Bogged Down

Two weeks ago, we did a presentation and book signing at Ketchum Community Library in beyootiful Ketchum, Idaho (which is not Sun Valley, Idaho, thank you very much, though it’s where Sun Valley Ski Resort is. Sun Valley is where the Sun Valley Lodge is. Clear?)  Anyway, a mahalo nui loa (big thank you) to Lauren Zondag at the Ketchum Community Library, Lynn Mason-Pattnosh of the Concierge Questionnaire and Cheryl Thomas of Chapter One Bookstore (http://www.chapteronebookstore.com/). We talked about what it’s like to write with two heads (er, authors) and various other writing topics, many of which we’ve covered in previous blogs. One of the questions posed by the audience was whether we planned to write a book set in Ketchum. 

The upside of doing a series is it allows one (or two, in our case) to develop characters over time. And honestly, if you can get readers hooked on your characters, you’ve a better chance of selling more books (the cocaine effect). The downside, of course, is that you may so get bogged down and bored with your own creation, you feel driven to kill him/her off (such as Sherlock Holmes’ death at Reichenbach Falls, though he was literarily resurrected by Arthur Conan Doyle and lives on in a number of non-Conan Doyle-authored books). Or, your setting becomes limiting. In Cabot Cove, Maine,* that picture-perfect community of 3,000 or so that was the setting for “Murder She Wrote,” hundreds were murdered (usually by other locals) during Jessica Fletcher’s time and the duration of the series. Our theory is that Jessica Fletcher spent more time in New York City as the series wore on because there weren’t enough potential victims left alive in Cabot Cove. Or, she was banished as she, Typhoid Mary-like, left a trail of corpses in her wake. (Or is that “wakes in her wake?”) 

A writer friend (Cathy Wiley) chose Baltimore for the setting of her books because it consistently ranks as one of the top five (though “top” seems an exceptionally poor word choice) cities based on its murder rate.  We note Baltimore has a much larger population than Cabot Cove so her series could go on indefinitely: the pool of potential corpses is quite large. 

As an IT consultant, Emma has the opportunity travel to a variety of assignments so she can trip over bodies in different locales. As we’ve blogged previously, book number three takes place in Hawai’i. (Hmm, we’re due for another research trip to Waikīkī. Tough job but someone has to do it.) We’ve considered Washington, DC as another location. We’ve all had murderous thoughts towards various government agencies (who really likes the IRS, for example?). So why not Ketchum? Or Vancouver, BC? Or some other great place for a research trip? 

Emma’s assignments will allow us to introduce new characters, include GD Consultants from previous assignments, and of course, continue developing her relationship with her family, friends, and “potentials” (Keoni and Huw).  It will also allow us…er, her…to enjoy surfing, frou-frou coffee, chocolate and the endless quirkiness of so many fascinating locales. The fact that you can buy makeup, ammunition and dry flies in the same store in Ketchum (what more would any woman want, I ask you?) 

Another question posed by the audience was whether we had considered doing an audio book. The questioner pointed out that some “readers” almost exclusively use audio books, since their only “free” time was during the commute. Our answer: no, we’d never considered it. But, we’ve since looked into it and discovered the minimum cost for a decent production is $5k and a typical sales cost for the DVDs is $20 plus. To save on costs, one of us volunteered to make the sound effects if the other read the book. However, the method of replicating the thwack of a cricket bat against flesh provoked a major disagreement.  Mostly because one of us objected to being the guinea pig…er…target.

So if you’d like our series to be available on tape, encourage your friends, family, co-workers, team members and complete strangers to purchase our books. (Or convince the West Coast member of our team to take a bat to the body for the sake of her art). Otherwise, we’ll wait until we reach best-seller territory to pay professionals to record our book. Until then, you’ll have to content yourselves with the printed and digital versions.  

Thanks to those friends who came to our Ketchum book signing and we look forward to seeing more fans at the next reading (I mean, non “coopted into being a fan because they are family members and we know where the bodies are buried and will tell Mom”).  Our next gig in Old Town Kensington (Howard Avenue) Maryland celebrating the Day of the Book on Sunday, April 22nd. Diane will be there between 11am and 4pm to show, sell and discuss our books. Hope to see you then.

 

*Though “Maine” as filmed in the series was actually Mendocino, California. Who knew?

 

 

 

 

Marketing Quicksand

Writers dream of publishing their first book to widespread acclaim and skyrocketing sales as the world embraces a new blockbuster novel, genuflects at the author’s very name (and attractive single men throw champagne, long stemmed roses and room keys her way. OK, one of us added that, this being Valentine’s Day and all). The reality is that sales are more apt to only reach as far as one’s circle of friends and relatives (in our case, since we are a writing team and related, that’s one less book sale right off the bat, dang it). So unless you can fill the Rose Bowl with your cousins, you probably need to do some marketing. “Marketing” is the fancy business school term for “shameless self-promotion in hopes you can get more moolah from the effort than you actually spent on it.”

We’ve mentioned before that this is not just a self-publishing issue; all authors are expected to invest time and energy in promoting their books. If you have a publisher, they have worker bees who do things like arrange book signings, press interviews, random people to throw rose petals at you when you get out of a limousine, etc. If you self publish, and have to do all the above yourself (Can you throw rose petals at yourself? Does it count if you do?) All that represents time and energy that you could be using to write the next book, or clean up after an incontinent puppy (one of us has reason to know about this subject in alarmingly messy and smelly detail. All in, though, she considers “spot treating carpets four times a day” to be less of a hassle than self-promotion exercises). In other words, authors cannot just be writers. Each author is a small business and he/she must promote that business. Sure, publishing companies help in that process, but the author is a major mover of his/her – or in our case, their – own book.

