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The third Lexy Cooper mystery is now in paperback and you could win one of three signed copies! Just enter the giveaway by August 17th for your chance to win.

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Griefed paperback

Bringing out your dead: When to drop the first body.

POLICE INVOLVED SHOOTINGConventional wisdom dictates that mystery/crime novels offer up a body early on. Think about every episode of every incarnation of Law & Order. There’s the discovery of the victim, then the iconic “DONK DONK” (also called the “clang”) followed by the theme song/opening credits. Then the detectives are on scene and the process of discovering whodunnit begins.

As a reader, I’ve been known to say “If I don’t see a body by page 30, I give up on the book.” I chose a mystery or crime thriller because I want a dead body and a bad guy and a chance to solve a puzzle. Give me a body. The exception to this rule are writers that I know and trust will tell me a great story. Writers like Ruth Rendell, Tana French, Chelsea Cain, Minette Walters, or Susan Hill can pace their books however they want–I want to go where they take me. Hmm, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Let me check something… Okay, yeah, I do have some male mystery/crime writers I read without question: Benjamin Black, Colin Harrison, and Michael Robotham.

griefedcoverSMALLAs a writer of mystery/crime novels, so far I’ve followed the rules on pacing: In Schooled, the body of Callie Caldwell is found by a security guard on page 2. In Pwned, I left it a little later, having Lexy stumble on the body of co-worker Declan Brown all the way on page 6. In Griefed, I was back at the front of the book; Detective Malick is called out to the suspicious death of Fletcher Grey on Page 2.

Lexy Cooper #4 is going to be a little different. I’m about thirty pages in, and…no body. In fact, the murder hasn’t even happened yet. Why? Because for this story the reader needs a prior knowledge of the victim and his/her history before he/she is killed. It’s essential for the reader to understand the conclusions made by the investigating officer and everyone else in the Lexyverse.

So what the hell is happening in those first thirty pages? It’s Lexy stuff. It’s catching up to where she is since the events in Griefed. And it’s laying the groundwork for the characters and events in the story. It’s…pretty dark. But I’m going to let Lexy go as low as she needs to. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Protagonists that never change and are unaffected by the things that happen to them become stale and boring.
  2. In my experience, any time you ask yourself Gosh can I take my readers there? Can I get away with that?, the answer should always be YES.

TL;DR

Drop the first body very early to grab your readers’ attention. Unless you have a good reason and have built a character or series strong enough that readers will give you the benefit of the doubt.

When to release and promote your books

There are those who say that authors should release a book simultaneously in digital and paper form. Their argument being that everyone who wants to read your book should be able to. If they want to give you money, why make them wait? Well, I’ll tell you. Every new format is a chance to promote your novel. Because unless you want to make enemies, you just can’t say “buy my book” every day. People will tune you out at best and unfollow you at worst. And then you’ve lost them.

Real-time-marketing-news-cycle-1024x766

In public relations you have what are known as “news beats.” I’m sure a PR professional would explain the concept differently (and probably with a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation), but here is the way I understand and use it: You create “news” about your product (in this case your novel), and dole out these bits of news in increments that are most likely to be noticed and shared. So the news beats that I could do for my novel Summer Wind could go like this:

• March – Announcement of book “A Lexy Cooper Spinoff Featuring Detective Malick is in the works”
• April – Cover and title reveal “Title of Mike Malick #1 is ‘Summer Wind.’ Check out the cover”
• May – Launch date reveal “Detective Malick returns in Summer Wind October 31”
• August – Book release “Summer Wind, Mike Malick spinoff now available as eBook and paperback”

And then…nothing. You’ve got no more news. Sure you can post reviews and interact with your readers and all that good stuff, but you don’t have any “news.”
Now, if you hold back on paperback or audio versions, then you have more news to share:

• November – “Summer Wind coming to paperback”
• December – “Summer Wind now available in paperback”
• June – “Summer Wind audiobook in the works. Who will voice Mike Malick?”
• August – “Summer Wind audiobook now available”

You’ve had a full year of newsworthy items about one book. And you’re probably ready to start releasing news about the next book. Now, if you’ve got multiple titles to promote, you can do even more. Here’s a peek at my Marketing and Release calendar.

marketing and release calendar

This spreadsheet actually goes all the way through 2017, four more Lexy Cooper books and two more Mike Malick books.

