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Archive for the ‘LJ Sellers’ Category

author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

The next best thing to reading a great book is talking about it with your friends who’ve read it. That’s why book clubs are so popular and those discussions are so important to readers. I love these talks as much as the next reader, and I sometimes lead the activity for a mystery listserv I participate in. I also love to discuss my own books with groups who contact me, so I have some experience in asking and answering thought-provoking questions. I’ve even posted discussion questions on my website. I thought I’d share some of my insights on what makes for good book discussion questions.

Every novel has specific (and often conflicting) events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion. Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not? And there’s nothing wrong with the standard questions that work for almost any novel. Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?

My favorite questions, though, go beyond specific settings or events:

Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussion.  Jasmine shares privileged information with a reporter. Why Claire says she stole the painting to protect it, but what were her real reasons? I’ve discovered that readers bring their own experiences into a novel and often perceive things in characters that others don’t, even the author. It’s fascinating.

Fate. Questions that discuss the course of events and whether those events are inevitable generate strong reactions from readers. Did the young boy have to die in the end? Could the story have gone in another direction and still been effective?

Coincidence. Does the story rely on a major or minor coincidence? Was it believable and did it work for you? Was the story plausible overall?

Values/beliefs.  In what ways do the events and characters reveal the author’s values or world view? What is the author trying to say about this subject or theme? [Insert hot-button topic here: women, race, sexuality, discrimination.] Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?

Some of the best book discussions are those in which readers disagree and perceive the story in different ways. Sometimes those talks can make you want to read the novel again and see what you missed.

Do you belong to a book club? What have been your favorite books or subjects to discuss?

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author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

As fewer authors set up book signings and other events in which they meet readers face to face, creative types have come up with new ways for authors and readers to interact online. Here are seven fun resources and venues for readers to connect with writers:

Kindlegraph

This site lets readers sign up to receive a personalized book signature for an ebook. It’s a great way for readers to collect author signatures without having to attend book signings and buy print books. About 1700 authors are signed up, and I expect that number to grow. I’ve signed up and receive signature requests weekly. One caveat: You have to sign in through a Twitter account. They plan to change that soon.

eReaderIQ

This site provides Amazon Kindle price drop alerts, watches your favorite titles to let you know when they are available for Kindle, and gives you a regularly updated list of all non-public domain freebies on Amazon.com. It also offers a search engine that lets readers search the Kindle store by genre and keyword, but also define the price range, reader age, language and more. In addition, Authors can buy sponsorships to announce their e-books.

@author

Created by Amazon, this feature is in beta testing with only a handful of authors. In essence, you can email the author directly with questions about their book as you’re reading it. So far, I believe only authors published with Amazon Encore are available, but I expect it will expand.

Goodreads Recommendations 

This is a new feature that works much like Netflix suggestions, finding books you’ll enjoy based on what else you’ve read and how you rated it. But it’s more complex than that, and here’s what the blog says: “The Goodreads Recommendation Engine combines multiple proprietary algorithms which analyze 20 billion data points to better predict which books people will want to read next.” Try it!

Stop, You’re Killing Me 

This site is for crime fiction fans and offers complete lists of authors works and the order the novels were published in. It’s very useful for determining the order of a series, so you don’t miss anything or read out of order. It also lists books by character name (very cool) and posts reviews.

Kickerstarter

An innovative platform for readers and consumers of art to fund projects so artists can be creative. Investors receive something equal in exchange: tickets, art photos, books, etc. Here’s an example of an author with a finished book, looking for support money for a cover design and formatter. I know of this author but I’m not familiar with her work. Out of curiosity, I’m tempted to list my next Jackson book and see if 300 fans will kick in $3 each to fund the production of the ebook. They would receive a copy of the book the moment it was ready and likely a bonus as well, such as a short story. It would be nice to cut out Amazon’s profit on a few copies too. 🙂

PubSlush  

This site is similar, but is focused exclusively on books. Here’s the site description: “Authors submit ten pages and a summary of their book. We then let you (readers)  browse the submissions based on your preferences. You read a brief overview, and if it strikes your fancy, you click through to read a more in depth description. If you’re still interested, you read an excerpt. And if that leaves you wanting more, you support it (which is essentially like preordering the book)! You don’t get charged unless the book is published, so there’s no risk. And for every book we sell, we’re donating a book to a child in need.”

