Monday, January 30, 2012

Five Ways to Market Indie Books

Last week, I noticed a Goodreads blog post by Susan Kaye Quinn--a writer we featured on The Writers' Lens giveaway in December--celebrating her rise into Amazon's Top 100 for Science Fiction. Congratulations, Susan! And thanks so much for agreeing to tell us how you did it!

by Susan Kaye Quinn
First, the most important thing: write a really good book. One with a great concept, well-written, spit-and-polish clean (of typos), and a fantastic finish. One that readers will want to press into the hands of their friends and say You HAVE to read this! How you do that is buried in the craft of writing and storytelling - and I’m not talking about that today. It’s also important to package your book well with a great cover/blurb and a good price point. Without these things working in concert, all the marketing in the world (contrary to some opinions) will not sell the book beyond your immediate social circle. Marketing can only get that awesome book you wrote in front of people’s eyeballs so that it can sell itself.
(Caveat: this is based on my personal experience with my YA indie novel Open Minds, and may not apply to other genres.)

Here are five ways to do that:

1) Be fun. Pay it forward. Be a friend.
Do all those great things that make social networking work. Get on twitter to chat and exchange information. Facebook about things you care about. Blog (if you can do it sustainably) about your passions, and you will draw people to you that love the things you do. Network with writers and other friends that get you, and develop real relationships with them. Then, when you have a book that’s ready to launch into the world, make it a party, invite your friends, and have a great time. Because they’re your friends, they’ll celebrate with you, and they will love being the first seeds of word-of-mouth. When you’re getting ready to launch, it helps to announce 4-6 weeks ahead: far enough to build some advanced buzz but not so far as to induce book-fatigue (4-6 weeks is also how far ahead you should be sending books to book bloggers). Amazon doesn’t have pre-orders for indie books, but I’ve found putting your book on Goodreads is a great way for friends to “earmark” your book for when it comes out. Sometimes fans will add your book for you, as was the case with Closed Hearts (the sequel to Open Minds, due out in May) - people are already adding the book to their TBR once they finish Open Minds.

After the launch, you can continue to tweet/FB about your book as long as it’s not excessive and you do most of your social networking about normal things. I get the most RTs on blurbs about the book (What if you had to mind control everyone you loved? Open Minds $2.99 #paranormal #sciencefiction #youngadult) or quotes from reviews (“The last book that affected me so much was The Hunger Games” via@LynNerdKelley Open Minds $2.99 #Kindle #Amazon).

2) Book Blog Tour
By which I mean professional book bloggers who review books and have a following. It’s great and fun to have a blog tour on your friends’ blogs (see #1), but you are likely talking to the same people (again). Don’t repeat yourself endlessly, trying to market your book to the same people again and again. (Boring. Also annoying. To your friends! Not the people you want to bore and annoy.) By taking your book on the virtual road with book bloggers, you reach people in different networking circles - and the book bloggers, via their reviews, will increase your discoverability. Query a book blogger just like you would query an agent. Read this post for more on that. After I launched Open Minds, I did a book blog tour that measureably helped sales. In addition, most book bloggers will cross-post their reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and more. Those that don’t will often cross-post if you ask (nicely!). Amazon reviews can help your discoverability in Amazon’s marketing machine, but also serves as an ambassador to the world for your book. I’ve had many people tell me they bought Open Minds after seeing the wonderful reviews book bloggers have posted there.
3) Giveaways
When you’re ready to invest some money in advertising (beyond your initial investment in cover/editing/launch), giveaways and paid ads can get your book in front of a whole new set of eyeballs. Goodreads is a fantastic place to reach readers by doing a giveaway. For the price of a paperback, you have essentially a week long (or more; you set the terms) ad on one of the largest book networking sites on the planet. You can only run Goodreads giveaways for 6 months after the book’s release, so use this time wisely.
Giveaways on book blogs can also be effective, although it depends on the number of visitors for that blog (you can check Alexa ratings to get some idea of a blog’s reach, but it’s important to not just strive for larger blogs, but also support smaller/newer book bloggers). I often ask bloggers to add subscribing to my newsletter as a way to earn bonus points in a giveaway, which gives me a great way to keep in touch with people who are already interested in the book.

4) Paid Advertisements
There are lots of paid advertisements out there, and I caution people to carefully evaluate whether a paid ad can return the investment in sales. Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily have a good track record of boosting sales (at least temporarily) enough to pay for their ads, but they’ve also recently raised their prices, so that may be more difficult to achieve. Check the Kindle Boards for different authors’ experiences with paid ads, to see where the latest marketing finds can be found. However, the popularity of these lists is such that you have to book ads months in advance. I will be running ads in February but have seen several friends have great success with POI and KND.

5) Play With Price
Many people drop their books to 99cents, or even free, thinking that this will automatically boost sales (or downloads). This may or may not work for your particular book, but the most effective technique I’ve seen (by fellow writers) is making the first book in a series 99cents or free to increase visibility of the series, then making sales on the subsequent books. I set my price for Open Minds at $2.99 initially and have kept it there, so I haven’t done this personally (yet). But several fellow Indelibles authors have had great success with this strategy, and I plan to experiment with price when I have more books in the series.

Always Be Writing The Next Book
The best advertisement for your previous book is the next book (assuming they are in the same genre, and preferrably the same series). Write that sequel! Don’t sacrifice quality for speed, but don’t spend all your time refreshing your sale numbers either. You are the only one that can make the donuts (write the story), and you need to make sure you spend time on that every day.