One of us was given a list of websites where one can market a book. What these websites have in common is a readership looking for eBook deals (preferably free). Authors are provided several ways in which they can ‘sponsor’ their books on the site. ‘Sponsor’ is a fancy way of saying “pay good money so the site owner can say nice things about your book – the one you are giving away for next-to-nothing.”  That is, be listed as eBook of the day, thriller of the week, deal of the day, sucker of the century (OK, I made that last one up), etc. These sponsorship opportunities generally cost from $60 to $300 and come with glowing testimonials from former sponsors. (Sound like a literary Ponzi scheme?) Is it the least suspicious that no more than a handful of glowing testimonials are provided when each of these websites has four hundred or more sponsors each year?  Nawwww.  (One of us wonders if this site is run by the same nice people in Nigeria offering to help her make money on the Internet. She’s pretty sure it’s a similar financial model and has about the same return on investment.)

We’d like to give kudos to the one site that actually provided statistics on book sales before and after sponsorship. But we won’t, because the reward for providing some data is that we’ll analyze their data and rip the site apart. For purposes of this blog, let’s call this website MoneyPit.com. If you think that’s harsh, the ones that don’t provide any data about sales could be called Black Holes.con, and we do mean con. (Though at least black holes really exist. It’s not clear that an uptick in sales from using most of these sites does exist. Especially when you consider that the main site endorsements are from the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.) Seriously, if you want to spend money without really knowing what you’re getting, it’s okay with us. In fact, send us a check and we’ll talk up your book. (We’ll even leave a ringing endorsement in your Christmas stocking or under your pillow.)

On the MoneyPit site, there is a spreadsheet of authors and books sponsored over the past several months, including the price of the book, the type of sponsorship, Amazon sales rank before the promotion and highest rank reached. At first glance, the figures are impressive, as most books recorded incredible jumps in their Amazon sales ranks. Second glances are always more revealing. (Kind of like meeting a real person on DesperateSingles.com after viewing their profile photo –  an airbrushed college graduation picture from 25 years ago – “goods not quite as advertised.”)

Amazon does not provide sales figures correlated to rank. It’s a religious thing. People being what they are, a number of analytical types have made a stab at deducing sales versus rank, so we turn to those figures to determine how many actual book sales authors realized from the promotions. Now, our figures aren’t exact, but the general conclusion is that MoneyPit lives up to its name. If one just wants to sell books, it may be a good place to invest, but very few authors sell enough to recoup their investment.

Fact One: About 1/3rd of the authors spent an average of $170 promoting their free books. In other words, the buyer got it for free, the author lost real money. Doesn’t sound like a sustainable business model to us.

Fact Two: The % increase in Amazon sales rank is almost meaningless. For instance, Book A experienced a 1700% increase in rank (from 230,000 to 12,000). Impressed? Don’t be: they sold 8 books. Book B sales increased a mere 200% (from 9000 to 3000) but sold about 30 books.

Fact Three: Of those that actually charged for their eBook, no more than 20% recouped their investments through increased sales. Not a surprise. If you spend $170 to promote a $1.99 book, you’d have to sell 125 books to recover your costs.

Fact Four: Higher priced books (over $2.99) don’t generally see large bumps in sales, but because of the book price, they are more apt to recover their costs.

Conclusion: Despite the fact we’ve ripped these sites as meaningful investments (nobody advertises: “spend oodles with us and get absolutely nothing for it! But wait, order now, and you can throw even more money down a rat hole faster!”) That said, they could be good for authors who want to get their names out and make sales. However, it will require investing multiple times or multiple sites to make any headway on book sales. And the effect of these promos will be short lived. The readers of these sites are primarily looking for ‘deals’ so they are best perhaps for low (or zero) priced books. And really, after all the work you put into it, do you think your book should be free? You get what you pay for, and you “sell” what it’s priced for.

Will we be sponsoring our book through any of these sites? Perhaps later. For now, we are focused on completing book 2. When that is published, we may take the opportunity to promote both books together. For now, we are still working through our marketing plan. (And continuing to clean up after a very adorable but still slightly incontinent puppy, which, on some occasions, one of us does think about offering for sale on MoneyPit.com.)

Any Way’s The Right Way

When one of us took her first fiction writing class, the instructor wrote on the board of the very first lesson, “any way’s the right way.” His point was that there is no formula for how to write a story or, more broadly, a novel. It’s whatever works.  Another writer, Annie Lamott, wrote a book on writing called Bird by Bird that includes a chapter entitled “Sh-tty First Drafts.” (Her point being, just get stuff on paper, because you are going to rewrite, and rewrite and rewrite before your story is done. It’s OK to write “sh-tty first drafts.”)

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some “helpful hints for self actualization as a novelist” that might include how long a story needs to be to be called a novel (rather than a novelette or short story), the fact that novels usually have one or more subplots, and so forth. But in terms of the actual writing, there are no rules. Or, to quote one of us who as a naval reservist defeated (more correctly, “whupped”) active duty Marines in a field exercise by smuggling in night vision scopes (an action that was, strictly speaking, against the rules of engagement): “Rules? There are no rules. This is war!”

“Any way’s the right way” is an apt description of how we write, especially since we each have different ways of writing. One of us is a plotter and planner, and the other is more a “just start writing” person who writes scenes, then figures out where they go and how they get glued together. Which method works the best? “Yes.”

