New Name Contest…FBI Mystery/Thriller

After taking some time in August to ride my bike, work in my yard, and hang out with my granddaughter, I’m busy writing my eighth Detective Jackson novel. It seems a little unreal, like only a few years ago, I was writing Thrilled to Death, the third story, and wondering if the series would ever have enough readers to make it financially worthwhile. But I love writing these stories, so it’s been emotionally rewarding all along, and I’m very grateful for the readers who support me.

And I love getting readers involved in the creativity, even if only to provide many of the names I’ll use. So here’s another chance to get a name of your choice into my next  Jackson story.

For this one, I need the name of an eco-terrorist, a man dedicated to environmental issues, but misguided about how to accomplish his goals. And I need a name for a young female FBI agent who goes undercover to stop him.

What does all this have to do with Jackson? You’ll see! As usual, I’m writing a complex story with multiple crimes and multiple points of view. And I’m trying to give readers something new in every story, so I’m branching out and including broader investigations and more action.

The book I just finished, Rules of Crime, which you helped me find great names for, will be released in late February. It features Jackson, Lara Evans, and Agent Carla River, and some of my beta readers say it’s my best work yet. I hope so! (I hope to have a cover soon too.)

I plan to have this new story submitted to my editor by the end of the year, so hopefully, Amazon will release it mid-2013, a few months after Rules of Crime.

Everyone who submits a name wins a free ebook of their choice, and the people who submit the winning names for my characters win an ebook of their choice AND a print copy of The Baby Thief…if they want it.

As always, I’ll try to use many of the names submitted in other roles: witnesses, family members, etc. Thanks for participating! I can’t wait to see what you have for me this time.

Catch 22 of Great Reviews: Thanks, John Locke!

This week we learned that John Locke—one of the first indie authors to sell a million books—paid for hundreds of reviews at a now-defunct paid-review site that didn’t require its reviewers to read the books, just to crank out the stars. Because the story made the NY Times, one expert estimates that a third of all Amazon reviews are fake.

This pisses me off, breaks my heart, and makes me—and the other terrific and honest indie authors on this site—look bad. That is, if we have too many great reviews.

GalleyCat weighed in on this issue with this blog post, listing several bestsellers that each have more than 150 one-star reviews. The point of the short piece is that real bestsellers have lots of bad reviews as well as many good ones. The unspoken point is that books with too many good reviews and few bad ones must not be a real bestsellers, that those reviews must have been paid for or written by marketers or friends.

I resent this! Without good reviews, you’re treated like a hack and can’t sell books. Too many good reviews and not enough dogs, and you look like a phony. Obviously some authors—and publishers—resort to these tactics. But many of the books on Amazon’s bestselling and top-rated lists come by their reviews honestly.

I know I did. Dying for Justice is the top-rated novel on two Amazon’s lists—police procedurals and mystery series—with 54 five-star reviews, 8 four-stars, and 1 one-star (idiot). Not one was paid for or written by a marketer. My sister claimed she wrote a review, but she loves my work. And I can’t find it, if she did. And I have many great reviews in print magazines—Mystery Scene, Crimespree, Spinetingler, and RT Reviews—to support those online “amateur” reviews.

Yes, I gave away the book on Goodreads, with the idea that readers would post reviews, but I took my chances that they would be in my favor. And yes, I asked readers in a blog to post reviews for the book—but always with the caveat “if you read and enjoyed the story.” I don’t want or need fake support.

Here’s a question for GalleyCat: If a book with a lot of fake five-star ratings wasn’t good, wouldn’t a lot of honest readers start to give it bad reviews? You can’t fool everybody forever. No author has that many loyal friends or fake online IDs—except maybe Stephen Leather, another example of how some big-name indie authors are making the rest of us look bad.

And I have to throw in one more issue. The site that Locke used was clearly corrupt. Reviewers were directly paid to crank out good blurbs without even reading the books. But what about sites like Book Rooster? For a $60 admin fee, the site lists your e-book internally, then their unpaid reviewers sign up to receive and read books of their choosing. In exchange for free books, they write honest reviews.

This process seems fine to me, and I used the site for The Suicide Effect, my least-read book, just to get some reviews. But there was no guarantee of how many reviews or what they would be. It was just an opportunity for exposure, and I got lucky, mostly. But now I’m wondering if that was a mistake, just because the exchange of money (for the administrative fee) might make people lump the service into a paid-review category—even though no money goes to the reviewers.

What do you think? Have you read John Locke’s work? Does he deserve his success? Are you skeptical of any books with almost entirely good reviews? Do you think Book Rooster is a legitimate service? Should Amazon take Locke’s work down to show it’s serious about the trust factor for customer reviews?

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

 



Putting Sex Back in the Series

After all the trouble of taking Sex out of the Jackson series, I’m about to put it back. Some of you may be thinking, It’s about time. But those of you who know the series, know that I was talking about The Sex Club, the first book to feature Detective Wade Jackson.

Late last year, I pulled it as the lead Jackson story and moved it into my standalone thriller category, mostly for political reasons (see blog). The book features a Planned Parenthood nurse and crazy anti-abortionist (protagonist and antagonist, respectively), and I made the change so the first book in the series would be more palatable to all readers.