I wish you many happy book sales! 
OPEN MINDS $2.99 E-Book
Amazon (US)
Amazon (UK, France, Germany)
Request a Kindlegraph

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Murderer's Ladder and True Crime: An Interview with Dianna Graveman

On January 11, 2012, I wrote about Erle Stanley Gardener's development and use of the Murder's Ladder in creating his world famous mysteries--such as the Perry Mason mystery series.  In that blog, I asked, "What if The Murderer's Ladder is that applied to real life?"  Today the Writer's Lens is talking with Dianna Graveman, who has been working on a True Crime Novel.  Dianna Graveman is a St. Louis editor and writer with a portfolio of more than 150 publishing credits, 19 writing awards, and four regional histories. She holds an MFA in writing and a bachelor’s degree in education and has taught both graduate and undergraduate writing students at several area colleges and universities. She will be teaching a workshop on getting published for the St. Charles School District Adult & Continuing Education Program on Tuesday, January 31, 2012. You can find info here:

She will also be giving a workshop, “Freelance to Finance Your Writing Career” for the Southeast Missouri Writers Guild at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau on Saturday, January 28, 2012.
Graveman launched 2 Rivers Communications & Design in 2011 and provides business communications, online media solutions, and author services to area businesses, publishers, and independent authors. Contact her at

The Writer's Lens: Thank you for taking time to discuss this with us. You are a published author of historical pieces regarding local townships, however you are now working on a true crime novel. Do you find that conducting research into a true crime book to be any different and how?

Dianna Graveman: Yes. When we (my coauthor/husband and I) were doing research for pictorial histories, we mostly relied on previously published books and archived documents. Even regarding the more recent photos we included in the books, the people with whom we talked either had vague memories, or their memories of when and how events took place varied from person to person.

With the true crime, which took place in the late 1960s, I am trying to talk to as many live sources as possible—people who were involved in some way at the time the crime occurred. Still, their memories about the how, why, what, and where differ, especially after all these years. So I guess in that way, the research is not much different than what we did for the regional histories.

WL: In the blog post on January 13 in The Writer's Lens, I talk about The Murderer’s Ladder, which was a device used by mystery author Erle Stanley Gardner in creating novels such as Perry Mason. Do you find that the real-life criminals that you are investigating seemed to take the same 10 steps? 

DG: I think they took many of the same steps, but not all. One criminal in this case hired a killer to eliminate someone who would testify against him. The other made the hit. So they both had motivation. The hired killer obviously had temptation (money). He had to make a plan, although I think he was young and inexperienced, and the plan was probably very shoddy, which is why things went awry. I’m still researching opportunity and first steps, and I don’t want to talk about the killings yet. The flight lasted (off and on) several years and involved several escapes, but as far as I know at this point, there was no cover up and no false suspect. I’m hoping to learn more about overlooked clues and loose threads that I think probably exist in any true crime—at least it seems that way to me after talking to several officers (and watching a bunch of crime shows!).

WL: I don’t want to give any of the secrets away to anyone at this time about the book you are writing. However what was the motivation behind the crime in which are investigating? 

DG: Self-preservation for one party (the one who hired the killer), and monetary gain for the other (the hired gun). As I mentioned above, one of the convicted parties was to appear in court (I won’t say on what charges), and he wanted the person who was to testify against him taken out of the equation. Sounds like a bad TV movie, doesn’t it?

WL: How do you think that the motivation actually moved the criminals in to taking that irrevocable step to committing the crime?

DG: Well, I think self-preservation is a pretty strong motivator—maybe the strongest, even more than money. However, money has motivated more than a few criminals, too. This crime involved both.

WL: When you are investigating a true crime book, do you feel like you are taking on the role of the detective and having to apply criminal psychology or its understanding to what you're writing?

DG: I feel like I’ve  adopted several roles during the early stages of research: that of reporter, jurist, prison security, victim’s family member, detective, and plain old small-town cop. I expect I’ll take on other roles as I try to decipher the information I’ve found—possibly even family member of the killer himself—what was his family like? How did he end up the way he did? What drove him to this? Or was he just a “bad seed,” if there is such a thing?

WL: Time is said to distort the memory of witnesses and their observations. Do you find that when you go back over court records of witness testimony and that you have spoken to those witnesses, now several years after the fact, that their testimony seems to deviate at all? 

DG: So far, those who were alive at the time of the killings and involved somehow with the victims—either personally or professionally—seem to offer pretty consistent accounts. Aside from retired police officers and several older adults, many of those with whom I’ve talked  were very young at the time (as was I), and a lot of what we all think we remember might be what we actually read in newspaper accounts or overheard from adults who discussed the case within earshot. I have copies of every newspaper  headline (or media mention)  about the crime, from the front page account that was printed just hours after the killings until today. Some of those reporters’ early accounts contradict each other or contradict later reports. Some of the details they reported don’t make sense to me, based on what I know today. But it’s amazing to me that newspapers were able to get information out as fast as they did  before the advent of the Internet. Today, this event would have made national news within minutes.  Even so, the story hit newsstands within  a few hours. I don’t know how they did that. It stands to reason that some of the reported details might have been inaccurate.

WL: While working on a true crime book, do you find that the  witnesses and the perpetrators seem to be unwilling to share their information with you and your investigation or are they open to discussing it?

DG: Time will tell, as far as perpetrators go. I’ll let you know. Everybody else I’ve talked to who was involved with the case (including law enforcement) has been extremely open and supportive—even calling me before I’ve had time to track them down myself. I have a personal connection to this case, and I have been candid about that when I talk with others. So far, that has (I think) encouraged people to open up to me more than they might have otherwise. I do want to talk to many more police officers, mainly to help me understand what might have actually happened, in light of the reporters’ early (and possibly erroneous) accounts.

WL: Does the perpetrator, if you talk to them, seem to have changed his story over time? If so, how do you think the story has changed in the representation of the motivation that took the criminal past the point of no return?

