How to Get Discovered When Nobody Knows Who The Heck You Are

by James Scott Bell


Recently one of our regulars, RLM Cooper, posted a comment, to wit:

What I’d like to know is not how to avoid critics, but how to get your book noticed in the first place. My book has great reviews (all handful of them) but Amazon makes it nearly impossible to find even when you key in the exact title of it. Unless you know the author and the book title, you are toast. I’ve tried advertising (on a small scale – I’m a writer, not a billionaire). I’ve tried having someone “promote” my book by placing posts on their book promo site with “thousands of followers.” And each day, new books are published and mine sinks down a bit in the Amazon ratings….You all know how much work, sweat, time, tears, effort, love goes into your work. How do you cope when almost no one notices? … How do you keep going when nothing seems to help? … I’m becoming discouraged even with the great reviews my book has gotten. Is it worth it to keep on keeping on?

To which our own Steve Hooley offered foundational advice: “Don’t give up, RLM. Remember PERSEVERANCE. This is a topic worthy of a future discussion.”

So let’s discuss.

First of all, indeed, perseverance is the key to success in any field—from business to art to sports. Heck, to life. A famous quote from Calvin Coolidge sums it up:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Now that we’ve established perseverance as the baseline, let’s discuss getting discovered when, frankly, nobody knows who the heck you are. I realize RLM is working with a small publisher. So take the following as discussion points to take up with your publisher as partner in getting your book seen. For those about to go indie, attend:

  1. The three rules of discoverability

The three rules of real estate, as we all know, are location, location, location. The three rules of discoverability are eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs. You want as many new eyes on your pages as possible.

That’s why you should never consider your first book as a money maker but as a loss leader. This is a common strategy in a new business. It means selling a product or service at a price that is not profitable but designed to attract new customers in order to sell them more products down the line. Indeed, this is exactly what Amazon did in its early years (when the know-it-alls were calling it Amazon dot bomb!)

In the same way, you want your first book in the hands of as many readers as possible, even if it means little or no income. And the best way to do that is via:

  1. Kindle Select

For book distribution there is nothing more powerful than the Amazon algorithms. Which means putting your book into Kindle Select. We’ve had many a discussion about going wide and going exclusive. But since we’re talking about a first book and no name recognition, Select gives you the best shot and attracting readers in the world’s largest bookstore. See my going exclusive post, especially the part about working in tandem with a deal-alert newsletter like BookGorillaENT, and The Fussy Librarian (a list of other deal-alert sites can be found here).

  1. Start growing your email list

In the back matter of your book (and on your website) have a way for readers to sign up for your “occasional emails” with deals and updates. I don’t offer a “newsletter” because I believe newsletter fatigue is a thing. What you want are emails that look like messages to friends, not sales brochures to customers. And offer something free in return for signing up. I do it this way.

  1. Produce books as fast as you comfortably can

Your career, recognition, and income are tied to your ongoing productivity. Of course, your books have to be quality, a hazy concept that basically means the kind of book a wide swath of readers will enjoy reading. This is a matter of craft, which is why TKZ is around. Your continuing education in the craft should run on a parallel track with your output. Never stop learning.

Always have a new book you’re working on and one or more in development. Be like a movie studio.

  1. Killer covers

Cover by

We all know the importance of covers. This is no place to skimp. Spend the money to commission a cover that looks every bit as good as anything put out by a Big 5 publisher. Your teenage son or a Fiverr guy is not the way to go.

Go to Amazon and start looking at covers by bestselling authors in your genre. Find designs that jump off the screen. Save them as examples.

Then find a designer. One I have used with happy results is Damonza. Expensive yes, but you get what you pay for. (A list of cover designers can be found here.)

Your designer should look at the examples you’ve saved from Amazon and put that together with your ideas for the book.

If you’re working with a small publisher ask for cover input. You might consider paying for your own designer and asking the publisher to split the cost.

  1. Book description

You need to become a master copywriter for your own books. See the great post by Sue and the comments thereto. Write three or four descriptions, trying different angles. Show these to some people and get feedback—which one creates the greatest desire to read the book?

  1. A+ Content

As Terry pointed out recently, Amazon now offers all authors and publishers the addition of A+ Content. It’s another level of sell that costs nothing. If you’re conversant with Canva, design is pretty simple.

  1. Your author profiles

Set up your Amazon author page and BookBub profile. No cost for creation and easy to nurture.

  1. Price

A lot of digital ink has been poured out on pricing strategy. The current wisdom is that an ebook price of $2.99, $3.99 or $4.99 is the sweet spot. For a new author, $2.99 might be the place to start. Anything from $5.99 on up starts to trigger customer resistance. There’s no reason for that. Remember, loss leader and eyeballs.

  1. Social media

So much has been written about this topic (see the recent Ben Lucas TKZ post). I’ll just summarize my own feeling: social media is not a good place to sell books. I may, however, be behind the times. I probably should be doing dance videos on TikTok. (Or maybe not. There are some things you can’t unsee.)

My standard advice has been to find one or two platforms you enjoy and use the 90/10 rule: 90% of the time provide helpful or entertaining content, and 10% on promoting a book or a deal. Just don’t overuse social media to the detriment of your main task: producing books.

