What’s the Weirdest Thing You Ever Did… For Research, That Is?

When people ask me about the research involved in my thrillers, I usually focus on the really cool things I’ve done. My first experience was signing up for a Citizens Police Academy in my town where I participated in over 45 hours of presentations from key departmental supervisors, field trips to various law enforcement offices, a late night ride along with an on-duty officer, and I even had an amazing day at the firing range where we blew up stuff with the bomb squad, shot all sorts of weapons, and watched the K-9 unit go through its paces. I also met my first police technical advisor who helped me with police procedure and crime scene analysis for my first suspense book. And since he knew I wanted to use a flashbang grenade in my book, he set one off near me so I could “feel” it. (Only an author would think this is a good thing. And no, getting my hair blown back by a grenade is NOT the strangest thing I’ve ever done.)

Still solidly on the side of good things, I also have taken a tour of a state of the art crime lab. And last year, I visited Washington DC and toured the FBI at Quantico (where I shot weapons at the FBI firing range and heard a presentation by the only FBI Special Agent who interrogated Saddam Hussein before he was executed), the CIA at Langley, the US State Department and the US Postal Inspectors. Some very cool adventures.

But I’ve also done some peculiar things that I rarely talk about—until now.

My husband once found me stumbling around in a dark room—with the lights completely turned out—because I wanted to know what it would be like to move around with a hood over my head. One of my characters had a childhood tragedy that left him afraid of the dark. And his way of overcoming his weakness was to immerse himself in his fear and fight “sighted” attackers without the use of his eyes. He developed a 6th sense in the dark and I wanted to know if I could “feel” a wall before I ran into it. Most times, I could. Most times…

And one time, when I was stymied by my plot, I walked away from my computer to clear my head and found myself watching an old movie, Gleaming the Cube, a 1989 skateboarding flick with Christian Slater in it, when he was really, really young.

When my husband came home, he saw me sitting on the sofa in the middle of the day when I normally would be writing. He asked what I was doing—after seeing Christian Slater on the small screen—and I told him I was working. Yeah, right.

After he laughed–like he seriously didn’t believe me–I walked calmly into my office and outlined the rest of my novel. That book became my debut novel – NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM – and it sold in auction. I saw something in that silly movie that triggered the solution my brain had been searching for. The whole plot fell into place after that. Cool, huh?

The way I figure it, I owe everything to Christian Slater. I’m even considering putting together a research workshop on the Six Degrees of Christian Slater. I may have OTHER things that I’ve done that are so out there they may never see the light of day, but that’s for me to know, and you to find out.

So how far have you gone for research? Come on, it’s just the two of us. Tell me everything…

So you wanna write a book

By Joe Moore

It seems like every time I meet someone and they learn that I’m a writer, they always comment that they had often thought of writing a book, too. Sometimes I think the prospect of being a published author may be the number one goal or dream of everyone who has ever been excited by a good novel. It’s natural to think, “I could do that.” And in reality, they can. But most don’t or won’t. Why? Because the dream far exceeds the labor. Like most specialized occupations, the average would-be author will remain in the dreaming stage. Few proceed to the next step: actually sitting down and writing a publishable, contemporary work of fiction.

But for those that really want to take the next step, here are a few tips on getting that novel “inside us all” onto the page.

First, become an avid reader with the eyes of a writer. Read as many novels as you can get your hands on. But try to read from a writer’s viewpoint. Read for technique and style and voice. Keep asking questions like: Why did the author use that particular verb? Why is the writer using short, choppy sentences or long, thick description. Cross genre lines. The genre you wind up writing might not be the one you first imagined. Reading other’s work also can be inspiring. It is a source of ideas and helps to get the creative juices flowing.

Next, know the marketplace and write for it. The end product must be sellable. This goes back to being familiar with your chosen genre. You may love westerns, for instance, but they can be way down the sells chart and not a good choice for a debut author. Having said that, any story in any genre can be a hit if it’s built on strong characters. Always remember that your characters make your story, not the plot.

