Archive for the L.J. Sellers Category

Best Wishes for a Great 2014

New Year startNew Year’s is my favorite holiday! I love a fresh start and a chance to establish new habits and set new goals. At this point in my life, I’ve kicked most of my bad habits (except Diet Dr. Pepper), so this year’s resolutions are more about what I want to start doing rather than what I need to stop.

My personal list is pretty short and simple: I plan to dance more, maybe even take lessons. I hope to take hand drum lessons too. I’ve had the drum for a couple of years and I want to learn how to really play it. And I want to get out and see more of my gorgeous state this summer, do some hiking.

As for writing and publishing, I’m feeling pretty ambitious for the year. I plan to write and publish two more Agent Dallas books, one of which I’m working on now. The first one releases on New Year’s day and I have a great giveaway planned. I also plan to write Detective Jackson #10 before the year’s over. So here’s the production schedule:

  • January 1: The Trigger (Agent Dallas #1) released
  • January-March: Write Agent Dallas #2
  • May: Publish Agent Dallas #2
  • May-July: Write Jackson #10
  • July 1: Deadly Bonds (Jackson #9) releases
  • September-October: Write Agent Dallas #3
  • December: Publish Agent Dallas #3
  • March 1: Detective Jackson #10 releases

 

At the end of this year, I’ll have 16 books written—10 Jackson stories, 3 Dallas stories, and 3 standalone thrillers. And the only one that won’t be published until 2015 is Jackson #10. It’s an ambitious schedule but doable. My personal life seems to have settled down a little, and Thomas & Mercer is handling the production and marketing of the Jackson series. What will be challenging is doing all the production and marketing for the Agent Dallas series, which I’m independently publishing. But after this first one, it should get easier.

I will also be moving sometime in the spring, and I’ll also be working on Left Coast Crime 2015 as the co-chair…so I’ll be plenty busy.

I really hope readers like the new series. Agent Dallas has been a lot of fun for me. As much as I love Jackson, it’s nice change of pace to write about someone who is less structured and less encumbered. In other words, Dallas is a little wild, and I’m enjoying her life vicariously. ☺

Happy reading! Happy New Year! Thanks for all your support

Zip Lines at Camp Dakota

Bad weather at the coast lead me to an unexpected adventure at Camp Dakota, a campground and thrillseekers’s haven just northeast of Salem. My husband I spent an afternoon on the zip lines, a sport we fell in love with after we tried it in Mexico.

The lower three lines were fun enough, but only four of us out of a group of twelve ventured on to the advanced course, which took us as high as 70 feet off the ground. To get to the first platform, we had to climb a vertical ladder, which was strangely more intimidating that the zip lines. My feet were sweating (90 degrees), and I had slip on shoes, and I felt vulnerable, even though I knew I was hooked to a line from the platform.

zip line ladderAt the platform, I decided to get out my flip camera and hold it one hand while I zipped, only gripping the strap with my right. Launching with one hand was a little nerve-racking.

Hanging on isn’t necessary at all. The harness around your waist and legs provides the support. But your brain tells you to hang on anyway. Being a daredevil, I decided to try the next line, the fastest of the six, with no hands. Nathan, one of our guides, encouraged me to step off the platform with my hands at my side. Yikes! Loving a challenge, I went for it.

On the lower lines, I also tried walking off backward with my eyes closed and taking a running jump from the side to make the cable swing back and forth while I traveled down it. Great fun! My natural instinct is to laugh with delight as I propel through the air.

Camp Dakota zip lineLanding is fun and a little challenging too. A guide is there to grab your harness and make sure you stay on the platform. And the tree has a big cushion for people like my husband who come in fast and heavy. Mostly, you just have to lift your feet, then bring them down again to stay solid. I came fast in on one line and hit one of the cushions too and loved it. All part of the experience.

If you have a free afternoon, I highly recommend this experience!

A Publisher, an Agent, and a New Novel

I recently completed my third Jackson story—working title, Thrilled to Death. Most of my early readers think it’s the best Jackson story yet. We’ll see. The first person I sent it to was an editor at Berkley who asked to see in January while I was still writing it. She read the first two stories, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For, and loved both. But she didn’t think she could sell the edgy, controversial themes to her sales reps. So she reluctantly passed, but said, “Please send me the next Jackson story and anything else you write.”

It feels pretty amazing and exciting to have this direct connection to a publisher. But I keep hearing that I still need an agent. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. I need someone to read, understand, and represent my entire body of work, including my standalone thriller, The Baby Thief, which features Jackson as a minor character. I also would love to sell my work in other countries. (Wouldn’t we all?)