  1. Advertising?

Advertising on Amazon, BookBub or Facebook is a bit complicated. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out what works best for you.  I therefore cannot recommend it for new authors because the EROI—Eyeball Return on Investment—is too low. If anyone has managed to crack the code on this kind of advertising, please tell us about it in the comments.


Getting noticed in the roiling sea of content can seem a daunting task. You know why? Because it is. There are over 3,000 new books that come to market every day. It’s therefore crucial that you manage your expectations and keep moving forward. There is an inner power in being action-oriented. (That’s why I like page-count quotas. I can feel accomplished every day.)

Andre Dubus once said, “Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years.”

Ten years from now you can revisit your decision to become a writer. Until then:

h/t Terry Odell

On Regional Dialogue and Locations

When I was ten years old, I told an old aunt (she was in her late forties then) that I wanted to be a writer. I took that first solid step when my first newspaper column was published in 1988. The second writing milestone came to fruition in 2011, forty-seven years after telling Aunt Rene my life goal.

All right, I’m a slow starter.

As the manuscript that began in 2000 developed, I realized my characters were talking like those country folks I grew up with. They became people with personalities and who lived as my grandparents did.

They used words and phrases like, “Hand me that pair of dykes so I can cut this wire,” or “He took a notion to string off over there and he got in trouble for it,” or when looking at a line of cars passing on the highway, “It looks like they put the gate down.”

I was unconsciously using, and preserving on paper, the way of life I grew up with. Soon, the Red River series became known for those words and idioms.

One man at a signing came up to me with a grin. “I know you’re from Northeast Texas, because you called that watering hole a pool. Out in West Texas, they call it a tank.”

“Well, I was born in Paris, Texas, and we don’t call them ponds there, either.”

“I sure appreciate it when you write about those things I’ve forgotten. My mama used to call skim milk blue-john. She used words like clabber, and said ‘well I swan’ when she was surprised. Only folks from where we grew up would understand how cornbread in sweet milk tastes, or talk about toting a ‘tow sack up to the corn crib to get some ‘taters for our supper.”

Many people from other states don’t understand that this state is so huge it has five different regions that includes everything from high deserts, to prairies, to piney woods, rolling hills, and the gulf coast. Each region has its own unique voice, and that’s the subject of today’s blog.

At a Bouchercon writers conference a few years ago, a panelist beside me on the stage admitted that she wrote novels set in Texas, but had only been to the Lone Star state once. “I get most of my information from the internet and Google Maps.”

My hat was the only thing that kept my head from exploding.

I read one of her books a couple of weeks later and it was good, but it didn’t have one bit of Texas flavor. She got everything from the computer and likely television, including the most hated phrase (my opinion) a writer can use when penning dialogue set in my state.

“Yee haw!”

I’ve never heard that expression come from the mouth of one single native Texan.

A couple of years ago I was visiting my good friend and fellow author, Joe R. Lansdale in his home town of Nacogdoches, in East Texas. A mutual friend from Italy was in the states and the three of us had dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

Here’s where we get to the nut of my subject. Rural native Texans eat three meals a day. Breakfast, dinner, and supper. There’s a lot of confusion because we eat dinner at noon, instead of the evening meal, but that changes in school when kids have lunch in the lunchroom. See what I’m talking about. Regional or local customs.

We finished dinner around two o’clock and Joe asked Friend if there was anything in particular he wanted to do while he was in town. Friend is an Italian author, a musician, and works as a translator for Americans who vacation in his home country.

“I’d like to buy a ‘cowboy’ shirt like the one Rev’s wearing to take back home.”

I reached halfway across the table full of dirty dishes bearing the remnants of tamales, beef enchiladas, scraps of rice and beans, and the stem of a chili relleno, and picked up an orphan chip. Dipping it into the last of the hot sauce, I raised an eyebrow at Joe.

“Is there a good western wear shop in town?”

“There’s a Boot Barn a little ways from here.”

We adjourned to the parking lot that hot afternoon and waited while Friend took several photos of my truck. He’d never laid eyes on a dually before, a one-ton pickup with an extra set of wheels in the back (two on each side of the axle). Then he shot photos of the three of us beside the truck, photos of the dash, and shots of us inside the four-door cab.

Joe took the back seat while Friend rode shotgun. I fired up the big diesel and glanced at Joe in the rearview mirror. “Where to?”

“Pull out and hang a left.”

A thick line of cars going both directions held us up for a few minutes as I waited for a break in the traffic. “Looks like they let the gate down.”

“It’s that time of day.”

Because we’re both from the eastern side of the state, we have a similar accent. There’s another difference in where we live. Folks from behind the Pine Curtain, like Joe, speak with a distinctive southern accent mixed with deep regional inflections, while out in west Texas, the flavor leans more toward south blended with some influences from border Spanish.

“I’m gonna hammer it.”

“A’ite.” I heard Joe fasten his seatbelt as

“Y’all hang on.” I made the turn and my hat slid across the dash as we joined the traffic. When I’m with Joe, my own accent gets deeper and heavier. “Grab ‘at t’ere, wouldja Friend?”

He caught the hat and returned it to the center of the dash. I met Joe’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “How far, amigo?”

“Up ‘ere a piece.”

“Fur piece?”

“A ways. Maybe a mile as the crow flies.”

I steered around an electric car. “How’s mama’n them, Joe?”

“Fair to middlin’.”