Newsletters are in yellow, promotions are in blue and releases are in green. You can see that I’m promoting different things at appropriate times. I’ll do two promotions for I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa this year. It was free for five days in a “Christmas in July” promotion, and when the holidays roll around again, I will post about the story in all my social channels and hopefully get another round of sales. I’ll do a “Back to Schooled” promotion in September because it’s topical, and it’s the first book in my series–the bait I use to hook new readers.

Today I didn’t do any writing on my fourth Lexy Cooper book, but the time I spent on the business end confirming schedules with my editor and proofreader, updating Lexycooper.com, making a blog post on Goodreads, and scheduling announcements and promotions through the end of the year is well worth missing a creative day. You can be creative AND strategic!

 

 

Novel Experiment Day 6 – What Was I Thinking?

My hands and wrists hurt. I don’t give a shit what happens to the couple in Wallbanger. I pretty much hate this book I’m writing, too. Having no real foundation in the romance tropes and traditions I don’t have a real voice. I’m trying to write like this or like that instead of sticking to my own style.

Right now I feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

Die hard air shaft

I thought this would be fun. An interesting way to spend two weeks so that I didn’t mess around with Summer Wind before I can read it with a fresh pair of eyes and figure out how to get it in shape for the hand-off to my editor.

But this is like a punishment! I’m reading books I’m not interested in while books I genuinely want to read sit on my Kindle taunting me. Why am I punishing myself? Do I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough? That I haven’t earned a break? So far in 2014 I did final rounds of rewrites and published Griefed, wrote and published B.Y.O.P., and wrote a first draft of Summer Wind. If you don’t count Griefed as ‘writing’ since I finished the first draft December 30, 2013, I’ve still written over 120,000 words this year.

Day Six may just be an off-day. (And I did get a little over 1,200 words written which would be completely satisfying daily total if I was writing one of my “real books.”) One in which I feel sorry for myself and just really need some time away from the keyboard. But on the other hand I keep going back to the reason why I have never before attempted the romance genre: I just don’t like it. And writing something you wouldn’t want to read seems like a pretty lame thing to do.

giving-upSo. Do I forge ahead and push myself to finish a first draft in the next 8 business days? Do I take a more leisurely route and admit that two weeks is not enough time? Do I say “fuck it,” shelve the project, and dive into writing Lexy #4, or even just throw up my hands and take a break from writing for another week. Read books I want to read, watch movies, take my kid swimming and otherwise refill the creativity bank?

I’m going to sleep on it. And see how I feel tomorrow.

Novel Experiment Day 5 – Wallbanger and the Iliac Furrows

WallbangerDay Five research went pretty well. I found something fun to read: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton. The temperature is on the cool side i.e. I’m 40% in and the heroine hasn’t gotten laid even once. But, it’s a fun read and it’s making me laugh. In a “that’s funny” way, not a “I can’t believe how hard this sucks” way. It’s the first book in the “Cocktail” series, which includes Rusty Nailed and the upcoming Mai Tai’d Up. The comedy is on the slapstick side, but when you’re laughing out loud you can’t argue that it’s not funny.

