Nathan Is Running Again!

By John Gilstrap

Happy New Year, everyone!  Yeah, I know the year is two weeks old, but this is my first post of 2020.

If you’re familiar with the Grave books, that black Lab you see in the picture is the real JoeDog.

This picture of tossing money in the air was the single greatest mistake in the run-out of the book. It alienated most of our neighbors and all of our families.

It’s been a quarter of a century since HarperCollins published my first novel, Nathan’s Run.  (Why does “quarter of a century” sound so much longer than “twenty-five years”?)  The sale made big news in 1995 and upon its initial release, Nathan earned starred reviews in the Big Three of pre-pub review outlets, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal.  People, Entertainment Weekly, Redbook and Washingtonian magazines all ran features on me and the novel.  Even Liz Smith and Larry King talked about it.  A year before it was published, Warner Brothers snatched up the movie rights in a seven-studio bidding war, and foreign rights were sold in 23 countries around the world.  The American Library Association subsequently name Nathan’s Run as the winner of the Alex Award as the best adult-market fiction for young adult readers.

I still hear from people who read the feature story that Writer’s Digest wrote about my rookie year windfall.  It was a hell of a way to launch a new career!  Hand to God: At the time, I had no idea how unusual my experience was.  After all, there was no user-friendly internet yet, at least not in my house, and the only other author I knew at the time was Stephen Hunter, who had just come out with his runaway bestseller, Point of Impact

Nathan’s Run did what it did, and more books followed, but ultimately, the novel went out of print, and in 2007, give or take, all rights reverted to me.  By then, I had just launched my nonfiction book, Six Minutes to Freedom through Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington, but my Jonathan Grave series hadn’t yet made it to the page.  I essentially was between publishers and between deals, and really didn’t have a place to put a re-release of Nathan.  So, I sat on the rights for a while.  Well, most of the rights.  Over at Recorded Books, George Guidall’s narration of the unabridged Nathan’s Run, had done well for them, so I inked an independent deal to re-up the audio rights with them.  For about four or five years, then, Nathan remained in “print” only as an audio book.

In 2012, having established a nice track record with Kensington through the Grave series, I floated the idea with my agent that we re-sell Nathan to Kensington.  They jumped right on it–along with At All Costs, my second novel (1998) and the first to introduce Irene Rivers, then an FBI agent, and in the Grave books the director of the FBI.  They were very clear during the negotiations that they were mainly interested in publishing the new Nathan as an eBook, and I was fine with that.

And now, effective December 31, 2019, Nathan’s Run is once again available as a premium mass market paperback.  Better still, it’s the “director’s cut” of the story.

I think I posted here before about my decision not to rewrite the story to reflect my storytelling choices of today.  I like the idea of it reflecting my voice and world view at the time I wrote it.  The only changes I made from one version to the next is to clean up the language.  Nathan Bailey, the protagonist of the story is 12 years old and he’s on the run from people who want to kill him.  In the original, when I was in the POV of the bad guys, the narrative language was pretty harsh.  That, combined with the Alex Award, which brought the book into middle school libraries, ultimately led to it being named as one of 100 most banned books in America.

I received a ton of letters and emails from readers who were disappointed that the language prevented them from sharing the story with their kids or their parents of their minister.  So, when I had the opportunity, I cleaned the story of F-bombs and other high-end profanity.  Truth be told, I haven’t dropped an F-bomb in my fiction in over ten years, and no one has ever complained.

The other most frequent topic for complaints from otherwise satisfied readers was the ending, which they felt was too abrupt.  Yeah, me too.  Whereas my original ending–the one I submitted when the publishers bought the book–ended in short coda that tied up loose ends, my editor and agent at the time felt strongly that a degree of ambiguity in the end made the story better.   I never agreed, but it was my first book, and I was dizzy from the whole experience, so I said okay.  I’ve regretted it for 25 years.

So, now, Nathan’s Run ends the way I originally wanted it to, and I think it has legs for young adult readers as well as fans of my thrillers.  There’s also an author’s note at the end that explains a lot of the behind the scenes stuff.  For example, I explain how Nathan Bailey got his name.