A third tip is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to push against what you feel in your heart and soul when it comes to your story. This may sound like the opposite of the previous tip, but that one deals with the business side of writing, this one the emotion. Beyond understanding the market, realize that if your heart is not in the words, the reader will know it. You can’t hide your lack of love for your writing.

Another tip is to have proper training. Being a devoted reader is only a portion of the task. I’ve had the opportunity (or drudgery) of reading many first-time writer’s work. It’s astounding how many people simply don’t know how to write. I’m not talking about style or content. Forget coming up with a cool plot or unique cast of characters. I’m talking about constructing a sentence with proper use of grammar and punctuation.

If you’re still in school, make sure you give your writing classes as much attention as possible. After all, they teach you the tools of your trade. If you’re out of school or later in life, consider taking some adult courses in basic English and perhaps in creative writing. They won’t teach you how to write a bestseller but can help you get your thoughts down on paper properly. Consider it a refresher course. Some colleges and universities offer degrees in writing. This is by no means a requirement to writing a novel, but it’s always a direction to go if you feel the need. And don’t forget attending writer’s workshops, conferences and joining a local critique group. Workshops are usually taught by pros; conferences have lectures and topic panels dedicated to strengthening your skills; and critique groups offer a new, fresh set of eyes to help improve your work.

Finally, once you’ve finished the first pass through your manuscript, the real work begins: rewriting, editing, polishing, and finishing. There’s nothing that will turn off an agent or editor quicker than an unpolished manuscript. There are tons of books available out there on how to self-edit your work. And getting others to take a look at it will help to reveal possible problems you missed. Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat.

There’s a saying that everyone has at least one book inside them. But writing a book is hard. It takes firm commitment and dedication. Let your story out, but do it by following these logical steps. Skipping one of them usually results in frustration, disappointment and a half-finished manuscript collecting dust in the bottom of a drawer.

So what about you guys? Is this how you managed to finish your first book? Were you able to skip a step and jump right to a publishing contract and advance check? Any other tips to pass along to first-time authors?

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 2011
"Bold, taut, and masterfully told." — James Rollins

That damned daily writing quota

I hate thinking about my daily writing quota.

Most writers live and publish by a quota, a magical number of words or pages of work they produce each day. Supposedly, Stephen King writes ten pages a day, every day, no matter what. Hemingway was a little more reasonable, at 500 words per day. 

The truth is, I don’t actually have a quota, not if one insists on the notion of measuring effort in terms of something solid and concrete, like numbers of words. My quota is more elastic, more ephemeral if you will: it’s time spent writing. I write for two hours each day in the late morning, no matter what. (Okay, sometimes I’ll write for 45 minutes a day, or 20, but those days are rare.)

The problem with my type of quota is that I’m a word worrier. I can spend the entire two hours nibbling around the edges of a single paragraph. The next day, I might strike that paragraph and start over. With this method, productivity, as you might imagine, is quite the wild card.

I do have occasional spells when the writing flows–I bound through the pages effortlessly, like Emily Dickinson’s frigate on a following sea. But those happy periods of clear sailing are inevitably followed by a dead calm, and I get bogged down on a single page for days. Or a single sentence,

“Just keep going!” When we’re stalled, this is the sage advice we get from most writing teachers, critique groups, and professional writers, But so far I’ve been incapable of doing that.  Sometimes I do leave a placeholder, something like, “Brilliant description of character goes here, but don’t do a generic description dump. Must be something fresh that will make the reader’s eyes widen in recognition.” One can take that kind of thing too far, however. You can wind up with an entire novel of placeholders, and then where would you be? Exactly where you started.

Well, now I’ve depressed myself simply by writing about my quota. What about you? What is your daily writing quota, when and where do you write, and how religious are you about keeping to it?

And if you write ten pages a day no matter what, don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the fact that I’ll be cranky at you for the rest of the day.

