate dislike to Kris. Meanwhile, Kris has managed to strike up a friendship with Fred Gailey, and together the two of them plan to unthaw Doris and Susan. Gailey will work on opening Doris's icy heart, and Kris will teach Susan how to be a child with an imagination she's not afraid to use. 

But Sawyer proves to be a fly in the ointment. He manages to get Kris committed to Bellevue, the famed insane asylum, without Doris's knowledge. Gailey signs on as his lawyer in order to prove that he's sane and get him out of the place. 

Gailey comes up with a truly unique defense. Instead of finding a way to prove that the man who calls himself Kris Kringle is sane, he decides to prove -- in a court of law, mind you -- that Kris actually is Santa Claus. And maybe he is. It's the holiday season, and anything's possible...as Susan will learn at the end of the story.

The Film

The story beautifully comes to life on film, which makes since as the book was created to complement the movie. Natalie Wood stars as the adorable Susan, Maureen O'Hara is gorgeous as Doris, and Edmund Gwenn is Kris Kringle/Santa Claus. He was so good in the role, young Wood actually thought he was Santa, and the Academy agreed. He won an Oscar in the role.

The movie opens with Kris window-shopping on Thanksgiving, where he corrects a store clerk who has put the reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh in the wrong positions. The audience is this taken into the bustling middle of the parade, where Doris is putting out several different fires. We know at once that she's a strong, capable career gal. We find out soon that she's also a single mother who does her best to keep her daughter firmly grounded in reality.


My favorite scene occurs early in the film, when Gailey takes Susan to Macy's to visit Santa. She matter-of-factly tells him that she doesn't want anything for Christmas -- "whatever I need, my mother will buy me, if it's sensible and doesn't cost too much." But when he speaks fluent Dutch and sings a song with a little girl who believes he is Santa, even Susan is touched. I just love it. Another great moment comes later in the film, during the trial, which is filled with absolutely fabulous moments. One of the best is when Gailey calls the prosecutor's own son to the witness stand to testify that Santa does, indeed, exist -- "because my daddy told me so." I adore trial scenes, and the one in this flick is worth watching again and again.

What Got Adapted?

Very little changes from book to film in this one, for obvious reasons. As the story goes, it was originally written around 1944. Davies later adapted the work when Fox thought it would make a great screenplay, and she worked on both the novel and the script with other Fox writers.

The AFI ranks the original film in their Top Ten of classic American films, and it's part of the National Film Registry. Several remakes of the movie do exist, but the 1947 version is still the best by a country mile. Now is the season to watch it, so go and watch it! This story is a delight, both on the page and on the screen.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cover Reveal: Judgment

The fourth and final book in the Deck of Lies series, Judgment, is nearly here! The book will be available in online bookstores soon. Now, you'll know what to look for. The cover has been officially revealed!




Cashing Out

Do I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

How can I, when the truth will destroy us all? Now that I've started telling lies, I can't stop. Not until all this is over, and I'm free of the family that never felt like mine. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe I'm a bad person.

But it's definitely the only way I'm ever going to escape them. I have to take this opportunity to end things between us once and for all, no matter what it takes.

Don't I?


And here's a little taste of Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4). You won't find this brief excerpt anywhere else! 



“It’s fine, Rain,” Asher assured me maybe four minutes later. He’d excused himself to leave the room, no doubt to talk to media outside the courthouse, and arrived looking loose and relaxed. At least someone was having a good time. “Warren loves to showboat and grandstand, but he’s never won a case in a head-to-head against me.”
“This isn’t a boxing match,” I answered woodenly. My eyes were still glued to the judge’s bench, though she’d retired to the little room where she hid when court wasn’t in session. I didn’t dare look to the jury; I didn’t know what I would find there if I did.
“You’re wrong about that,” Asher answered. He was actually smiling as he double-checked to make sure his cufflinks were in place and his tie was perfectly straight. He had his briefcase open, and I caught him checking his hair in a tiny mirror secured to the inside corner before he closed it. “It is a boxing match, and you’ve got the better man on your side. Just wait and see,” he added.
Asher came to his feet like he knew the bailiff would choose that moment to enter. The judge followed, and within a minute the court settled down into uneasy silence. Graham Warren’s speech had left its mark on them all.
It was Asher’s job to undo all that work.
“Court is resumed,” the judge tapped her gavel. “Mr. von Shelton, we are now prepared to hear your opening statement.”
Act one of my drama continued as Asher swept gracefully to the center of the room. His brown hair gleamed under the lights, and his light blue silk tie perfectly brought out the golden, tanned tone of his skin.




