Kirkus Indie: When a Review is Good for You

By: Kathleen Pickering

Great news for the self-published author looking for a marketing boost above the pile: Kirkus Indie reviews self-published works.

Believe it or not, word of mouth is still one of the strongest motivators for sales. Book sellers, librarians, book clubs, reviewers—your best friend—will all have an answer if ask, “Have you read anything good lately?”

Here’s where Kirkus Indie comes in. To quote them directly, “The Kirkus Indie program gives independent authors a chance to obtain an unbiased, professional review of their work, written in the same format as a traditional Kirkus review with the same chance of earning the coveted Kirkus Star.

Our Indie program curates the self-published segment of the industry to help consumers and industry influencers (such as publishers, agents, film producers, librarians and booksellers) discover books they may otherwise never find.”

The beauty of a Kirkus review is that you, the author, can chose whether or not the review goes public. If you don’t like the results, use the 250-300 word critique to improve your work and move on. However, should you be tickled to the tailbone about how your book was received, not only is the review yours to publish as you see fit, Kirkus will  post the review on their website at no extra charge. (The fee, I’ll discuss later. I want you to see the good stuff first.)

In addition to the website review, your review also gets distributed to their licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more.

And if that’s not enough, the editors will consider your  review for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Plus, the review may be selected as a feature in the Kirkus email newsletter which distributes to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.

Now, you ask, who does the reviewing? Meg LaBorde Keuhn, COO of Kirkus Media recently told Author Cheryl O’Donovan in a RWR article that editorial integrity is sacred to Kirkus. Only professional reviewers who are genre experts, independent and totally unbiased are hired.

O’Donovan cited author Darcie Chan who said a Kirkus Indie review played an important role in helping her make self-publishing history by selling over 500,000 e-books and counting. The Kirkus Indie review encouraged readers to take a chance on her as an unknown author.

Nice. Smile

Kirkus Indie is the fastest rising segment in the Kirkus organization, being followed closely by its new editorial service. (Visit Kirkus Editorial for more info.)

What’s the catch? You pay for your review.

Standard service with a 7-9 week response time costs $425. Express services for $575 returns your review within 4-6 weeks. Kirkus Indie requires two copies of the published book or completed manuscript. For e-book only format a manuscript PDF is sent directly to the editor.

Now, we all know that the self-publishing industry is booming. This author believes that obtaining a favorable review from an established reviewer branded with an 80 year reputation for being the toughest book critic in the world makes good business sense.

What do you think?

Write on, my friends!

xox, Piks

Fan Fiction

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

If another person asks me whether I have read Fifty Shade of Grey I will scream (I haven’t by the way) – though far worse are the well-meaning acquaintances who eagerly ask whether my current book is anything like it (because, of course, a historical mystery writer would be writing erotic fiction wouldn’t she?!)

My answer is always the same – no…no, I’m not particularly interested in reading about sadomasochistic sex and no, I’m not particularly interested in writing about it either. I’m also not all that interested in reading or writing fan fiction though most of the women I know who have read Fifty Shades of Grey are surprised when I tell them this is how the trilogy initially began – as a homage to Twilight’s Edward and Bella. 

I don’t know a great deal about fan fiction but it would I guess Fifty Shades of Grey is the most successful of its kind (even though, obviously, it has moved beyond this now and has it’s own characters etc.)  and seeing its success it got me thinking about why people write fan fiction and how the original writers/creators feel about this. 

Obviously the likes of Jane Austen aren’t with us to provide pithy bon-mots on the whole “Pride & Prejudice with Zombies” phenomenon but I am sure many authors have mixed feelings about their fans writing works derived from their own. It must be a strange feeling reading someone else’s take on the characters and worlds you have created, and I wonder how I would feel if this happened to me. To be honest I would just be amazed that any of my books had inspired fan fiction:) but, after that, my true feelings would probably be pretty mixed about the whole thing. Would I feel flattered? Dismayed? I’m not really sure (and it would depend, of course, on the nature of the fan fiction involved).