Literary Tattoos

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I was listening to a podcast on my way back from dropping the boys at school on a new book detailing the cultural phenomenon of ‘literary tattoos’ – people who feel the need to have inked on some part of their body the name, picture, or quote from their favorite author or poet. While no one, to my knowledge, has the name Ursula emblazoned on their buttocks, the idea of a literary tattoo intrigues me – and since listening to the podcast, I find myself asking people whether they would consider getting such a thing, and if so, who would they chose?…

In the book, The Word Made Flesh by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor (the book which was discussed in the podcast) there are pictures of people with quotes (and illustrations) from work by Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, William Blake and Samuel Beckett (just to name a few). Each of the tattoos represent a whole story in and of themselves about how and why a person felt compelled to engrave the words on their flesh. Pretty cool really.

For my part, I am way too squeamish to get any kind of tattoo (and let’s face it, too worried about what it would look like on my saggy eighty year old body in years to come) but if I was to consider a literary tattoo, and if I restricted it to books and authors I love (look, if I got on to poetry this blog post would never end!), there are three most likely contenders:

They are (in no particular order):

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
One of my favorite books, I would nonetheless have difficulty putting “Mistah Kurtz – he dead” or “The horror! The horror!” anywhere on my body. Even some of his more cheery quotes are still major downers so I doubt I will ever have a tattoo with such gems as “the wilderness found him out early, and had taken vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude–and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.”
Besides where would such a quote go? Back? shoulder? stomach?!

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
Now a quote from this book would be pretty amazing- though perhaps not original enough to enter the ranks of cool-dom. I could see myself with a discrete Catherine or Heathcliff quote, perhaps on an ankle…What do you think – “That is not my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet; and take him with me: he’s in my soul” or perhaps, “I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” But then again, I’m not sure what my husband would say to either of those…

David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life
Now this book is my all time favorite book and perhaps it is the one I would be most likely to use for a literary tattoo. One quote which would be wonderful, is this:
“What else should our lives be but a continual series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become, except in dreams that blow in from out there bearing the fragrance of islands we have not yet sighted in our waking hours”. Not bad, eh?

Well, I can’t say I am rushing out to a tattoo parlor to have anything inked on any region of my body, but still the concept is an interesting one. So tell me, have any of you got a literary tattoo? If so, who, what, why and where? If not, would you ever consider having one and if so, which quote or author would you chose?

One Plus One Equals Three

James Scott Bell

Joe’s recent post about theme put in mind this quote from The Boss:

“I’ve always believed the greatest rock and roll musicians are desperate men. You’ve got to have something bothering you all the time. My songs are good because … it’s like in art and love, hey, one and one makes three. In music, if it makes two, you’ve failed, my friends. You know, if you’re painting, if all you’ve got is your paint and your canvas, you’ve failed. If all you got is your notes, you’ve failed. You’ve got to find that third thing that you don’t completely understand, but that is truly coming up from inside of you. And you can set it any place, you can choose any type of character, but if you don’t reach down and touch that thing, then you’re just not gonna have anything to say, and it’s not gonna feel like it has life and breath in it, you’re not gonna create something real, and it’s not gonna feel authentic. So I worked hard on those things.” – Bruce Springsteen
We need to get that. Your book, if it’s going to go anywhere, has to be about more than what it is about. It has to dig deep somewhere, so the readers think there’s a “there” there, something the author really cares about.
An “inner ferret,” as grandmaster thriller author David Morrell puts it. Others might call it heart. Still others, like the late great Red Smith, say, “Just open a vein.”
But your novel should be something that moves your insides around.
How do you find it?
Start making a list. Make a list of things that bother you, that get your juices flowing. I often ask writing students what is something that would make them throw a chair out the window? Write about that thing. Put that feeling inside your Lead character.
Or make a list of memories that are vivid to you. Why are they vivid? Because your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Find that thing.
Ray Bradbury started making a list of nouns of remembrance when he was young. He came up with nouns like THE LAKE, THE CRICKETS, THE SKELETON, THE NIGHT, and so on. Each one of these referred to something from his childhood. He went into those memories and mined them for stories.
Childhood fears seem to play a big role not only for Bradbury, but also King and Koontz. Figuring out why justice is worth going for in a world that seems dead set against it animates Michael Connelly . . . and me. That seems to be a consistent thread throughout my novels.
Maybe that’s because I was brought up by a dad who was an L.A. lawyer who often represented the poor accused of crimes. He had a passion for the Constitution and criminal justice. I guess I absorbed that.
So what about you? Is there some “inner ferret” that drives your writing? What equals three for you?


