Sunday, August 19, 2012

Let's Talk Money or Why There Are No Writers In Philadelphia

I live in Philadelphia.  And when I say that, I mean I actually live IN Philadelphia.  I don't live in one of these suburban towns an hour outside the city and call myself a Philadelphian.  (Ahem:  Bradley Cooper:  Jenkintown; Pink:  Doylestown.  NOT Philly, people.  NOT Philly.)

Stuck in traffic on the way home from a Phillies game!

I love this city.  One day I'll probably move out of it because let's face it, the crime rate ain't exactly going down, but I love it.  I grew up here, the product of two large, Irish Catholic families whose roots in my neighborhood run deep.  I went to a neighborhood Catholic school which has since shut down.  I didn't go to high school here but I returned afterward, and I went to Community College here.  I transferred upstate to finish college but I returned again and met my husband, who grew up literally seven or eight blocks away from where I grew up. 

This City is far from perfect.  The crime rate is staggering.  I mean there are actually entire countries-really big ones-whose crime rates don't even come close to that of Philadelphia.  It's kind of dirty.  I mean I've been in much cleaner, more well-kept cities than this one.  There are areas of this city that would turn your hair gray instantaneously.  I don't think it's any coincidence that the words people most often use to describe my writing are exactly the words you could use to describe this city:  dark and gritty.  This city is what it is and it makes no apologies for that. 

On the other hand, I know a lot of truly amazing people who were born and raised here.  Plus we've got cheesesteaks (and no, not Geno's or Pat's.  If you want a real cheesesteak, you visit a neighborhood corner steak shop like a real Philadelphian.  Barry's and Chubby's all the way, baby).  We've got historical sites and theaters and the Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum.  We say "wooder" instead of water.  Oh and we've got phanatical sports fans.  And we get to spell lots of words that start with an f with a PH.  We've also got Ben Franklin.  I say that in the present tense cause there is actually a dude who walks around Center City dressed as Ben Franklin.  Spitting image.  I think the mere fact that we had the actual Ben Franklin ought to carry us a long way cause that guy was brilliant.  Oh, and the Liberty Bell!

Okay, so that's not the actual Liberty Bell, that's the one at Citizens Bank Park!

What does any of this have to do with my book?

As you know, my book comes out in December, but it will be quite awhile after that until I actually see any royalties.  (I hope I see royalties!)  I ran into my accountant the other day and I mentioned to him that my first novel would come out December 6, 2012.  He seemed very interested.  A discussion about genres and John Sandford novels ensued.  Then he said that the first thing I'll need to do is get a Business Privilege License. 

A what?

Yes, a business privilege license.  After speaking briefly with my accountant, I went online and did more research.  Turns out that because I live in the lovely City of Philadelphia--like actually IN it--and might possibly make money from the book I wrote, I am subject to Business Privilege taxes, even though I am not a business. 

From what I understand the license costs $300 for a lifetime fee or $50 a year.  Although many sites I went on said it was $350 for a "lifetime" fee and then $50 a year thereafter, which kind of defeats the purpose of a "lifetime" anything, if you ask me.  I also read in a few places that it is actually $300 a year for the first two years and that they ask you to pay two years up front, plus a $50 annual fee thereafter, so I might have to pay $700 at the end of this year (again, seems to defeat the idea of a "lifetime" fee but it wouldn't be Philly without a buttload of confusion).  Without delving too far into the Philadelphia Tax Code, which might as well be in a foreign language to me, I just figure on paying at least $350 this year to have my book published while living in this city, which is what my accountant suggested.  Figuring out precisely how much to pay and when--well, that's why I have an accountant.  Regardless, a BPL is not something that had even remotely occurred to me.

That's not all.  From what I've read, the City of Philadelphia will take 6.45% of anything I make as a writer. 

If I don't pay these taxes, the penalties and fees will be astronomical--or so I've read.  In fact, a few things that I've read say that even if you didn't live in Philadelphia but you came here to do a book signing and were compensated in any way, even if it was just for one day, you would have to buy a business privilege license and pay the business privilege taxes on what you made while you were here.  Don't believe me?  Read this Forbes article. 

