Write First, Clean Later

Considering a Collaboration

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, J.T. Ellison and Catherine Coulter, JA Konrath and each of his writer friends—everywhere you look, authors are teaming up.

The trend seems more prevalent than ever, and I suspect it’s because authors are operating more independently now and because they have to work so hard to reach new readers. Collaborating with another writer brings a whole new readership to each partner, at least for that story or series, and hopefully with spillover to other works.

I never thought I could work that closely with someone. I don’t even have a writing group because it feels too collaborative. Of course, I count on my beta readers (and editor) for feedback, but that’s after I’ve nailed down the main story.

But I was approached recently by a friend about doing a collaboration, and I surprised myself by being receptive to the idea. Now that I have an FBI agent with her own series, a collaboration that brings Agent Dallas together with another established protag seems like a productive idea.

The other author has a kickass male FBI character and large readership of men, so the project could bring male readers into my Jackson series or, more likely, the series I’ve started with Agent Dallas.

We’re already brainstorming a plot, and I’d love to tell you who the other author is. But I worry that it might not pan out. We each have our own series we’re committed to, and we each have family responsibilities that may take precedence over a secondary writing project. But I want to do this and I hope we can make it work.

Ever since I decided to self-publish my newest story (with Agent Dallas), I’ve been getting my head back into indie mode and the marketing creativity it requires. It’s work, but it’s also fun and challenging, and this collaboration seems like a good way to expand my comfort zone and my readership.

What do you think? Have you collaborated with another author? Do you read books that are collaborations? Am I crazy?

Parallel Silver Linings

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

We discovered water in our bathroom wall recently, and the damage was extensive. My initial reactions were to first blame myself: How could I let this happen? Next, to be stressed about the time and cost of the repair.

Fortunately, my hairdresser (love this woman!) reminded me that insurance pays for things like this. The transition will be inconvenient and annoying, but in the end, the bathroom will be essentially remodeled for about the price of the deductible. A nice outcome.

I’m trying to keep that in mind as I go through a similar situation in my writing career. With my latest book, a standalone thriller, my editor wants me to make a major plot change, one that I disagree with. My initial reactions were the same as they were for the water problem—a sense of failure, then stress about a negative outcome.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize this could turn well. My beta readers (including a professional) love the story the way it is, and I’m not inclined to cut a plot element that ratchets up the tension on a global level. So, as much as I love publishing with Thomas & Mercer, I’m going indie with this one.

Even though I call it a standalone, the book features Agent Dallas—introduced in Crimes of Memory (Jackson #8)—and will launch a new series. Although publishing with Amazon has been great for my career, it’s not a bad idea to diversify and keep some control of my work.

Additionally, I’ll be able to bring the book to market sooner on my own, and I’ll earn a higher royalty. So this could turn out like the bathroom situation—more benefits than drawbacks.

In the meantime, I have to get my head back into indie mode and start thinking about marketing again. This transition will also be a lot of work and at times frustrating, but ideas are coming to me, and I think my wonderful readers will support me.

What do you think? Am I crazy for sticking with the story instead of the publisher? If you’re one of my readers, will you try the new book?

Housing Help Foundation

Young Family Moving Into New HomeThe right to housing is a social-justice issue I’ve been concerned with most of my life. Years ago, I promised myself that someday I would make a difference for people who needed help with housing. Today is that day. My new nonprofit foundation, Housing Help, is up and running.

After seeing some family members struggle to save enough money to pay the first/last/deposit required to move into even a cheap apartment, I realized that was a critical need here in Lane County. So that’s what Housing Help will do: Write checks to rental companies/landlords so that homeless families can move out of their cars (or friend’s garage) and into a space of their own. We will also help people facing eviction because of a temporary crisis, so they can stay in their homes. (More specific information is on our website.)

Housing Help may accomplish more than that someday, but our scope for now is limited, because we want to be successful in that single endeavor. Some wonderful friends have joined my board of directors, and we’re committed to helping at least one family a month. I’ll be contributing significantly to the foundation, but I have no plans, as yet, to link book sales to my donations. I may run special promotions to raise money for the charity, but I think it’s best to keep them separate.