So what about you? As a reader have you ever been inspired to write fan fiction? As a writer, what would be your take on it? 

Is “Show, Don’t Tell” Overrated?

James Scott Bell

There’s a meme developing regarding one of the oldest of fiction writing commandments: Show, don’t tell. Specifically, that this may be an overrated bit of advice. What’s wrong with telling (straight narration) a great deal of a story in the author’s voice? 
It’s worth talking about. 
Here is an excerpt from a thriller which begins in the trenches of WWI. After a descriptive opening paragraph that introduces us to the “cordite-clouded sky” and the lead character, Dr. William T. Majors, Jr., we get this:
A brilliant mathematician, Majors was a scholar and a gentlemen completely out of his affluent Long Island element. Against reasonable odds or definable logic, he was also a private in the U.S. Army and at present trapped in a gash of dangerous dirt between France and Germany known as the Western Front.
That is narrative telling, and set-up. Well, why not? It gets the job done, doesn’t it? 
But wouldn’t we rather be in the head of the character, and let the details become known naturally as we go along? Is there a need to explain all this up front? Does it deepen our involvement, distance it, or matter not at all?
I have a little guideline I call Act first, explain later. I have never read the opening of a published book yet that did not benefit from this guideline, or suffer from its non-use.
Side note: I was talking to a friend recently who is a voracious reader (and was a history major in college). I brought up a particularly popular series of historical novels and he went, “Ugh! It takes SO LONG to get going!” Then he mentioned the James Clavell classic, Shogun. “He gives a lot of background,” my friend said, “but he does it with action. I like that much better.” I try to listen to readers.
Back to the thriller. We are now introduced to a second character, Majors’ childhood friend, John Taylor. They enlisted together. They are in the trench, talking as the sky explodes. “Tell me again,” Taylor says, “what the hell we are doing here?”
Then this:
Both men were scared, though they tried not to show it.
They winced, recoiling again from the thundering bombardment now under way to destroy fortifications and trench systems along a twenty-mile front from Bois d’Avoncourt to Étan.
Okay, that is a pull back from a scene (when there’s dialogue, you’ve got a scene by default) to narrative description. The author is telling us what both men felt, so it’s author voice (and therefore Omniscient POV) by default.
Are we okay with that? Or would it not be better to stay within the POV of Majors, his hands shaking, the bile of fear rising in his throat? (Note: Omniscient POV is out of favor these days.)
A novel works best (even, I am tempted to add, only) when it creates emotion in the reader. One of the reasons for show, don’t tell is to do that very thing. And it ought to start happening on page one.
A few lines down (we’re on page 2 now), Majors has a tender moment:
Majors touched his heart, then pulled a photo of Jane from his tunic’s breast pocket. He could make out her features in the sudden glare of a bomb’s blast. He loved her deeply and felt this was probably his last chance to look upon her face.
More telling. But does He loved her deeply capture the feeling? Or would it have been better to showhis finger gently tracing her features as his heart pounds something that sounds like a dirge? Telling us what an emotion is, rather than creating it in us, wastes valuable front-end real estate in a book.
Now a page of backstory follows. It begins:
Even more than Taylor, Majors had been born and raised in privilege, with every advantage of wealth and sophistication his parents could give him. Majors’ father, the man he’d been named after, was a successful ship line attorney and investment banker. Majors’ French mother had always been a tender caregiver to her son. She was a consummate homemaker and devoted wife . . .
We have left the immediacy of the action and exploding sky for a discursive on background. Now, I believe some backstory is all right in an opening chapter. But I like to keep it brief and firmly grounded in a character’s head and emotions, e.g., He longed to be back in his father’s study, helping him research another brief for the shipping lines he represented, waiting for mother to bring the afternoon tea.
Is there ever a time to just “tell” part of the story? Yes, when you want to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time, e.g., from one location to another.
Otherwise, choose the more intimate way, one character’s immediate POV, and create emotions rather than telling us about them.
There’s even a book that will help you in this regard, Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions.
So what do you think? Is “show, don’t tell” overrated? Or is it the mark of the author who knows exactly how to pull readers in? 