Take Book 3, which is as yet untitled (though Blue Scream of Death might be a winner). The current construction of Book 3 resembles nothing so much as the Winchester Mystery House (for the uninitiated, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, he of “Winchester rifle” fame, believed that if she stopped building, she would die, which is why her house has rooms with no discernible purpose, halls that lead nowhere, and so forth: they were just stuck there to keep the house going and growing. Eventually, we’d like the Winchester Mystery House of Book 3 to magically morph into something grand like Kedleston (a particularly lovely neoclassic house in Great Britain and a particularly fine example of the work of architect Robert Adam).

As of today:

We know most of the story takes place in Hawai’i.

We know Emma is working on some kind of financial system implementation – and she hates financial system implementations – at a to-be-decided military activity in Hawai’I that has an acronym nobody understands except a few people in the Navy. But the name ends in “PAC” because every Navy activity in the Pacific area ends in PAC. (Like ComNavBaskRobPac, the Baskin Robbins concession at Navy bases in the Pacific. OK, I made that up.) We know that the military has “different” requirements for systems that causes Emma to be more interested in the assignment than would otherwise be the case (e.g., ships deploy, submarines submerge, and you don’t always have wireless or other connectivity when you want it).

We know Emma gets a lot of surfing in and also spends a lot of time in traffic jams on the H1 (doesn’t everybody?)

We know that Hawaiian culture plays a significant part in the story, both “true” Hawaiian culture (Hawaiian language, lua (Hawaiian martial arts), hula, and so on as well as ‘fun stuff about Hawai’I’ – pidgin, tiki drinks, etc. not to mention strange tourist apparel. (And is there ever strange tourist apparel in Hawai’i, starting with the number of people (men included) who really, really should not be wearing a thong. A burkha would be a public service. I’m just sayin.’)

We know Keoni is back on the mainland going to graduate school, and he hates surfing in the cold, sharky waters of northern California (doesn’t everybody?) after the warm, perfect waves of Hawai’i.

We know that Emma’s mom comes to visit and helps her investigate. Oh boy.

Oh, and we know we have a dead body. Or pieces of one, eew (you’ll have to read the book).

As it stands, Book 3 has a lot of sections written where character’s names are XX and YY, we haven’t developed backstory on those characters, and we haven’t quite figured out the timeline (that is, when does chapter 1 take place, chapter 2, and so forth), in short, we have the literary equivalent of Mrs. Winchester’s halls that go nowhere. But we are going through the existing chapters, creating a timeline, fleshing out the plot – including subplots – and making sure that we follow through on character quirks from other books (after all, our characters are getting older, even if slowly). And lastly, while we are not quite to the point of “literary liposuction,” we do practice “flesh out and flush out.” We flesh out dialogues, descriptions, scenes and settings that need “more detail and a sense of place and time.” We “flush out” because, as much as we love turning a clever phrase, no matter how entranced we get with a section – a character, dialogue, a scene, whatever – if it does not work or does not advance the story, it gets flushed. (Sometimes we cut cute sections and stick it in a Word document for possible resurrection in another book, another form, another scene.)

One of us who is particularly gun shy (Winchester shy?) about organization keeps telling herself, “any way is the right way.” And so she – and we – proceed to dream about, and remember, and place ourselves in Hawai’i and in Emma’s shoes, or “slippahs,” brah. And with that, we are off to find inspiration in a Mai Tai.

Who Shot, Stabbed, Beat or Blew Up John?

One of the unexpected delights of getting Outsourcing Murder out and publicized is the email we get from total strangers. (Thus far, and disappointingly for the one of us who is single, not one of the emails has contained an offer to sweep either of us off our feet, except for the unsolicited email from the local chimney sweep, which is not really that exciting unless you like getting ash on your shoes.)

On the one hand, we don’t want to conclude that everybody who has read the book loves it, despite our mother’s pride (and despite her shilling the book at her garden club meeting, to her hairdresser, and to total strangers she happens to meet at the shopping center – thanks, Mom!) On the other hand, those who read the book and hated it don’t appear to have disliked it enough to write to us to complain. So, we will, as Johnny Mercer would say, “ac-centuate the positive” and enjoy the unsolicited and favorable emails.

One of our buddettes just wrote to say she had finished the book and loved it, and that she could hear our voices in the character of Emma. She also remembered that at least one character’s name was drawn from grade school (though I don’t believe either of us actually whacked the kid whose name we swiped with a baseball bat. At least, nobody is admitting it). She was also relieved to find that a character she decided she liked wasn’t the murderer. (He was, we regret to say, a serial double parker, which in San Francisco’s narrow and congested streets should warrant the death penalty.) Our friend also asked about other characters – what was going to happen to them? In other words, where were we going in book 2 and book 3? (Book 2, Denial of Service, just got a significant edit from Diane and clocks in at longer than book 1. We are still shooting to get it out this summer.)

It’s a good time to note that we are not JK Rowling (she of the Harry Potter franchise) who, if it is to believed, plotted out her series in a fair amount of detail before embarking upon it. We’re not that organized, but are using the time honored literary technique known as “making it up as we go along.” But, we hope that people get as attached to some of our characters as both of us are to Ms. Rowling’s (Mary Ann is still in mourning that one of the Weasley twins met his demise in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Now, we aren’t making absolutely everything up as we go along because ours is a series, which generally means the same characters survive from book to book (unless you kill them off, though if you write sci-fi you can bring them back as vampires or zombies or really bad Chinese food). We are, in fact, actively working on continuing various themes and characters throughout the books. For example, we plan on continuing to develop the “critter characters”: Gorgon (Emma’s parents’ dog), Edson (her landlady’s cat) and Chesty Puller (her landlady’s excitable dachshund puppy, introduced in Book 2). There are other themes we want to keep progressing with as well (e.g., Keoni’s musical group gets their CD out, we think, though they are probably not going to be Nā Hoku Hanohano (Hawaiian music award) winners just yet).