That would explain why half of the concerts that go on in this area are over the damn bridge in New Jersey (she says resentfully!)

That's Camden, Philadelphia's lesser known but equally violent cousin

Anyway, I only bring this up because it really had never occurred to me that I might have to pay extra taxes or fees just to be a writer and live in Philadelphia.  So if you've got a book coming out, you might want to check out the laws and tax codes where you live to make sure you're not missing anything!

This is why Lisa Scottoline lives just outside of Philadelphia in a neighboring county!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Interview with Thriller Author David Kessler

I am thrilled (no pun intended) to welcome thriller writer, David Kessler to my blog today!  David is from the U.K. and his Alex Sedaka series was released in the United States earlier this year.  Right off the bat, the e-book version his first Alex Sedaka novel was downloaded 20,000 times in six weeks.  Go, David!  If you read his work, you'll see why.  You can get his first novel, You Think You Know Me Pretty Well (previously titled Mercyhere
The synopsis, which I have taken directly from the Amazon page is as follows:

San Francisco lawyer Alex Sedaka is surprised when California governor Chuck Dusenbury offers eleventh-hour clemency to Sedaka’s Death Row client Clayton Burrow - persuaded to do so by the dying mother of the victim. But there is a condition: Burrow must reveal where he buried body.

The problem: Burrow insists that is innocent and that he was framed by the missing girl herself. Until then, Sedaka – who only recently took over the case – thought that Burrow was guilty. But now he is not so sure. Thus begins a race against time to unravel the mystery, aided by his secretary, an enigmatic legal intern and his own computer expert son.

Alex finds evidence of school bullying, marital infidelity and even child abuse. But with the clock ticking down to Burrow’s execution, Alex is frustrated at every turn by elusive evidence that casts doubt on Burrow’s guilt, but is not enough to satisfy the rigorous requirements of the courts or the governor at this late stage.

And as the execution looms ahead, the race turns frantic… and dangerous.

Before we get started, I want to say that I read this book in a day.  That's how fast-paced and awesome it was.  It's compulsively readable.  I was so enthralled in it that within a couple of hours I was halfway through it!  The twists are breath-taking.  You won't see them coming but once they are revealed you'll be all *gasp* OMG! That totally makes sense! If you like Harlan Coben, you'll love this book.

So here is the interview:

1) What inspired you to write the Alex Sedaka series?

I didn't originally conceive it as a series but a one-off. I had the idea after a phone conversation when I misdialled an old friend.But I think I may have had rudiments of the idea before that. I have also been fascinated by the death penalty (and my views on the subject have swayed back and forth), so I wanted to write a death penalty thriller. When a publisher expressed an interest and wanted to know if I had any other ideas before they signed a contract, I realized that they wanted more stories with the same character and I also realized that this made perfect sense. If people like a character, they want more of the same - different stories but with familiar characters. Thus, idealistic lawyer Alex Sedaka was born.

2) Why did you choose San Francisco for the series' setting?

I had to set it in the USA because it was a death penalty story and we don't have the death penalty in Britain. I could have set it in a former British colony like Malaysia or Singapore, but I know little of their legal systems and nothing of their culture. The USA I know about because I have always been fascinated by our "cousins" and used to hang out with Americans when I was living in Israel.
I originally thought of setting it in New Jersey, in honor of Harlan Coben, my favorite thriller writer. But New Jersey had a moratorium on capital punishment at the time and was in the process of formally abolishing it. Then I thought of Texas, but an execution in Texas is such a cliche. So I settled on California, so I could have the sun and the surf and all that as the backdrop to the story. I wanted to set it in Southern California, but I didn't know where they performed executions other than San Quentin in Marin County. Because the story involves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing by the lawyer and takes place over just one day, I had to set it near to San Quentin. That made San Francisco the logical choice.

3) Who are your favorite authors?