The other thing I researched was anatomy. Specifically that V-shaped muscle below the abs. If you don’t already know, it is the iliac furrow, also known as the Belt of Adonis or just the V. Here it is in its natural habitat:

joe manganiello in magic mike 1

Finally, I did some writing. A lot of writing. 4,528 words or the equivalent of about 18 pages. And one of the things I’m finding as I read romance and attempt to write it, is that because there is no plot other than bringing the characters together and pulling them apart, you’ve got to sort of rathole on stuff that, for example, in my mystery/crime novels I would either skip or handle very briefly. Emotional stuff, for instance. Lexy Cooper may be full of emotion about a dead colleague or an errant boyfriend, but her distress only takes up a couple sentences. Maybe a paragraph at a time. In romance, the main characters ponder and worry, daydream and swoon for pages at a time. Depending on the book, the feelings junk can take up a lot more real estate than the sex stuff.

Day Five BnG

On Day Five I also attempted to write from the Stripper’s point of view for the first time. I hadn’t done it before because I guess it hadn’t sunk in that I was supposed to. It felt weird to jump into Cade’s head somewhere around Chapter Four and I’m not sure it helps the book. However, if I find myself light on words, that would be a good way to plump up the book; to go back and add a glimpse into his thoughts.

smart girls stupid

Finally, writing and typing this much has made my wrists begin to rebel. I’m not sure they will allow me to keep up this pace.

 

Novel Experiment Day 4 – Own and Bone

So this post is actually combining two days. A research (non-writing) day and a work day. I’m lumping them both into “Day Four.”

For my research I started reading Little Black Book by Tabatha Vargo and Melissa Andrea. I got to about 35% when I figured I’d read enough. For three reasons: 1) there are quite a few typos. Sloppy editing. 2) The female main character, Jessica, doesn’t seem to have a solid personality. Maybe it gels later on, but I won’t ever know because 3) I’ve read this before.

Not this book, but one just like it: Rush, by Maya Banks. It is an example of what I’ll call the “Own and Bone” subgenre of romance/erotica. What the hell is Own and Bone? Here’s the premise: Dude wants this chick. So he pays her to be at his command. Makes her sign a contract. She has to do what he says without question, most of which includes submitting to being tied up and ravished. Having been through this story already, I suspect that Jessica has a buttplug in her future. So I opted out.

erotic v romance coversI posted something about Little Black Book this morning on Facebook and one of my friends asked “Are you writing romance or erotica?” I asked “Where is the line?” and a lively debate ensued. Briefly, this friend said that you can tell the difference by the cover. She provided a picture to illustrate the difference, and I think she’s got a point. If you see a dark book cover with a close-up of body parts (or a pair of handcuffs) it’s probably erotica. If the cover has a light background and a couple gazing into one another’s eyes, it’s probably romance.

But. The book I read the other day, Where I Belong, was definitely romance but had very hot sex…albeit sans buttplugs (though there was a brief handcuffs episode).

So maybe the line between Romance and Erotica isn’t a line at all. Maybe it’s a buttplug.

That's not a binky, folks.

That’s not a binky, folks.

Here’s what I got done on Day 4:

  • Wasted time researching cooking schools in Italy.
  • Wasted more time deliberating whether an engagement ring should be cushion-cut or asscher-cut.
  • Wrote 4,408 words!

Day Four BnG

 

Romance/Erotica Fun:

50 Shades of Grey: Who Knew Women Liked Erotica? – USA Today

Novel Experiment Day 3 – A miscalculation and a pleasant surprise

Day three was great for research. Not great for productivity. BECAUSE I guess I forgot that I can’t write on weekends. Not because I’m lazy (which I am) but because I can’t write with people around me. As in I am an unfathomable bitch if you interrupt me while I’m writing. So in order to survive, I must adjust the Novel Experiment from Can I Write a Romance Novel in Two Weeks, to Can I Write a Romance Novel in Fourteen Days. Business days, that is.

Color RunOn Day 3 I got a lot of reading done. Part of it while my husband and younger daughter participated in a Color Run at a local park. People are running, dancing, wearing tutus, and pelting one another with packets of cornstarch colored blue, orange and pink. And there I am brushing pink dust from my kindle screen and muttering. #BookwormProblems.