We are also thinking about how Emma progresses not only as a young professional but in her love life. Does she make partner (does she care)? Does she end up with Huw, Keoni or a rich old coot who doesn’t have long to live but who kicks the bucket after 3 months or 30 pages and leaves Emma a rich widow? (Sorry, one of us confused her retirement plan with the plot of a future book.) We haven’t decided yet. Mary Ann has her preferences as to who Emma surfs happily ever after with. (Keoni, mostly because the surfing conditions in Hawai’i alone are reasons for Emma to end up with a nice Hawai’i boy. The surf in Northern Cal has been crappy for eons, the main reason Mary Ann is leaning towards Keoni, in a nice display of “not observing boundaries between author and character.”)

But we don’t totally control the plot. Once drawn, the characters dictate their own development. As authors, we provide their voices, but we can’t fundamentally change who they are or where they are going, unless we introduce a life-altering event, like seeing the ghost of Elvis, sprouting a third eye or tripping over a dead body. Oh wait, we did that. Never mind.

As we begin plotting out book three in earnest – it takes place in Hawai’i – we will “ponder all these things.” But we are also going to have a lot of fun on the journey, and Emma, Huw, Keoni and Stacey will, too.

By the way, for those in the vicinity of Ketchum, Idaho on March 6, we will be doing a lecture/reading and a book signing at the Ketchum Community Library (on account of one of us in a spectacular act of self promotion emailed the library director to ask if we could do it, to which she agreed: thank you, Colleen). So, y’all come. The combination of excellent skiing in Sun Valley and a “literary event” is hard to beat.

Happy New Year

Aw, Come On

Happy New Year! We hope all our devoted readers (we’re pretty sure we have at least a couple of them, even excluding each other and our mom) had a nice holiday and are enjoying a wonderful 2012.

One of the more gratifying aspects of the last few weeks has been getting enthusiastic feedback from friends who have bought the book. We appreciate the show of support and of course, we’d appreciate gushing reviews on either Barnes and Noble (www.bn.com) or Amazon (www.amazon.com) or – heck – both even more. (This has been a paid political announcement on behalf of the Mary Ann and Diane Davidson Retirement Fund.)

Both of us have a demented sense of humor – we hope that comes through in our writing – that extends to playing pranks on friends and family. One of our frequent victims has been known to look at Mary Ann and say, “You’re plotting something, aren’t you? NO PLOTTING!” (Would she think of putting a disgusting rubber insect in the sugar bowl to scare said victim? She would, indeed!) That is one kind of plotting we both enjoy, a tendency that some of our characters echo (Emma and her brother Virgil).

Another type of plotting (that, typically, does not involve rubber insects in unsuspecting places, darn it) is the basics of how you put a story together: who does what to whom, when, why and how.  Plotting is often more important, we think, in a mystery than in a regular old novel, otherwise nobody would bother to keep reading a mystery after the first couple of chapters. (Whereas a character in a Henry James novel can blather on for 19 pages about why someone hasn’t come into the room yet, one reason one of us wants to find out where Henry James is buried, then dig him up and then kick the &^%$#*? out of him for being such a bad writer.)

Developing a storyline is only half the work, though. It’s equally important to make the story plausible (unless you are really going for over-the-top humor, like Janet Evanovich, an author whom we both enjoy, whose main character, Stephanie Plum, seems to have a car or two explode in every book in the series. Ms. Evanovich makes that implausibility work, plausibly: not many writers could).

We recently came across a thorny plotting problem we needed to resolve. To start with, in a murder mystery, you usually need more than one suspect, unless you are planning on writing a short story. A really short story, if for no other reason than hardly anybody reads a mystery if it is beyond obvious WhoDunnit. So, a plot challenge becomes peppering your prose with plausible perps (extra points for alliteration). The story unfolds (at least for us) as our heroine figures out who had motive and opportunity to do the deed. She then whittles the list of possible perps down until, around the last 20 pages or so, you find out WhoReallyDunnit. That’s a mystery in a nutshell (albeit one filled with untraceable poison. This means the squirrel did it).

The thorny plotting problem we had involved one of the murder suspects (in our second book, due out this summer) ostensibly doing something bad at a company that “just happened” to be the same company where Emma, our heroine, is working on a consulting assignment. Now, the murder itself has nothing to do with Emma’s work or that company. The coincidence was developed to allow Emma to easily look into the suspect’s background and discover a motive for murder (that is, a motive for that PP (Potential Perp) to have offed that particular HICV (Had It Coming Victim). At the time one or the other or both of us wrote it, it didn’t seem like a problem.

Later, and upon reading the section, both of us decided that particular plot ploy was just too darn convenient to be plausible, not that “convenient” isn’t a lot easier, writing-wise (Is your protagonist being menaced by an evildoer in a dark alley? There’s a cleverly placed tire iron five feet away for her to defend herself with, thank heavens, or “thank the writer.” This when everybody knows tire irons are pretty darn scarce if you look more than five feet away from a car trunk.)

We then had to figure out how we could make the key “possible motive” of a character (being fired from work for an alleged Bad Deed) discoverable by Emma without resorting to an arm of coincidence so long, it reached not only the basket rim, but the upper bleachers.