Now, in an awkward segue, since this post is all about shameless self-promotion, I’m happy to announce that my YouTube channel, A Writer’s View of Writing and Publishing in closing in on 1,900 subscribers and over 75,000 views.  The channel features short videos (most are 6-8 minutes long) that talk about how the publishing industry works, and provides tips for writers to navigate the waters.  If you get a chance, please pop over and give it a look–and subscribe if you like what you see.

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Mystery Publishing News – Recent Shakeups

Adrian Midgley captures “Pekoe” defying gravity to catch that $&#% dot.

 

An author in search of a publisher often feels like a cat trying to catch a laser pointer. The target moves up the wall, down the stairs, sideways, backwards, and spins you around in circles. Even when you’re lucky enough to catch one (either a laser dot or a publisher), it can vanish without warning.

What’s a cat—or an author—supposed to do to keep up to speed?

In a constantly changing market, below are several recent developments affecting mystery presses:

Midnight Ink – The October, 2018 announcement that Midnight Ink would shut down came as a big shock to authors and employees alike. The respected crime fiction imprint was established in 2005. According to a Publisher’s Weekly article in November, 2018, the Minnesota-based publisher Llewellyn withdrew from the fiction market to concentrate on nonfiction, leaving MI out in the cold.

Spokesperson Kat Sanborn said:

“We had good reviews, but the sales just weren’t there for [Midnight Ink],” Sanborn said, noting that the 250 backlist titles will remain in print, and that frontlist will be marketed and promoted as usual. “We’re just not accepting new manuscripts,” she said.

Twenty titles that were already in progress will be rolled out during spring/summer 2019.

Three MI editors were laid off, including Terri Bischoff, who didn’t stay unemployed for long, landing on her feet with a new gig at Crooked Lane Books. She is now Senior Editor at CLB, a crime fiction publisher founded in 2014.

Several orphaned MI authors have found new homes at Crooked Lane, Severn River Publishing, and Seventh Street Books.

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Seventh Street Books – SSB is undergoing changes as well with a new owner. Formerly owned by Prometheus Books, in November, 2018 SSB was bought by Start Publishing. Dan Mayer remains as Editorial Director.

Publisher’s Weekly reported:

“Prometheus Books sold its two genre imprints to Start Publishing. Publisher Jonathan Kurtz explained the sale by saying he wanted to return the publisher to its nonfiction roots. Prometheus expanded into fiction in 2005 with the launch of Pyr, which focuses on science fiction and fantasy novels. In 2011, it added the crime fiction imprint Seventh Street Books. Pyr has a backlist of 170 titles, and Seventh Street’s backlist stands at about 90.”

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Poisoned Pen PressIn December, 2018, Publisher’s Weekly announced the acquisition of PP by Sourcebooks:

“Sourcebooks has announced that it has acquired most of the assets of Poisoned Pen Press and that the award-winning crime and mystery publisher will become Sourcebooks’ mystery imprint.”

The staff, including PP’s founder Robert Rosenwald and Editor-in-Chief Barbara Peters, will reportedly stay on and become Sourcebook employees. The offices remain in Scottsdale, AZ.

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Kindle Press – The Amazon imprint stopped accepting new submissions in spring of 2018, leaving me and a hundred or so other authors orphaned.

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I’ve been looking for a new house since then and have received offers from several well-known publishers like Fly-By-Night Press and No-Advances-R-Us, LLC.

Which raises the question: how does an author find a reputable house that’s likely to be in business for longer than it takes the ink to dry on the contract?

The answer is research. Vetting publishers sounds daunting but here are three shortcuts:

#1  Mystery Writers of America – MWA regularly updates their list of approved publishers. To be included on that list, a press must adhere to “professional standards of good business practice and fair treatment of authors.”

Here’s a partial list of qualifications:

  • Must be in business for at least two years;
  • Must have paid a minimum of $1000 within the past two years to at least five authors who are not owners of the company;
  • Must have published at least two works of crime-related fiction or nonfiction in the past two years;
  • Must meet other standards outlined in MWA’s Approved Publishers Guidelines.