So I wrote a query and e-mailed it to an agent in the Trident Media Group. She responded the next day, asking to see all three Jackson manuscripts. I like her already, because she’s interested in the series from the beginning and wants to see the body of work. She also has extensive foreign rights experience. This could be great.

But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve signed with great agents and had one call me and say, “I’ll have an offer for you next week,” then have it fall though. I’m not counting on Berkley either. She’s turned me down twice. So the queries will keep going out.

I feel like I have a new momentum though that’s different this time. Once the next book comes out in September, I’ll feel like I actually have a little street cred too. I can’t wait for that. Come on Echelon Press!

So now I’m working on a fourth Jackson story, Passions of the Dead: The outline is complete, and I have a thousand words on the page. I’m trying a slightly new structure, and I’m excited to write this story.

Here’s the first paragraph:
Jolie’s first hint that today would be worse than most was missing the homeless vet on the corner of 7th and Washington. She always handed a dollar out the window to the old guy with no teeth as she approached the intersection on her way to work. Sometimes when the light was green, it was tricky, because the person behind her got impatient and honked. But Jolie didn’t care. Giving away the dollar had become a talisman that she hoped would keep more shitty things from happening to her.

Does it make you want to keep reading?

L.J.'s Footnotes

I’ve been tagged twice now, so I’ll play. Here are six things you probably didn’t know about me.

I once rode my bike from Oregon to the Grand Canyon, crossing Donner Pass on the way. It took us three days to ride uphill to Truckee and only 45 minutes to descend into Reno. There was 12 feet of snow along the sides of the road at the top and six inches of slush and sand on the road coming down. Crazy! (I was 23 at the time.)

I have jumped out of a perfectly good airplane (loved it!), gone up in a hot-air balloon, and often zoom downhill on my bike at speeds of 40 mph.

I was the third of six children in a fairly poor working class home. But in many ways, I was the oldest—the first to get a job and a car and the first to leave home. My siblings all live here in Eugene, they are my best friends, and we bowl together every week.

I tried to have my tubes tied when I was 20 years old, but no one would do it because I was too young. I ended up with one biological son and two stepsons and also took care of my sister’s twin girls. For a long period, my husband and I had six children in our home every night. Life often turns out differently than you expect.

In addition to writing a bunch of novels you’ve never heard of, I’ve also written five screenplays. Two thrillers: Beyond Conception and Breaking Point. And three comedies: Addictions, Shoes, and Lost in Hollywood.

Writing those comedy scripts led me to a comedy writing class. At the end of the class, we had to perform our material in a nightclub. It was terrifying and exhilarating. The audience loved my routine and they invited me back to perform again and again. Writing new material and performing again is on my list of things to do.

Character Description

How do you feel about writers who don’t describe their protagonists? How much description do you want to see?

I saw this question on a list serv today, and it hit home because I asked myself this same question yesterday. It occurred to me that there is almost no discussion of my protagonist’s physical appearance in my new novel. In the first Detective Wade Jackson mystery, readers get a brief description of Jackson from another main character early in the story. But in this installment, there is no opportunity for that. So anyone reading Secrets to Die For who did not read The Sex Club has no idea what Jackson looks like— except that he’s taller and heavier than a suspect who is coming at him.

I feel compelled to fix this. But there are limited options. He’s not a man who will look in a mirror and assess his appearance. I may be able to sneak in little bits of physical information here and there, but it will not amount to a full description early in the story.

As readers, how do you feel about this? Are you okay with coming up with your own visualization? What happens when you picture a character as blond, blue-eyed, and stocky, only to learn 100 pages into the story that he’s tall and dark? Is it disturbing, or do you just roll with the image?

As writers, how do you handle describing your protagonist if you don’t have another character who can do it for you?

Networking: Quality Versus Quantity

A year and half ago when I first developed a marketing plan for my novel, I made a list of websites to check out. In time, the sites ended up in categories: places to send my novel for review, places to list my novel in their database, places with general information, and social networking sites.

The social networking sites I put off until last because they take time. I started with MySpace but never got into it. Eventually I created a Facebook page, then let it sit for months until I called in my niece to help me get going on it. Now I have 1200 friends and enjoy the time I spend there. In between those events, I created a CrimeSpace page and spent enough time there to develop a presence and to introduce myself to hundreds of authors. I’ve also been active on Twitter, which doesn’t require a lot of time.

But the networking opportunities keep coming. I’ve since joined LinkedIn, BookPlace, and recently Multiply. And I notice other Twitterers talking about Squidoo and other sites. But my memberships in the last three are just sitting there un-nurtured, and Squidoo is not even on my list. I also belong to six list servs, so the e-mails keep coming too.