How did we solve our dilemma?  Just by coincidence (really!) Mary Ann learned this week that a friend is a member of a Silicon Valley “finance professionals” organization. Even in a large metropolitan area, it is sometimes a very small professional world among people who do the same thing and who congregate regularly to a) listen to a boring speaker b) drink cheap wine and snarf soggy hors d’oeuvres c) complain about work…er….share best practices. So, we’ll allow Emma to exploit these professional associations to learn about the suspect’s background.  In other words, Emma has to dig for information, rather than have it drop in her lap in less than one paragraph.

While we were at it, we’ve given the suspect a richer backstory, that includes her writing potboilers on the side. (You know, the kind with heaving breasts on the cover and windswept hair, with bimbo-licious titles like Reckless Rancid Romance). We’re almost gleeful at the wretched potboiler titles and plots we can invent. (Hey, maybe one of us should do some market research – reading a potboiler is loads easier than struggling through a blow-by-blow of the battle of Cannae, as fascinating as the latter topic is. Potboilers also italicize all the good parts that is, the sections involving heavy breathing.  Hehehehe.)

Only time and book sales will tell if we came up with something plausible enough. But we do know from our own reading, if something is too good to be true, it’s probably just lazy writing. More to the point: if we don’t buy it, we can’t and won’t expect our readers to, either. Mostly because we weren’t shooting for the “bimbolicious market sector” where handsome, single pirates with raven hair and emerald eyes, who are really English lords with three castles, just happen upon a shipwreck where our heroine, Cassandra (or pick another overblown name) is the sole survivor, yet still looks ravishing and has a full wardrobe of 17th century clothes we can describe in boring, lacy detail. (And with that, we close, to go find an airplane bag to retch into.)

Technical Difficulties

We are experiencing technical difficulties. Namely, one of us had a computer blow up. Insert bad language here: %$^&#*@. We’re confident that our readers have had similar experiences and know exactly how we’re feeling. The good news: we didn’t lose any book material. The bad news: we did lose the latest version of the blog we were going to post today. So, our faithful readers will have to wait another day or two for us to once again revise the “almost perfect” blog. Ah, the anticipation!

Errata

We’re back! Yes, we took a couple weeks off from blog entries to enjoy the holidays and to celebrate the completion of the publication process of our first book. Sort of. While the book is out in paperback and eBook format, a few changes are still to come. Which means one of us is reading the book for the 58th time in pursuit of missing hyphens and open-but-not-shut quotation marks, the vermin of the print world.

Even though the book was professionally edited, and we both reviewed it numerous times, a few mistakes managed to slip into the 70,000+ words document as it was readied for publishing. Are there such things as publishing gremlins? Anyone who has written, rewritten and re-rewritten a document knows the feeling of discovering an error or typo even after endless proofing. At some point during the editing process, we cease to read what is on the page, and read what we think is there. Most of what we are finding is on the order of garden variety printing pests. However, in one mysterious case, an entire line seemed to have vanished into a book black hole. (Why can’t those eggnog latte-induced fat cells from holiday celebrating vanish into a mysterious black hole, too, enquiring minds and flabby thighs want to know…)

The phenomenon of “not seeing what is there” is one we are all familiar with. Such as the nutcracker you forgot to pack up after Christmas last year that hangs around until it’s a permanent part of the décor. The bag of old clothes in the front hall destined for Goodwill that just sits there for – days, weeks even – until you remember it’s not, technically, furniture and doesn’t belong there. The stuff in your junk drawer (and everybody has one) that never really gets cleaned out and assigned to the right place in your house and in your life. You’ve looked all this stuff so often that you don’t see that it isn’t in the right place. Just like review number 57 of a book. Though we suspect even the thorough review number 58 probably missed something, sigh.

So, what now? Fortunately, eBooks are easy to change: fix the word document, save as html, run it through a program to produce the .mobi and .epub files needed by Kindle and Nook, upload to appropriate site, change version number and you’re done. In fact, some authors have changitis, and are constantly revising their eBooks. You might buy a Kindle version every six months and get a different story each time! We are not planning on doing that; however, the ghost of English teachers past visited us over Christmas and convinced us to live a more grammatical life going forward. Ergo, re-read number 58 and a list – a final list, one hopes – of ISTNF (icky stuff that needs fixing). The print version is another matter. Changing it will require another investment of $, and as the book is still readable, we will leave it as is, for now.

So, it’s a disappointment that the product was not absolutely perfect (despite the fact one of the authors is, like Mary Poppins, “practically perfect in every way”), and we promise we’ll do better on book two. We’ll start by changing editors; because of time constraints, we were unable to use our preferred editor who is a friend of Mary Ann’s in Ketchum. Secondly, we were rushed at the end of the publication process, because we wanted to get the book out before Christmas. There is no such deadline for book two, other than we’d like to publish it ‘sometime’ in the summer. Now, in Ketchum, summer is two weeks long (OK, technically, two months – it’s the dates between the last snowfall from one season and the next snowfall for the other, which has been June 15 and August 15 in recent years). But here in Northern Virginia, a few days of summer can pop up as late as November, so our self-imposed publishing window is quite long. (No, warm November days is not due to “climate change”: it’s all the hot air emanating from Capital Hill. Or the methane from some of the output from Capital Hill. Whatever.)