We drive fast down here, so the mile went past in a blink. Joe tapped the back of my seat. “Right ‘chere. Whup in there.”

I steered into the parking lot and Friend finally spoke up. “Would you stop here for a minute, please?”

“Sure.” The parking lot was fairly empty, so I straddled several lines and shifted into park. “’sup?”

He turned in his seat to see both of us. “I haven’t understood a word you two have said since we got in this…pickup. Would you mind translating all that for me?”

We did, and he finally understood what two old country boys were talking about.

(We pause here for an author-service announcement. Don’t string that much local dialect together in your manuscript. It’s too much, and too hard to read. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve ever read Huckleberry Finn, which is one of my favorite novels by Mark Twain. Just sprinkle in two or three regional words or phrases to help establish your character, and move on, dropping in a little more spice every now and then to help identify the speaker).

My fellow panelist at Bouchercon that year couldn’t have known how we talk down here, because you have to hear people (and not on television, either). To write about a location, in my opinion, an author also needs to smell the air, listen to the symphony of sounds in the location they’re describing, to walk the streets and feel the grit underfoot, or on their face.

The late Edward Abbey wrote some fine fiction and nonfiction. He was once a park ranger and an environmentalist who had plenty to say, and said it with a razor sharp edge. That old curmudgeon who loved our natural parks out in the American West despised cars, (and anything else that was unnatural in the landscape) and had this to say about people who visited his desert without stopping.

“In the first place, you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet, crawl on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll begin to see something, maybe. Probably not.”

In that paragraph he described the red rock desert of Moab, Utah, and how visitors (read authors here) and miss details when they don’t personally visit an area. Go where you plan to set your novel. Research in person, and not on those infernal machines that take up so much of our lives these days.

At the very worst, you can write off a vacation, and at best, your characters and descriptions will come alive.

Much obliged for reading today, y’all.

Bosses and Boosters Busted

By Debbie Burke


This ordinary-appearing video commercial promotes a family business based in Atlanta that hides a dark secret. 

There’s a business term Cost of Goods Sold. In today’s true crime case, it’s redefined as Cost of Goods Stolen.

Richard (“Mr. Bob”) Whitley, 70, and his daughter Noni Whitley,47, ran Closeout Express and Essential Daily Deals which were online storefronts selling products below wholesale.

How could they charge prices that were too good to be true?

The merchandise was stolen. Their inventory was supplied by professional shoplifters known as “boosters.”

Between 2011 and 2019, the Whitleys operated an Organized Retail Crime (ORC) organization, selling more than $6,000,000 in stolen merchandise.

ORC is essentially the 21st century version of old-fashioned fencing. 

According to the FBI:

An ORC operation refers to a professional shoplifting, cargo theft, or retail crime ring, or other organized crime occurring in a retail environment. Robert Whitley was the owner and operator of Closeout Express. Noni Whitley worked with her father and helped operate and manage their ORC operation.

The Whitleys hired boosters who preyed on small businesses as well as national drug store and supermarket chains including CVS, Kroger, Publix, Target, and Walgreen’s. They shoplifted over-the-counter medications, shaving razors, oral care products, and health and beauty aids.

Boosters then delivered large garbage bags full of stolen merchandise to the Closeout Express warehouse where the Whitleys paid them in cash.

The Whitleys’ online storefronts operated as third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, Walmart Marketplace, and Sears Marketplace. They processed tens of thousands of orders and delivered the stolen products via the U.S. Postal Service.

After nearly a decade in operation, the Whitley family business was shut down by the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. A joint task force recovered more than a million dollars in stolen goods at the warehouse and several Atlanta residences.

On October 5, 2021, Robert Whitley and Noni Whitley were sentenced to federal prison under the following terms:

Robert Whitley a/k/a Mr. Bob, 70, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to five years, ten months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. He previously pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Noni Whitley, 47, of Atlanta, Georgia, was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property.

Both defendants were also ordered to pay $4,348,762.90 in restitution to the victim retailers.

Shopping online is easy, fast, and convenient but e-commerce can also hide an underbelly of sneaky fraud.

When prices are too good to be true, you might be buying stolen property. 

How can you tell if products are stolen? 

Here are warning signs

What happens if you unwittingly purchase stolen property? According to

Although you will likely not be charged with a crime, if you unknowingly bought stolen goods, you will probably have to return them to the rightful owner. The thief (or thieves) will then owe you the purchase price in restitution.

Good luck collecting restitution from criminals in federal prison. 


The Traveling Writer

The Traveling Writer
Terry Odell

Traveling Writer I’m back on my mountain after a 12-day “vacation.” (Can writers ever take vacations?) I was part of a photography tour of the Dalmatian coast, starting in Split and ending up in Dubrovnik (with an add-on day to Bosnia & Herzegovina). I’m recapping some ‘travel’ bits on my own blog, but this is a writing blog, so I’ll talk about the trip from a writer’s perspective.

In my current WIP, one of my main characters is an aspiring photographer, so I’ll be able to incorporate some of the lessons I learned into this book. Of course, I didn’t have to go to Croatia to learn these techniques, but as long as I was there …

However, this is about using travel for a book that hasn’t been written yet. Last time, I talked about things I’d be looking as writing fodder. While I don’t want to downplay the fantastic time I had on the trip, as writers we know that only trouble is interesting and it’s critical to create tension. With that in mind, here are some observations that might make it into the book I hope to write next.