Check the blog every day this weekend for announcements about Judgment (Deck of Lies, #4), and get the book as soon as it's released! 

Writing 101: Food in Books

Food and books go well together. When you're nice and full from your Thanksgiving feast, there's nothing as sweet as curling up with a good book. They seem to encourage snacking, and sometimes a book is so good it's difficult to pull one's eyes away to bother with looking at dinner. Why not cut right to it, and add food directly into your books? 


Even Characters Have to Eat

Everybody eats. It's one of the universal truths that ties all human beings together. I live in Kentucky, in the United States, and passionately love books and basketball. But when it comes to food, I'm not so different from the boy working on a farm that has no electricity in Asia  -- because I eat it, too. And that brings us right back to why you want to add food to your books. 
  • Realism
Anything that makes your characters feel more real to readers is a good thing, and there's nothing like food to do that for you. Have your character eating pizza with friends or stopping at the fast food burger joint; we've all done that, so we can all relate. Use food to help me relate to your characters, because it'll work. 
  • Descriptive writing
Food also allows you to be really descriptive, and that's exactly what you want your writing to be.  Describe the smell, the texture, the taste. Put me right there in that moment -- in that booth, eating pizza. Put me at the dinner table, cutting into the steak. 
  • Introduce something new
Books allow readers to go to new places, to meet new people...to try new things. Why can't one of those things be food? It can be exciting to read about a food that I've never tasted, to learn about some new dish. I read one book that actually gave me a recipe, and I was delirious about it. I went straight into the kitchen once I got to the end of the chapter, no kidding. Use food to give your readers something new and different, and it will make your writing more memorable and enjoyable.

 Food and Books

Add food to your books, and your readers will eat it up (pun intended). It brings more flavor to the page, and your fans will end up being hungry for more of your writing. I could do this all day, but now I'm the one getting hungry. So think about ways to add more food to your writing while you're eating today, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Writing 101: Getting Exposure

Exposure is the best way to sell books, because if people can't find you they definitely can't buy. As a self-published author, you've probably got accounts on all those social media sites. You may already have a blog, even a website, to promote your writing and your books. But there's more you can start doing if you want to start getting exposure.


Becoming Noticeable

Blogging and staying active in social media, particularly book-centric sites like Goodreads, is a great way to get exposure for yourself as an author and by extension, your books. But you can always take things up to the next level, too. 

First, you've got to identify what sort of author you are. If you write in a specific genre, you've got a good starting point. If you're a short story author, you're already ahead of the game. 

Expose Yourself

Writing articles for magazines, professional blogs and literary journals is a great way to get exposure among a reading audience. But your stuff is only going to get published if it's really good, and it's only going to help you if you go about it in the right way.  

Here's what you have to do: start thinking about topics that are relevant to your books and your writing. For example, I like to write mystery-romance books. I might write an article about real crimes involving couples who were once romantically linked. Maybe I'll call it Jilted: Real Crimes of Passion. Exciting, right? 

That's the whole point. If you write about erotica, maybe you'll come up with an article about safe sex toys, or how to practice bondage in a safe way, or maybe how to find like-minded sexual partners. If you write children's books, an article about the important of youth literacy might be in order, or maybe something scholarly about how creativity is essential in child development.

If you're going to write articles, write them the right way. Use AP style and write in an engaging, informative tone. If you have a specific website in mind for your submission, read other articles on that site to get a feel for the tone they like. Cite your resources, cite your statistics, cite your quotes. Include an About the Author box! If readers can't find you, all this effort isn't doing any good. Offer your articles for free. They're more likely to get published if they're good and there are no strings attached, and the promotion you'll get in return is well worth the time and effort it takes to write the article. You don't need additional compensation.