A local charity, St. Vincent de Paul, already does some of this type of charity, but they have limited resources and strict policies. Also, I wanted to offer donors concerned with housing the option of making a contribution to a nonreligious charity. We won’t discriminate or require our recipients to adhere to any religious principles. But we are networking with St. Vincent’s, and if they have to turn away worthy recipients, they’ll refer them to our charity.

Now when you see the Housing Help logo on my website and Facebook pages, you’ll know what it means. I hope it inspires you to make a donation, or do something even bigger/better in your own community.

Standalone Vs. Series Fiction

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Sandra Parshall, who happens to be a terrific blogger, posted yesterday about standalone suspense fiction and how she likes it better than crime fiction series, but that few authors are writing it. I’m not sure that’s technically true. Many of us are writing it, but often, one of two things happen. Either the standalone doesn’t sell as well as our series books, or it’s so popular that readers want more, and it ends up launching a new series. Which is what happened with The Sex Club, the first book featuring Detective Jackson.

There are exceptions of course. Gillian Flynn writes popular standalone thrillers and grows her readership with each one. And some series writers have expanded their readerships by writing standalone thrillers (Laura LippmanHarlan Coben). That’s what I hope to do with my new thriller.

Yet, I love the character, and I know I’ll bring her back for more stories. Her setup as an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work is perfect for a series that has a lot of flexibility.

I introduced Agent Dallas in Jackson #8, Crimes of Memory (which will release Oct. 15!). I had so much fun writing her part that I knew she needed her own story. And I had an idea that I really wanted to write about and she was perfect for it. My beta readers loved the story, and I’m still waiting to see if my publisher does too.

More important though will be if readers like it. Especially new readers. I know some of my Jackson fans will pass, just because it’s not a Jackson story. But I hope enough new readers will be interested in the novel to justify the five months I put into researching and writing it.

Here’s a quick description: Agent Dallas goes undercover to find a missing woman who is likely being held captive in an isolated prepper community. What she finds is a lot more terrifying.

Readers: Do you read the standalones of your favorite series authors?

Writers: Do you write series, standalones or both? And what is your experience?



Crimes of Memory (Coming Soon!)

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 8.19.10 PMI got some very good news recently. Crimes of Memory (Jackson #8) will be released October 15 instead of next February. Woohoo! I’m working on copyedits now, the cover is almost done, and I expect to see it listed for preorder on Amazon soon.

I don’t have official back cover copy, but here’s my rough version.

After a leave of absence, Detective Jackson is assigned to investigate the homicide of a man found near a storage unit. Another homeless man is on the scene, his face covered in blood.

In another part of town, a group of eco-terrorists set off a firebomb at a bottled water factory, drawing investigators from the FBI, the ATF, and the Eugene Police Department—who fear another attack is eminent.

Without a full taskforce, Jackson must work the homicide round the clock, and his troubled daughter takes the opportunity to run away. Distracted with worry, Jackson seeks to bring justice for a man who robbed a bank, and in doing so, discovers a shocking connection between the murder and the eco-terrorist crimes.

New Contest Winners!

Thanks, everyone, for participating! And for making several suggestions each.

Yyonne, I love all your hacker nicknames: Zero Byte, Reaper, Troller. How fun. In fact, I’m going with Greg “Reaper” Rafferty. So you’re the first winner.

And Betsy, as soon as I saw the name Grace, I knew it was perfect for the engineer character. I may use Lopez as her last name too. If not, something very similar. Thank you! Let me know which book you want.

Melinda, I really appreciate your faithful support of my writing and my blog. And I love the name Caleb McCullen for the male FBI agent. So you’re the third winner. I suspect you’ve read all my Jackson books, but I have three standalone thrillers to choose from.

Thanks again, loyal readers! Click here to email me.

Wanted: More Character Names

Yes, it’s that time again! I’m writing another standalone thriller and I need character names. You readers are so good at coming up with interesting monikers that I had to get your help again.