Selling Those Used e-books

Have you heard of a company named ReDigi? It’s not exactly been in the headlines outside of music circles, but it has an interesting concept, and if you are the author of a book which is current in an e-book format you should be aware of what is going on now, and what may be going on later.
ReDigi functions as a used mp3 store. It will buy your used mp3s from you so long as you purchased them legally from e-Music or iTunes or Amazon or whoever (there is a way to determine whether each track was purchased legally, but since I am not fifteen years old I cannot explain it) and re-sell them to someone else. It does not need the permission of the artist or the artist’s label (if there is one) to do this. ReDigi, however, will pay royalties to the recording artist whose tracks are re-sold in this manner, so long as the artist belongs to ReDigi’s Artist Syndication Program (whatever that is). The person who sells the mp3 tracks to ReDigi supposedly no longer has the tracks on their iPod or computer or mp3 player afterward, (though I don’t know how ReDigi stops them from making and keeping a backup copy before they sell it), and ReDigi only sells the track once; in other words, it does not replicate it for sale among multiple buyers). And it’s entirely legal under what is called the “first sale doctrine,” which is how used book stores are able to open their doors for business, and how people can sell used books and CDs and CDs on Amazon and eBay, to name but two.
Fine. But you write books, as opposed to forming G chords. How does this affect you? ReDigi has stated outright that it is going to start selling used e-books —ones that were legally purchased by the original owner, of course — at some point in the future. Let’s assume that ReDigi is going to give authors the same deal that it is giving recording artists, and will pay each author a royalty on the resale of their book so long as said author participates in what I’ll call an “Author’s Syndication Program.”  Mind you, it isn’t going to be anywhere near what you would be getting under your agreement with your publisher, or your vendor, or whoever, but at least it would be something. Or if you are already selling your books for less than a dollar, and getting cents on the dollar for each sale, do you really want your books going for less than retail on the “used” market, with a drop in your royalty? There are both pros and cons here. How does this prospective scenario — it’s down the road, but it’s coming — look to you?

Drop that polysyllable!

Source: The Onion

Last year The Onion referenced a new “feature” in Microsoft Word: a squiggly blue line which alerts the writer when a word is “too advanced for a mainstream audience.”

Okay, so the squiggly-line thing was just an Onion joke. But I think writers actually do feel pressure to choose simple words to avoid alienating readers.

Here’s an example: A few months ago, after reading my manuscript to my writer’s group, I got a quizzical reaction to the word “fortnight.”  No one knew what it meant (a unit of time equal to 14 days.)

Our group is made up of well-educated, professional people, so I was stunned that no one had heard of the word. Granted, fortnight is primarily used in Britain and the Commonwealth countries, rarely in the US. But still.

Grudgingly, I rewrote the line to use “two weeks” instead of fortnight. But the new version seemed flat. So I changed it back. (And anyway, my character has a British boyfriend, so there!)

I don’t intentionally reach for “big” words to impress people. I select words for precision and rhythm. The best backhanded compliment I ever got was when a manager said, “You use big words, but unlike most people, you sound like you know what they mean.” Uh, yes.

The first external pressure I got about vocabulary took place when I was writing Nancy Drews. The writers were discouraged from using words that might lose the young readers. I think that’s a mistake. When I was reading Nancy Drews at age ten, one of my biggest joys was to discover new words. To check the kinds of words I looked up back then, I went back to my ancient copies of ND; I found the word “portend” on the jacket copy of one book. Portend! What are the odds that portend would make it into contemporary versions? Nada much.

Gradually over the years, vocabulary-stretching seems to have become less popular. If the “mainstream audience” doesn’t know a term, the thinking goes, it must be a reader turnoff. Some writers self-police by avoiding the unfamiliar.

Maybe this trend will go away with the advent of ereaders with built-in dictionaries. Or maybe there’s no trend, and I’m off base. So tell me: Do you feel pressure to rein in your vocabulary in your writing? Do you shy away from using a perfect word because you fear you might lose a reader?