John Ramsey Miller

Most published authors are asked to speak to groups of one sort or another. I am flattered when I am asked to address people who are interested in what I have to say. As I was preparing a yak-up about my work (and authoring in general) I’m going to be giving next week to people gathered up to support a university library, I thought about the most frequent questions I am asked. After addressing non-writers, readers, book lovers, funders and innocent bystanders, there is invariably a Q & A exchange. No matter where I am speaking, or what aspects I blather on about, when it’s time for questions people ask the same ones.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: There are so many I never know where to start. I usually say it depends on the genre and when I read them. Truman Capote, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsythe, Ken Kesey, John Carre, Ira Levin, William Golding, James Brady, William Styron, Mario Puzzo, Willie Morris, Steinbeck, Eudora Welty, J.D. Salinger, J. G. Ballard, John Cheever, Tolkien, James Clavell, Tom Wolfe, Frank Herbert, and then we have contemporary authors, none of whom I can list here without fear of leaving out someone and hurting feelings. There are so many truly great authors out there.

Q: What are your favorite books?


Q:Do you write every day (on a schedule)?

A: Yes, but not always at the keyboard. These days I write when I want or need to.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?

A: Rarely from the same place twice

Q: What is your process?

A: I think a lot. I write. I think a lot more. I write. Like that. Over and over. It’s sort of a cycle that speeds and slows but never stops.

Q: Do you outline or follow characters where they lead you?

A: I never let my characters decide where to take me. I give them a road map and expect them to go exactly where I have made the marks. I am the choreographer. I think it is pretentious to say one’s characters are so alive they take over. As the author, unless you are either in control or on LSD. Your characters are in your imagination and on the page and are not actually alive and acting independent of your mind.

Q: When did you decide to become an author?

A: I have no idea when it started. I have told made-up stories and written since I was very young. Over time I more or less got increasingly familiar with an old friend.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring author?

A: If you are published, yours will be one of 400,000 books published that year. If you don’t have a way of effectively promoting your book, it will not be widely read.

Q: Do you believe that everybody has at least one book in them?

A: In my experience, yes. And as often as not it’s a very bad book. Most people can start a book, but few have the drive to finish one, and fewer still have any idea how to write effectively. And of the books written only about one to two percent are worth reading. In my experience, the worst are autobiographies of normal people who think their experiences are going to interest other people, followed closely by humorous or inspiring stories they have collected.

Okay gang, are there any others you are asked that I’ve missed?

Greetings From San Francisco

By John Gilstrap

Generally, I love my Friday slot at the Killzone. Friday is a happy day overall, and, perhaps more importantly, Thursday night is typically a convenient night to jot these missives. There are exceptions to every generality, of course, and for me the exceptions all deal with the big conferences. Bouchercon, ThrillerFest, Magna Cum Murder—you name the conference—always span Friday to Sunday, so I either get to write about a conference that hasn’t happened yet, or about one that is old news by the time my slot comes up again.

So, here I sit at noon (California time), having arrived yesterday afternoon, and having awakened at 5:30 this morning (8:30 bio-clock time), biding my time till the festivities kick off for real this evening. The intervening hours have mostly been taken up with work for my Big Boy Job. (I am forever amazed by how much more productive I am on the road or at home than I am in the office.)

Last night, I met Jeff Deaver at the lobby bar, and then we went out to dinner at the Fog Diner (that’s not really the name, but it’s close). It’s a kitschy place at Battery and Embarcadero that serves an eclectic menu, and has a great wine list. I ended up having a wedge salad and half of a Reuben sandwich. Given the bio-hour of 10 pm (7 pm local time), it was a perfect meal. We went back to the bar, but I could only manage one drink before I had to call it a night. I was in bed and asleep by ten. Really, ten. It’s embarrassing.