As mentioned above Harlan Coben is my favorite thriller writer with Dan Brown a distant second. In the past I enjoyed Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason). I like Ayn Rand, but am not one of her more sycophantic followers. I have tried many other modern thriller writers, but although I enjoy them, Harlan Coben and Dan Brown are the only ones whose books I positively rush out to buy on publication day. Some are better than others, but I live for those moments when a new one comes out.

4. You've written under pen names in other genres? Is the mystery/thriller genre your favorite to write and if so, why?

I've written and self-published thrillers for children under the name Dan Ryan, Science fiction under the name Nigel Farringdon and chick-lit under the name Karen Dee. But I was also published by Avon under the name Adam Palmer. The reason for the pen-names was because they wanted me to try my hand at a "Dan Brown style" conspiracy thriller with an historical angle. I readily agreed and they felt that it would be a good idea to relaunch me with a new identity. The Moses Legacy, which introduced the character of Semitic language expert Daniel Klein (note the initials:-) was published under the name Adam Palmer and has proved to be a great success. I am now writing a new one called The Boudicca Map.

5) What advice would you give writers who are just beginning their journey to publication?
That's the toughest question of all. The main answer I would give is to avoid vanity publishers (however they describe themselves) but make use of the new eBook self-publishing platforms. It is legitimate to pay money for a proof-reader or cover designer. It is foolish to pay money to a "subsidy publisher" and not much wiser to pay a printer.

DO pursue the conventional channels of agents and print publishers, but do NOT put your work (and life) on hold whilst waiting for them to get back to you. Use the eBook channels in the meantime. Make sure your work is thoroughly proof-read. That last bit is advice that is easily given but seldom heeded - and I am not free of sin myself - but do at least TRY. And be prolific. One book can encourage sales of another.
Then, get all your friends to review your books and if they are too lazy, write the reviews for them and get them to use their ID's to publish them. (Throw in a few four star reviews as well and maybe even a single three star review that is only mildly critical - and get all of them to vote that each others reviews are helpful).

Do not let anyone lecture you about "ethics" and the integrity of reviews. You do not want to be lying on your deathbed in years to come thinking about what might have been if you hadn't played by the rules. The worst thing that can happen to a writer is not bad reviews, but being ignored. Don't let that happen. Fight for attention, even if you have to use your elbows - figuratively speaking of course.

Having said all that, remember that some books do better on the eBook platform than others. First it was Young Adults now it is bored housewives who have moved on from Mills & Boon to S & M. I suppose it's less embarasssing for them to read that sort of thing on the train when other people can't see the cover!
But don't try to copy last years trend. You don't want to be an also ran. Write what interests you and try to create NEXT years trend!
Well, that was certainly interesting!  I must say that I appreciate David's honesty and frank advice for writers just starting out.  Also, this brings up the whole issue of review practice.  I would love to hear what you guys think.  What is ethical?  What is not ethical?  How far would you go to draw attention to your book? 

Now, I  have a handful of friends who already read my book long before I was under contract and I've asked the friends who told me explicitly how much they loved it to write reviews that they can post on Goodreads and later on Amazon.  I don't know that they'll get around to it but yes, if someone tells me they like my book, I am going to ask them to post a review.  And I do the same for many of my writer friends whose books I adore.  If I love a book, I'll write a review because I know it helps the author out.  If I have a friend whose book is coming out and I really loved it, I'm happy to write them a great review.  For me personally, I am not comfortable writing my own reviews but I am aware that this is a practice that many writers engage in.  I understand that the idea is to get the book into the readers'  hands.  Once the reader starts reading, the book must stand on its own merits, no matter how many glowing reviews it has behind it.  I've even read about authors who make up online identities for the purposes of giving themselves good reviews to draw more attention to their books. 

Obviously, this is a choice that must be made by each individual author.  I would love to have a cordial and adult discussion about this issue because I think it's pretty interesting. 

So, what do you think?  What would you do?

Monday, August 13, 2012

You Tell Me: What Do You Look For In A Blog?