DG: According to a newspaper article that was published several years ago, the killer has changed his story. I can’t comment on that yet except to say that the article angered some people who felt it was a very one-sided personality profile that glorified the convicted murderer. Why did he change his story—and why did he wait several years to do so? I hope to find out.

WL: I know that the true crime book in which you are working on has not been published yet, but what was one of life-changing things in your research that you discovered as impacting you as a writer and as a person?

DG: I have found that I am a lot more interested in police work and procedures than I ever thought I was—almost to the point that I wonder why I didn’t consider law enforcement as a career. Possibly, it’s because when I was starting out, it was not a typical career for a young woman to choose. But I also don’t think I have the courage. One of the reasons it has taken me so long to get this far in the book is I keep stopping and starting. What if I get something wrong? Will I have the support of the police community? What if I don’t have the courage to interview the killer? Or should I even consider it? Recently, I met one of the victims’ sons, who said to me, “I’m glad you’re doing this.” That motivated me to get past the fear and get moving.

WL:  How could my readers learn more about you?

DG: Right now, anyone can find me on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, or my blog. Eventually, when I’m comfortable with the progress I’ve made, I’d like to set up a website and/or blog to talk about this project with others who remember the event.

Thank you again Dianna! I am looking forward to reading your true crime book.

Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If You Love This City, You'll Love This Anthology!

If you love St. Louis, you’ll love this anthology!
By Brad R. Cook, President of St. Louis Writers Guild

Here at The Writers Lens, Wednesday’s are for readers, so allow me to showcase some of the amazing writers that contributed to St. Louis Reflections.

I remember when we first decided to create the anthology. St. Louis Writers Guild was about to celebrate its 90th Anniversary. We had planned the Year of Festivals, a time to celebrate the long history of the Writers Guild and all the amazing writers who were a part of the current organization. With well over 250 members there was a lot of talent in our midst. For every significant anniversary over the last 50 years or so, St. Louis Writers Guild (SLWG) had created a members’ booklet. Back in the day, it would have held addresses, phone numbers, publications, but in our ambition we decided to do an anthology. The topic was never in doubt; I must admit that was the easy part. To celebrate our 90th Anniversary we would honor the city that had been the home and inspiration to every member of SLWG since its founding.

We sent out the call, and went about celebrating the Year of Festivals. The anthology was always designed to come out after 2010. We wanted to include as many members as possible in the list and knew it would take some time to put the collection together. It was probably better we didn’t know what it would really take to bring this book to fruition – we might have faltered or maybe waivered, but that never happened. As historian of SLWG, I volunteered to spearhead this project – it was of historical significance and I wanted the experience of putting together an anthology. I wasn’t alone, Mary Menke, who was VP of Operations at the time, agreed to help. Ah, we were so naïve, the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ had never been more true.

It took months to collect all the entries, and then even more months to collect all the electronic ones, some of which we never received, so Mary typed many from the hard copies. Then came the initial round of editing. Then another round of editing, and another.

I took on the task of arranging the stories in order. Some were easy; Pat Bubash wrote a great piece asking the one question that St. Louis is famous for, where’d you go to high school, so that seemed an appropriate way to start. I like numbers, so Dwight Bitikofer’s poignant Seven slid perfectly into the seventh slot, and I took the thirteenth slot with my ode to Clayton. For me it’s a lucky number and I knew if I put anyone else there I’d probably choose someone with latent triskaidekaphobia. I ended the anthology with Faye Adams’ poem to St. Louis Writers Guild which seemed a fitting way to close, but that ended the easy part.

It took another month to get the order just right. The front cover and back cover came easily, our webmaster took the image of the Arch, and David Lucas, VP of Membership, snapped the beautiful image of the sun while at the annual SLWG picnic. Once everything had been approved by the board we pushed forward with the assistance of StL Books. Erin Robbins and Robin Theiss did an amazing job with the cover and getting the actual book ready for printing. We couldn’t have done it without them.

We scheduled the book release party and waited for the books to roll in, but nothing about this anthology was simple. The first proof came in and was a little off, but that’s why you always order a proof. Fixing the issue caused a delay. It ended up being the most successful book release without the book I have ever been too. We sold over 50 copies and luckily the books came in a day or so later.

We ended up with an amazing anthology, one that has been described as a wonderful nostalgia trip through St. Louis memories. It was our love of St. Louis that brought this book into existence. It might have been a pleasant struggle, but that only mirrors the city we were trying to honor. St. Louis is a town of FAN-atics, the residents have a deep passion for this city. Founded on the banks the longest river in North America, it has gone from being the gateway of westward expansion, the home of ragtime, to the spirit that carried Lindbergh over the Atlantic, and raised the tallest arch in the world.

So now that you know why we put the anthology together, here are some of the contributors reasons for writing the amazing pieces found within.

I asked – What inspired your contribution to St. Louis Reflections? Was it the personal nature of your story or did you feel it was something St. Louis needed to hear?

Pat Bubash – Not being a St. Louisan by origin, when the topic for the anthology was given, immediately, instantaneously, the question, "where did you go to h.s. came to my mind". People from other cities often ask me, "why is this such an important question for St. Louisans"? I think it is a question unique to St. Louis. As I noted in my submission asking this question and receiving an answer, gives a wide variety of information about the person.

Linda O’Connell – I felt that my personal essay had a strong St. Louis connection as Chuck Berry is an icon, but also there was a take away message: greatness is not in a name.

Claire Applewhite – Perhaps the story was both personal as well as a reflection on St. Louis neighborhoods. My contribution followed a book signing in the south St. Louis neighborhood in which I was raised. I had not seen many of the people who attended for nearly forty years, and was genuinely touched by the emotional impact of our reunion. Memories rushed back so vividly, it was as if I had never left. The people who significantly influenced me in so many ways were still there, the way I remembered them. St. Louis is like that. Neighborhoods are such a big part of life here.