Tonight, I’m meeting my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards for dinner, after which the smart money says I’ll be in the bar till later than ten.

Tomorrow, I’m on a panel at 11 called “Deadline: Where do you get your ideas?” moderated by Don Bruns, with Gayle Lynds, Bill Moody, Mary Stanton and Debbie Atkinson. As I understand the premise, someone in the audience is going to choose a headline from the newspaper, and then we’re going to construct a story on the spot. It sounds simultaneously terrifying and fun. Can you say improv?

After the panel, I’ll be off to lunch with my editor and agent, and then I’ll be attending the Kensington Kocktail reception (their spelling, not mine), followed, presumably, by dinner and the evening in the bar. Are you catching a theme here?

To any Killzoners who are here at the conference, please make your presence known. Say hi. Chances are reasonably good that after, say, 9:00 pm, you’ll find me in the . . . well, you know.

Insider’s Guide to San Francisco for the Bouchercon-bound

by Michelle Gagnon

I wasn’t born in San Francisco, but have made it my home for the past fifteen years (and I’m married to a fourth generation native) So if you’ll be visiting our fair city this week for Bouchercon, here are a few tips:

Sightseeing: What makes San Francisco so unique is its proximity to breathtaking natural settings. If you get a chance, make an excursion to Muir Woods, the redwoods really are astonishing. Or head just across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands for a quick, easy hike and tour of WWII bunkers. Alcatraz is also definitely worth the trip (take the audio tour, it’s great), and offers unparalleled views of the Golden Gate Bridge. But be forewarned, you usually need to book a spot on the ferry a few days in advance.

Closer at hand, one of my favorite spots in the city is Crissy Field. Great views of the bridge from here, too, and there’s an easy walk along the shore where you can watch kite-surfers jetting across the Bay. (Also, there’s a hot dog vendor in front of the warming hut that sells organic all-beef hot dogs: delicious, and a far cry from your average sausage). If you keep following the road around the warming hut, it ends at Fort Point, where in the film Vertigo Kim Novak jumped into the frigid waters. Sticking to the Hitchcock theme, take a cable car up Mason Street from Union Square. At the top of the hill you can visit Grace Cathedral, our miniature version of Notre Dame. And at the intersection of Mason and California is The Brocklebank, a historic building featured in both Vertigo and Bullitt (any other Steve McQueen fans out there?)

San Francisco Landmarks you won’t find in any travel guide: Keep your eyes peeled for “The Twins,” elderly twin sisters who dress in matching hats, dresses, and wigs, frequently spotted strolling arm-in-arm around Huntington Park (across the street from Grace Cathedral—also a great place to see Chinatown locals practicing Tai Chi in the morning).

If you’re in the mood for a more serious walk, head to Coit Tower. Interesting art exhibits inside, and great views of the city. Afterwards, walk down the east stairway (on the Bay Bridge side). Halfway down, keep your eyes peeled for the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, a flock of birds that have escaped their owners (there’s a wonderful documentary and book about the birds).

Restaurants: I love all the restaurants in the Ferry Building, which range from cheap eats to more highbrow fare (there’s a fantastic independent bookstore here too, Book Passage). Try Mijita for the best fish taco you’ve ever had in your life, or the Slanted Door for upscale Vietnamese. Hog’s Oyster Bar makes the best clam chowder on the Pacific coast, Lulu Petite sells delicious sandwiches, and Taylor’s Refreshers has milkshakes and burgers. Or grab fixings from the Farmer’s Market and stroll along the Embarcadero to picnic at the base of the Cupid’s Span (Embarcadero and Folsom Street—tough to miss, it’s a sixty-foot tall bow and arrow.) Houston’s along the Embarcadero has fantastic ribs and a cute outdoor patio in back. And granted it’s touristy, but no stay here is complete without eating chowder from a sourdough bread bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf.

For French food, try local favorite Café Bastille. This restaurant is located on a cobblestoned alley with a slew of other wonderful restaurants, and they close off the street on Bastille Day for a major fete every year.