Do you have other interesting, unique or fun reader sites to add?

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Being a middle child, a nice person, and a workaholic, I’ve spent my life trying to do the right thing and make people happy. As a member of a dysfunctional family, I’ve given up the goal, but as novelist, I’m still trying to satisfy my current readers while reaching out to new ones. Some days though, I’m not sure what I should be doing.

The new catch phrases in marketing are content and engagement. Content seems easy: Just keep writing stories that people want to read. But the experts say that’s not enough. They say I need to pen informative blogs, write short stories to give away, and create entertaining videos. So I’m doing all that.

Engaging readers is a less-concrete concept and I’m starting to think the idea is more hype than practicality. For example, a well-read post recently advised authors to do the following:

  • Listen—Create ways to listen to your readers and collect data about what you hear; use focus groups and surveys to support regular listening mechanisms.
  • Customer knowledge—Find out why people buy your products (or not), why they recommend you to others (or not), why they are repeat buyers. Understand what else they buy. Understand who your buyers are, what segment and communities they belong to.
  • Conversations—Find unique ways of connecting with readers, ways that will enhance your brand as an author, ways that enable dialogue, not one-way broadcast.
  • Collaborate—Go beyond listening and conversation to collaborate with your readers, perhaps testing your products in advance of a full launch or soliciting ideas for additional content.
  • Community—Build a community of your readers. Facilitate mechanisms for readers to interact with one another as part of this community and to broaden the reach to additional readers.

Some of this is intuitive and I’m already doing it. But surveys? As a consumer, I hate surveys, and I’m not likely to ever clutter my readers’ in-boxes with a questionnaire. Collaborate? Meaning ask readers where they’d like me to take the series or characters? I’d get as many different answers as there are readers.

In fact, that’s the biggest problem with engagement. Some readers like to interact with authors. They send e-mails, go to conferences, and participate in online discussions. Many readers, perhaps the majority, would rather not engage with the author. They simply want to read the books and move on. I’ve heard some readers say they don’t even like seeing an author bio in a novel, because they enjoy the story more if they don’t know anything about the author.

I understand and respect this. I also love readers who contact me to talk about my stories. So I’m trying to find the middle ground and make all my readers happy…without wasting time on activities that readers will ignore or find annoying.

Readers: How much and what kind of engagement with a novelist do you want?

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The publishing industry is in upheaval with major changes, but one of the more subtle changes is the declining use of pen names. As more authors take charge of their own publishing and online marketing, they choose to skip the pen names when they write in various genres, in an effort to capitalize on the brand success of the name they’re already selling under.
This makes sense to me and it’s why I’m publishing my futuristic thriller, The Arranger, under the same author name as my police procedurals. Essentially, the books are all crime stories, and in this case, they even share a major character, so I never considered using a pen name. Some marketers would argue this is a mistake, but I disagree.
In fact, even if decided to write in a completely different genre, say fantasy, I still don’t think I would use a pen name. Here’s why. Marketers at major publishing houses established the practice with the idea that books should be categorized and shelved by genre and that readers were easily confused. They worried readers would buy a book in a genre they didn’t want just because it had their favorite author’s name on it.
This seems like an insult to readers. If the cover art and book description are doing their jobs, then readers will know exactly what the genre is and what to expect from the novel—regardless of the name on the cover. Readers have also come to expect authors to pen stories in various genres. It is neither surprising, nor confusing to them.
In addition, writers are blending story types and making up their own genres. Paranormal historical mystery, anyone? Or in my case: futuristic crime thriller. I’m not sure pen names were ever useful, but if they were, readers are long past it. In the age of the internet and open access to writers, readers learn everything they need to about an author and their various books with a quick visit to their website.
What about readers browsing in bookstores? Does a pen name prevent them from buying a futuristic police procedural written by J.D. Robb instead of a romance by Nora Roberts? I don’t think so. At least not more than once.  I know there are instances in which a pen name could be useful, such as if the author wants or needs privacy, but those cases are rare.
To minimize any possible confusion, I labeled my novel with a subtitle: A Futuristic Thriller, and I created a different style of cover. It will be clear to my Detective Jackson fans that this novel is different from my police procedurals.
I also have two other standalone thrillers, so most of my readers already know that I write non-Jackson books. Of course, I want my Jackson fans to try the new novel, which is partially why I sent Detective Lara Evans into the future to tell this story. (I also think she’s a lot of fun, but that’s another blog.)
Some of my police procedural readers will check out this novel and some will pass. That’s okay. I’m hoping new readers who’ve never heard of me will try it too.
As a fairly new author, I have to capitalize on my name recognition. My name is my brand. Without the support of a major publisher, it’s all I have, and I use it everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, chat groups, etc. I never use amusing nicknames like thrillergirl or crimefighter. They might be fun, but they don’t tell readers who I am.  I’m not likely to ever use a pen name either, for the same reasons.
What do you think? Are pen names useful to you as a reader or writer?