Marcel Toussaint – Saint Louis needs to know its own writers and poets. The best way to do it is to have an anthology that will have a media interest rather than promote each writer or poet individually. Or the media would choose its preferences and leave some of them in the darkness of the unknown.

Niki Nymark – "Mama Mississippi": Written to right a wrong. I always thought it was a mistake to call her "Ole Man River," when I saw her as a languorous, sexy lady. My family had a business close by the levee and as a tiny child; I often sat on the cobblestones to watch her flow by.

"The Body": On later reflection, it amazed me that adults would be so caught up in a murder that they wouldn't notice a four year-old spectator when the police brought the body out. This really happened during the Depression in a hotel next to my mother's coffee shop. It didn't seem troublesome at the time (1938), just fascinating.

Billy Adams – It was just an old memory stored away that I thought would be of interest

Donna Springer – I sometimes write when stimulated by "prompts." I had submitted "Mid-time, 6 a.m. St. Louis, for a workshop at The Saint Louis Poetry Center," and had written about The Mississippi Mile for the Saint Louis Track Club's Track Time News in 2003. When The Saint Louis Writers Guild requested material about Saint Louis for its 90th Anniversary anthology, I felt a "prompt" to modify past writings to express my love and appreciation for Saint Louis, and for the Saint Louis Writers Guild. I continue to enjoy watching the day come in at six a.m. from a Saint Louis window, and have happy reflections about the runs across the Mississippi on the rehabilitated Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Though I "went to high school" in Connecticut, I have lived in and enjoyed Saint Louis since 1975.

Jeanine Dahlberg – A nostalgic stroll back into time when St. Louis suffered under the Great Depression inspired me to write my story. The reader will learn the hardships imposed upon a very little girl and her family and how she coped with the experiences.

Lynn Obermoeller – I was inspired mostly by the personal nature of my story, "Hendel's Market." It was a huge part of my childhood. I feel not only did it reflect a part of St. Louis, but something that other communities in the U.S. or even around the world could relate to.

Debbie Fox – I enjoy a challenge in finding a story with a universal theme based on real events. I submitted my story because I am a part of the Guild and wanted to participate. Although my story was personal, it would appeal to a larger audience. It certainly wasn’t something St. Louis had to hear, but I believe people will remember the places I wrote about.

Hal Simpkin – Since the book was to be a memoir I dipped as far into my memory as I could. To a kid in rural St. Louis County, streetcars ranked high in importance. The cars are long-gone; those of us who enjoyed as well as depended upon them, are chasing steadily behind. The feel of kinship with fellow riders, with the motormen who made them happen for us, and yes, even the cars themselves, was real and should not be lost. I felt it imperative to leave what I could of that feel for future readers to perhaps internalize and enjoy for themselves.

Ross Braught – I felt that "A Scent of Honeysuckle" was a story St. Louis needed to hear. St. Louis is the center of not just the United States, but of the world of nature and the world of medicine. I tried to blend the two in my story.

As for myself – I grew up on the not-so-mean streets of Clayton, I went to Clayton High School which answers Pat’s question and should tell you a thing or two about me. It became a way to honor the little metropolis that raised me. My piece about the history of SLWG came out of all the work I did for the Legacy Project which continues researching our rich history.

In reflection, we found this city that fostered the writers guild over 90 years ago is still thriving, still overflowing with literary talent, and still coming together to form not only St. Louis Writers Guild but a true community of writers.

Now a little something extra for The Writers’ Lens

So I asked my favorite question – Which line did you struggle with more, the first or the last?

Linda O’Connell said, “Probably the first, it is not as attention-grabbing as I would have liked.” While Claire Applewhite had the opposite problem, “Probably the last, because I feel it needs to have the same emotional punch as the first line, and sometimes, it is hard to know where to stop to achieve that goal.” But my favorite comment was by Niki Nymark, “The endings of most of my poems have been re-written with a carving knife.”

Marcel Toussaint poignantly stated, “In Torn Flag in the Wind, the last line was the most difficult since it had to make an impact and still remain delicately graphic.” While Jeanine Dahlberg avoided any struggle, “I quoted from Charles Dicken's novel, A Tale of Two Cities, the last line of
the story came easily.” Lynn Obermoeller also found it easy, “I can't say I struggled with either. Not with this piece anyway. I just wrote from the heart.” But Debbie Fox found another problem, “Actually, I struggled with the second sentence—”a backdrop for first love.” It still sounds ditzy to me, yet I put the “backdrop” word in the last sentence. I always try to wrap up a piece neatly, often going back to the opening. I don’t think it worked well, but that was how it stood because I didn’t have weeks to let it stew and morph into something better.”

As for myself, “I struggled with the last line, the first came easily but the last was rewritten probably a dozen times.”

The Writers’ Lens is about bringing Fiction into Focus, so I asked the contributors what brought their writing into focus.

Pat Bubash – Personal situations, events. I am such a fan of Bill McClellan and Elaine Viets- their writing is the reality of what happens to people - I "know" these subjects because the situations they experience, I could or have experienced, These two authors have a way of bringing whatever point they are making come full circle as they finish the article. Absolutely
am a fan of both!

Linda O’Connell – My personal essays are written with authenticity but they also have to be written with creativity. I do love crafting words

Claire Applewhite – What brings my writing into focus, for me, is the interaction between and among the characters. The way that they interact and react to each other tells me who they are, where they're headed, whether they are growing and/or changing, and reveals plot points in the story. I have an outline, but sometimes, I suspect they do too!