I’ve decided that I’m maxed out and will not develop my new memberships. I only have so much time each day to spend on promotion/networking. For me, fewer venues with quality time spent on each one is more productive than a minimum amount of time spent on a multitude of sites. But I may be wrong about this. What do you think is more effective marketing? Quality time in fewer networking sites or a minimal presence in as many sites as possible?

Exposure! Grab What You Can

I’m headed for Portland today for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association tradeshow. I’m still surprised they chose me for an author signing (50 authors were turned away). I almost passed on this event because the fee is $125, I have to give away 50 fifty books, and drive two hours in each direction for a 30-minute signing session.

Why am I going? Because it’s an opportunity to meet bookstore owners/managers from all over the Pacific Northwest. It’s an opportunity to hand them my novel and my promotional flyer with all the rave reviews. Even if they don’t order my book, they will hear my name, see my story and series character, and file it away somewhere in their brain. And someday soon, they will order and stock my books.

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In book marketing, it’s exposure, exposure, exposure. You can’t buy better (or cheaper) advertising than this event.

The End of Publishing (as we know it)

According to an article in the New York magazine, publishing in its current form is coming to an end. The article opens with a description of watching books being shredded, a fate that awaits 25% of the product produced by major publishers. This in itself is reason for change.

Then the article describes HarperStudio, an offshoot of HarperCollins, and how it will revolutionize the industry with its new model. In this new world, authors forgo large advances (or in some cases, any advance) in exchange for half of their books eventual profit. The idea is that by not over-investing in certain projects, there is more money to promote an entire line of books. Essentially, HarperStudio is forgoing the blockbuster model, in which most of a company’s profits are generated by one brand (J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown). I also believe I read earlier that HarperStudio plans to NOT take any returns from bookstores, which would eliminate the massive book shredding.

The article discusses many other industry problems: consolidation, declining book sales, imprints from the same company bidding against each other and driving up prices (advances), the growth and influence of Amazon, the low moral of editorial staff, editors constantly changing houses leaving authors to fend for themselves, and more.

For those in the business, this article is worth reading or at least skimming through. As for HarperStudio’s new model, I think it’s a step in the right direction, as long as profit is clearly defined so that authors aren’t cheated. Moving away from the blockbuster model to a more vertical platform will benefit writers by:

  • spreading the promotional dollars more evenly
  • taking the pressure off each novel to perform to a certain standard
  • allow smaller print runs and more novels to become available in paperback
  • allow more novels to come to the market through traditional publishers
  • inspire all authors to market their own work as much as possible

What do you think? Will publishing really change that much? As an author, are you willing to take a no-advance contract with long-term gain as the goal?

What Makes a Character Great?

I’ve been thinking about characters lately, mostly about how to make them more compelling. So I asked: Who are my favorite fictional police detectives? I came up with Lucas Davenport (John Sanford’s Prey series) and April Woo (Leslie Glass). I thought I might find commonalities that attract me as a reader. Instead, I discovered that they are very different.

Davenport seems to have no family, no parents or siblings that he is connected to in any way. April Woo has parents who are very present in her life. Davenport has a lot of money and doesn’t need to work. Woo has money problems (mostly because of her parents). Davenport knows how to play the political game to get what he wants out of the department. Woo is incapable of playing politics and lacks social skills in general.

So why do I like both these characters? Perhaps because they are both independent and unconcerned with what others think of them. They are also very good at their jobs. But I’m not satisfied yet, and I’m still thinking about this. So who are your favorite characters and why do you like them so much?

Find a Better Day Job

About halfway into my fiction writing adventure, I read an interview that changed my life. The featured scriptwriter had recently sold his first screenplay, which was made into a blockbuster movie. When the interviewer asked him if he would do anything differently (given the chance), he said, “If I had known it would take ten years to sell a script, I would have found a better day job.”

That hit home with me. At the time I was waiting tables and doing a little freelance writing. I had recently failed to sell a novel even though my agent had told me we had an offer. So I came to the immediate conclusion that I needed a better day job. I needed a job that put my journalism degree and inquisitive mind to work every day in some productive and satisfying capacity. I realized that I how spend every day is important. All we have is the here and now. The future (as glamorous as I envision it) doesn’t exist . . .yet.

So I stopped living for the future—that day when my novel would sell and my life would change. I found a job as a magazine editor, and I accepted, on some level, that magazine writing and editing would be my career and that it would be enough.

But I continued writing novels, and ten years later I have my first book out there getting great reviews. I am so glad I spent the last ten years editing and developing a successful career instead of waiting tables. So for all you aspiring writers (actors, artists, musicians) who are working at jobs you loathe or that don’t mean anything to you while you wait for your big break—find a better day job!

Life is short. Enjoy every day.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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