 

I began to read but could not finish a book called Fierce by Clarissa Wild. The premise was nerd girl meets bad boy. Unfortunately, it was terrible. Everything about it sucked. Here’s my Goodreads review of Fierce:

“An absolute abomination. This had to be written by a pre-teen or it’s a poor translation of a tween book originally written in a language not English. In what language/culture does one “follow a class” instead of take or attend? I think most 12 year olds are too sophisticated for this.”

Mean? I guess. Maybe Karma set me straight because yesterday I got a scathing 1-star review of my short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa, calling it a “poor Janet Evanovich copy.”

Where I Belong

But the good news is that I found a romance novel that I actually liked! Where I Belong by J Daniels. The premise is a girl returns to her hometown for the summer and discovers that the hot stranger she’d picked up the night before is the guy who teased and tortured her when they were kids. So she hates him, but you know, wants to bone him 24/7. It follows all the romance rules including the HEA, but I cared about the characters and the sex scenes were exactly the right temperature of hot for me (ie no buttplugs or riding crops), and I even laughed out loud more than once. It was a good book. For real. At one point I was reading on the couch and I murmured “Oh my godddddd,” and my husband wanted to know what was going on. So I told him, “Oh, well, the guy with the nine inch dick was just revealed to be a cop.” File that under things not to say to your husband.

hot copSo what I learned from Where I Belong (which, I liked SO much I immediately downloaded her other book and, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you, fanned her Facebook page) is that the romance genre does not have to have corny dialog or stereotypical characters. They can be as contemporary as last week and the dialog can be how real people talk.

One thing I have noticed in my quest is that part of the book is often from the dude’s point of view. I don’t remember that from the bodice-rippers of eighth grade, so I don’t know if it’s a faulty memory or if it’s a new thing. I wasn’t planning to have any of my book be from the Stripper’s POV, but…should I?

Romance Fun:

Euphemisms for Body Parts in Romance Novels. – From BookRiot.

Novel Experiment Day 2 – The trouble with S and hella words

I decided “Hiatus Experiment” doesn’t really make sense, ergo “Novel Experiment.”

Rush Maya BanksDay Two research involved the book Rush by Maya Banks. In contrast to the Rafe MacKade book, the sex was not lukewarm. Nope, not at all. It was hot. Here’s my Goodreads Review for Rush. “Pretty well-written. The author believes that manly men say “damn well” a lot. The sex is definitely hot. I don’t find butt plugs even remotely romantic. Ending (HEA) was massive cheese. Rush is the first book in a trilogy, but I’m going to move on and try to get a broad spectrum of romance titles.

Still haven’t watched any romantic movies. Unless Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood counts? Didn’t think so.

As for the day’s actual work, I looked at that 4,285 number (of words I’d need to write in order to hit 60k at the end of the two weeks) and despaired. There’s no way. I think I wrote 4k words in a day once when I was on a roll with my first Lexy Cooper book. And recently I wrote 11,000 words in a week. But 4200+ in a day? Never.

Except, I did it! I felt completely wiped out at the end of it, but I managed to do it and I lived to tell the tale. Day Two BnG

Problems I encountered on Day Two:

  • I gave a character the name Lucas. Cool until I gave Lucas a job and a house and private jet. Then I had to deal with the mess of Lucas’s jet, or is it Lucas’ jet? Annoying.
  • In describing the first meeting of my hero and heroine, I was at a loss as to how to describe a stripper’s…moves. “And then he shook his ass” just isn’t cutting it. Prescription: Watch Magic Mike again.
  • My heroine works for a company that I’ve named Parker and Stowe. She’s recently been promoted to Vice President. She wears conservative work clothes and makes a lot of money, but what does this company do? What goods does it produce or service does it provide? I have no idea and I’m not sure my reader will care.

Stripper Fun:

RIP Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley

SNL strippers

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/chippendales/n41045

Hiatus Experiment Day 1 – Research, names, and outlining

Can I write a cheesy romance novel in two weeks? Here’s what happened on Day One:

In order to write a romance novel, some research is in order.