Writing non-fiction articles just isn't for everyone, and even the most creative novelists struggle with simple newspaper copy. You can always write short stories, or submit your own short stories, instead. It's best if your short stories are in the same genre as the book you'd like to promote (because if readers like your stories, they're more likely to buy a book that's similar). Always include an About the Author box with the submission, and don't forget to include the contact information to help readers find you. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Writing 101: Writing an Author Bio

Every author has to have a bio somewhere, sometime, for something. Just about every website is going to want one, bloggers are bound to ask, and even Amazon expects you to write a little something about yourself when you self-publish your book. 


Who Am I? 

It's a little task, and for many authors it's terrifying. What does one say about oneself? The author bio is another little piece of promotion, and it shouldn't be overlooked. I've literally purchased books based on the strength of an author bio. You want to come up with something standard to use, 50 to 150 words, that is interesting but professional, attention-getting but low-key, suggestive without being pushy...and written in the third person. 

It's a whole lot to ask for, and frankly I find it to be one of the more undesirable tasks that come with being an author. Some people can afford to hire publicists to do this sort of thing for them, but the self-published author has got to write their own bio. Keep a few points in mind while you're working to write a good one. 

About...

There are several standard items that traditionally go into an author bio. Lots of authors mention where they live, their credentials and what they write about. This might look something like this:

S. P. Author makes her home in Boulder, Colorado, where she writes about murders every day. After spending ten years as a private investigator, Author turned her attention to crimes that happen on the page. 

See how interesting that is? Yet the first part of the bio really only gave you the information outlined above: location, credentials, genre. Now, round your author bio out a little, doing your very best to grab the reader's attention. How? By telling them what, specifically, you've got to offer. Adding to the bio we started above, this next bit might look something like this:

S. P. Author has published five mystery novels told from the gritty perspective of a private eye who observes no rules when it comes to solving cases. Visit her blog at spauthorwrites.com for real-life crime stories, excerpts from the books and reviews of mystery novels in all genres.

Now you know even more: this author writes serial mysteries starring a lone investigator, like many of the great mystery writers of the past, and she blogs. You know more about what the author has to offer, and where you can go to get it.

The bio is right around 80 words so far. Finish it up with something colorful if you like to make a lasting impression. Adding on to the bio above, it might end with something like: 

Follow @SAuthorClues to find out why some books are worth killing for.

It's sort of tantalizing, and the author's Twitter is getting a mention, to boot. Now the entire bio is just under 100 words, which is a perfectly manageable size, and it's got all the important information in it. But it's still interesting, and reads well. It's professional, but maybe just a little provocative, too. This is the tone you'll want to strike, but adapt it to suit your own audience. I write mysteries, so naturally I tend toward something a bit dark and cryptic. If you write comedies, be a little bit more funny. If you write romances, be a little bit more suggestive or sweet. If you write children's books, put a little more emphasis on your credentials and think like a parent; they're the ones who will be reading your blurb, not the children you target with your stories.

Writing an author bio can be stressful, but it's still possible to come up with a good one. Be objective, be professional, and add all the important information. Polish it up so it reads well and looks perfect, and save it! You'll end up needing a bio in many different places, so keep it where you get at it easily.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Writing 101: Press Releases

Why do some books succeed, where others fail? A lot of professionals say it's all in the marketing. When it comes to budget, the big publishing houses probably have the advantage over you as a self-published author. But you are your own best possible advocate. And when it comes to gumption, you've got the marketing edge. Use it well by creating press releases. It's totally free for you to do so.


Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Press releases are created for any number of events, products and people, but only for one reason: promotion. Think of it as a text-based advertisement. Instead of moving video or a stunning graphic image, you're using words, and only words, to sway the audience. Many authors excel at writing press releases because they are completely word-based.

Any writer can figure out how to write a press release, because they all follow a pretty simple formula. Master the formula, and then start working on your rhetoric.

All press releases begin with the line For Immediate Release. It's put in bold, and sometimes it's written in all caps. Beneath this, write the headline of your press release. It should read like a newspaper headline -- exciting and to the point. On the first paragraph, the press release begins with a city and state, country, and complete date. After this pertinent information is given, there is a dash ( - ) and the text of the press release begins on the first line.