  • There’s the one who’s always got his head down, looking at his phone, who’s up-to-the-minute with current technology.
  • Contrast him with the one who doesn’t even own an ATM card. How’s he going to get cash in the local currency?
  • The one who can’t grasp that the entire world doesn’t work the way it does at home.
  • The one who hasn’t learned to use his inside voice.
  • The one who won’t try any local cuisine or eat anything that looks the least bit different—even if it’s salad greens.
  • The one who can’t seem to think for himself (or read the daily itinerary/schedule) and has to ask for explanations of everything.


  • To Americans, so much seems old in other countries. Diocletian’s Palace in Split, for example, was built back in the 300s. Here, if we have a building over a hundred years old, it’s likely going to be torn down and replaced with glass and chrome. There, they simply cobble on improvements like better wiring, air conditioners and the like.
  • Weather is unpredictable, which can lead to plan adjustments. We had an unexpected appearance of Bura winds, which brought high seas and colder weather, meaning we didn’t get to follow our itinerary precisely.
  • Hotels and the cruise boats run EITHER heat or a/c. No quick adjustments when there’s an unexpected change in the weather.
  • Plumbing can create tension. Figuring out how to adjust the water temperature in the boat’s shower challenged many of the passengers.A character might have the wrong clothes, with no place to buy more.
  • There’s no grace period in schedules. If they say the bus will leave at 19:00, as soon as the clock ticks over, it takes off.

Docking in ports. The ships line up parallel, often 5 deep, so you have to cross through them to get to the dock. “Minding the gap” could become an issue for a passenger with mobility issues. (You can click any of the images below to enlarge)Traveling Writer
Traveling WriterLanguage. That can be a biggie. I’m guessing most Americans aren’t as familiar with Slavic languages as they are with Latin-based ones. Even if you’re reading signs along with a tour guide, what she’s saying doesn’t look anything like what you’re seeing. Our phonics don’t work there.

The Croatian alphabet has the following additional letters: č, ć, dž, đ, lj, nj, š and ž but doesn’t have q, w, x, or y.
There’s a death of vowels (Island of Hvar, and Krka National Park) and they seem to toss Js in at random.

Traveling WriterHint: Download Google translate, set it to the language of the country you’re in, and you can use the phone’s camera to get a translation of writing. Great for notices on shopfronts, menus (although almost all have English translations), brochures, signage at venues. Schools start teaching English at an early age, so most people have a rudimentary grasp of the language, especially those in the service industry.

Okay, that’s enough “trouble.” A little more about the trip from the tourist standpoint.

Everyone was friendly. Our boat had about 30 passengers. Eleven of us were on the photo tour, and another couple was from England. The rest were Germans. The tour company used to give tours only in English, and international passengers were aware and dealt with it. Because of Covid, the company needed to expand its market, and offered dual-language tours. This meant that all communication on board and on our guided tours was given twice: once in English, once in German. I heard a lot of German growing up, although we didn’t speak it at home. I took two years of German in college. After a couple glasses of wine, enough of it came back so I could make myself understood to some of the German passengers. (Impressed the heck out of my son!)

The food was amazing. We had the typical European buffet breakfast every day, and lunches were four course fine dining meals. Any of the courses would have been a full meal for me. How our chef on board produced this in a tiny kitchen never ceased to impress.

Portions everywhere were huge. A personal pizza would feed two easily—and with Italy so close (now and historically), pizza was everywhere. So was gelato.

And perhaps Croatia’s most recent claim to fame (and a boost to its economy): Game of Thrones was filmed there. There are memorabilia shops, special guided tours, and LOTS of people taking pictures.

Traveling WriterAs someone who never watched the show, I simply admired the scenery and buildings for what they were, not what they pretended to be.

Traveling WriterIn closing. This was a photography trip for me, so I have been working on getting my images sorted, processed, and uploaded. If you’d like to see some of them,  I’ve started a slideshow, which is still getting updated. (Click the triangle at the top right to start the show.) A lot of these images are “assignments” from our instructor, so they’re not typical travel-brochure shots. He suggested we try things like car trails, close-ups, long exposures, low angles (hard on aging knees), monochrome, motion blur, multiple exposure, pan blur, panoramic, reflections, textures, varying depth of field. Can’t say I tried all of them, or was successful at the ones I tried, but it was a fun way to look at the country alongside of the history provided by our tour guides.

Notes to self. Take pictures of signs so you know where you were. Update a journal no matter how tired you are at the end of the day. Don’t expect your brain to work the way it does at home. Think of “conference brain” and how all the new input overloads it. I knew I wouldn’t be writing, so I brought along a printout of as far as I’d gotten in the current WIP, thinking I could do some preliminary editing. Despite reading the words, trying to fool myself into thinking I was editing turned out to be a wasted effort. So, it’s back to work I go.


Image by Rebecca Scholz from Pixabay

One last tidbit. Residents of the Dalmatian coast prefer German shepherds. Dalmatians, they say, are too much trouble.

All right, TKZers. Questions? Comments? Suggestions for others?

Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Twitter Tutorial – From Zero to 12K

Gerd Altmann – Pixabay

by Debbie Burke


Full disclosure: I’m lousy at social media.