Best fish restaurant (and one of the oldest eateries in the city to boot) is Tadich Grill. They don’t accept reservations, so there might be a bit of a wait, but the food and atmosphere is worth it.
Best breakfast: line up at Sears Fine Foods (Powell Street and Post) for a terrific and reasonably priced breakfast. Order the Swedish pancakes, you won’t be disappointed.

North Beach is the place to go for Italian. My personal favorite is Da Flora, a bit pricey but very romantic with its muted lighting and fabulous food. Near the hotel, Town Hall in SoMa is fantastic, and closer to Union Square both Masas and Sons and Daughters are excellent. Tucked away in the Rincon Center is some of the best dim sum you’ll ever have in your life at Yank Sing.

Bars: I know, the chances of most attendees leaving the hotel bar are slim. But rest assured, drinks almost anywhere else will be a cheaper option. One of my favorite saloons is Vesuvio, an old beatnik hangout (check out Jack Kerouac Alley which runs along the side of the bar and features an amazing mural, and City Lights Bookstore next door). Right down the street is Toscas, a bar that nearly everyone who has lived in San Francisco for any significant length of time has frequented at least once. There are a lot of decent restaurants along the Embarcadero (running south from the Ferry Building) including Market Cafe and Waterfront Cafe). In my experience, full meals at these eateries is overpriced, but beer and appetizers are reasonable and the views can’t be beat.

I’m more of a foodie than a shopper (in case that wasn’t already apparent) but the best department stores are all located around Union Square. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, right behind City Hall is Hayes Valley, where there are a number of boutiques stocking local designers (most of them are located on Hayes Street itself). Union Street (oddly enough, not located anywhere near Union Square) also has high-end boutiques, but you’ll need to cab there (this would partner well with a Crissy Field excursion!)

Safety: Not the most fun topic to close with, but it bears some discussion. The streets of San Francisco are filled with characters, homeless and otherwise. And there’s generally safety in numbers. That being said, 6th Street is to be avoided at night at all costs. Just a few blocks from the hotel, it’s one of the most dangerous spots in the city (as is Market Street for a block before and after it). Then, when 6th Street crosses Market, you’re entering The Tenderloin, so named because in the past cops who worked that beat received a higher salary, enabling them to bring home a better cut of meat in exchange for putting their lives at risk. And not much has changed. The safest bet at night is to stay fairly close to the area around Union Square, or stick to the streets between the hotel and the Ferry Building. And I recommend taking cabs after dark if you’re going more than a few blocks.
That’s all that comes to mind, but if you have any other questions fire away!
Looking forward to seeing you all!

Brainstorming on the Beach

The Novelists, Inc. conference Brainstorming on the Beach was held at St. Pete Beach on Florida’s west coast. It is the first writers conference I’ve attended where no one handed out promo materials, dropped their bookmarks on a promo table, or talked much about their work. That’s because all of Ninc’s members are multi-published career authors. So you don’t come to this conference to promote yourself. You come to learn and schmooze with fellow authors about issues affecting us all.

This year’s conference brought in many illustrious speakers, pundits in the publishing industry. Here are some of the highlights of what I learned in no particular order:

    *      Everyone will be reading on their mobile phones in the future. What will this mean for the art of writing? Smaller paragraphs, shorter books, scenic descriptions perhaps replaced by video.

    *      Ebooks will be the next mass market.

    *      Think global. People in other countries want to read our work and they want these stories to take place in the U.S. so they can read about our lives here. The demand will continue to grow exponentially. This is a huge potential market.

    *      Many pirate sites originate overseas where English language content is unavailable. How to combat piracy? Cost and Convenience. Make our work cheaper and easier to obtain.

    *      Be prolific to build your brand.

    *      Don’t think of writing as draining your mental energy so you need to refill the creative well. Think of writing as recharging your batteries so that the more you write, the more you’ll want to write. It’s harder to restart the engine so keep it running.

    *      Publishers need to step up to the plate and provide authors with editorial, distribution, promotion, and product if they’re to be viable in the future. The most important role of publishers continues to be as a gatekeeper for a quality read.

    *      Social networking is crucial for authors to establish a platform.