Tag Line Haiku

by Michelle Gagnon

Ah, the tagline…how I love it. For those of you who don’t know, a tagline is that little nugget on a book cover (or movie poster) that serves as a branding slogan, that memorable phrase that persuades you to buy the book (or purchase a ticket to the movie). The following are a few of the most  famous cinematic taglines:

  • “In space, no one can hear you scream.” -Alien
  • “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” Jaws 2
  • “There can be only be one. -Highlander
  • “One ring to rule them all.” -The Lord of the Rings 
  • “The truth is out there.” – The X-Files 

One thing most people don’t know is that authors rarely get to choose their own taglines. So far, my books have been graced with the taglines, “Anyone can end up in the…BONEYARD,” and “We are our greatest enemy.” (THE GATEKEEPER). My latest release, DON’T TURN AROUND, actually had the tagline changed once some of the top buyers weighed in on it; we ended up with, “Off the grid/On the run” (which I love).

It struck me, as I recently perused the vast array of titles at my favorite independent bookstore, that there’s a game in here somewhere. A way, if you will, to combine two of my favorite things: taglines and haikus. And you’re all invited to participate.

Just so we all understand the rules: a haiku is, according to the standard definition, “A Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five.”

For the sake of simplicity, feel free to combine book tag lines with film tag lines, if they seem to belong together. But make sure to attribute the tags to the appropriate sources.

I’ll be composing my haiku with a nod to some of my favorite titles (I excerpted the first part of the tagline when necessary; feel free to do the same).
Have fun, I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

Past evil still lives.  
Beauty is only sin deep. 
Everything ends here.  

(Respectively, Heather Graham, THE UNHOLY; Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, SLIDE; and Patrick Lee, DEEP SKY.)

On a side note, if you’ll permit a digression: my publisher is currently giving away galleys of my upcoming release, DON’T TURN AROUND. There are a few different ways to enter, and each only takes a few minutes. 

On Twitter, just retweet this:
@EpicReads Off the grid. On the run. DON’T TURN AROUND by @michelle_gagnon RT for a chance to win!

On Facebook, Like this page.

And/or on Goodreads, Click here to enter.

Feel free to forward to anyone who might want a free book!

Scene Scouting: On Location or Wikipedia?

From the ITW Debut Author class of 2012-2013, TKZ welcomes Brian Andrews as our guest blogger, here to discuss one of my favorite topics, researching location. Enjoy.

By Brian Andrews

brian andrews square headshotEveryone has heard the old real estate adage, "What are the three most important factors to consider when buying property? LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.  As a thriller writer, I spend a great deal of time mulling over location… scene location to be precise. Why? Because selecting a scene location is like deciding whether to bake brownies using oil, or substituting applesauce instead. Sure, the applesauce brownies are low fat, but they lose that authenticity that makes a brownie taste like a brownie. Wikipedia is applesauce. The queasy, weak in the knees sensation I felt leaning against the metal railing on the Key Bridge, as I imagined what it would be like to jump into the grey-green water of the Potomac River flowing eighty feet below… that’s baking brownies with oil. 

catacombs melange

When I travel for my "day job", I’m always scoping out locations for future scenes in future novels. My motto has become: Don’t force a location into the story, take the story to the location. Recently, I had a business meeting in Paris, which afforded me one free morning to play tourist. When my Parisian host asked me what I would like to do, I replied, "Take me to the creepiest place imaginable." And so he did. The Catacombs beneath Paris hold the remains of over six million Parisians. The walkways are lined with bones. Femurs and skulls are stacked 2 meters high and used to decorate this dank and disturbing underground labyrinth. It was described to me as "romantic macabre." No arguments there. When I finally stepped out of the Catacombs and back into the warm Parisian sun, I knew with certainty that characters of mine will someday find themselves in this location.

What is your favorite scene location in a novel, or in real life?

small coverMidwest born and raised, Brian is a US Navy Veteran who served as an officer aboard a 688 class nuclear submarine in the Pacific. Brian lives in Tornado Alley with is wife and daughter. His debut thriller, THE CALYPSO DIRECTIVE, was recently released. Brian is a member of the ITW debut author class of 2012/2013 and lifelong fan of the thriller genre. 