Thank you to those of you who have or intend to purchase the book. We’ve been pleased by the response from friends who have read it. (Aw c’mon, you can do better than that. I’m thrilled at the response. Like one friend posting a Do Not Enter sign on his office while he read the book, another one reading into the wee hours until forced to get some sleep – it was a workday the next day.) While we developed a high level marketing plan last summer, we’ve not pushed a marketing campaign to sell the books beyond our circle of friends. And, over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing just how much time and effort we want to spend marketing and selling, versus working on the second book. (Don’t forget about the third book, now under construction in Hawai’i. The setting is, anyway.) First-time authors who have decided to produce a series of books encounter the conundrum of dividing their time between writing the second book and marketing the first. When one has contracted with an agent and publishing house, marketing is a higher priority, as both the agent and publisher are invested with the author and deserve the author’s best efforts to sell the book. We have no such pressures as ours is a labor of love, not commerce. (Oooh, that sounds pious. Maybe we can use that in one of our books.) (Not that we’d object to more commerce.)

On that note, we’d like to thank you sincerely for your support of our writing. We’re thrilled that so many of you are enjoying the book. If we can give you a few laughs and a pleasant escape from real-world stress – and there is so much of it these days – then we’re happy. May you also have a Happy New Year!

Inspire Me

We are excited to announce our book is now available for the Nook. Go to http://www.bn.com and search for “Maddi Davidson.” Paperback version available… “a very soon moment now.”

A friend asked one of us recently why we decided to do a series of mysteries instead of “just write a book.” The answer is one-third shameless self-promotion and two-thirds literal self-interest. The one-third self-promotion part came in when we were looking for an agent (before we decided to self publish). We’d read that proposing a series of books was more likely to engage an agent’s interest than a single book where, at best, you’d be a one hit wonder. But the most important reason we decided upon a series is because of a dream one of us had (a literal dream, not the “I have a dream” kind of dream). The dream, wacky as it was, led to us starting a second book, a humorous paranormal. (There is such a shortage of paranormals.) We were struggling with the second book when it occurred to us that we really liked – and “knew” – the characters in Outsourcing Murder so why didn’t we continue to write about them? We tabled the troubled book – it’s still sitting in pieces in a folder some place on a hard drive – and sketched out a second book about Emma Jones, and then a third. We suspect there will be more, which, of course, leads to new challenges like how to keep the stories fresh, and how to manage your characters’ development and aging. “Aging chronologically,” that is: Emma is nowhere near Botox and Juvederm but it’s available if she wants it, a couple of decades from now, if we are still writing about her. One of us is considering personal and in-depth market research in this critical aspect of character development…

Another question we are asked is whether our characters are based on real people (including “people of the fur persuasion”) and to what degree. First off, nobody is 100% based on anybody, even if our mother is a stickler for writing thank-you notes and using well grammar. Er, good grammar. Our father has been a university professor and administrator, though he was not a classics professor. Neither of us has been a student at Berkeley, where both of Emma’s parents teach, though one of us has taken a couple of extension classes there (in classics). Which is how she knows about the dreaded aorist infinitive. (And don’t get her started on Greek participles.)

Stacey, Emma’s best friend and sidekick, is loosely based on a character one of us has worked with, let’s call her “Jane.” The real Jane has been with her employer for eons and has a well-deserved reputation as a corporate “fixer.” When the company was smaller, you’d almost see people genuflect at the mention of her name, she was so well-known for unjamming almost any nasty problem you could imagine. One of us on a business trip got a brand new phone charger she badly needed hand delivered to her by a hotel concierge thanks to Jane, who really and truly rocks in the insta-fix department. The story about freeing electronic goods from officious French officials – as we noted in the book, “is there any other kind?” – is absolutely true. We are still not sure how Jane did it. Jane is uber competent, very nice and someone you’d want to have your back in a firefight because she’d have the right caliber ammunition no matter what heat you were packing. Just like Stacey.

Parts of our formative years were spent on a military installation, where we met many officers and their wives (now, of course, we say “officers and spouses”). Magda, Emma’s landlady, is a tribute to the many military wives we met, who have adapted to so many moves, seemingly effortlessly. (One of us moved five times in three years in the Navy and that’s not even that big a number of moves, nautically speaking.) We did, sadly, meet a number of military wives who had lost one or more husbands in wartime, as Magda did. Magda’s apartment is based on many houses we visited and enjoyed hospitality in: wonderful bibelots and mementoes from duty around the world, coupled with guerilla entertaining skills. (On one evening, both of us helped a Navy captain’s wife clean up after a dinner party. We counted sixty dinner plates before we stopped (counting, not washing).) Alas, some of the disrespect for the military we allude to in Outsourcing Murder – that inspires Magda’s protest march – was inspired by real attempts in San Francisco to kill junior ROTC.

The banter between Virgil and Emma is based on real conversations one of us has had with a cherished friend who, unfortunately, died before we finished the book. “Honey bunch” and “sweetie pie” seem so tame: nothing says, “I love you” like calling someone “eel enema.” (Or, “gopher guts,” “pus sac head,” “roach rectum,” all oldies but goodies.) (You’re llama lips. Nope, you are the llama lips!) A character in our second book, Harrison, is based on our beloved Kerry. Like Kerry, Harrison knows everybody in the surf lineup (and the coffee shop and the grocery store, etc.) and can wheedle a life story out of someone in five minutes or less. And, like Kerry, Harrison is a wonderful encourager and “coach.”