This first paragraph ought to serve as a brief introduction, outlining the most relevant information. When you're writing a press release to promote your books, what's the relevant information? Are you announcing the release of the book, announcing a giveaway maybe? The date of the event is relevant, as is the name of the book and of the author. If you have a blog or you've written other books, this information may be relevant, too. A press release for me might read as follows:

For Immediate Release
Author Visits Blank Bookstore to Read, Sign Books

Topeka, KS, USA, November 20, 2012 - Jade Varden, author of the Deck of Lies series, will be appearing this weekend to give a public reading at the Blank Bookstore on Fifth Avenue. The author will stay for three hours after the reading to sign books, which will be available for purchase in the store. 

In the next paragraph, you'll want to start elaborating. Using the example above, I'd go on to elaborate on the Deck of Lies series. How many books are in it? What's it about? When writing a press release, always remember that you're trying to sell something. Make it exciting, fill it with verbs, and make sure it isn't boring. The second paragraph of a press release for a book launch might read as follows:

Gravity tells the tale of Reeva, a fairy girl who was separated from her own family as an infant. She's been raised among the humans, but she is not a human. When the world she was born to collides with the world where she was raised, Reeva will have to use all her skills to save the ones she loves. There's only one thing that might keep her from realizing her full potential: Gravity.

The third paragraph should add even more elaboration, except this is where you start to make it personal. If you want your press release to be a success, you want to create some sort of emotion in your readers. Make them love you. Make them hate you. Make them act. This is where you'll want to point out what's unique or special about your event. Why is this book release or event important? Why do I care? Will I get some special edition of the book if I buy it right now, or through the author's website? Will I get an electronically signed copy? Example:

S. P. Author is a trained teacher who worked with children for years before creating Gravity, a book about finding oneself even when it means breaking all the rules. To celebrate the release of Gravity, Author is giving away 100 signed copies of the book free on her website. New followers who sign up between November 20 and November 30 will be eligible for the giveaway. 

Beneath all the text that compels readers to act, you must include contact information to make the press release complete. Usually this information is preceded by the line For More Information and then the information, like visit S. P. Author's website at spauthorswebsite.com. 

You may want to include an "About" section at the very bottom of the press release. This is a standard bio box that will provide a little extra information about the author of the book or the book itself.

Press releases and any About sections must be written in the third person. That means you never use the word "I" or "me." You should also write formally, meaning that you never address the reader directly; do not use the word "you" at any time. Keep the release short, no longer than 500 words including all text and headings.

Need help? Download press release templates to keep yourself on track while you're writing your marketing materials. Find samples of press releases in order to absorb the right tone and style.

When you're done and your press release is absolutely perfect, submit it to press release sites like prleap.com, prweb.com or pr.com. You may also wish to send copies to your local newspapers and news blogs, along with sites that specialize in book news and/or indie book news.

Press releases help you spread the work about your books, and spreading the word is what marketing is all about. It does take extra time and effort, but well-written press releases give your book a little extra professionalism and may even bring you some extra readers.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Books on Film: Nancy Drew

Even if you haven't read the books, or seen the movies, you've heard the name Nancy Drew. She's a famous book detective, and through the years she's been edited, adapted and re-packaged endlessly so she can keep on being relevant. And it's worked, because we all still know who she is -- and she's been a teenager since the 1930s.


The Books

Nancy Drew was born on the page in 1930, to be exact, with The Secret of the Old Clock. This first book spawned an entire series that's going on 83 years old. The many, many books in the series are written under the name Carolyn Keene, a person who does not exist. Several ghostwriters have been responsible for crafting Nancy's adventures over the years.

Ghostwriters were also used to change those stories. Nancy underwent her first big re-branding in 1959, to eliminate racist stereotypes and other subject matter that didn't make for appropriate reading in those times of Civil Rights. Drew changed again in the 1980s, becoming a bit older and more professional in her detective endeavors. The entire original series wasn't ended until 2004, when Nancy Drew re-emerged under the Girl Detective mystery series. She's way more PC in this version, and even drives an electric car (gas is in the past, kids). 

Despite all the changes, or maybe because of them, Nancy has remained highly popular among YA readers through the years More than 80 million books featuring her have been sold around the world. She's also appeared in no less than 5 feature-length films, two TV shows and more computer games than you can shake a mouse at.