    *      Reviews still drive book sales, and bloggers are the new reviewers.

    *      Indie bookstores still have tremendous influence. They may still be around after the chains go out of business. Establish a connection with your indie booksellers.

    *      Writers with a backlist have many different avenues to explore to make their books available to readers again. This is an exciting time because we can bring our stories directly to readers ourselves.

Many of us authors are struggling to define our roles in this new publishing climate, to understand where the industry is headed, and to define our limits for social networking. The beauty of Ninc is that we know we’re not alone. For more details on each panel presentation from the conference, please visit my personal blog.

Book blog tours and reviews–how helpful?

As I’ve probably mentioned here before, I recently started doing book reviews for a network of review sites (under a pseudonym). The experience has made me more aware of the many blogging platforms that exist today for readers (and reviewers) of books.

As we all know by now, the “big” media book review outlets are shrinking in number. Every other day, it seems, a newspaper that previously did book reviews cancels its section, folds, or gets absorbed into something else. (It’s worth mentioning that it was always a struggle for new authors or paperback originals to get reviewed in those media.)

What has flourished in the wake of the demise of traditional media outlets is a constellation of book-oriented blogs and other online venues. I’m still trying to get a grasp on the big picture of this new virtual world, including how it impacts authors (and readers). The New York Times ran an article a while back about book tours and reviews; it implied that there’s no hard data on how such publicity impacts actual book sales. That article was published in 2007, and three years can be a lifetime in the Internet world (consider the fact that Facebook was started in 2003). There are always anecdotal examples of an author here or there creating major buzz on the Internet by hitting the blog circuit, but what’s the overall picture? What really works, for an author who has a new book to promote?

My gut feeling is that book tours by authors are more effective than sites that do only book reviews, because the tours are usually hosted by noncommercial sites.  Nowadays, however, more sites are becoming “hybrids,” combining author interviews, book reviews, and related TV show discussions.

For my last few books, I used a publicist who would occasionally set up blog reviews for my novels. These reviews were (usually) positive and welcome, but I never had a sense of how these sites fit into the big picture.  Eventually I started exploring book review blogs on my own, and found it to be a bewildering world out there. Blogs are constantly being created and disappearing, and it’s hard to tell which sites are legitimate review sites, and which are strictly commercial venues. (Nowadays, bloggers are legally required to post a disclaimer about whether they get their review copies for free or whether they pay for them, but that information doesn’t help me know whether the reviews are “legitimate” or not). I revisited some of the review blogs on my list this morning, and discovered that many of them have stopped updating their content.

For readers, it may not matter whether a site does honest and “legitimate” reviews or not. They will gravitate toward sites that feature the types of books and authors they already like. Kind of like the way cable news shows attract the viewers that already agree with their opinionators.

I still don’t have a handle on how many book blog sites exist, overall. I would love to see a comprehensive list of book discussion and review blogs, one that would be updated regularly. Right now, booktour.com 
seems to be one of the major comprehensives site for authors who want to coordinate their blogging outreach efforts (and in-person appearances). Of course, you have to pay for some of these services.

It would be nice to find a comprehensive list of book blogging sites, with indications of the types of reviews they provide, and how to contact them. Currently I’m developing my own list, bookmarked for future reference. One thing I’ve noticed is that there seem to be many more sites that review romance books and “cozies”, fewer devoted to thrillers and hard boiled mysteries. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps cozies and romance books have a hard time getting reviews in major publication, so bloggers have picked up the slack.

Here are a few book blogging sites that have landed on my radar over the past few years:

Omnimystery News

The Mystery Librarian

Mysteries and My Musings

Wendy’s Opinions on Books


Best Fantasy Books

The Romance Readers Connection

Best Romance Stories 

Connie’s Reviews

Mysterious Reviews

So I’m wondering–as a reader or author, which sites are your “go to” blogs for reviews and discussions about newly published books? If you’re an author, do you launch an organized blog tour when you publish a new book, and how do you go about doing that? Going forward, I’ll update this post with new sites worth checking out. Stay tuned!