My writing bona fides are respectable with six published thrillers, numerous nonfiction articles, and this wonderful gig on TKZ.

Yet, after three years on Twitter, I have a low three-figure following. Pitiful, huh? 

Clearly, I’m doing something wrong.

Social media is that annoying stone in my already-uncomfortable marketing shoe. For contemporary authors, it’s a fact of life that we may not embrace but we can’t dismiss it either.

Recently, during an off-air discussion with TKZ regular Ben Lucas, he mentioned he was working on his as-yet-unpublished first novel and…

he had more than 12,000 Twitter followers.


How does a writer without a single book to sell develop such an impressive presence on social media?

I needed to know more. So I asked him.

His answers are today’s post.

Take it away, Ben!


Debbie: How has an as-yet-unpublished author collected 12K Twitter followers in less than a year?

Ben: First, I wanted to thank Debbie for allowing me to post on TKZ. I hope she keeps this line in so that you all know I’m grateful to be given the opportunity to share. This is a new personal high, and I hope to return the favor.

Technically, I’m a new author, but I’ve studied the craft for over a decade. Most of this is not new information, just good use of good advice. I have 12.5K Twitter followers, 9.8K on LinkedIn and another 5K on Facebook. These are the links:

The obvious question is, why am I doing this if I have no book to sell? It’s a line item of a giant checklist to help my future launch be successful. 2011, my first go around getting a book published was a disaster—many lessons learned. A big failure on my part was not using good advice or best practices.

But in 2020, (me having regrets), I listened to James Scott Bell on Great Courses. My immediate takeaway was marketing is crucial. That experience started my WIP, but also made me determined to brand myself. After more careful study, I started my social media building last December.

Marketing and branding are kind of related, but different. Marketing is the efforts you make to generate sales. But, branding is the business image you create. As I went along, I built my social media base to create goodwill and credibility whenever I can, (e.g. branding).

For the record, I have no illusions, as I’m keeping my hopes high and my expectations low. None of this is guaranteed, especially if my book comes out and SUCKS!

James Scott Bell says you can’t sell books on Twitter. I think he’s 100% right. If there is an effective marketing technique on social media, I haven’t seen it yet. Actually, besides announcing great deals, a lot of sales tactics on Twitter leave me feeling awkward and tacky. But, there are more important things that social media will offer you, which branding seems the best effort.

My overall goal is to not be forgotten before I even get started. Multiple experts helped to develop my approach:

Post something at least once a day. Twice maximum. Any less and you are forgotten. Any more than twice, you are a nuisance. (I’ve actually stopped following people because they constantly send out four posts an hour and I don’t have time to follow it all).

You can’t just publish text as a social media post. You need something visual that should have a common look/feel. comes in handy.

You need to follow other people back. Following other people back on social media will help you get into an algorithm. In short, if you are connecting to other readers and authors, Twitter will also suggest you as a connection to other like-minded individuals.

One reason people are following me is because I’m asking them to. I’m soft, not pushy, but consistent. For example, my common lead for my posts, “I would appreciate your support/follow on Twitter—for more information about me and my upcoming projects sign up for my newsletter #readmore #writingcommunity #writing #quoteoftheday.”

Here’s an example of something created using Canva. I send out a visual quote every day similar to this one:

Debbie: Are all your tweets on writing/reading?

Ben: Yes. Everything I tweet or post is about writing or others in the #writingcommunity.

Debbie: Do you contribute to/take part in groups not related to writing/reading?

Ben: No. All my efforts are about writing. I’m making new friends and relationships. I’m finding this very rewarding.

Debbie: Did you already have an established following for some other interest?

Ben: No. None. I have lots of other interest but nothing I wanted to write about. Being an author is my passion, and I spend nearly all my free time pursuing it.

Debbie: How much time do you spend on social media each day?

 Ben: I spend about an hour a day on social media (all three sites). I’ve become highly efficient—I had to, otherwise this can consume you like a shark devouring a guppy. Routine for me is important since I manage five people during my day job, have a wife, three kids, and a needy dog.

My daily routine is to wake up the kids, get people fed, go to the computer and post my daily thing. I’ll wish my followers a happy birthday or congratulations on their life events. I read TKZ, and if I can, add something to the conversations. After that, I do my day job and then try to write a thousand words between the remaining madness. At the end of the day, I interact online with some followers.

Debbie: What’s your day job?

Ben: I’m a Safety Manager for a construction company that services oil and gas. I have been in occupational safety and health for twenty-five plus years.

Debbie: How did you find your particular niche?

Ben: This question made me think of two different things.

  1. My niche for story telling came from my overseas experiences. I was in the UAE back in the early 2000s, working in one of the largest gas plants in the world. When the Arabs brought in the surface-to-air missiles, I thought it was time to leave. I was okay with the 50 caliber guns at the gate, but not the other stuff.
  2. My approach to branding comes from the safety profession and building and implementing management systems. I’m great at developing and measuring safety culture—which boils down to opinions. What I chase the most in my day job with our employees and clients is to shape their opinions. It’s an important part of business, which equates to building confidence.

If I do my job right, company culture is positive. Do it wrong, you have a negative impact or feeling.

Same thing goes here too, that I’m shaping my followers to feel good about connecting with me. My hope is my actions will lead to a positive opinion about who I am and what I do.