This thriller features FBI agent Jamie Dallas, whom I introduced in Jackson #8—which you haven’t read because it won’t be released until the first of next year. Or that’s what I hear. I’m still hoping for an earlier publication date.

But first, THANK YOU for your support of Rules of Crime. It’s currently #25 in the whole Kindle store! Very exciting. I couldn’t do this without you.

In this new book, Agent Dallas goes undercover again, this time in an isolated community near Redding, California. I’d love to tell you more about the group and the plot, but I feel proprietary about the theme. I worry that another writer will grab the idea and self-publish a similar story before I can get mine released through Thomas & Mercer.

I’m a third of the way into the novel, and I’ve already decided the names of the main antagonists, but I need names for other members of the community. For example, a female engineer who’s in her forties and ex-military. And a young male hacker, who’s not a very nice guy.

And maybe a male FBI agent. I’m currently calling him Garret McCully, but if you want to suggest something else, feel free. He’s 32 and an outdoorsman.

I’m no longer able to give away ebooks, but for the winners, I have a couple print copies of Rules of Crime (or any other Jackson book you prefer). I’ll soon have copies of the new versions of my standalone thrillers too. So if you don’t mind waiting, those are winner options as well.

And as usual, I’ll try to use as many of the names you submit for other people who pop up in the story.

Let’s see what you’ve got. Thanks for participating!

Solving Crimes with Detective Jackson

Rules of Crime, Detective Jackson’s 7th novel, released this week. For those who haven’t met him yet, here’s a post in Jackson’s perspective.

Actor Hugh Jackman

“Detective Jackson, Eugene Police Department.” That’s how I introduce myself to witnesses and suspects, so that’s why this series is called the Detective Jackson series and not the Wade Jackson series. No one calls me Wade, except my girlfriend Kera, and she doesn’t do it often.

I wake up most mornings at 5:30, even on weekends if I’m working the first few days of a homicide, which often go round-the-clock. Most days, I’m home long enough to have breakfast with my daughter, Katie, then drive her to high school. I was a single parent even before I divorced, because my ex-wife is an alcoholic and not someone Katie can depend on.

And I’m a workaholic, so my daughter is rather self-sufficient. That’s my greatest struggle every day: How do I be a good father to the person I love most in the world and keep my hometown of Eugene, Oregon safe from violent offenders?

At the department, I check my emails and phone messages like any other public servant, but that after that my day gets interesting. My boss, a big gruff woman named Sergeant Lammers, often assigns me a new case or wants an update on the case I’m working. Those are the easy ones. More typically, I get called out to homicide scenes during a date with Kera or on a weekend spent building a trike with my daughter. Murder has no boundaries or patterns, but I seem to catch the toughest cases at the strangest times.

Whenever I get the call, I drop what I’m doing and get out to the crime scene. I like to arrive before the medical examiner does so I have chance to look at the body and the scene up close. On television, the detective often takes a long look around and announces something like “The intruder came in through the window, grabbed the trophy from the fireplace and conked the victim on the head.”

It’s never like that for me. I get cases where a young girl is found dead in a dumpster without a mark on her—and no leads or witnesses. Or a whole family has been assaulted and killed and the evidence is too messy to make sense of. In my last homicide case, a young veteran was found dead in his car with his throat slit.

Solving murders is often tedious work. Hours spent looking at phone or bank records and days spent tracking down family members, boyfriends, and co-workers to interview. The case often breaks because the killer, in desperation, commits another crime or makes a fatal mistake.

Actor Viggo Mortensen

Or often, it’s one of my task force members who sees the connections that lead us to the guilty party. Or a crime lab technician who discovers a key piece of forensic evidence. We’re all part of a team, and we’ve worked together for years. My detective partners are also my best friends, because they’re the only people I really trust. Chasing criminals will do that to you.

The case I’m working now (Rules of Crime) is personal—my ex-wife has been kidnapped, and the FBI is leading the task force. My partner, Detective Lara Evans, is investigating the assault of a young woman who was beaten and dumped at the hospital. Any minute now, we’ll compare notes and discover how these crimes are connected. I hope you’ll be there for the revelation.