Marcel Toussaint – Having been in Radio-Theater in my teens, I have been cast in interesting characters, stories as diverse as the writers’ imaginations, acting the crafted words that the authors excelled in using. So my answer must be all of the above.

Niki Nymark – I begin with a character, who tells me a story. Then I sample lots of words and use the ones that taste right.

Jeanine Dahlberg – I believe that the development of my characters to their potential to the plot
enhances the story line forcing me to craft my love of words in a descriptive manner, which engages the reader.

Lynn Obermoeller – This was a hard one after I gave it more thought. My first thought was the love of crafting words--because without that, there wouldn't be any stories. But if you didn't have the idea or story in your head, it couldn't be written. And then without characters, there isn't much of a story either. Seems like they are all tied in together. But you have to love to write, so I'm sticking with the love of crafting words.

Debbie Fox – To me, writing creative nonfiction is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I have to be sure everything fits well together, that I didn’t leave out a piece or construct a fuzzy picture. I love finding the perfect metaphor, theme, and transitions and then find the perfect words to hold everything together. I love to describe things, take it slow, use specific terms rather than vague modifiers.

I thank all the contributors for their amazing stories, poems, essays, and memories – it truly is an amazing tribute to this city that we all love.

St. Louis Writers Guild will be having a book signing for the anthology on Saturday, February 18 at 6 North Café, 14438 Clayton Rd. in Ballwin from 10am to Noon, and you can order the anthology anytime at or any major online retailer like or – find out more about St. Louis Writers Guild and the anthology at

Also Don Corrigan wrote a great article about the anthology and the writers guild for the South County and Webster/Kirkwood Times, read more at

Don’t forget – you can make a comment for your chance to win a free copy of the anthology!

Thank you and everyone at St. Louis Writers Guild hopes you enjoy our 90th Anniversary Anthology!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another Chance To Get A Copy Of Reflections!

St. Louis Reflections Giveaway!
By Brad Cook, President of St. Louis Writers Guild

Happy Lunar New Year! To celebrate the waking Dragon, The Writers’ Lens is having another GIVEAWAY!

To honor the release of St. Louis Reflections and because I am so proud of the anthology we here at The Writers’ Lens will be giving away another copy of St. Louis Reflections! So if you missed out on the last one, here's a second chance!

St. Louis Reflections
An Anthology by St. Louis Writers Guild to Honor its 90th Anniversary

Order it today!
Also available on,, and all major online retailers

Founded in 1920, St. Louis Writers Guild continues to thrive! St. Louis is known to many as home of the Cardinals, the Blues, the Rams and the Arch, and as the birthplace of Ragtime, ice cream cones and provel cheese. It has always been a literary hotbed. To show our love for everything this city on the mighty Mississippi has given us over the last ninety years, we decided to share our reflections of our wonderful, close-knit community. We honor the culmination of the Guild's 90th Anniversary Year of Festivals with this anthology written by some of today's greatest writers. Inside you’ll find 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories. Enjoy!

St. Louis Reflections contains a list of every member in 2010.

This anthology contains 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories as well as a quick history of one of the oldest and largest literary organizations in the country.

The Writers’ Lens very own David Lucas took the back cover image, and I have two pieces in there, too. It contains some great St. Louis authors like, Senior Poet Laureate of Missouri Faye Adams, Mystery Novelist Claire Applewhite, Former SLWG President Dr. Rebecca Wood, and
Missouri Writers Guild President Deborah Marshall. As well as authors like Mary Menke, Linda O’Connell, Patricia Bubash, and Peter Green and amazing poets like Dwight Bitikofer, Niki Nymark, and Marcel Toussaint.

One note about the giveaway: Due to shipping limitations, you have to live within the continental United States to win. Apologies to the international readers, we also have giveaways that are fully online so anyone can win.

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on The Writers Lens Blog. Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater YOUR chance of winning the contest.

If you don’t win and still want the anthology you can order it from

Be certain to check back on Wednesday, January 25th, as I will be posting an article about the anthology featuring many of the contributors.

Want to learn more about St. Louis Writers Guild, you can find us at – on Facebook – or on Twitter @stlwritersguild

To learn more about Brad R. Cook please visit - @bradrcook – or my personal blog

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Winner of the St. Louis Reflections Giveaway

The Winner of the St. Louis Reflections Giveaway is Becky Povich!

Due to the holidays, I never officially announced the winner of the St. Louis Reflections Giveaway. Allow me to correct that oversight by announcing that Becky Povich won a copy of St. Louis Reflections – St. Louis Writers Guild’s 90th Anniversary Anthology.

If you didn’t win, you can still order the anthology at all the major online retailers like,, – it is $9.99!

If you would like to know more about St. Louis Reflections you can read the article in the South County or Webster/Kirkwood Times – here’s the link -

Thank you for stopping by The Writers’ Lens!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mantras - What would your character do?

Mantras: What would your character do?
By Brad R. Cook

A little while ago, I had a new water heater installed and the plumber had the coolest mantra – “What would Elvis do?” Whenever he faced a problem, this mantra helped collect his thoughts. It got me thinking, not about WWJD or what Elvis meant to this man, but rather who spearheaded my mantra.

So, here are a few of mine,
What would Batman do?
What would George Washington do?
What would Obi-wan Kenobi do?
And my favorite,
What would Hemingway do?

As I pondered this conundrum, I realized, I didn’t like the question. If I’m stuck, the last thing my mind needs to do is answer another question. I prefer quotes, those beautiful gems of wisdom passed down by those who screwed up before us. These were my mantras. I heard the voice in back of my head call out – “Fear is the mind killer, I must not fear.” It’s from Dune, and yes, I do use the cool Kyle McLaughlin inner-monologue voice.