Debbie: You talk quite a bit about “brand.” Can you sum up in a sentence or two what your brand is?

Ben: For me, branding is two-fold.

I base my actions on four words which are sincerity, success, tolerance, and tact. (Posted on my Ted Lasso wall), my daily focus.

Brand statements to me are secondary, but I have one. “Ben Lucas is an author, rooted in thriller storytelling, who is inspired by the high and lows of the world oil industry.” For me, my brand statement will develop as my work matures.

Debbie: Do you ever attract “creepy” followers? If so, how do you handle them?

Ben: YES! This kind of stuff happens a lot to me because I tend to follow everyone back. But, don’t be afraid to follow other people. Be open to other like-minded individuals. If you follow others who are like-minded, you will build more followers. Connections can build even more followers and potential readers of your materials.

Overall, here are your best defenses:

Don’t follow people back if they appear to be scammers. I think there are some great articles on TKZ that go into a lot of details of what to look for.

Don’t answer back any direct or personal mail on social media, (like Twitter), unless you know the person. Social media is meant to be ‘social’ and you should communicate in group discussions or comments on posts. Once those conversations happen in private, things can get awkward fast.

Do not give out your personal details online.

You are in control—therefore, take control of the situation and block those people making things awkward. If it feels odd, be safe, block them, and make a report.

Debbie: Do you have a short synopsis of your upcoming book?

Ben: It’s called The Smoke Eater

(JSB Inspired Tagline)

Survival In a New Age of Extremism

When terrorist radicals are thrown into the mix, Reid’s new job turns deadly.

Desiring a fresh start, broken firefighter Reid Harris goes to Azurbar to work at the massive BuHasa facility. His new employer doesn’t care that he can’t pass the physical.

On his first day, Reid witnesses a stunning incident that determines his new norm. Martial law drives surging terrorism. He expected hard times, but now worries he can’t meet work demands. On top of Reid’s fear of dying on the job, a Azurbaree national with a vicious obsession further threatens his survival.

This is my working cover, which I made on

BTW – Recent posts on TKZ made me rethink my publishing strategy. My gut is telling me to buckle down and find an agent. I was inspired when I saw John Gilstrap’s video of his agent and editor being in sync with each other. He’s very fortunate to have people like that on his side. Going to start that process and see where it might take me.


Thank you, Ben, for sharing your well-thought-out strategy. You are setting yourself up for a successful launch. Let us know when that happens.


Social media sidebar bonus courtesy of Authors Guild member Joanna Malaczynski:

Social Media Market Share (Source: StatCounter)
#1 Facebook – Approximately 70% of the market
#2 Pinterest and Twitter – Approximately 10% of the market each
#3 YouTube and Instagram – Less than 5% of the market each (BUT SEE BELOW about the significance of YouTube)
#4 Tumblr and Reddit – Approximately 1% of the market each

Most Popular Search Engines (Source: Search Engine Journal and Visual Capitalist)
#1 Google – about 60.5 billion monthly visits
#2 YouTube – about 25 billion monthly visits
#3 Amazon – about 2.4 billion monthly visits (but used more as a search engine than Facebook)
#4 Facebook – about 20 billion monthly visits


TKZers: Feel free to share your social media handles in the comment section. Someone might want to follow you and you might find someone you want to follow.


Debbie Burke’s new resolution: tweet more about her series Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. Please check them out at this link.


It’s with decidedly mixed feelings that I write this final blog post for TKZ. It’s certainly been a good run and, having been here from the start, I am sad to be leaving…but the time has come and I am thrilled to be passing the blog baton on to a regular TKZ contributor, Kay DiBianca (Welcome Kay!).

Not being one for long goodbyes, I thought I’d end with a brief distillation of some of the advice I’ve given over the years to all those looking to establish a writing career (something definitely not for the faint of heart!). While there is no one path to publication or success, I have always strived to be supportive and encouraging of all those committed to their craft, and I continue to believe that there are huge opportunities despite (and more often because of) ongoing changes within the publishing industry. Publication can be a daunting ambition but communities such as TKZ are great places to both learn and share advice. So here are final words of wisdom (such as they are!):

Know Thyself: It’s taken me many years to accept the kind of writer I am but now I understand my motivation, process, and limitations. I know for instance that I’m motivated by traditional publishing, that I’m incapable of writing to word count deadlines, and that I am and probably always will be a historical fiction writer.  I also know that I’m unlikely to ever write erotica or horror:)

Be Brave: As my recent blog post regarding my art illustrated, much in the way of success relies on being brave. Putting your work out there, risking rejection and failure, is critical and yet almost all the writers I know have periods of insecurity and angst. I’ve learned that (at least for me) the key is to take a deep breath, do my very best creative work, and then let it out into the world…which (again for me) is a very brave thing to do:)

Be Kind: The writing community is generally extremely supportive so try to be a part of someone else’s success rather than relishing their failure. I have benefited from the kindness of many fellow writers, readers, agents, and editors…and truly hope to be able to do the same for others. Unfortunately, there are so many toxic and divisive threads and platforms online that writers can get caught up in – all of which detract from the creative process – so it’s best to ignore these as best you can. Sadly no community is immune from this at the moment, so although I say be kind, I do not mean be passive…just try to walk away from the worst of it!