I worried that some readers would simply be turned off by the title. Many other readers bought the book for the title. Either way, at this point Amazon Publishing/Thomas & Mercer owns the rights, and they plan to market it as part of the series. By the time their version comes out in January with all the other Jackson books—including the new one, Rules of Crime—I’ll have modified my website, bio, and book listings to match up with Amazon’s marketing.

Once again, The Sex Club will be the first title many readers see when they visit my website or see a list of my books. I have mixed feelings about this. I love the story, and I’m proud to be its author. But it’s the only title I have that doesn’t really reflect the crime-fiction genre that I write in. Hopefully readers will look beyond that book and see that I’m really about crime, violence, and death. 🙂

When my kids were growing up, I used to say I’d rather they watched sex scenes in movies than violence, but that’s another subject.

For the record, I could have objected to the strategy to market The Sex Club as a Jackson story. Amazon is very concerned with my input and involves me in all decisions. But I trust them to know what they’re doing. And I’ve felt guilty about moving the book since I made the change.

The Sex Club is different from the others. I wrote it as a standalone with two main characters, one a nurse and the other a homicide detective. So it’s little different from my other police procedurals. But I knew I might bring Jackson back. And for readers who like to start at the beginning of a character’s development, it’s only fair they know about the first book. (Which I’ve tried to do anyway by including phrases like “featuring Detective Jackson” in my marketing text.)

So Sex is back. And it’s a good thing. 🙂

 

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!

Nickname Winner: Roadie

Thanks to everyone who submitted nicknames. It was interesting to see the final collection. Each one was different from the those on the short list I’d created in my first effort, so I was happy to see the variation.

Sells and Win were great confidence boosters, and Smitty and Ziggy were both fun. I liked Mac and Micky a lot too, but I worried that they had both been used too often before in other detective series. A special thanks to Eileen and Brenda, who both submitted seven entries, and to Teri, who submitted ten. I would have never come up with all these on my own. And I’ve also made a list of all the great last names for future use.

Teri also submitted the one I finally chose as my  favorite: Roadie. It has a nice two-syllable sound and lots of subtle implications. So congratulations to Teri! I’ll put your print book in the mail Monday. Everyone who participated, or even left a comment, gets a free ebook. I’ll try to  track you all down and ask your preferences, but if you don’t hear from me, please click this link and email me. Let me know which ebook you want and which format: Kindle (mobi) or epub.

Thanks again! Happy Summer!

 

Birthday Mystery/Thriller Giveway

It’s my birthday, which means it’s time for a book giveaway. I should be reflecting on what this particular milestone means, but I’m too busy. I have a rewrite to finish and a baby granddaughter coming over later. And I’ve had lots of birthdays. This one is only special because I’m finally in a place in my life that feels about perfect.

First up, I’ll give away a print copy of my latest Detective Jackson book, Liars, Cheaters & Thieves to the person who gives me the best nickname name based on a last name. For example, my husband’s name is Steve Hutchison and his friends all call him Hutch. And I need the name to be gender neutral. This is for a character in my next series, and I’m excited to see what you come up with.

I also still need good Amazon reviews for Dying for Justice. The book is now #8 on Amazon’s top-rated crime fiction list, a separate list from the bestsellers, and it’s based on customers’ ratings alone. If I can get into one of the top three spots, Amazon will feature Dying for Justice on all its crime fiction pages—which would be huge for its sales.

So if you’ve read the book and liked it, please leave even a brief review and be sure to click the star-rating system. Anyone who does or who comments here about my name contest gets a free e-book of their choice. Be sure to email me to let me know which one you’d like and which format Kindle (mobi) or epub.

Thanks for all your wonderful support! Without, I wouldn’t be in this perfect place.

Amazon and Amelia

The last six months have been quite busy! In addition to writing a new Jackson story—which seemed to take forever—we’ve been doing our usual daycare for two little nieces, and loads of daycare for our new baby granddaughter, Amelia. She’s a joyful child and I feel blessed to have her in my life. But I’m definitely not writing as much or as fast as I used to. I hope we can all learn to live with that.

The good news is that I have a solid first draft of my next Jackson story! And I’ll send the final version to my editor within the month. The other good news is that my editor works for Amazon Publishing, which bought my entire backlist and my next two stories. For me, this means security, and my readers will benefit too, because I’ll be able to keep writing instead of going back out and getting an office job when book sales get weak. Which they do every summer/fall.

And I’ll have some help with marketing, which will free up writing time for me. I’m very excited to have a publishing partner. It’s been a lot of work and stress making all this happen on my own.

The only sort-of bad news is that this new Jackson book won’t be published until the end of the year. Amazon plans to release their versions of all the Jackson stories at the same time, and they need a few months to produce them. So I appreciate your patience!

Meanwhile, here’s a video of our granddaughter Amelia. She’s the giggliest baby ever, and you can see what I’m don’t get much done when she’s here.