She began as a 16-year-old amateur sleuth bent on solving mysterious crimes. Later, she became 18 years old. Nancy lives in River Heights (which does not exist) with her father Carson Drew, a successful lawyer. Housekeeper Hannah provides the mothering influence that Nancy needs, as she lost her biological mother when she was very young. In the original stories, Nancy's mom left the picture when she was 10. Later, Nancy was 3 when her mother died. Nancy also has a love interest, Ned Nickerson, who goes to Emerson College.

Nancy Drew has a truly mind-boggling array of skills. In addition to being beautiful, she speaks French, knows how to drive boats, paints and understands the intricate workings of the human mind. She also swims, sews, cooks, plays golf and tennis, rides horses, dances like a pro, knows first aid and, of course, plays bridge (some sort of card game). She also has a seemingly inexhaustible income, and usually tools around in a blue convertible. All this, in spite of the fact that she doesn't accept money for her detecting efforts. Solving the crime is more than compensation enough for Nancy Drew.


Most of the Nancy Drew books written between 1930 and 1959 were penned by a woman named Hannah Gruen, herself a very self-confident and self-possessed independent woman. She drew some flak for making Nancy too assertive and confident, and interjected lines throughout the book where Nancy is talking "sweetly" or "kindly" to people to tone down her perceived abrasive nature. Harriet Adams took charge of the series in 1959, going through all the books to make the needed changes to eliminate racism.

The books are somewhat formulaic in nature, but no less enjoyable for it. Each revolves around a specific mystery, upon which Nancy stumbles accidentally or has been asked to solve by some other character. She sometimes has help with these mysteries, but invariably ends up solving every clue herself. She's pretty and she's stylish, but Nancy isn't afraid to go anywhere, do anything or confront anyone. She always has a flashlight within easy reach, and thinks nothing of creeping through cellars or climbing around attics. A cursory nod to character development is given, and if you read the series you'll notice new developments in the lives of the people who surround Nancy Drew.

Several new series were created to re-introduce Nancy over the years, including The Nancy Drew Files and Nancy Drew on Campus. Nancy broke up with Ned during this series, and became the leading lady of Girl Detective in 2003. She's been through many changes over the years in the literary world, but Nancy Drew has been adapted several times on the screen as well.

The Movies

Actress Bonita Granville became Nancy Drew in four different Warner Bros. films during the 1930s. The stories became more comedy than mystery, and the self-assured Nancy of the early books became vapid and silly on the silver screen. Ned's name was changed to Ted for reasons unknown. These films are very hard to find, but you can sometimes see them on TCM. 

Nancy came to the small screen in the 1970s, this time played by actress Pamela Sue Martin (and later, when Pamela left, by Janet Louise Johnson). This Nancy was more assertive and bold, more like the original storybook Nancy, but arguably didn't look a thing like the character described on the page. Tracy Ryan played Nancy in a very brief 1995 TV series, and she didn't really look like Nancy either.

Nancy Drew languished in film obscurity until 2007, when Warner Bros. produced a fairly big-budget, highly promoted film version of the classic stories. Emma Roberts played Nancy, who was moved into the modern era. The adaptation does take a few tongue-in-cheek moments to poke fun at the long history of the Nancy Drew series, but in this version she's back to being very smart and less concerned about romance, more like the 1930s version of the character. Rumor has it that Roberts has already agreed to appear in the sequel.


In this version, Nancy has recently moved, temporarily, with her father Carson from River Heights. And because she's Nancy, she picked a rental house with its own built-in mystery. It's the former home of a somewhat obscure film star, Dehlia Draycott, who was mysteriously murdered (some sources say that the character was based on Natalie Wood, a well-known actress who did become the victim of a still-unsolved crime). But Carson doesn't approve of Nancy's sleuthing, and hopes that she'll become more "normal" while living in California. 

That's not who Nancy is. She ends up throwing herself into the mystery wholeheartedly, as usual, and begins to unravel all the clues. Nancy's blue car is featured in the flick, as is love interest Ned.

What Got Adapted?

Arguably, the 2007 movie makes fun of Nancy. She "likes old-fashioned things," and doesn't dress like anyone else (because she's really from the 30s). She's very smart when it comes to sleuthing, but seems to lack common sense in all other areas. And she's socially awkward, something the real Nancy Drew never was even through all her changes and re-vamping. The real Nancy makes friends easily and often draws admiration from others. Her friends George and Bess have completely disappeared, something that's sure to upset longtime Nancy fans, and much of the movie focuses on how weird and different she is -- when we all know that Nancy is highly adaptable. She's known for it.