These three pieces of advice seem pretty measly, but I hope that my blog posts over the last years have helped at least some of you in TKZ community find your own creative path and success. Wishing you all even more success in the future. Happy writing!


How Far is Too Far With a Pseudonym?

by James Scott Bell

A controversy over an award-winning female thriller author has broken out in Europe. That’s because the female thriller author doesn’t exist. “She” is really three men who have been writing under the pseudonym Carmen Mola. When one of their novels won a million-euro prize, the trio stepped out from anonymity to claim it.

The men, all in their 40s and 50s, denied choosing a female pseudonym to help sell the books. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, we hid behind a name,” Antonio Mercero told Spanish newspaper El País. “I don’t know if a female pseudonym would sell more than a male one, I don’t have the faintest idea, but I doubt it.”

But this ruse required a web of (shall we be gracious here?) fabrications to create the illusion of a real-life writer whose backstory itself was a marketing tool. They made Mola a “university professor and mother of three, who taught algebra classes in the morning then wrote ultra-violent, macabre novels in scraps of free time in the afternoon.” They even commissioned a noirish photo of a woman, facing away from the camera. It appeared on their agency’s website but has now been scrubbed. The three dudes are there instead, and appear quite happy.

Not everyone is fine with this.

Beatriz Gimeno, a feminist, writer, activist – and former head of one of Spain’s national equality bodies, the Women’s Institute – attacked the men for creating a female persona in their publicity for Carmen Mola books, over several years.

“Quite apart from using a female pseudonym, these guys have spent years doing interviews. It’s not just the name – it’s the fake profile that they’ve used to take in readers and journalists. They are scammers,” she said on Twitter.

Several questions arise. Is writing under a pseudonym always some form of “scam”? Or is it the sex change and fictional biographical details that are the sticking point?

In the “old days” a pseudonym was often used so a writer with a name could branch out into other genres. Agatha Christie was, of course, the most popular mystery writer of all time. Her name on a book meant clues and suspects and sleuths. So when she wanted to do romances she adopted the name Mary Westmacott to keep readers from confusion or frustration. She wrote six Westmacott books and managed to keep her true identity unknown for twenty years.

Evan Hunter (whose real name was Salvatore Albert Lombino!) always considered himself a “literary writer.” To earn extra dough he wrote police procedurals under an alias so the critics would not look at his “serious” work with a jaundiced eye. But as Ed McBain he produced a remarkable run of noir that made him a multi-millionaire. The truth came out eventually, though Evan was probably always a little jealous of Ed.

Some writers wanted to have more books published per year than a single contract would allow. Dean Koontz at one time was writing under nine or ten pseudonyms, including a female guise.

Then there is Stephen King, alias Richard Bachman. When he published under that pseudonym he included an elaborate backstory for Bachman:

Although King initially created Richard Bachman to experiment with literary ideas under the veil of secrecy, the author elaborated on his alter ego’s character to create a more comprehensive author bio. Apparently, Bachman wrote his novels by night, working on his dairy farm in New Hampshire during the day. He lived with his wife Claudia, mourned his son who had died at a young age in an accident, and underwent surgery for a brain tumor that isolated him from interviewers. King also included a picture of his agent’s insurance broker on the inside folds of the books.

Well, a bookstore clerk in D.C. did some digging when he found Bachman’s writing a whole lot like King’s. King was outed, and it ticked him off. He’d been planning to publish Misery as a Bachman. Now that he was “caught” he told the world that Bachman had died of “cancer of the pseudonym.” He went further, stating that Bachman’s widow had “discovered” unpublished manuscripts in Bachman’s attic: The Regulators (1996) and Blaze (2007)!

But what about men writing as women, or women as men? J. K. Rowling wanted to write crime fiction and wanted those books to stand on their own. So she chose a male pseudo, Robert Galbraith. And made up a backstory, that asserted Galbraith was “a former plainclothes Royal Military Police investigator who had left in 2003 to work in the civilian security industry.”

The first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, received generally positive reviews. But soon the secret got out—and sales of the book jumped 4,000%!

If you go to the Robert Galbraith author page on Amazon you’ll see a photo of J.K. Rowling, and this explanation:

J.K. Rowling’s original intention for writing as Robert Galbraith was for the books to be judged on their own merit, and to establish Galbraith as a well-regarded name in crime in its own right.

Now Robert Galbraith’s true identity is widely known, J.K. Rowling continues to write the crime series under the Galbraith pseudonym to keep the distinction from her other writing and so people will know what to expect from a Cormoran Strike novel.

So…is making up a backstory for a pseudonym out of bounds? Or is it just another aspect of marketing? Does it matter if the author is using a persona of the opposite sex? Do readers care if the ruse is discovered? Didn’t seem to hurt King, Rowling, or the Spanish guys.

What do you think, TKZers?

Market Your Novel with Character Interviews

By Deb Gorman

Today, we are honored to have Deb Gorman, one of our faithful TKZ community, presenting a post on a technique she has discovered for marketing. Pleas join me in welcoming Deb. And thanks, Deb, for agreeing to share your idea.

Steve Hooley


Steve Hooley, you could’ve knocked me over with the proverbial avian integumentary appendage when I received your invitation to guest blog on TKZ. I was nervous about accepting because most of the time I feel I have a lot to learn from all of you, with nothing to offer in return.