Last week, Jeff O had a great post called Will Success Change Your Blog?  He talked about what happens to writers' blogs once they've achieved what we're all working toward:  the coveted book contract.  Blog posts tend to slow down and the blog becomes more about the author's self-promotion than anything else.  I think this is extremely tricky to navigate.  I started blogging a couple of years ago for one reason:  to connect with other writers.  I wanted people who could commiserate with me, encourage and support me and teach me things and I have found all of those things on my blogging journey.  I've also made some really incredible friends and read some pretty kick-ass books by pre-published authors.  The blogging community helped me stay on the querying path when I wanted to throw in the towel and they helped keep me sane while I was on subs.  Now that I finally have a book coming out, of course I want to share all my excitement and successes with the very people who helped me get there!

But I don't want to be obnoxious.  Or boring.

I definitely like reading about other writers' successes!  When a fellow writer gets a contract or a 5 star review, or hits the best-seller list, I'm super pumped!  I want to hear about it.  But I don't want to visit a blog where every single post is all, "Hey look at me!  I sold nine bajillion million copies of my book and John Grisham is my assistant now and also, look here at the sixty trillion 5 star reviews I got in just the last week!" Let's face it--as supportive as we are of each other, when you've just cried into your keyboard after getting agent rejection # 122 or editor rejection # 18, the last thing you want to hear about is how great Newbie Bestseller 3000 has it over in Greener Pasture-ville.  It's not even because you're jealous, although that is a normal response, it's just because reading stuff like that when you're scraping bottom makes you feel like hammered crap.  It makes you think holy crap, I thought this was bottom but look here, it's a hydraulic drill that I can use to bust right through the floor of rock bottom.  WTF?

Now I don't know what will happen when my book comes out in December.  I'm hoping for the same thing everyone else is:  lots of happy readers!  Of course I hope my book will be successful.  And I'm not gonna lie:  getting your cover art for the first time, seeing your book up on on Goodreads, getting a pre-release 5 star review and awesome feedback from an advanced reader--that sh*t feels pretty damn good.  It's awesome.  It's massively-distracting-to-the-point-where-your-loved-ones-want-to-slap-you-in-the-face-cause-you're-all-silly-and-euphoric-and-thinking-about-your-book-all-the-time awesome!  It is and I wish this feeling on all writers!  If I am lucky and fortunate enough to achieve some success once my book is released, I am definitely going to share that with my followers.

But I don't want to be obnoxious.  Or boring.

I want this blog to have value to other writers, to be of some use.  So you tell me:  what do you look for in a blog?  What would be most helpful to you?  What makes you rush right over to your favorite blog when you log on to your computer?  What would you like to see?  I know we're all at different levels but I want to hear from everyone.  So what is it?  Interviews with other writers?  Interviews with agents?  Query critiques?  First page critiques?  Writing advice?  Fun blogging exercises/prompts?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Interview with Thriller Author, Jennifer Hillier

I am very excited to welcome the talented and amazing Jennifer Hillier to my blog today!  Jennifer's debut novel, Creep, a psychological thriller (one that will keep you up all night turning pages and checking the locks on your doors) was released last year.  In fact, Creep was just recently released in paperback so if you haven't read it, go get it!  Yesterday her second novel, the sequel to Creep was released.  It's called Freak and here is the blurb, which I've borrowed from Freak's Amazon listing:

Sitting alone in a maximum-security prison cell, Abby Maddox is a celebrity. Her claim to fame is the envy of every freak on the outside: she’s the former lover of Ethan Wolfe, the killer who left more than a dozen dead women in his wake and nearly added Puget Sound State professor Sheila Tao to the tally. Now Abby, serving a nine-year sentence for slashing a police officer’s throat in a moment of rage, has little human contact—save for the letters that pour in from demented fans, lunatics, and creeps. But a new wave of murders has given Abby a possible chance for a plea bargain—because this killer has been sending her love letters, and carving a message on the bodies of the victims: Free Abby Maddox.

