April 27, 2013

Book review: 24 Hours by Greg Iles

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24 HOURS --- that's how long it takes a madman to pull off the perfect crime. He's done it before, he'll do it again, and no one can stop him.

But this time, he's just picked the wrong family to terrorize. Because Will and Karen Jennings aren't going to watch helplessly as he victimizes them. And they aren't going to let him get away with it.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

This was the first time during the Authors A to Z reading challenge that I had difficulty finding an author with the appropriate last name. Who knew so few authors have last names beginning with I? The only two authors I recognized were Greg Iles and John Irving, and the books by the other authors unknown to me didn't sound interesting. I've seen Greg Iles's name before and considered reading his books but never found the time to. Now I have a reason.

24 Hours revolves around Will and Karen Jennings and the kidnapping of their daughter, Abby. The events that make up the plot are engaging if somewhat predictable. Although I often knew what was coming next, I still wanted to read the author's description of the scene because he did a good job moving the story along. My biggest problem with the novel is that I didn't find the couple to be sympathetic characters. I felt bad for young Abby, but I didn't care as much what happened to the parents, which I believe was the point of the book. In fact, I had more sympathy for two of the kidnappers than for Will and Karen! For a story in the thriller genre, I think it's vital that the reader root for the protagonists, like Lee Child is able to do with his Jack Reacher novels. In 24 Hours, Greg Iles fails to do that. It's not a bad book though. It just didn't have anything extra to push it beyond average.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: Placebo by Steven James.

April 20, 2013

To market or not to market

As I've mentioned before, I spend some time on the KBoards (formerly Kindle Boards) Writers' Cafe forums. Many of the topics in the forum have to do with marketing books -- what works, what doesn't, what should we try. Occasionally, the question also comes up about how much of an author's precious time should be spent marketing.

The answer to that question seems to depend on how much experience the author has. The newbie author who's just published his or her first book tends to want to spend most of the time on "marketing", whatever that activity really means. They want to market the heck out of their one book in the hopes that it becomes the next indie bestseller. I know I used to think that way. The only thing that kept me from spending all of my time marketing was that I didn't know what I was supposed to do!

More experienced writers will tell you something different. They will go as far as to say that you shouldn't spend any time marketing at all. They advise that you just keep writing and cranking out new books.

Here are two quotes from Joe Konrath's blog on the subject:
  • From "Konrath's Resolutions For Writers" - I really think it is possible to make a very nice living by writing and not worrying about anything else.
  • From "Joe Answers Your Questions" - If you've already done the Four Important Things (written a great book, gotten a great cover, have a great book description, and priced it reasonably) there's really not much else to do, other than wait for luck to strike.

Similarly, another author who I follow, Dean Wesley Smith, advocates spending your time writing and publishing, not marketing.

Personally, I'm starting to see the wisdom of authors like Konrath and Smith. Sure, there are stories of marketing efforts leading to big sales, but there are also stories of books that become wildly popular without marketing. Hugh Howey admitted that he didn't market Wool, and he now has a lucrative publishing contract for the series!

So, am I saying that you should stop marketing completely and turn off your blog and your Facebook and Twitter accounts? No. But as for me, I'm not going to worry about marketing through those venues. I plan to keep updating this blog and posting on Twitter. I even started a Facebook page recently. But my main reason for maintaining those sites is not to promote my books. I write this blog because it's another avenue for me to write and express my thoughts on things, talk about books I've read, and what's going on with my writing. More and more of my Twitter usage has been geared to connecting with other authors and readers. I enjoy interacting with them and won't give that up. I doubt that my blog or Twitter feed or Facebook page generate many sales if any. That's not the main reason I have them.

The bottom line is, I will probably spend some time on what people call marketing, but I'll focus more of my precious free time on writing my next book. If my books do one day wind up selling beyond my wildest dreams (yeah, right), it'll because I've written a bunch of good books, not because I've marketed the heck out of them.

April 13, 2013

Book review: The Line by Teri Hall

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An invisible, uncrossable physical barrier encloses the United States. The Line is the part of the border that lopped off part of the country, dooming the inhabitants to an unknown fate when the enemy used a banned weapon. It's said that bizarre creatures and superhumans live on the other side, in Away. Nobody except tough old Ms. Moore would ever live next to the Line.