But, of course, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I know every author starts out unpublished and that includes those who roam these hallowed halls, so I decided to take the plunge.

I get up every morning thinking, okay, today I’m going to create a page or a chapter or a section that will blow my readers away. And then I remember I have very few readers—and BTW, all are precious to me—so the blowing away won’t be a hurricane. Maybe a soft breeze.

As I write this post, my first two novels are with an agent. Scary. Very scary. She has read one and sent some work for me to do on it. I actually sent it back to her this morning. No contract, though . . . yet. (Note my confidence.) The other novel will be read in the next few weeks and she’ll get back to me. I have to remember that she asked to read them in their entirety . . . so I count that a minor miracle.

Whew! Got that out of the way. Now, to the subject of today’s post—a marketing method I’ve discovered. The newbie talking about the most difficult part of authoring? Hope I get this right.

As you might guess, I’m no marketing expert. (A nod to you TKZers who are, and I study every post you put out about it.) But, having said that, I have discovered a fabulously fun way of marketing a forthcoming novel. I may have mentioned it a time or two in TKZ comments.

It’s called Character Interviews.

Now, there’s nothing new about interviewing your characters. (Nod to JSB) Some of us have discovered secrets hoarded by our characters when we invite them to a private sit-down during the draft process.

But I took it a step further, deciding it might be a fun way to market the story before . . . well . . . the story. Full disclosure: this idea is not my own. I was trolling SM one day and someone (sorry, can’t recall who) mentioned it in passing. I jumped on it.

The idea is to wait until you have a draft of the entire story. Then go through it and search for your characters’ quirks, weird stuff they say and do, fears and failures. Pick your first character to put on the hot seat and sit him/her down and start the grilling. Just for yourself. I am amazed at how much I discover about what makes my rascally friends tick.

Then, I craft it into interview form. At this point, I pick and choose what to reveal to my blog post readers. I don’t want to give away the farm, just a chicken or two, to up their curiosity.

Here’s an excerpt from my latest character interview with the irascible Jake Gruber, from my WIP, No Tomorrows.

Deb: Jake, are you there? Were you able to retrieve your newspaper from the street?

Jake: Yeah, I’m here. Dang newspaper guy . . . hardly ever gets it to my porch these days. Things just ain’t like they used to be.

Deb: That must be aggravating. Have you complained?

Jake: Don’t do no good–but I’m sure your readers don’t want to hear about my newspaper problems. What do they want to hear? Can’t believe there’d be anything interesting enough about me–

Deb: I understand you’ve been neighbors of the Lees for quite a while. You must know them quite well after, what, twenty years or more?

Jake: Don’t hardly know ’em a ‘tall, Deb. We hardly speak. But that’s just fine with me. ‘Bout the only thing they ever say to me is “good morning”. And about the only thing I say to them, well, actually to that strappin’ young man, Roger, is “take care of your danged dandelions over there!”

Deb: Yeah, I think I heard something like that from Annie when I talked to her. But, let’s get to the rest of my questions, okay? Do you have a family? Annie wasn’t so sure you’d–

Jake: No.

Deb: No? There’s no one?

Jake: No.

Deb: But, I kinda heard through the character grapevine that you had–?

Jake: Move on. And what in blue blazes is a character grapevine? You authors are weird, almost certifiable I’ve heard. But that don’t mean I have to spill everything to people I don’t know . . . heck, people I can’t even see . . .

Deb: Okay, okay, Jake. So, I heard you were in Vietnam during the conflict. Would you be willing to tell us just a bit about that?

Jake: Sure I’ll tell you a bit. It wasn’t a conflict. It was war. Conflict’s just a word the government uses to deny responsibility for its boys and girls on the front lines. And you can quote me on that.

As I mentioned, I discover tidbits about my characters during this process. In Jake’s case, I knew he’d been to Vietnam, but I wasn’t aware of how he felt about the word conflict. Tiny detail, yes, but it plays out in the story when he has a conversation with the main character, Annie Lee. And did you notice how I discovered how he feels about authors? Before the interview, I had no idea.

During this interview, Jake goes on to become even more cranky and close-mouthed, especially after I try to get him to talk about . . . well, I won’t give away any more chickens today. The interview ended with him hanging up on me and my readers.

You can read two of my character interviews here and here. The first link is Jake’s interview in full; the second is one from my other forthcoming novel, The Master’s Inn.

Some of my friends and readers have commented, after reading an interview, “I can’t wait for your novel to be released!” Music to my ears, as you can imagine.

I’m discovering there are some quite creative ways out there to market ourselves and our stories. The trick is to find what works for you, and hone it as you would any other craft hack.

Okay, over to you, TKZers.

Do you interview your characters during the drafting process?

Can you think of ways to improve on this idea?

What other places besides my blog could I use this?

Thanks again, Steve, for asking me to guest post, and I hope my tiny offering sparks some creative marketing ideas for y’all.

I will be in and out today due to some unexpected family responsibilities and the funeral of a good friend. I will answer all comments as soon as I can. Thanks for your patience.


Deb Gorman, owner of Debo Publishing, lives where she was born and raised, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband, Alan, and their very smart German Shepherd, Hoka. They have seven children, 24 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Deb enjoys writing stories of reconciliation and redemption in families who are hurting, interwoven with threads of suspense. And that describes most, if not all, human families.

You can connect with Deb here.


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