#2  Writer Beware – a great watchdog website that alerts writers to scams, cons, questionable business practices, and outright fraud. Although affiliated with Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), their investigations and warnings cover all genres. Writer Beware is the first place I research a publisher.

#3  Ask other authors – Gone are the days when an author stayed with the same house for his/her entire career. In the past couple of years, Big Five houses decided to focus on blockbusters, pretty much to the exclusion of mid-list authors. As a result, many popular authors were dropped even though they had successful series.

Fellow writers/orphans are often willing to share their war stories about publishers.

Some authors have gone on to work with smaller presses. I know a few who now have contracts with several different houses at the same time.

Others decided to indie-publish or go hybrid.

The Authors Guild features a Back-in-Print program for previously published books where the author has gotten the rights back. For a fee, AG will assist in converting to new formatting for re-release as ebooks and/or print on demand (POD) hard copies. They also help with distribution.

When a publisher makes you an offer, the legal department of the Authors Guild will review and analyze the publishing contract. That single service makes their $125 membership fee worthwhile. Fly-By-Night and No-Advances-R-Us offered me contracts which I sent to AG’s attorneys. They helped me make the informed decision to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go chase that little red dot that just flickered across the ceiling . . . . . . . .

 

TKZers, do you have a favorite news source that keeps you up to date on the publishing industry?

 

 

Even though Debbie Burke is an orphan, her thriller Instrument of the Devil is still available here.

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Book Expo America 2018

MONTANA AUTHOR TAKES A SMALL BITE OUT OF THE BIG APPLE

The population of my Montana home town is around 25,000—about the same number of people I encountered during six days at Book Expo America (BEA) and BookCon in New York City.

BEA is the biggest annual convention of book publishers, booksellers, distributors, librarians, and authors in North America. With 840,000 square feet of exhibit space at the Javits Center and nearly 500 exhibitors, the show is so big that Publishers Weekly covers it with daily tabloid reports of 70-100 pages each.

The event is open to industry professionals, not the public. I was fortunate to be invited to check out the inner workings of the business. What a learning experience it was!

Big names draw big crowds. Celebrities launching new books stayed busy autographing advance reading copies (ARCs). Some wait lines rivaled Splash Mountain at Disney World. This year’s stars included a couple of guys named Patterson and Clinton who co-wrote a thriller, along with Nicholas Sparks, Sally Field, Barbara Kingsolver, Trevor Noah, and more.

Debbie Burke and Hank Phillippi Ryan

 

I was delighted to meet the charming Hank Phillippi Ryan at the signing of her new book Trust Me. A few weeks before, I’d watched Hank teach a great online class sponsored by International Thriller Writers (TKZ’s own James Scott Bell also taught a segment of the webinar).

One Librarian’s Bounty

 

 

Librarians from all over the country flock to BEA to pick up bagfuls of free ARCs to help them decide what to order for the coming year. Their biggest expense must be the charge for overweight checked baggage!

Important lesson to authors: librarians are your best friends. If librarians get behind your book, their efficient network can put millions of eyes on your work. See, not all librarians are there to ruin your mood! I guess we all had that one librarian who thought they owned the place, but thinking about it now, knowing that they have way more to do than just sitting behind a desk, maybe it’s time to cut them some slack. You may want to do some research into schools like USC Marshall to get a better understanding of what the essential roles are these days of a librarian.

 

 

Not surprisingly, Amazon isn’t exactly the most popular kid on the BEA playground. The headline of one daily report read: “Amazon’s Actions Remain a Problem,” a quote by the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. The article talked about the impact of “lost jobs, stores, and uncollected taxes” due to the online giant.

The Big Five (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster) had large showy booths on main aisles. In contrast, Amazon’s booth was in a distant corner, far from the entrance.

Since Amazon’s Kindle Press had published my thriller Instrument of the Devil, I trekked all the way to the rear of the exhibit hall to visit them. But when I got there…..