Magda’s pets – Edson and Chesty Puller – were inspired by real animals. Edson is inspired by a dear friend’s Maine Coon cats, who are so social, they are almost dogs. Chesty Puller, Magda’s dachshund, is a composite of several dachshunds we have known and loved. The tradition of naming pets after military heroes was borrowed from former next-door neighbors, who always named their dogs after Confederate war generals (e.g., “Beauregard,” a standard poodle, and “Stonewall Jackson,” a basset hound). We have both had dear friends who have been members of the US Marine Corps (there are, of course, no ex-Marines, only “former” Marines) and we honor them by naming Magda’s pets after a couple – but by no means the only couple – of brave, honored Marine heroes. There are so many to choose from. Uragh.

One of our favorite inspirations proves the old maxim, “living well is the best revenge.” In book two, we give a former boyfriend a bad comb over and have him arrested. He really did have it coming, hehehe, or should we say, “he had it combing?” (Now, this isn’t a threat, but be careful how your treat us, or your name, actions and or personality may appear in a later book. We will naturally deny any connection, but you’ll recognize yourself. Except for the zits, extra pounds, and “declining hairline” we add. Hehehe.)

As for Emma…let’s just say she reflects the trials and tribulations of many a twenty something. We only wish that at that age, we’d had Emma’s backbone to take on our fears, instead of hiding from them. To be like Emma is our aspiration and inspiration, even now.

Not the Road to Riches

We are excited to announce that the digital form of our book is now available on Kindle. Search for “Maddi Davidson” on amazon.com to find and purchase our near masterpiece. Now that the baby is walking – at least digitally – it’s a good time to reflect on how we got here. (No, not the birds and bees part of “got here”- the writing stuff!) We began to write a book together for enjoyment – principally because we have the same twisted sense of humor. Also because both of us have had “you cannot make this stuff up” experiences with information technology – the kind that makes for good comedy and more than a little tragedy. Along the way, as happens with many authors, we wondered if, per chance, we might become rich through our writing. Just how much do authors make, anyway? For the answer, we turned to the Internet, fount of all wisdom and plenty of foolishness. Here is what we learned.

Typically, authors earn between 6% and 8% on paperbacks and 10% on hardbacks. (Does anyone buy hardbacks anymore, besides libraries, that is?) Assuming we sold 100,000 copies – note that fewer than 500 titles do that each year – we’d make less than $40,000 each, before taxes. Thump! That sound you just heard (or read) was the hard blow of reality. Unless we become bestselling authors, writing will not fund our retirements, second homes, new cars, or even a used bike that we’d share. (Hey, I should get more than fifty percent; my writing is twice as good as yours.) (It is not. But this factoid does mean I may need a different retirement strategy, like finding a rich old coot who doesn’t believe in pre-nups.)

We would expect that many authors, faced with the poor return, abandon their writing efforts in favor of starting a maid service (“gross grout out!”) or being a pet concierge to the rich and famous (“we wow Chihuahuas!”). Clearly, a better financial decision. But a nagging question remains: if authors earn less than 10% on their work, where is all that money going? We’ve seen the demise of big chain bookstores (B. Dalton, Borders) so they can’t be the ones raking in the dough. Maybe there is a heretofore-undiscovered black hole that not only planets and asteroids but also writers’ profits vanish into.

Barring a new discovery by Stephen Hawking, we decided that it must be the publishers who suck all the profits into their maws. Yes, that makes sense, and would explain the trend towards self-publishing, where authors get to keep a larger portion of their sales. Obviously, publishing houses are greedy conglomerates. Let’s just cut them out of the equation and make big bucks! (We’d start Occupy Publishing Houses but we are too busy getting the book out to be bothered camping in a major city. Besides, we can always vent our scribal spleens in other ways, like having a publisher get offed in a future murder mystery. Hehehe.)

So off we went into the self-publishing route. Okay, there were other reasons we chose self-publishing such as unappreciative agents who didn’t buy our argument that “Harry Potter was so last year – Emma Jones is the new thing.” (One of us is exceptionally good at supplying extreme hubris when called for.) The time to publish was, perhaps, the major factor in our decision. The traditional publishing route involves finding an agent who will represent your work, sell it to a publisher, negotiate the contract and manage your business relationships. Finding an agent involves endless query letters, waiting for rejections or expressions of interest, submissions of materials and waiting for more rejections. (It’s worse than dating, as one of us knows from a truly and unpleasantly alarming years’ of experience waiting by the phone for the call that never comes, sniff.) We queried about a dozen agents and although we got some interest in our work, there were no takers. To find an agent could take another forty or fifty queries. Even after securing an agent, we’d have to hope the agent was successful in getting the interest of a publisher. And even if all that worked, we wouldn’t be published for another TWO YEARS! That’s how far out publishers schedule releases. So to heck with all that, we’d do it ourselves.

Three months and uncountable hours later, we now have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of trying to publish a quality product. And that greediness we attributed to publishers? Forget that. Okay, not all of it. They might still be greedy, but the effort to bring a book to market is considerable. We won’t bore you with ALL the details, which bear numerous unpleasant parallels to visiting a proctologist, but here are a few.

Editing. Should be easy, right? Just go with the software spelling and grammar check. It has everything you need, except … Hawaiian words. Emma and her boyfriend, Keoni, use Hawaiian phrases, complete with kahakōs (macrons) and ‘okinas (glottal stops). These all show up as errors during spell check. Slanguage also is missing: “ohmyGod,” “eew,” “icky” and “multislacking” to name a few. Grammar checks light up the document with green lines at dialog patterns where speakers are not using complete sentences. Yup. Really, truly. Whatever. And then there are extraneous words that creep in whilst one is cutting, moving and pasting sections that, for some a reason, don’t the show up. It’s not just a Microsoft Word problem; even our professional editing service didn’t catch some of those.