Rafe MacKadeSo I read a Nora Roberts book: The Return of Rafe MacKade. Nora Roberts, if you don’t know, is a zillion-selling romance author. She’s written over 200 romance books, and also writes a futuristic detective romance series under the name J.D. Robb. She’s got FIVE books coming out in 2014. So this book was great for being brief and driving home the romance formula: Boy meets Girl. Boy is great-looking, successful and used to getting whatever he wants. Girl is also great-looking (but not conceited), intelligent and headstrong. There are conflicts that keep them apart, the main one being the Girl’s internal war between wanting to be an Independent Woman and wanting to be Swept Off Her Feet caveman-style. Each gives in a little, hormones win. They live Happily Ever After. (I discovered that this is known as an HEA among fans). This particular book? Here’s my Goodreads review. “Lukewarm sex. Too many feelings.” As someone pointed out, “Isn’t it a romance book?” Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I thought I should probably watch “The Notebook,” which I’ve never seen, but apparently makes romance fans swoon. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tonight.

Of course with just two weeks to bust out a first draft, I can’t just “do research” (a classic writer stall tactic), I actually have to Get Shit Done. So here’s what I got on paper (so to speak) on Day 1:

  • Named my five main characters. Now the Girl, the Stripper, the Good Boy, the Best Friend and the Gay Friend all have appropriate romance-novel monikers.
  • Named other stuff: the strip club, the company the Girl and her friends work for, etc.
  • Took my outline (that I’d had on the back-burner) and broke it into a ten-chapter grid.
  • Wrote 700 words of Chapter One. (A bit of a fib. 500 words or so were kinda-sorta scrawled in a notebook already, but romance is about illusions, right?)
  • Crafted a schedule. Genre fiction can run around 60,000 words. If I’m going to write this in fourteen days, I need to bust out 4,282 words per day. Yikes. I’ve written that many in a day a couple times and this is meant to be an experiment, not a punishment.
  • Rethink the word count restriction. What if I don’t focus on number of words, but on getting the main story down so I can fluff it up/fill it out later? Let’s get ten chapters down and not think too hard about words.

Not bad for the first day, but I’m going to have to step up my game in a big way. I also need to ingest more romance. I’d appreciate suggestions for movies and (short) books that typify the romance genre. I’m not interested in sub-genres (paranormal, time-travel, historical, etc), just boy meets girl meets trouble and then HEA. Thanks!

 

The Hiatus Experiment or Can I Write A Romance in 2 Weeks?

BES_064Yesterday I finished the first draft of Summer Wind. This is the book that was giving me fits just a month ago when at the half-way point I hated the book so much I wanted to burn it. I figured out the problem, fixed it, and the words just started to flow. The muse was sitting on my lap, cracking a whip, urging “faster, faster!” That bossy bitch brought in the book a month ahead of schedule. So I actually have time to follow my own advice and put it away for two weeks before starting the revision process.

*Deep Breath*

So, I’ve decided to take those two weeks to work on a semi-silly project I’ve had on a back burner for quite some time: A romance novel. Yes, yes, I know you’re sneering. And yeah, I’ve said some catty shit about the genre as well, but in a world of declining readership, romance readers are HUNGRAAAY. How hungry? Let me hit you with some stats:

  • Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012.
  • Romance was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYT, USA Today, and PW best-seller lists).
  • Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.350 billion for 2013.
  • 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008.

What’s my book about? Well, the premise is that a corporate VP good-girl with a perfect-on-paper life meets a hot young stripper. She can’t be with a stripper, right? Because she went to college and she has a 401(k), but DAMN THOSE ABS.

magic_mike_12

You see where I’m going with this. Romance is nothing if not formulaic. So, formula and premise in hand, I will attempt to write a first draft of this book in just two weeks.

Now, if I can just find that muse…. oh, there it is

alex-pettyfer-in-magic-mike-2012-movie-image-e1343252347347-1

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