Jerry Isaac will never forget the attack—or his attacker. The hideous scarring and tortured speech are daily reminders that the one-time Seattle PD officer, now a private investigator, is just lucky to be alive. Abby Maddox deserves to rot in jail—forever, as far as Jerry’s concerned. But she alone may possess crucial evidence—letters from this newest killer—that could crack open the disturbing case. With the help of Professor Sheila Tao, seasoned police detective Mike Torrance, and intuitive criminology student Danny Mercy, Jerry must coax the shattering truth from isolated, dangerous Abby Maddox. Can he put the pieces together before Abby’s number one fan takes another life in the name of a killer’s perverted idea of justice?

I must say that this could not be more up my alley!  It's no surprise to me that Freak has already gotten some rave reviews.  You will not want to miss this one! 

If you haven't seen Jennifer around the blogosphere, here is her bio, which I have taken directly from her website:

JENNIFER HILLIER writes thrillers. She writes about dark, twisted people who do dark, twisted things. She will not apologize for this.

Born and raised in Toronto, she moved to Seattle in 2007, where she spent her first few months on American soil bemoaning her existence and writing her first novel. Now back in the Toronto area, she's working on her third book and missing the rain of the Pacific Northwest.

A member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Association of Crime Writers, Jennifer has always been drawn to dark fiction, even though she's scared of all things that go bump in the night.

And now for the good stuff . . the interview!

1. Freak is your second novel and obviously you already had a publisher when you started it. Had you always had the idea for this novel or was it something that came about after you'd sold Creep?

As soon as I typed “The End”on CREEP’s first draft (and yes, I totally did type that, and it made me all giddy!) I knew there was going to be a second book. Mind you, I had no idea if I’d even sell CREEP, but I felt really compelled to find out what happened to certain characters, even if nobody ever read it.

2. What was the biggest difference in your writing process between Freak and your first novel, Creep?

Writing CREEP was almost an idyllic experience. Because I wasn’t agented or contracted by a publisher, the only pressure I felt to finish it was from myself. I had a lot of time to write it, and I took all the time I needed to make it the best it could be. I didn’t even write my query letter until I’d finished the sixth draft. What a luxury!

But with FREAK, I had a deadline and a production schedule. I knew that if I didn’t get the book in on time, it would mess everything up for everyone involved, because the entire publishing team (editor, copy editor, typesetter, cover artist, marketing staff, sales reps, etc.) all have strict schedules. It was a very different experience writing the second book, and really stressful in comparison to the first, especially since I had half the time. With CREEP, it took me 14 months to get the book ready for querying. With FREAK, I had 7 months to get it to my editor once my proposal was accepted.
But of course, the benefit of having a contract in place for the second book is the certainty that it will be published, and that’s definitely a good thing.

3. Who would you say are your biggest writing influences?

Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk. I loved King’s book ON WRITING, because it was the first time I’d ever read anything about a writer’s process. To this day I still follow his “six week break” rule in between writing the first and second drafts. And I’ve learned so much about the importance of characterization and setting just from reading (and re-reading) his novels. As for Palahniuk, I admire his prose the most. He’s a sparse writer, but his words are always so impactful. FIGHT CLUB is one of my favorite books ever.

4. You're living the dream! What was the most unexpected event or change in your life once you were a successful, published author?

That a writer’s life is not as dreamy as it looks from the outside! Ha! Okay, I’m being funny, but I’m also kind of serious, too. Before I was published, I would read blogs by authors who were “living the dream”, and follow them on Twitter, and it really did seem like the writer’s life was just so amazing. And in a lot of ways it is, because we get make up stories for a living, and there’s nothing cooler than that.

But what you don’t always read about is that it’s also a ton of work, and being a successful author these days means you have to do a lot more than just write. Gone are the days when new writers could be mysterious and reclusive. Marketing is hugely important, and trying to balance all of the necessary promotional stuff with the writing stuff can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s really not something I expected or was prepared for, and I definitely do the best I can. But if all I had to do to continue getting published was just hole up and write? That would be truly blissful!

5. What advice would you give writers who are just starting out on their journey to publication?

Write the best book you can, then ask for feedback from people whose opinions you trust. I highly recommend workshopping and critique partners to start. Fellow aspiring authors will have your book’s best interest at heart, and the exchange of ideas will be creative yet professional. I then recommend having a couple of non-writers read your manuscript, because it’s actually non-writers who’ll make up the majority of your readership, so their opinions can be invaluable.
And when you’re ready to try and get published, do your due diligence. Research as much as you can about agents and publishers, and learn everything you can about querying. And don’t give up! The dream only dies when you let it.