I have others,

“Some men see things the way they are and say, “why?” I dream things that never were and say, “why not?” – Robert F. Kennedy
It’s the second half of this quote that I feel defines me as a writer.

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” – Ernest Hemingway
By the way, drink, fight, and write about it in the morning, that’s what Hemingway would do.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for I am the meanest son-of-a-bi*** in the valley.”
This is one of my oldest, I saw it in the New York office of a corporate giant when I was a teenager, and it left an impression. I have to admit, I’m rarely the meanest son-of-a-bi*** but the message stuck.

The real revelation was when I figured out the characters in my novels had certain key phrases or sayings that defined them. The odd part was that I didn’t knowingly create these mantras. It was only the character's voice being channeled through the page. In my current Steampunk adventure, Alexander, my main character, is constantly asking himself – What would the Sky Raiders do? He’s sixteen and wants to be one, he also asks himself what his father would do and then does the opposite – he never actually says the line, but I see it in all his decisions.

I started to see them everywhere. Indiana Jones famously said, “This belongs in a museum!” and you can see this motivation in all the movies – now why he decides that trinkets belong in a museum and not the cool temple he destroyed on the way out is beyond me, but that is a post for another blog.

Shakespeare is famous for them, who can’t remember Hamlet’s, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

I find antagonists are often defined by these mantras,
Gollum’s constant repetition of “My precious,” exposed his sole motivation.
Gordon Gekko had, “Greed is good.”
And how many times did the Red Queen scream, “Off with his/her head!”

So listen to your characters and hear their mantras. They are often easy to spot. As you read your manuscript, what phrases jump out? When your main character hits a brick wall, what is their reaction? Think about that as you write. Greater emotional depth in your main character will be one benefit but getting inside their mind, now that is invaluable.

The question I ask is – What is your mantra?
Which is quickly followed by – What are your characters mantras?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Change for the better: online market tools

By T.W. Fendley

Many things have changed in the industry since I first started writing fiction in the mid-‘90s. Between 1997 and 2007, I was busy doing my “day job” and didn’t submit many stories or query agents. One of the nice surprises when I returned to the field was how far online tools had advanced, ready to make my life as a fiction writer easier.

I used to keep a Word table listing my stories and where I submitted them, and the same for agent queries. And that was after I found suitable markets or agents by pouring through my pricey print resources, which often were out of date by the time they reached the stores. Of course, they also had to be replaced each year.

Compare that to the immediate access and tracking now available on Duotrope (markets) and QueryTracker (agents & publishers). If an agent switches to another company, you'll know it. If a publisher is closed to submissions, it's quickly apparent. If you already queried a publication or agent, you won't mistakenly contact the same place twice. You can see average response times and what percent of submissions are accepted. It's enough to make you swoon!

Both these tools are free, but you’ll love the premium features you get on QueryTracker for only $25 per year. And I always donate the same amount to Duotrope because I remember what it was like before they existed.  
Duotrope’s award-winning, free writers' resource lists more than 3,800 current fiction and poetry publications. Free services include an online submissions tracker for registered users. 
QueryTracker – free, but worth paying $25 for premium features!
  • Check out 1,258 literary agents & 130 publishers.
  • Organize and track your query letters.
  • View statistics about agents and publishers.
  • Join QT’s community of writers. Meet other writers who are on the query path, share experiences, and help each other along.
 Do you use other online tools like these? I’d love to hear what else is available!

Monday, January 16, 2012

A late announcement, the winner of The Tribal Fires is . . . .

Congratulations to Janet Betttag.  She wins a free signed copy of Tribal Fires!

Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Science Fiction- The Hard Stuff

Do you read Science Fiction?   I'm talking hard sci-fi?  Just curious. I have always been fascinated by science and technology and I will always love the art of story. Putting the two together, is for me, the highest form of art.  So I'm curious.  Where on the web do you go to check out the latest sci-fi reads?

Science Fiction sites like show a boat load of movies and comic book references.  Sci-fi lends itself to big blockbuster movies.     

But I'm more curious about the books, so I clicked their book tab and look what I found, more movie references.

But I wanted to share more than just movie mentions so I've compiled a short Science Fiction list for you.
Project Gutenberg's Science Fiction book shelf:

Site for the Hugo Awards: 
Great list of books to read. 2009 Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi was a nominee. I will read anything by Scalzi. I love his dry humor.

SFWA's page for the Nebula Awards:
Another great list of books to read. Winner in 2000, Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear is a fave of mine.

And look at this, Technology Review, MIT's science magazine, is launching a fiction magazine called TRSF

So please share, what are your favorite reader sites for Science Fiction? 
And by the way Happy Friday the 13th!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Murderer's Ladder

Erle Stanley Gardner, author and creator of Perry Mason along with many other mystery novels, spent much of his writing career creating methods of plotting. On November 30, 2011, I posted on The Writer's Lens his theory of The Fluid or Unstatic Theory of Plots. To create the Fluid or Unstatic Plot and explore the plotting of his mystery novels, Gardner created for himself The Murderer's Ladder. The Murderer's Ladder explores the steps that a criminal takes in committing a crime. In fact this ladder can be modified for any writer to fit any act of villainy in which you are writing. However since we are looking at Erle Stanley Gardner and his plot method, I will focus strictly on his Murderer's Ladder and then explain how Gardner actually developed his plots and then wrote them from a different point of view.

The Murderer's Ladder has ten steps that the murderer follows.  Starting on the bottom rung and moving up to the top, the steps are:
1. Motivation
2. Temptation
3. The Plan
4. The Opportunity
5. The First Irrevocable Step
6. The Act of Killing [my note to the readers: you could insert any act of villainy that you wish to use, other than murder, at this step]
7. The Flight
8. The Cover Up
9. The False Suspect
10. The Necessity for Eliminating the Little Overlooked Clues and Loose Threads

Gardner placed his emphasis, or his heart of the story, on the situational issues at step five (The First Irrevocable Step), step six, during the commission of the foul deed things have to occur, and step ten, when it becomes necessary for the murderer to deal with unexpected eventualities. What is extremely interesting about the way Erle Stanley Gardner plotted is that he actually plotted his novels from the point of view of the villain.