Say hello to Brian on Facebook at:

A collective Primal Scream

I have a close relative whom I’ve loved dearly for nearly half a century. It was only after we became social media friends, however, that I discovered she is an avid partisan. Make that rabid partisan. Whenever I open Facebook, my Notification globe bleeds red with urgent missives–it’s her daily in-flow of videos, cartoons, and other headlines designed to enlighten me about the hanky-panky of political evil-doers.

Other friends and family proselytize across a spectrum of political thought, and beat the drum for pet causes. One matriarch frequently emails me jokes making sport of one candidate in particular. (She knows I like the guy, so I have to assume she’s being passive aggressive–a common, if somewhat unlovable, trait in my family.)

I used to get irked by the chatter. Sometimes, especially when someone forwarded me a particularly outlandish bit of Internet lore, I’d retort with articles of rebuttal, or a link to Snopes.

Now I’ve changed my thinking. It’s been a rough week for America, and we’re heading into a hotly contested political season. People are cranky.We’re not just cranky at the other guy’s candidates. We’re pretty much ticked at our own candidates, too. Everyone’s upset about different things, and no one is coming up with great solutions. Or any solutions.

When I was at Wellesley years ago, we had a biannual tradition known as Primal Scream. On the eve of final exams, we’d run through the hallways collecting haggard, haunted-looking freshmen. We’d gather them on the roof of McAfee Hall and tell them to scream. Just scream as loud as you can, we said. Get it all out. There we’d stand, 40 or so young women strong, screaming from the roof at the top of our lungs. God knows what the campus police must have thought about Primal Scream. And then, slowly, we’d begin to laugh. Huge gales of giddy, exhausted, exam-demon purging laughter. Somehow cleansed, we’d return to the books.

I’m beginning to see the outcries on social media as our society’s Primal Scream. Instead of standing on a rooftop, we’re tweeting and venting from Facebook and Twitter.

Thirty-plus years ago in Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network”, an anchorman loses his cool on the air. He exhorts his viewers to get mad, throw open a window, and scream.  Back in the day the idea of a raving anchorman was an absurd, darkly funny notion. Now it’s SOP. This will give you an idea: Yesterday when I was playing Howard Beale’s “Network” speech on my laptop, my husband padded through the room.

“It’s just the same old news over and over again,” he complained, mistaking Chayefsky’s Academy Award-winning speech for a cable news opinionator.

As an author, I try to curb my instincts on social media. For example, I’ll reread this post three times to make sure I’ve purged it of any identifiable sectarian tilt. But I no longer resent speechifying by family and friends. I have reframed it in my mind. I see us all standing at our windows and on the rooftops, unleashing our malaise into the dark. It might be a cleansing thing for the collective soul.

In your author role, do you steer clear of politics, religion et al online? Have you ever stepped unwittingly into a hornet’s nest by expressing a particular view?

Villains in Fiction

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

In the aftermath of any tragedy it is human nature to seek out a rationale – a reason or some kind of motivation – for what has unfolded. It is a basic part of a psyche, I think to try and understand human behaviour, even when it seems bewildering, horrendous and evil. Real life events, such as what happened on the weekend, are incomprehensible on so many levels and as writers we face many issues and concerns when creating fictionalized evil. We often tread a fine line between entertainment and horror as well as believability and imagination.

As writers we also have to delve into the minds of all our characters to try and understand what makes them tick, and we have to move beyond mere stereotypes, particularly when forming our antagonists. 

It can often be all too easy to fall for the ‘psychotic’ serial killer or other sort of evil cliche without trying to provide for the reader a solid grasp of what lies behind this. Villains rarely consider themselves villains. Sometimes they feel justified (in their own perverted way) or compelled by something to do what they do. Unlike in real life, in fiction, we can often provide the reader with a rationale for someone’s behaviour.