Thank you, Jennifer for joining me today!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Developing Compelling Characters: Guest Post from J.C. Martin, Author of Oracle

I am very excited to welcome the amazing and talented J.C. Martin today whose thriller, Oracle was released on July 30, 2012!

J.C. and I were critique partners and I had the privilege of reading Oracle just before J.C. snagged a publisher.  It is an incredible book.  As I read through it, I had to keep reminding myself that I was supposed to be critiquing. It was just that good.  Again, here is the blurb!  Keep scrolling for the guest post on developing compelling characters.

With London gearing up to host the Olympics, the city doesn't need a serial killer stalking the streets, but they've got one anyway.

Leaving a trail of brutal and bizarre murders, the police force is no closer to finding the latest psychopath than Detective Inspector Kurt Lancer is in finding a solution for his daughter's disability.

Thrust into the pressure cooker of a high profile case, the struggling single parent is wound tight as he tries to balance care of his own family with the safety of a growing population of potential victims.

One of whom could be his own daughter.

Fingers point in every direction as the public relations nightmare grows, and Lancer's only answer comes in the form of a single oak leaf left at each crime scene.
Purchase Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble
About the Author
J.C. Martin is a butt-kicking bookworm: when she isn’t reading or writing, she teaches martial arts and self-defence to adults and children. 

After working in pharmaceutical research, then in education as a schoolteacher, she decided to put the following to good use: one, her 2nd degree black belt in Wing Chun kung fu; and two, her overwhelming need to write dark mysteries and gripping thrillers with a psychological slant. 

Her short stories have won various prizes and have been published in several anthologies. Oracle is her first novel.

Born and raised in Malaysia, J.C. now lives in south London with her husband and three dogs.
Contact: Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook

4 Tips on Developing Compelling Characters

For me, a good book must not just have an intriguing story, it must also have a compelling character, one who will interest me enough to invest hours of my time reading about.
Literature is littered with examples of unforgettable characters: Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Potter, to name a few. But for every memorable character, there are hundreds of forgotten ones, characters so uninteresting that readers don’t even remember their name after finishing the book.

So how does one create an unforgettable character, one who will compel readers to stick around, not just for one book, but for an entire series?

1. He/she should be less than perfect
To quote a cliché, nobody’s perfect, so creating a character who is good-looking, smart, brave, talented in multiple obscure skills, yada-yada … is just not realistic. Giving your character flaws will actually make readers identify with them more. Even better, make these flaws an obstacle in your hero’s quest: perhaps someone with a fear of heights must walk a narrow ledge at the top of a skyscraper to access the locked room where his wife is tied to a ticking time bomb? Readers will be compelled to read on to find out just how your hero can overcome their flaws to achieve their goal.   

2. He/she should have a past
Mysterious heroes who appear out of nowhere, save the day, and disappear back into the sunset are not only unrealistic, they’re also forgettable. Giving your character a past, be it an interesting, cushy, or traumatic one, will make them more real. Does their history dictate their traits? Does it account for their unusual accent? Do they still carry scars from the past? Giving your character a back story will make them more identifiable, eliciting both empathy and sympathy from readers.

3. He/she should have strong opinions
A person’s opinions on certain matters can provide deep insights into his or her character. Someone with no strong feelings about anything is boring to read about. Is your hero religious or an atheist? Do they respect authority, or play by their own rules? Are family values important to them, or do they relish being a loner? Showing your hero’s opinions on certain issues is a great way to reveal their identity.

4. He/she should be quirky
Everybody has odd quirks and habits, so your character should, too. Does she chew on her hair when anxious? Does he alphabetise his CD collection? Any unusual hobbies or collections? Showing your hero’s quirks will add further relatable layers to their character.

Who is your favourite literary character? What do you think makes he/she compelling and memorable?