Many authors that I am aware of usually start off with a hero or protagonist as their main focus of the plot, including all the trials and tribulations, and the acts of the villain or antagonist to this story. Gardner didn't plot this method instead Gardner plotted out his mystery novels first from the point of view of the murderer.  How did the murder occur?  What caused the person to actually move into the act?

While people can argue the psychological aspects of any character or any living person regarding the age old debate of nature versus nurture on human motivation, the motivation for the act of crime has been clearly identified. Any police officer, especially a detective, or criminal attorney, could tell you they have a list of easily identifiable motivations for any act of crime, especially homicide.  Human motivation for homicide is rooted within our needs or desire for sex, travel, wealth, human friendship and contact, food, self-improvement (mental, physical, and financial), security, advancement, and justice. You can easily go back to psychology 101 and see these motivations identified or a version of them can be seen on any behavioral chart of psychological need. For example: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

While Gardner plotted his novels from the point of view of the murderer, he wrote the novel from a different point of view.  He wrote the point of view of the actual detective sorting out what the murderer did. To quote Gartner, "When a detective story is stripped to its bare essentials the murder is, after all, a simple matter. A kills B and does it by a knife or gunshots at a time when he is supposed by all parties to the story to be elsewhere, or by telling a story, such as seeing a man running away, at whom he shot, etc., divert suspicion. It is the contact with the resulting incidents which makes the story. A murderer tries to conceal his crime by false alibis, false clues, misdirected suspicions, convincing falsehoods.

"Each of these subterfuges must at some point or other contact known facts and apparently coincide with them. As a matter of fact, if all of the minor facts were known, the synthetic truth would break down, since every fact is inseparably matched with other facts, like the cogwheels of clockwork. It is in the failure to assimilate minor facts that detective work falls down.

"For story purposes it lies in showing the failure of some one minor fact to mesh. Therefore, the plot a mystery, plot more and more carefully in greater detail the avenues of escape sought by the real perpetrator, which may combine any and all of the basic methods of deception such as false motive and perjured alibi combined with planted clues, etc." 

Looking back over at what was written, the reader may be asking why not plot this strictly from the detective's point of view instead of focusing  from the murderer and then writing it from detective point of view. Gartner approached this same question and explained it, "The point is that any murderer, in killing a person, where the crime is not one of passion, enters upon a critical period as he climbs the ladder of motivation, temptation, opportunity, etc., to a point where he is irrevocably committed to the crime after he has taken one step which is such that he can't back up. If the murderer's plans go astray between the time of taking this first irrevocable step and the actual killing, the murderer must improvise; and when he starts improvising he does certain things which are quite logical to him but which would be exceedingly mysterious to a person who does not know the whole sequence of events."

It is from this point of view and from this method the Earl Stanley Gardner created his theory of the Fluid or Unstatic Plot, which I wrote about on November 30. In constructing a plot, Garner worked through nine steps:
1. The act of primary villainy;
2. Motivation for the act of villainy;
3. The villain's cover up;
4. Complications which arise during and after the cover-up;
5. The hero's contact with the act of villainy;
6.  Further complications and character conflicts;
7. Suspense through the hero's mistakes;
8. Villain's further attempt to escape;
9. Hero sets solution factors in motion or traps the villain.

Regardless if an author is writing a murder mystery, science fiction story, fantasy, regular drama, or any genre of fiction writing this method applies. Personally, I have used this method in creating stories of multiple genres. The nine questions that are posed in this and in The Theory of the Fluid or Unstatic Plot and through the use of the Murderer's Ladder can help anybody write a fictional story. 

What if The Murderer's Ladder is that applied to real life? In my next entry on The Writer's Lens, which will be posted on January 27, in a post dedicated to readers, I will post an interview with a fellow writer who is writing a true crime book and will ask them if The Murderer's Ladder applies in understanding the crime they are researching.

 Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Book Giveaway: The Tribal Fires

This week, we are having a conversation with Judy Moresi and offering her latest mystery novel titled Tribal Fires.
The Writer's Lens: Your latest novel, Tribal Fires, has just been published by L&L Dreamspell Publishing. What is the novel about?

Judy Moresi: “Tribal Fires is a story of mystery, love, separation, and culture clash in a St. Louis setting.”—Vicki Erwin, Main Street Books.
From the Great Pyramid at Giza to the Amazon jungles, photographer Shea McKenna has faced danger on a global scale. She is propelled into a world of fraud and murder when she accepts an assignment to photograph American Indian artifacts for the Missouri Westward Museum. After the theft of relics, the discovery of a forged war lance, and a brutally murdered museum employee, St. Louis’ finest declare Shea and the handsome Indian chieftain who restored the relics suspects. She is determined to solve the crimes and clear her name, but events at a Patrons Ball and a fiery Indian powwow provide more questions than clues. As she gets closer to the truth, she winds up with a ruthless murderer hot on her trail.

WL:What was the hardest part of writing Tribal Fires?

Moresi: Keeping track of my characters and what they were doing when they weren’t the focus of a scene. I’ve since devised Character Sheets, Time Lines, and Scene Plotting Forms to help organize, but not limit, my information. I share these with writers who attend my mystery writing workshop.

WL:When did you decide to start writing mysteries?

Moresi: As a teenager I read horror and science fiction. A fan of Isaac Asimov, I drifted into his Black Widower mystery short stories, then on to the rest of the mystery writers’ enclave.