Black curtains surrounded all four sides of the booth. Through the gauzy fabric, I could see people moving inside. But there was no entrance.

Hmmm.

Upon further investigation, I was told Amazon specifically requests a private booth for book publicists to meet with major media to pitch upcoming titles.

Oh.

In addition to the Big Five, scores of indie publishers had booths, representing niche markets for religious, ethnic, political and social issues, health and fitness, food and cooking, short fiction collections. No matter what off-the-wall subject you imagine, chances are someone has published a book about it that shows up at BEA.

Children’s and YA book publishers were out in force, introducing thousands of new products: print books, graphic novels, puzzles, interactive 3D devices, plus tie-in merchandising like costumes, cuddly stuffed characters, sports equipment, etc. There were even quaint retro items like pens and stationary. Could writing actual letters be making a comeback?

Waiting for autographs from their favorite authors

 

BEA runs from Wednesday through Friday for industry pros. BookCon follows on the weekend and is open to the public. Thousands of readers crowded the Javits Center on Saturday and Sunday. They pored over new releases, waited in line for autographs from favorite authors…

BookCon 2018

 

…and posed for photos dressed up as popular book characters.

Older folks (like myself) often complain about young people zombie-walking through life with bent necks, mesmerized by their smartphones. Yet at BookCon, I didn’t notice a single example of that disconnection. Kids engaged with each other and were excited about new adventures in reading. Witnessing that gave me hope.

 

 

Audio book sales continue to grow by double digits, 30+% increase in the last year alone.

A major BEA sponsor for 2018 was Blackstone Publishing. In 1987, the family-owned independent audio publisher started producing cassettes in a garage in Ashland, Oregon. They tapped into the town’s renowned Shakespeare Festival for narrating talent.

Three decades later, Blackstone has expanded into a full-service publisher of print and e-books in addition to audio, employing more than 200 people. Still headquartered in Ashland, they’ve increased their presence in NYC with acquisitions editors, audio narrators, and a sound studio that’s second to none.

Blackstone also showed me firsthand what a debut author’s dream launch should look like.

Excited debut author Susan Purvis with the banner of her new book

Last April, I wrote about cadaver dogs and mentioned Susan Purvis’s upcoming memoir, Go Find, which Blackstone is publishing. At BEA, they rolled out the red carpet for Susan, including a 10-foot-tall banner at the entrance of the Javits Center.

At their booth, lighted signs showcased new releases. Book covers were displayed on video screens. During signings, representatives guided people through the waiting line, graciously giving out swag including postcards, book bags, and ARCs.

This contrasted sharply with some author signings sponsored by bigger houses where I wondered if cattle prods might be in use!

 

Blackstone’s good treatment of authors has resulted in them picking up bestsellers like Orson Scott Card, cozy queen M.C. Beaton, and mother-daughter fantasy writers P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.

Despite BEA’s gargantuan scope, it offered opportunities to make personal contacts.

A couple of hours into the first morning, I sank down at a vacant table, already exhausted, eyes glazing over. A woman with a similar dazed expression sat across from me and we commiserated about feeling overwhelmed. Her name was Bee Kapitan, a designer from Vancouver. She had just received an Independent Publisher Award for her interactive e-book How To Say Cheese. I showed her the proposed cover for my new book, Stalking Midas, and she graciously made suggestions. She introduced me to the burgeoning world of interactive book design. We’ll be keeping in touch.

I’m learning from Umair Kazi (l) and Francesco Grisanzio (r)

Another valuable connection occurred with the Authors Guild. I knew of their excellent advocacy for writers but hadn’t gotten around to joining. At their booth, I talked with staff attorney Umair Kazi and digital services coordinator Francesco Grisanzio about rights reversion. Their guidance helped me make a career decision I’d been putting off. Needless to say, after their assistance, I signed up to become a member.

Another service they offer to authors is contract review. Before you sign a publishing contract, AG attorneys will review it and clarify the Byzantine maze of legalese. That alone is worth the $125 annual dues.