Nobody but Rachel and her mother, who went to live there after Rachel's dad died in the last war. It's a safe, quiet life. Until Rachel finds a mysterious recorded message that can only have come from Away. The voice is asking for help.

Who sent the message? Why is her mother so protective? And to what lengths is Rachel willing to go in order to do what she thinks is right?

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

When I read the book's description, I was intrigued by the Line and what might lay beyond it. Were there horrible monsters? Mutants? Something I couldn't imagine? As it turned out, The Line didn't focus much on those topics (and what's on the other side of the Line turned out to be pretty boring). Instead, it's another tale of an oppressive government and the life of a girl and her mother under the government's rule.

Once I figured out what the book was about, I was prepared for a different kind of read, but this book didn't live up to that genre either. Too much time was spent on the mundane life of Rachel, her mother Vivian, and their employer Ms. Moore. I kept waiting for something to happen. At a few points in the story, the author provided hints of possible conflict or action, but then there was no follow through. I was pretty bored through the first half of the book.

The only thing that saved this book from getting a lower rating was that the second half picked up a little as we got more back story about what the government did, and the last 20 pages of the book really got interesting. By then, however, even the ending couldn't save the book, or to make me want to read the sequel. Overall, I'd say this book was between 2 1/2 to 3 stars.

I read this book as part of the Authors A to Z reading challenge. Next up: 24 Hours by Greg Iles.

April 6, 2013

The benefits of not writing often (or how I avoid writer's block)

You've undoubtedly seen the movies or heard the stories of the writer with writer's block. They sit in front of a typewriter, a laptop, or a notebook for hours, days, or weeks, but their Muse doesn't speak to them. Sometimes they seclude themselves so they can concentrate. Sometimes they go crazy. (The Shining or Secret Window, anyone?)

I don't have to worry about that (and my family doesn't have to worry about me turning into the next Jack Torrance) because I rarely get writer's block. My secret? I don't write often.

I envy those who can spend their entire day writing. I wish I could churn out a new novel every two months. Unfortunately, because I have a full time job and family commitments, I only have a few hours a week to write. However, when I do write, I try to make the most of it. The key, I've found, is that I think about writing all the time. Whether I'm stuck in my daily two-hour commute, working out, or sitting in one of my many meetings at work, I'm constantly thinking of my current work in progress or new story ideas. I flesh out my next scene, and sometimes the next chapter or two if I'm particularly inspired.

Then, when I finally sit down to write, I already have a pretty good idea of what to put down on paper. Since I usually have only an hour or less to write at any given time, most of it is spent jotting down what's already in my head. Then I spend the next day or two thinking of the next scene, and I'm ready to write again. Admittedly, there are times when I still haven't figured out a particular plot point by the time I put pen to paper, but those are rare occasions.

This method has worked well for me for the past two and a half years. But what if you are one of the lucky writers who have time to write all day but struggle with writers block? Maybe the key to unblocking yourself if to stop writing. Get away from your desk. Walk around. Take a shower. Do something else. Many of my best ideas hit me when it's churning in the back of my mind and not the focus of my current activity.

Oh, one thing that doesn't seem to help me: spending my time on the Internet. I almost never make progress on my stories when I'm busy surfing Facebook, Twitter, or the dozens of blogs I follow. :-) Damn you, Tim Berners-Lee, for inventing the biggest time suck in the history of mankind!

April 2, 2013

New covers

Two of my books recently got new covers!

First, the cover for In the Hands of Children changed a little. (I'll keep the old covers on the sidebar for a while for comparison.) I like the picture of the girls (who I imagine to be Hannah and Amy) staring at a rundown building, but I thought the text was a bit hard to read, so I added black on the top and bottom to make it stand out.

George and the Galactic Games got a major cover overhaul. This book is my poorest selling novel, which is a shame because I really liked the story. I thought one problem might be that it's targeted toward younger readers, which is a tough sell in itself, but perhaps the cover also didn't convey that it was suited for middle grade or younger ages.

I asked Jes Richardson (you can find more of her pre-made covers here) to revamp the cover for me, and I like the direction she took it in! It's much more kid-friendly than before. I hope this will lead to more people giving George and the Galactic Games a second look.

I have no idea if these new covers will improve sales. For all I know, they might even make it worse. But just being able to make these decisions and turn them around in a short time frame is what makes being an indie author so great!