And what do you think? Should Hugh Jackman play my part when I make it to the big screen? Or maybe Viggo Mortensen?

 

No Longer Indie

Transition day is here. Before it’s over, I’ll take down all my self-published books, so Amazon can launch its new versions tomorrow. Clicking those “unpublish” buttons will be scary and difficult. For two-plus years, this is how I’ve lived my life. Writing like mad, getting the books ready for publication, uploading them to KDP, and watching over them 24/7 as they compete in a crowded ruthless market.

Thomas & MercerI’ll still be writing like mad and watching my books on the market, but I’ve already stopped doing the production aspect. The other major thing that will change is that I’ll lose control of the pricing and promotion. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, it’s a relief. Watching the rankings—which equal visibility—and constantly adjusting pricing and promotional time & money is a lot pressure.

Not to mention exhausting.

But knowing me, I’ll still be monitoring the ranking/visibility/sales, but I’ll be powerless to do anything. Except email my team at Thomas & Mercer and offer suggestions (or pleas). Which they are very responsive to. But they’ll also be marketing my books and gauging the results, and I trust them to do a great job.

My hope is that I’ll be so pleased with my growing readership that I’ll be able to let go of the daily worry about marketing/sales and focus more on writing. And living. There’s so much I want to do this year. Like take hand-drumming lessons and dance classes. And go on a real vacation.

Most important though is that my books will reach new readers. Amazon can, and will, contact readers who’ve never heard of me. And because I’ll have the credibility of a respectable publisher, many more readers will try my work. I’m excited about the possibilities. I’m also happy to report that Amazon is keeping the prices low.

I’m thrilled with the new covers too. It was a long process, but T&M included me in every step, and I’m happy with the new branded look for both the Jackson stories and the standalone thrillers. I think the branded aspect adds professionalism that readers will be drawn to.

You can see the new covers on my website already, and starting tomorrow, the new T&M versions will be selling on Amazon, B&N (print), and other retailers. It’s another major transition in my eventful writing career, and hopefully, one that will bring me respectability and peace of mind.

What do you think? Do you like the covers? Will Amazon help my books perform better? Readers, are you still on board?

To Serial… or Not?

My eighth Jackson novel is completed, except for the Thomas & Mercer editing process. When I submitted it in early December, I expected it to be released in the fall of this year (2013). But the T&M schedule is full, and Jackson #8 isn’t slotted until next February (2014)—a full year after Jackson #7 releases next month.

Waiting makes me (and most of my readers) crazy, so this schedule isn’t good for me. My editor offered me an alternative: release the book as as a Kindle Serial this spring and summer, which means it will be on the market, in full, by this fall.

But the serial aspect makes me nervous. Even though serial books are clearly labeled—so readers should realize they’re only getting chunks of the story at a time—the books often get bad reviews. Many readers hate waiting for the next “episode” and give the novels one-star ratings. They also use much of their review space to criticize the format.

My editor thinks it’s an opportunity to take advantage of advertising avenues that aren’t offered to traditional books. He thinks it could expand my readership. I like both of those ideas. And I love my editor. He’s been right about many things. But I’m worried about my current readership. They like to read my books in a couple of big gulps. And I like them to rave about “not being able to put it down.”

Of course, readers don’t have to buy it as a serial. They can wait until all the episodes are released and buy the whole book in the fall. But that means waiting three months to buy the book, knowing that some, or most, of it is already available. If you buy it as a serial, it’s only $1.99. I think you pay full price ($4.99) if you wait.

But my biggest concern is that many readers will not understand the serial process. Because I’ve never released a Jackson book that way, they might just see the new story and buy it—without reading all the disclaimers. Lovely, loyal people that they are. But two or three chapters in, the book will stop, and they’ll have to wait a week or so for more.

I don’t like to read that way, and I suspect my Jackson fans don’t either. So I’m leaning toward saying no. What do you think, readers? Does the serial idea appeal to you, especially if you’ll get the story sooner? Or would you rather wait and get the book all at once early next year?

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LATEST REVIEWS

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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