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In my personal life I try to be optimistic, but in my fiction I write about my fears. It’s been true since I sat down to write my first novel. At the time, Jeffrey Dahmer was in the news and my greatest fear was that a sexual predator would kidnap and kill one of my three young boys. So I wrote a story about a woman who tracks down her son’s killer. The experience was cathartic, and I continued the practice in future novels, because as it turns out, many readers share the same fears.

Being kidnapped and held against my will is another dominant fear for me and millions of other women as well—because it happens!—so the theme occurs often in crime fiction novels, including two of mine (The Baby Thief,  Secrets to Die For). Most of my stories though have elements of fears that are very personal to me. For example, when I wrote The Sex Club, the first book in the Detective Jackson series, my son was in Iraq and I worried constantly that he would die. My sister had just succumbed to cancer and I grieved for her and worried for other members of my family. So Kera, my main female protagonist, was dealing with those elements. Right or wrong, I couldn’t separate those emotions from my writing and they ended up on the page.

Soon after that, my husband was diagnosed with retroperitoneal fibrosis, which triggered all kinds of fears for me. He faced a life of pain, multiple surgeries, and likely an early death. Without being consciously aware that I was doing it at first, my Jackson character started having pain and health issues. Eventually, he was diagnosed with RF, and in Thrilled to Death, he underwent a surgery, very similar to the one my husband experienced. Readers tell me they enjoy characters who are realistic, yet unique, so incorporating true-to-life, frightening details adds richness to my stories while helping me work through emotional challenges.

In late 2009 when I was writing Passions of the Dead, I was dealing with unemployment: mine, my husband’s, my brother’s, and dozens of other people I knew. I witnessed the devastating effect it can have on families. That theme became dominant when I outlined the story. My Jackson novels of course are always about crime, murder in particular, and my main goal is tell a great story. But every fictitious crime needs a unique, complex, and compelling motive, and I look for those motives in the fear I’m experiencing.

Some of my fears are more social and universal. I fear that as a society we have wrongfully imprisoned hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people. Dozens of news stories about the release of prisoners wrongfully convicted continue to feed this fear, so the issue is part of the plot in Dying for Justice, the fifth Detective Jackson novel.

Right now I fear for the future of our county if the economy doesn’t improve. I alo fear for our comfort and safety if the extreme weather patterns continue and grow worse. So I’m writing a futuristic thriller in which those fears come into play. Guilt and redemption are also prominent themes in The Arranger, my futuristic thriller that released in early September.

Soon I’ll start work on the next Jackson book. I have a list of ideas, many culled from true crime cases found in the news. Regardless of what I decide in the beginning though, you can bet that as the plot develops, whatever fear is most prevalent on my mind will surface in the story.

What are your greatest fears? What fears do you like to read about?

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Why is a crime fiction author writing a futuristic thriller? Because I’ve always wanted to, and I finally found the time, the story, and the courage. As a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural, produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. My husband isn’t much of a reader, but I suggested it to him (back then) and he read it in a weekend and loved it. Most important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic thrillers, which I distinguish from dystopian fiction, in which society has broken down.

Another of my favorite novels is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, published ten years after TTF and typically labeled dystopian. The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

I don’t mean to imply that The Arranger compares to either of those brilliant and creative works, both of which imagine a shockingly different future. My story is set only 13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant, government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely fictitious scenarios. I had a blast writing those scenes, and my editor said they left her breathless.

The Arranger is predominately a crime story and a character study. Although it’s different from anything else I’ve written, readers familiar with my work will recognize certain elements that crop up in most of my novels: a strong female protagonist struggling to overcome a troubled past and a complex plot that moves at a rapid pace.

What are your favorite futuristic novels? What themes do like to see in futurism?

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