That said, it's a really fun, cute movie, and Emma Roberts is adorable as Nancy Drew. There are definitely elements of the original books in the movie, and there's certainly a mystery to be solved if you look hard enough for it. Ned's a cutie, Nancy's new friend is absolutely delightful on screen, and there's even a cameo from Roberts family friend Bruce Willis (it pays to be related to Julia). So if you haven't seen it, see it! When you're done, read all 200-plus Nancy Drew books, and see if you think the film adaptation is an appropriate modern update for the long-running franchise.

Friday, November 16, 2012

From the Trenches: Unbroken

Receiving rejections is a wearing, wearying experience. Each brand-new letter brings a ray of hope. Every time the envelope is opened, that hope is crushed. It's like standing on top of a mountain for thirty seconds before falling to the Earth...and it's a long, long way down.


One author refused to let that fall break her, and because she wouldn't give up all of us know her name.

Being Stubborn

Judy Blume was born in 1938 in New Jersey. As a child, she liked to make up stories in her head. After graduating high school, Judy attended Boston University, but went on to graduate from NYU with a degree in teaching.

Teach she would, but not necessarily in the classroom. Judy went on to marry in the early 1960s, and became busy with a home and a young family. But all those stories were still in her head. So when her children started attending school, July Blume finally had the time to start writing them down. She wrote prolifically, and eventually got enough gumption together to submit her stories to publishers.

They were promptly rejected. Undeterred, Judy Blume continued writing and submitting...and she continued receiving rejection letters. She began selling short stories to magazines, but for two straight years only rejection letters came in the mail.

Blume recounted her experience in her own words on her website: "One magazine, Highlights for Children, sent a form letter with a list of possible reasons for rejection. 'Does not win in competition with others,' was always checked off on mine. I still can't look at a copy of Highlights without wincing."

True Grit

"I would go to sleep at night feeling that I'd never be published. But I'd wake up in the morning convinced I would be."


Blume said that she learned a little more with each new story she created. And finally, someone else agreed. She published her first book in 1969, then a second quickly after. But it wasn't until Are You There God, It's Me Margaret came out in 1971 that Blume officially became a bestselling author.

Her books have sold more than 80 million copies around the world, and today Judy Blume is considered to be one of the foremost children's writers in the business. Take that, Highlights magazine!

Judy Blume was stubborn, and continued to dream about being a writer even when her hopes were repeatedly crushed. She didn't give up, and eventually the publishing industry gave in. She wrote in the trenches, fueled on little more than hope, and she's still writing today.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Writing 101: Print Marketing

No, you haven't fallen into a time warp. Print marketing is still relevant, up to a point, and there are a whole lot of good reasons why you should be using it to market your self-published books. 


Really, It's a Good Idea

I know, I know. Everyone and everything is online these days, including self-published books. So what can print possibly hope to offer to a digital-savvy writer who's hip to social media and an entire world of e-marketing? 
Bookmarks. Lots of people still love their paper books, and each one of those rectangles is a marketing opportunity. First, print them up using images from your book cover. Add pertinent info in easy-to-read text, like "available in print and online at Amazon.com" and maybe your author blog address. A quote or two praising the book probably wouldn't be out of hand, either. Remember to print images and text on the front and back. 

Once you've got them, give them away. Go to your local bookstore (if you still have one) and ask if you can set them on the counter to give away for free. They can also be set out at card shops, novelty shops, and even the grocery store. Just ask someone for permission, and set them out. And whatever you do, don't forget the library. Your local library is probably very willing to give out your bookmarks, hang up your flyers and maybe even have you in to give a little presentation about self-publishing, literacy or another book-related topic. Take your bookmarks with you. Local marketing is a powerful tool, because people are going to find it much harder to reject you when you're standing there, in their faces.

