When Do You Beta?

Beta image by Arturo D. Castillo on Flickr. Creative Commons license, unaltered.Not long ago, I sent off my Gothic to some beta readers. After I did, I read a couple of comments on writerly loops about the fact that they use beta readers as a final check on their books and I suddenly panicked. Not because I think they’re right (I don’t think there’s a “right” way to write a book — you get feedback when it works for you) but because I thought these poor people who’d said they would beta were going to expect a book that was basically finished.

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Perhaps I ought to call my readers Alpha readers. The things I want from betas are not that useful after the book is in its final form. I want them to tell me where they’re bored, where they want more of something. I want them to say “this scene needs to be longer,” or “that scene should go away entirely.” If they find a character unbelievable, or they figure out the villain too soon, or they recognize a MacGuffin, those things will have a huge effect on the revisions I do to the book.

For me, beta-ing takes place at the same time as developmental editing, not at the same time as copy editing.

How about you? Do you beta? If so, when?

Organization for the Writer’s Mind (and Desk)

GetittogetherOne of my writing buddies organized the “Get It Together” blog hop, which is five, count ’em, five days of authors talking about how they organize their lives, their books, their writing spaces…everything. I think there are about 30 participating authors, and most of them have put things into the huge, massive giveaway of books, gift cards and organizational goodies that you can enter on any of the blog hop posts. My own post is today on my blog, so you can enter there if you like, and get a peek into the crazy world that is my planner obsession!

Defining the Gothic

Touch Not the CatI’m over on All About Romance today talking about a subject near and dear to my heart: the Gothic. I love Gothics in all their many forms and flavors, from horror to romance. I love the creepy feeling of dread at the back of my neck and having to check under my bed before I go to sleep.

What do you guys think? Are you fans of the Gothic? Do you have an abiding love for Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels? What makes a Gothic…Gothic?

Why Can’t I Just Write?

Gaming the System by Laura K CurtisI know I am not the only one who gets frustrated by the business aspects of being a writer. But I do try to curtail those frustrations. My close friends know them, but I don’t blare them out publicly. After all, people (okay, not a lot of people, but some people) are reading stories I made up. Do you realize how cool that is?

My latest self-published romance, Gaming the System, came out a couple of weeks ago. Is it selling like hotcakes? Nope. It’s selling better than my first self-pubbed romance did, though. But I am working harder at selling this one, too. Once you have more than one in a series, you can play with promotional ideas. At the moment, the first book is free everywhere except Amazon–I’m still waiting for them to price-match. I’m also madly writing for several blogs, and I will be reading at Lady Jane’s Salon on July 21, the eve of the big Romance Writers of America conference in NYC.

It’s a lot of work. And it takes away from my time editing Mind Games, the Penguin romantic suspense that comes out in November, and writing the book after that.

And that’s frustrating. Not just spending time on those blog posts and readings and promotional strategies, but spending energy and money on them, too. Hire a publicist? $$$. Do all the things she tells you to do? Time and energy sucked away. Why should I do any of that stuff when everyone tells me that all that matters is writing a good book?

Well, I should do it because I want people to read my stories and order for them to want to read them, they have to know about them.

I hear a lot of complaints from the writing community. A LOT. Sometimes, I feel like just leaving the community altogether because I can’t believe how much people whine.

I have had people complain to me because their publisher isn’t picking up their next book. Publishers are businesses. If you’re not making as much money for them as the guy next to you is, why should they keep you?

Lately, people are screaming bloody murder because Amazon changed their policy about what they pay for books borrowed through Kindle Unlimited. Again…Amazon is a business. They’re not your fairy godmother. And no one said you had to put your books in KU — if you don’t like the policy, take your books out!

I had someone tell me that she drew the line at spending money to publish her books. Well, okay, but understand that if you say that my response will be “then don’t complain to me that your books aren’t published.” Because if you want your book out there and you don’t have a traditional publisher, you will have to pay for editing, and more editing, and covers, and—unless you want to learn to do it—formatting.

If you really want your books published and you really want them to be the best they can be and you really want people to read them…all those things are possible. You just have to make up your mind, set your priorities. It’s up to you to make it happen.

We all have days where we wish we could “just write.” But if that’s your priority, understand that you may not find readers. If you want to be read, you have to do more.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow…

♫ Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, because you’re my release day. ♫ Or something like that! I’ve been in a weird mood with getting music stuck in my head. Last month, I was on a panel about romance and mystery at Sisters in Crime and I couldn’t stop singing:

♫ Love and murder, love and murder, they go together like a sheep and herder
Let me tell you brother, one soon follows on the other….♫

But anyway, back to the topic of this post. Tomorrow my new book Echoes, comes out. It’s the first in a new series about  group of security specialists who work cases like kidnap and ransom, personal security, high tech espionage…basically all the fun stuff. Since they’re not cops or military, they work without quite so many restraints. And they were founded by the very wealthy and very mysterious Dwight “Nashville” Harper, so they get all the good toys. Here’s the cover copy:

A single photo of herself as an infant on a beach, taken before the date on her birth certificate, throws everything Calliope Pearson knows about herself into question. Hoping to find answers, she takes advantage of her job as a travel writer to make a reservation at the Caribbean island resort in the picture.