So how do you create a believable villain? How do you ensure that, when it comes to the battle between good and evil, neither side slides into caricature? I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my current WIP and I have some to a few conclusions (or observations, at least) as I go through this process:

1. Characters don’t think they are dumb so don’t make them do ‘dumb’ things just because they are (cue manic Dr. Evil laughter) the bad guy. 
2. Don’t fall into the trap of making evil generic. For every character there needs to be a specific reason, cause or motivation for his or her behaviour. The more specific and believable this is, the more believable a character will be.
3. Give you villain a clear objective. I’m not a big fan of the psycho who just seems to do stuff because he is, well, ‘psycho’ – this always seems to the to dilute the power of having an antagonist. 
4. Think as much about the back story for your villain as you do for the protagonist of the story – this will ensure the character behaves consistently and with clear purpose. It also helps you avoid falling into a cliche if you have a fully realized back story.

So how do you approach the process of creating villains? Are there any ‘evil doers’ in novels that strike you as the ‘dumb and dumber’ of their kind? What about the most chilling, compelling and believable villains in fiction? 

It’s No Longer an Either/Or Publishing World and Other Notes from ThrillerFest

Last week I had the honor of being the first author to final for an International Thriller Writers Award for a self-published work, One More Lie. ITW has been forward thinking in this new era, recognizing that the future is now and a thrilling story works no matter what the delivery system.
Although I didn’t take home the top prize, it was cool to be there (along with former blogmate John Gilstrap and others) and to be confirmed in this: it’s no longer an either/or publishing world, but a both/and and why-the-heck not?

Mrs. B and I had our usual wonderful time in New York, where I used to pound the boards as an actor. We had dinner with my agent, Donald Maass, at a nice bistro in the Meatpacking District (really hopping these days). We talked about the craft, natch, and something Don said in passing I had to write down (this happens a lot when you listen to The Man): “Backstory is not just for plot motivation, but deep character need.”
Chew on that one for awhile.
Dear wife and I saw a hysterical Broadway show, One Man, Two Guvnors.It’s hard to describe, but suffice to say the Tony Award winning lead, James Corden, is a comedic genius.
Also saw about two hours of the amazing 24-hour film on time called The Clock.
And I got to teach at CraftFest. The room was packed! Then I realized Lee Child was teaching right after me….still, a good time was had by all.
The most interesting talk at the Fest, for me at least, came from Jamie Raab, senior vice president and publisher at Grand Central Publishing. Some notes:
Ms. Raab stated that, of course, the industry is in flux. Mass market paperbacks, for instance, are in steep decline as a category. Ms. Raab did not see any way for that format to come back to what it once was. Just what this means to the industry is not known at this time (like so many other things!)
Hardcovers, too, are heading south, simply because they have to be priced too high to cover costs of production. But, as we all know, prices are trending downward as more and more ebooks become available at consumer-friendly price points. Consumers are getting used to certain levels, and there’s no way to fight that. Consumers are co-regents with content in the marketplace.
Ms. Raab spoke about the thrillers she’s read over the years that were “game changers.” Not merely good books or great reads, but books that did something so amazingly original or compelling they actually changed the way the books after them were done.
The titles she mentioned:
Marathon Man by William Goldman
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
The Firm by John Grisham
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Absolute Power by David Baldacci
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Each of these titles did something “more.” Marathon Man, for example, had one utterly unforgettable scene. You all know what it is. If you’ve ever been to the dentist, that is.
Absolute Power begins with another unforgettable moment, a burglar hiding himself in a swanky house, witnesses the murder of a young woman by the President of the United States. That scene, and book, changed the course of political thrillers.
So here is what you ought to consider as you write: what are you doing that is “more” than what you’ve read before? What is it about the idea, the scenes, the characters, the plot itself that comes from the deepest part of you?
Here’s the nice thing, as Leonard Bishop once put it. “If you boldly risk writing a novel that might be acclaimed as great, and fail, you could succeed in writing a book that is splendid.”
Splendid isn’t a bad place to be.
Are you reaching for “more” in your writing?