Authors Guild has also forged a communication channel into Amazon to register author complaints. Hopefully AG’s advocacy will temper Amazon’s review policies that, to authors, often appear capricious and arbitrary.

BEA gave me amazing insight into the publishing business. If I included all the adventures and interesting people I met in the Big Apple, this post would run into next week!

I’ll stop now and turn it over to TKZers for questions and comments.

A final post script: on the trip home I was privileged to meet a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. That story is too long to add here but it can be found on my blog.

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Radish Fiction – A New Income Source for Writers? Plus, Changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I heard some disappointing news from Amazon Kindle Worlds (KW) yesterday. They are changing the program and not offering a bonus to help defray production cost. The money wasn’t much. It was $500 and went down to $250, but that money took care of the cover design and formatting. It wasn’t considered an “advance.’

Amazon is keep the program the same (including promised bonuses) for any approved launches already set up for the rest of 2018. They are working with the host authors on who is signed up as a writer, etc.

The host authors who have kindle worlds are continuing with their host duties, but in 2019, Amazon will not be involved in scheduling the releases (the host authors would do that). Nothing much will change for the host authors. They will have the same revenue sharing and agreements in place. It’s too soon to tell whether the lack of bonus money will lessen the enthusiasm for authors to sign up. Initial discussions are mixed, but I would imagine Amazon’s gamble will pay off, that many authors will still see a benefit in a group launch and the host authors organizing things. They will probably like getting their work exposed to a larger reader base shared by the other authors and the host writer.

Amazon never did much promo for the launches, but the fact that they have and maintain the platform is a benefit that would be hard to replicate. Amazon is banking on authors not caring if they get the bonus and hope they get to retain the same enthusiasm for writing stories but pay nothing for the copyright retention.

But Amazon KW does nothing with those copyrights. The fact that KW doesn’t take advantage of subrights like audio, film, or foreign rights makes me have second thoughts about continuing with them. For many of the worlds, authors retain rights to their original characters (but not all worlds do this, so read the fine print). If the author has a unique setting that hasn’t already been established in another series from that author (before it’s crossed over with the host author’s world), then Amazon could get copyrights to that setting. Another drawback at present is that Amazon Kindle World does not have a worldwide distribution. It’s something they want to achieve, but KW is only a division of Amazon and does not share the same distribution channels.

RADISH FICTION

But after reading about the changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds, authors were talking about another new start up company that has found a niche in serialized fiction. Have you heard of RadishFiction.com ? Radish is a new app for serialized fiction, geared for the mobile generation to bring novels to smart phones. It’s open to a global market (really big in eastern Asia (Korea and China) where the enthusiasm started) and Radish can be used as a different source of income or to create buzz for an upcoming book that hasn’t gotten published yet.

Could this replace Netgalley? The expense to place an ARC on Netgalley is pricey, even if an author joins a group or service to help defray the cost. Radish wouldn’t specifically earn an author early reviews, but the writer would score money for fiction sold. Netgalley doesn’t do that.

Plus there apparently isn’t any copyrights sold. Although I haven’t seen a confirmation of this, I believe the author retains copyright and is only making their content available for sale.

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to write about Radish – Click HERE

Radish is recruiting authors who have written for Canada’s WattPad and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or other similar type opportunities.The idea is to write serialized shorter fiction with cliffhangers to hook a readership. Generally this is 2,000 word chapters of original short genre fiction with cliffhangers that hook the reader to keep reading and keep buying.

So with the changes to Amazon Kindle Worlds, writing that is similar to fanfiction.net, Radish could be a good opportunity to find a different income source with fewer hassles. Authors are paid in “micropayments” with authors receiving a range of $3,000-13,000/month, similar to how game platforms work.

Radish has an impressive list of investors and plans to hire editors, developers, and designers. They have about 700 writers creating serialized fiction for 300,000 readers.

The initial genre that has been big with Radish is YA romance, science fiction and fantasy. It’s geared for a younger audience that is comfortable reading off smartphones, but I would imagine there is room for growth into other genres. Radish is also looking for traditionally published authors who want to bring original content to them.