Resort security chief Mac Brody distrusts Callie on sight. After all, she looks exactly like his deceitful missing wife, Nikki, who owns half the resort. But when Nikki’s found dead, Mac’s facing murder charges, and he’s sure that Callie must hold the key to proving his innocence.

The deeper Callie and Mac dive into the mystery of her past, the more bodies surface. And they’ll have to learn to trust each other, or become victims of a dark danger neither could’ve imagined….

I hope you’ll consider taking a break in the Caribbean after this harsh, harsh winter!

(Edited to add: I’m giving away cheese to celebrate this release…mostly because I am the cheesiest writer any of you know. But also for other reasons. To find out what they are and enter to win, head over to The Cheesiest Giveaway!)

Try Before You Buy (Services, That Is)

Echoes by Laura K. CurtisThere’s been a great deal of discussion in the authorly corners of the web that I frequent of late about how much it can cost to publish a book version how much it has to cost. Even in traditional publishing, you may choose to spend money on things like getting an editor or buying advertising or paying a publicist. But let’s start from the ground up:

  • Editing
    • developmental (story) editing
    • copy editing
    • proofreading
  • Covers
  • Formatting
    • ebook
    • print
  • Uploading to various sites
  • Marketing (this includes anything you pay for and distribute like ads, dropcards, freebies, etc.)
  • Publicity (if you hire a PR firm to get placement in newspapers, magazines, blogs, to advise you on career moves, etc. This includes blog tours.)

Frankly, the first item on this list is where the vast majority of your money should go. A couple of years ago, I wrote a long rant about paying too much for publicity. All that stuff is still valid, but I wanted to update my thoughts and add a few now that I’ve dealt with a great deal more of this myself.

So, yes. Editing. That’s the single most important thing. If you’re with a small press that doesn’t edit well enough, pay for it yourself. If you’re self-publishing, pay for it. But more than just the money aspect, you must RESEARCH editors. Seriously. Anyone can hang out a shingle as an editor. These are people you are hiring and your reputation will be tied to their abilities. Some questions to ask a prospective editor:

  • who have you worked for? (Have they worked at publishing houses? What are the names of some of their clients? Do they have references?)
  • what genres are of particular interest to you? (If an editor doesn’t read your genre, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are, they cannot help you make your work a better fit for its audience)
  • will you test edit a couple of pages of my manuscript so we can see whether we can work well together?

So now your work is edited. If you’re with a publishing house, they’ll provide a cover. If you’re self-pubbing, you’ll need to do something about that yourself. Again, research is key. You can buy some really nice pre-made covers for ebooks for $50. Or you can go all the way up to getting a custom photo shoot ($500+) and then paying a designer to incorporate it into a new cover. Here again, your reputation will be tied to this person’s work, so take some time and look around.

Toying with his Affections by Laura K. CurtisNow, if you’re self-pubbing, there are a number of services that will format your work for you. Be sure to ask them whether the price includes updating the formatted book every time you write another book. Because you’ll want to include links in the back of one book to your other books, and they’ll have to be updated at least once a year, if not more often. Some places/people will also upload to various sites to you. But if they do, find out if you’ll have to pay them when you want to change the price, etc. Both of these (formatting and uploading) are technical skills, not talent. You can learn to do them yourself, but they will take time. It’s entirely up to you how you balance the time/money seesaw!

And then, once the book is out (well, no, really long before the book is out, but you get the idea), you need to make some decisions about marketing and publicity. Remember what I said about editors? That goes for publicity folk, too. And the first question you need to ask is of yourself: What do you expect this person to do for you, exactly? And no, “make my book a bestseller” is not a suitable answer.

I have had immense frustrations with publicists, and I have had great experiences with publicists. In the case of a publisher-assigned publicist, you have no choice. But you should never pay for someone you can’t work with! As with an editor, a publicist should work in your field. And if you look at a prospective publicist’s client list (on their website) and don’t recognize any of the names, that might be a problem. Because if you read widely in a field (which you should be doing in the genre you’re writing in), and you’ve never heard of any of a publicist’s clients, how widely is she publicizing them?

I am a long-term thinker. I like everyone who works with me to be long-term thinkers, too. I have six-month, two-year, and five-year plans (they aren’t set in stone or anything, but they exist). Am I obsessive? Probably. When I spoke to a publicist in January and she said we should talk in February about my November release, I knew I had met a like mind. And that’s important. You need to click with your agent, your editor, your publicist if at all possible. These are people you have to feel comfortable talking to.

So take your time, do your research, and find the right person for each job on your list.

The Graying of the Mystery Market

readingwomanAs mystery readers and writers, we are all concerned with the health and well-being of the mystery market. The more people there are reading mysteries, the more opportunity there will be to write them–that’s the obvious part–but it is also true that if more people read mysteries, there will be more mysteries published for those of us who are fans to choose from.