WL:Is there a theme that seems to reappear over and over in your fiction? Is there a single one thing that focuses your work or do you have different themes for each story?

Moresi: I plan no themes.  I write to entertain, inform, and hopefully help and encourage people who find a kindred spirit in me. When my readers find themes, I tell them to stop it.

WL:When you decided to write full time, how easy was it to take the leap of faith from steady paycheck to full time writer?

Moresi: When will that happen? Details, I need details.

The Writer's Lens: What was your biggest fear when you decided to be published?

Moresi: That one of my “facts” was wrong and no one would trust my writing again. That didn’t happen, because I’m so anal about my “facts.”

WL:If you could have coffee (or drink of your choice) with four other authors from any time period, who would you choose and why?

Moresi: I’d love to share a Pepsi with Richard Halliburton, St. Paul, James Lee Burke, and Bruce Zimmerman.

WL: Who was the most influential person or persons in your writing career?

Moresi: My great-grandfather Jesse Scott read the Bible to me the first six years of my life. I was enthralled. Once I learned to read, my nose was constantly stuck in books. When I played with friends, I made up stories for us to dress in costume and play: cowboys, Indians, pirates, Sheena the jungle girl. I have photos that could be used for blackmailing my playmates. In my sophomore year of high school, my World History teacher, Peggy Moriarity, introduced me to the books of Richard Halliburton, the real Indiana Jones. I was hooked—and in love with a dead man. It didn’t work out.

WL:If there was some advice that you could give to a fellow writer, what would it be?

Moresi: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Network, network, network. Promote, promote, promote.

WL: What advice would you give a fellow writer about pitching a story either face to face or in a query letter?

Moresi: If you’re writing because you love it, God bless you. If you want to make writing a paying career, then you have to treat it as a business, too. You are selling a product. First you write the best darn polished book you can, then you convince an editor or agent that your book will make them money. You must grab their attention with one captivating sentence, often called an elevator pitch because you’ve only the time it takes to get from one floor to the next. Avoid cornering them in a bathroom stall. Very tacky. A query letter should be only one page long with a paragraph listing your writing credentials and one written like a titillating back cover blurb. And don’t take rejection personally. Just keep sending out your manuscripts and stay busy writing your next one. Good luck.

WL: How could my readers learn more about you?

Moresi: Buy my mystery novels, Widow’s Walk and Tribal Fires. Check out my website at for published articles, event schedule, photos, and reviews. Attend my Write A Mystery Novel workshop listed at or call 636-443-4018. Or stalk me.

Review for the WIDOW'S WALK, Judy Moresi's previous novel

Judy Moresi's Widow's Walk features a unique setting, an engaging protagonist, and a plot full of surprises. The writing is tight and authoritative. With its gothic overtones, and plenty of comic relief, Moresi has a real winner on her hands. Save this one for a stormy night!
--Joanna Campbell Slan, Author of the Agatha-nominated
Paper, Scissors, Death

I was prepared for a run-of-the-mill, first-time author effort. What I got was a pleasant surprise. Judy Moresi has scored big time with a suspenseful and well-crafted mystery that can hold its own with the most seasoned writer's work. The dialogue is crisp and believable, the characters are living, breathing individuals. Moresi doesn't hit a single false note in this incredible tale of murder and intrigue. One of the best books of its kind I've ever read.
                                    --Esther Luttrell, Author and Screenwriter

The novel is set in an eerie complexity of who dunnits and whys obscured and dominated by an old decrepit Victorian mansion where murder in the past is whispered and talked about in conjecture with violence of the current. At any moment, with every page turned, the reader wonders who will die violently, who will survive.
                                    --Two Mirrors "Times River," Atlanta, GA

Local author Judy Moresi’s latest, Widow’s Walk, may not sharpen your noggin but it sure is a page-turner. With shadowy figures creeping around an old house, a stalker and rumors that the main character’s home is haunted, maybe you shouldn’t hunker down with the tome at bedtime – unless you want to sleep with the bathroom light on.
                                    --Sauce Magazine Review, St. Louis, MO

Laura [Chandler] has inherited a ramshackle Victorian manse complete with falling plaster, cobwebs, creaky stairs and its own ghost. It also comes with a menacing intruder, who writes chilling threats on her door and leaves an animal carcass in her kitchen…[Widow's Walk] gains appeal through the grit and determination of a plucky heroine who has a wry sense of humor.
                                    --Shirley K. Murray, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Reviewer

Spooky read for a rainy night. A heroine inheriting a spooky, haunted house is one of my favorite premises and I have to say, Widow's Walk doesn't disappoint. Laura is smart, witty, creative, and disbelieving in the odd things happening around her, instead pitting the blame on a resentful neighbor. There's even a love interest to quicken the heart of romantic readers. The villains are evil but not overdone and there's enough suspects roaming about to keep the reader guessing until the end. The twists and turns of Widow's Walk had me forgetting time, glued to the pages to find out what happened next. My only disappointment was that the book ended. Brava Ms. Moresi.

                                    --P.S. Skochinski, Author in the high desert of California

How do you win a free signed copy of The Tribal FiresTo enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on the Coffee with David blog between now (January 9th) and midnight January 14, 2012. Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater your chance of winning the contest. If you refer others to The Writer's Lens who mention your name in their comments, I'll enter your name again in our random number generator along with theirs, also increasing your chances at winning! The winner will be chosen after midnight on Saturday, January 14 and the announcement made on Sunday, January 15th, Good luck and comment often. Good luck!

On Wednesday, we will explore another of Erle Stanley Gardner's Mystery plotting techniques (which can be used for any fiction genre): The Murderer's Ladder

Thank you for reading and please visit and Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.