Make up some flyers, as well, and if you're truly feeling ambitious make up a couple of posters. Make them beautiful. If you're going to do it, then go ahead and do it well. The more gorgeous your printed materials are, the more successful your local campaign is going to be. Hang posters and flyers in the library and bookstores, if they let you, and anywhere else you can. Local coffee shops and music store are often very supportive of local artists of all types, including authors. While you're at the coffee shop, ask them about open mic night if they've got one. Read a short story, a poem or a compelling excerpt of your book. And before you leave, make sure you pass out all of your (that's right!) bookmarks. This tangible proof of the existence of your book will make it much easier for them to remember to buy it. Go to the college bookstore and college hangouts as well to give our your stuff. The campus environment is very supportive of indies and local artists.

It does cost an investment, and there's no promise of a return on that investment. But print is such an unpopular medium these days, you can probably take advantage of sales and budget deals that will help you save a little money. You may also find it more cost-effective to print the stuff up yourself. Take the time to do some pricing on your bookmarks, crunch some numbers, and figure it out.

To get more for your time and effort, you can always re-use the graphics. Post the bookmarks on your blog or website as a template so people can print out their own copies of your bookmark. You can offer it at-large, or maybe as part of a special gift that you give to readers through a promotion. People do still read on paper, and I have paper copies of books that I'll never part with. Bookmarks are still the best way to save one's place in the middle of Harry Potter, or whatever, and there's no reason why I can't be using yours to do it. Maybe I'll look at the book cover and think it seems interesting, and I'll remember your name the next time I go shopping for ebooks on my Kindle. 

Aren't you willing to take that risk?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writing 101: Re-Releases, New Editions and Extras

The first time she submitted Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews was rejected. It was too long, the publisher advised, and boring. So Andrews went back to the book, eliminated about 100 pages and added the stuff that would "make [her] mother blush." It was a huge hit right away, leading to a movie, three sequels, one prequel...and a career that outlived the author herself.

Authors don't always get it right the first time, especially self-published authors who have to learn how to do every bit copyediting, formatting and marketing on their own. There are lots of reasons why you might have to issue a re-release or a new edition of a book you've already published in the past. But if you do it, make sure you do it the right way.


Re-Releases

Re-releases are common in the book world, and there's no reason self-published authors can't join in. Books that have been re-released usually are not changed in any way; all the text of the book is the same. In some cases, the text may be newly copyedited for correctness. But even in this case, the story hasn't changed; nothing has been added, or taken away.

That's why you've got to add one crucial element to make your re-release more successful: you need a new cover. You have to bring something new to the table, and you have to distinguish this new re-release from the old version of your book. An introductory price definitely wouldn't be out of line, either. Promote the new cover, the temporary price and the re-release itself. 

New Editions

If any significant changes have been made to the book, including very thorough editing, you have to release a new edition (in most cases, the Second Edition). It's okay to stick with the same cover if you like, because when you put out a new edition you won't be creating a brand-new page for the book. You will be wholly replacing the first edition of the book, so the cover can carry over if you like.

However, you'll have to promote the new edition really hard. With self-published authors, new editions are most commonly released because major editing errors or formatting problems have now been corrected. This is a great thing to do; if there are problems with your book, fix them. If you've decided to address a bunch of problems at once and release a whole new edition, you've got to make a whole thing out of it. 

Why? Because, chances are pretty good that you got several negative reviews regarding the editing and formatting (why else would you go to such trouble to fix it all?), and now you've got to win readers back. You'll have to respond to the negative reviews, and announce on your book's information that this second edition has been fully edited and re-formatted, or whatever. 

To make the new edition even more palatable, and perhaps get some second-time buyers as well, you might want to include something else: an author's note. It's promotable, and it's a good way to address the readers directly and tell them why you've released this new edition of the book. Since significant changes have been made, it's a good idea to reference these changes and re-invite your fans to read the story. 

Extras

Of course, there's another really important reason you might issue a re-release of your books: you wrote a series. It's common practice in the book biz to release boxed set editions of serial books; I personally own several of these sets. Self-published authors are in the book biz, so why not release a boxed set of your series?

If you do, it's a good idea to give the fans a reason to re-buy all the books they already read. You're going to need to add extras. Did yo draw up any sketches while you were working on the books? Maybe create some maps, calendars, notes? What research materials did you pull? Take a look back through all your notes, and you might find some interesting tidbits that you can share with your readers. Add a few extras to your re-releases and new editions, no matter why you're releasing them, and you'll give readers that much more incentive to check out your new-old book. You're trying to get a second chance, so make it as easy as possible for them to give you one.