The latest research from Nielsen Market Research is alarming for those who read and write and generally love mysteries. Porter Anderson has an in-depth report over at Thought Catalog. What it comes down to is this:


So what’s the problem? Where’s the next Nancy Drew who will suck young readers into the mystery genre? What can we do to show all those young readers that mystery’s the thing that will set their hearts on fire? (If you’ve got young relatives, I will mention here that there are now Nancy Drew graphic novels…just a thought.)

Anderson has some great ideas and I urge you to read the entirety of his post. But I don’t think there’s a single answer to the problem. We see it among writers as well–whereas in my romance groups, the writers are getting younger every day (so that I feel ancient), in my mystery groups we rarely seem to be adding young blood. When we get new members, or when hopeful authors come to conferences, they tend to be at least 40, if not considerably older. Where are the fresh-out-of-college kids who want to write mystery? They must be out there!

Anderson talks about Elizabeth Spann Craig and her use of Wattpad. This is what drew me to the article originally, I think, because I’ve been considering Wattpad as a platform for some of my work that is different from what I am currently writing for publication. Those of you who have followed me for a long time know I started off writing cozies. I’d like to have more readers, and those books are not making me any money, so I am considering putting one or more on Wattpad just to give myself some exposure to a different audience. I am not 100% sure I will do it…I am spread rather thin as it is…but it’s encouraging to know that someone else has tried it out already.

Do you have any ideas for bringing mystery to the (younger) masses?

Making New Habits

9781594632563So the time is coming when some people will be making resolutions. As I may have mentioned in the past, I don’t do resolutions. I prefer to set goals. Goals involve a journey and if your journey takes a little longer than expected, well, it’s all good as long as you’re still headed in the same direction.

The best way to head in a direction—whether that direction is toward a healthier body, higher daily word counts, or more self-confidence—is to form positive habits. There are numerous books out there that will help you do so. In fact, it seems another is published every day. And most of them have the same kinds of advice, so it’s likely that any of them you find in your local library will do. But first you have to want to change.

If you’re ready to start making new habits, here’s a little video from Victoria (V.E.) Schwab that gives you some free advice for how to get your writing productivity up.  You can use it for anything you like, though. Want to get healthier? Get a FitBit or something and use this system to mark down the days you meet your step goals.

So good luck writing your way through this next month and into the new year, and here’s to forming new, happy habits.

A Challenge: What Are Your Reading Habits?

A bookish meme one of my friends did that I’ve copied from her…

Deep Blue Good-byA. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From: John D. MacDonald
B. Best Sequel Ever: Hmmm… Nightmare in Pink or Dark Hollow
C. Currently Reading: Secrets on the Sand by Roxanne St. Claire
D. Drink of Choice While Reading: Infused water (lemon or watermelon) or iced tea
E. E-Reader or Physical Books: eReader. It used to be kindle, but I’ve been trending toward iPad of late.
F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School: The only “boy” I ever had a crush on in books in high school were the Greasers of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.
G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance: The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman

Over on my blog, I’ve answered this entire alphabet’s worth of questions about reading. Now, how about you? I challenge you to answer the questions…in the comments here, on your own blog, on FB, wherever, and let us know where to find your answers!

Trailers and Covers and Copy, Oh My!

A few new things from me! First, the trailer for LOST, which I hope makes you laugh as hard as I did when I saw it. If you have kids or grandkids who’ve taken you to the Lego movie, it will make even more sense.

And then there’s the cover—and cover copy—for my forthcoming self-published book that will be out next month:

Toying with his Affections coverGood girl gone bad…
Evie Bell couldn’t wait to get out of the small town that had labeled her a goodie two-shoes. She dreamed of showing her more daring side. Selling sex toys might not have been the career she envisioned when she left Fairview, TN, to become a Las Vegas showgirl, but she’s proud of her hard-earned success. Now, forced to return to the town she’d hoped never to see again to care for her ailing aunt she will need every bit of that pride to get along with those who disapprove of her way of life.

Bad boy gone good…
Griffin Barstow was given a choice at eighteen: jail or the military. He chose the military. Now he’s come home to Fairview to run for sheriff. But small towns have long memories and the last thing he needs while trying to convince voters he’s turned his life around is an attraction to a completely inappropriate woman.

Evie would like to avoid Griffin entirely. Her aunt, however, is in financial as well as medical trouble, and Evie must take on the job of making her aunt’s shop more profitable the only way she knows how—by adding a touch of sex appeal. And when vandals make their disapproval of her changes evident, she needs the law on her side. When sparks begin to fly, both will have to decide whether a future together is possible given the issues of the past.

As usual when I have something new coming out, I have giveaways going on on my blog (starting with a nail polish kit great for adults and children alike). And I will also be trying something new with TOYING, where those who are signed up for my newsletter will get a 1/2-off coupon good for the first week the book is on sale.

Now, I know I am not the only one with books coming soon…let’s see some more covers, y’all!