Amelia Hides the Remote

Amelia Likes to Bounce and Laugh

Signing with Amazon

I’ve been sitting on this news for two weeks, and I’m ready to explode. Amazon just offered me an 11-book contract! They’re planning foreign translations, audio books, digital editions etc. It’s so amazing, it’s still not real to me. I was quite happy being a mid-list successful indie author, but this will definitely take my career to the next level. It’s exciting to realize my work will be translated into foreign languages and reach readers I never thought possible.

The only disappointing thing for my readers is that my next Jackson book, which I had planned to release in early July, won’t be published until the end of the year. Amazon wants time to produce new versions of all six of the Jackson novels and release them at the same time the seventh story comes out. It’ll be a grand debut!

They also bought the first book in a new series I plan to start after I finish this Jackson story, and they acquired it on the strength of a one-paragraph description. Which gives me more confidence that the new series is a solid idea.

Even though this sounds like a sudden and unexpected offer, in reality, I submitted two of my standalone thrillers to Amazon last November. I didn’t hear much except to get an occasional email from the editor apologizing for the delay and promising that he still planned to read my work. Then the week before last he emailed to say he was turning me over to a new editor.

Four days later, the new guy called to say he’d read several of my novels and loved them. He also asked a bunch of questions about the Jackson series. That was when it occurred to me that they might be looking at all my work and not just the two standalones. Considering the near misses I’ve had in my writing career, I shouldn’t have let myself think it was possible. But this was Amazon—not Big 6—and Amazon had already changed my life twice. So why not believe it could happen a third time?

The next day my editor—and new best friend☺—took my “project” to an editorial board meeting and it was approved. He called me afterward and made a wonderful offer. I was sitting in my car after dropping off my son, and I managed to stay calm and professional during the conversation. When I hung up, I had to fight the urge to cry.

My greatest feeling now is one of relief—like the pressure is off me for the first time in years. I’m no longer alone in this endeavor, scrambling and writing as fast as I can to stay on top of the competition. I have a supportive and generous partner.

I expect some writers to blast my decision to give up my indie status. Others will accuse me of making a pact with the devil. But I left my small publisher two years ago because I knew I could go farther and make more money if I were self-published. Now I’m making a similar decision. Amazon will take my career to a level I couldn’t reach on my own.

New Cover, New Opportunities

The Gauntlet Assassin
After changing the name of my futuristic thriller to The Gauntlet Assassin and seeing the uptick in sales, I decided a new title needed a new cover. It took me a long time to find an image I liked. I wanted to represent Lara and the competition, but there’s nothing appropriate out there. I considered paying an artist to create an image, but I realized that the title focused on the antagonist and so should the cover. So here’s what I came up with.

As soon as the new ebook is back from the formatter, I’ll do a giveaway on Amazon and see if I can push sales to a new level. This novel has garnered some of my best reviews.

In other news, I’m struggling to find an affordable Spanish translator for my Jackson series. I thought I had one, but when I had the work evaluated, I decided not to continue with that translator. I haven’t given up, but the search is time-consuming, and I’m way behind on my newest Jackson story. But I’m still hoping to have it published before July.

Another update is that I’ve submitted four of my scripts to Amazon Studios for consideration. Three are comedies, and it would be so much fun to see Addictions or Lost in Hollywood come to life on the screen. It was fun just reading back through the stories.

I also submitted a script for The Baby Thief, which is currently a bestseller on Kindle, ranking at #3 on the medical thriller list. That story was the first publishable novel I wrote, and I worked on it for years. I also landed a major agent for it, then failed to sell it. So it’s gratifying to final have thousands of readers enjoying the story.

Since you folks write to me everyday, asking when my next Jackson story will be available, I’d better get back to work.

PS: Do you like the new cover? Do you know an inexpensive translator?

Highlights From Left Coast Crime

I’m just back from Left Coast Crime, which was in Sacramento this year. It was a terrific conference with guests of honor such as John Lescroart, whom I was lucky enough to meet when I moderated a panel about Writing the Criminal Mind. (William Kent Krueger, Rick Reed, and Denise Hamilton were also panelists.) Rick Reed told harrowing stories about encounters with criminals, including a serial killer, and John Lescroart expanded on his belief that the best way to reveal the criminal mind is through dialogue.

I also participated as a panelist for the subject: Writing Is a Real Job. Simon Wood, a top-ranked Amazon author, moderated. The panel included a ghost writer, an author who also runs a small publishing company, and a screenwriter/novelist—giving the audience a wide view of how various writers make a living.

One of the most interesting panels I attended discussed the new age of movie-making, and how inexpensive and easy it is now to create a high-production-value film, then expose it to potentially millions of viewers through You Tube.

Then there was the Men of Mystery panel, in which we heard from more than a dozen authors, many of them quite humorous. The moderators also entertained us with video clips—writers heads digitally imposed on dancers of all types, including Chippendales. Hysterical! Wish I had a good photo of it.

And I had a blast hanging out with other CFC bloggers, Gayle Carline and Marlyn Beebe (who read and reviewed many of the award-nominated books). As well as good friends Teresa Burrell, Terry Shames, Susan Shea, Terry Odell, Simon Wood—and I could go on and on. The best thing about these conferences is the opportunity to talk shop with others who love this business as much as I do.