Authors must submit to write for Radish and there is a review team to screen applicants. HERE is the link to get started and fill out the application. Read the various press releases on their site. You’ll get more insight into what they are doing.

So what Amazon Kindle World takes away, Radish delivers something new that could be very exciting.

Discussion:

1.) What other out of the box outlets have you seen for authors to bring original content?

2.) Are you a smart phone reader? Do you see potential in what Radish is offering?

BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Valentine and the Lotus Circle – $1.99 Ebook Available Now!

Love made him vulnerable…once.

The Phoenix Agency hires a mysterious woman psychic from the ancient and mythical Lotus Circle to break down the mental barriers of Braxton Valentine—a black ops Psi agent with a death wish and a hunger for revenge.

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Embrace Growth – Guest USA Today Bestseller Colleen Coble

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

twilight-cover

I’m delighted to have USA Today bestseller Colleen Coble as my guest on TKZ. Colleen is an award-winning author with over 2 million books in print and she writes heartfelt and suspenseful romantic mysteries. I’m enjoying her latest Twilight at Blueberry Barrens and I’m a big fan. NYT bestseller Brenda Novak has given it high praise and Publishers Weekly gave Colleen a prized starred reviewPlease help me welcome her to TKZ.

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You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on. Writing isn’t static, and it’s thrilling to know a better, bigger book can be yours to create. So how do we embrace the process of change in our books? Here’s what works for me.

1. Determine what drives your writing:
I think we all figure out fairly soon where we belong in the landscape of the writing world, and what type of story grabs us and doesn’t let go. Part of the evolution of my brand of romantic mystery involved embracing who I was as a writer and letting that strengthen each new book. Readers often tell me I’m way too friendly and outgoing to write about murder. I think they believe only brooding, unsmiling people can write about something so dark. They miss what drives me to write what I write—justice. I look around the world and see no justice, but I can make sure justice prevails in my novels.

Why do you write? The biggest, strongest stories involve something very personal to you. Depending on your personality, it can be cathartic or daunting to let your characters deal with an issue that’s been challenging to you, but it’s always worth it. Put down your guard and let the reader in. Writing should never just be your job. That’s a trap that career novelists can fall into, but the next novel should always be because you have something to say not because you have a deadline!

2. Figure out your strengths:
Don’t assume your strengths are as strong as they can get. An expert at pacing? Flex your fingers and keep the reader up all night. Good at integrating setting into the plot? You can immerse the reader even better with the next book. Great at characterization? You can build an even more compelling character in the next book. The status quo is never enough for the next book. Strive for something bigger and more compelling.

3. Pinpoint your weaknesses:
We all have areas where we are weak. My timelines can get fuzzy, and because I’m a seat of the pants writer, the train can get derailed. But even a pantser like me can get better at thinking through key turning points that lead to a stronger book. There are great writing resources out there to help you with your weaknesses.

This blog and others like it are great resources. There are tons of helpful writing books out there to help shore up where you’re weak. Jim Bell is a long time friend, and his book, Write Your Novel From the Middle, literally transformed my writing even though I’d written well over 50 novels by the time I read it. Never stop learning how to write better. Study up on how other authors do it well. When I wanted to write more suspenseful books, I read excellent suspense like my friend, Jordan Dane’s. I literally devour every book by an author I think I can learn from.

4. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
I remember when chick lit was all the rage. My buddy, Kristen Billerbeck, wrote a chapter to show a friend what it looked like. When I read that first chapter, I knew she’d found her real voice in first person/present tense, even though she’d written over 20 novels by that time. Let your voice evolve and strengthen as you gain more confidence in your ability.

I decided to do more points of view in Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and I think it worked to build the suspense. After trying something, you can always go back to the way it was if it didn’t work for you.

Discussion:
How has your writing evolved from book to book?

colleen-2012-black

Best-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana.

http://colleencoble.com
https://www.facebook.com/colleencoblebooks/
https://twitter.com/colleencoble

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