Formatting. At least one of us didn’t care about Times New Roman, Myriad Pro, Garamond, Arial and so forth, before we decided to publish. Now, we both do. And we’re cognizant of the differences between a 5X8 book versus 5.25X8.25 (does my text look fat in this format? Tell me the truth!). Planning a wedding involves fewer decisions and less attention to detail than formatting a printed book. Font type and size for headers, chapter titles and manuscript take far too much effort. Let’s not forget leading – the space between lines. Do we want 10 on 12, 10 or 13, or 10.5 on 13? (I don’t look a day over 10 on 12.) What about the cover? What fonts do we use? How big is the author’s name versus book title? (Why isn’t my name in bigger font than my sister’s?) What kind of artwork will attract readers? We can make all these choices after some research, but we’re not done yet. Widows, orphans and justification are next.

Using left and right justification can create lines with few words and large white spaces. This can be dealt with by a line-by-line review of the text, increasing or decreasing spacing between letters and the judicious use of hyphens to break words. Ah, but how to do that? Look up tortilla using several online dictionaries. The syllables provided are not the same. Some will give you tor-ti-lla and some tor-til-la (does it matter whether it’s corn or flour?). It’s not because “tortilla” is a Spanish word. Try ac-count-ant, or is it ac-coun-tant? Any while you are struggling with where to put the hyphen, remember to manage widows (a paragraph-ending line that starts a new page) and orphans (a paragraph-starting line that ends a page). Now you know why we hired a professional to do this for us. Still, we had to go through several proofs.

In short, just getting the manuscript in shape to publish is a monumental task and we have a new-found respect for publishers. As a side note, we are no longer going to be quite so smug when we encounter misspelled words or other mistakes in published books.

Writing – even really good writing – will not make many people rich. Bookstores and publishing houses struggle to be profitable and the earnings of most literary agents and writers are modest, indeed. We know that writing books, by and large, will not make us rich, though we have had rich experiences in creating the characters, crafting the story, and bringing the manuscript to publication. We’ve learned more than we expected and are wiser for it. Most especially, we’ve had rich laughs as we write together, because you have to enjoy your own writing or why bother? “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

Aloha Hawai’i

Greetings future Emma-addicts

(We hope once the book is out and you read it, we will have Emma-addicts who are clamoring for more adventures of Emma Elizabeth Jones, a request that we are happy to oblige.)

A recurring theme in Outsourcing Murder and the other mysteries in the series is the aura of Hawai’i. Emma, our protagonist, is a born and bred Midwesterner (like us), who spent her teen years in the Bay Area and is a University of Hawai’i graduate. Her off-again-on-again ‘ipo (sweetheart), Keoni, who is almost full-blooded Hawaiian, still lives in Hawai’i. Emma surfs regularly, listens to Hawaiian music, and even speaks Hawaiian, which she deemed an easier language to learn than the Greek and Latin her father, the Classics professor, tried to teach her. One of us has direct and painful experience with the dreaded Greek aorist infinitive and agrees that Emma made “a wise linguistic choice.” Besides, there is more cool Hawaiian music than cool Homeric Greek music. (Although it might be interesting to hear the Iliad done as rap music. Yo, Achilles!)

Emma’s interest in nā mea Hawai’i – Hawaiian things – mirrors our own and encompasses the native Hawaiian culture through its evolution as cultures of immigrants to the islands blended into the beautiful rainbow culture that is present-day Hawai’i. We are almost genetically programmed to be Hawai’i-philes. One of us was conceived there (courtesy of the Air Force posting of our reservist father) and we grew up listening to Hawaiian music including some of the old timers like the Kalima Brothers (“1000 pounds of melody”) and Alfred Apaka. (We also heard a lot of opera, provoking images of a grass-skirt clad tenor singing “La Boheme.”) The Davidson kids’ all-time favorite song was the “Hawaiian War Chant,” which we – or rather, our brother, who is convenient to blame for bad stuff since it was his fault most of the time – used to play at an unspeakable hour of the morning while we raced around the house whooping like nā mea pupule (crazy people). (Our mom and dad really don’t like the “Hawaiian War Chant.” They like it even less at five in the morning. Or six.)

Hawaiian music has evolved from classic Hawaiian and hapa-haole (English language with a smattering of Hawaiian) music through the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s (Brothers Cazimero, Sunday Manoa, Keola Beamer) into contemporary Hawaiian music, all of which we enjoy. (Okay, we’re lying. ”Jawaiian” – Jamaican and Hawaiian music fusion – is the auditory equivalent of feasting on ganga (“weed”) flavored haupia (coconut pudding). Eew.) One of us has gone so far as to learn Hawaiian so she can a) understand Hawaiian music and b) make insightful comments regarding the daily commute like, “he pua’a pupuka nui e kalaiwa ana mai i kela ka’a” (“a big ugly pig is driving that car”). We both note that this is a highly useful phrase on California Highway 101 and the DC beltway, we have, unfortunately, had occasion to know. I’ll bet some of you have, too.

We’ve infused Emma with our taste in music. She has met and has the CDs of Maunalua, and ‘Ike Pono, and also enjoys Hapa and Mānoa DNA. Boyfriend Keoni plays Hawaiian music in a group (Hopena), well enough for some music gigs at the Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Hawaiian, where we’ve spent many evenings enjoying drinks with lots of dark rum and a umbrella garnish. In our next book, Keoni substitutes for one of the members of ‘Ike Pono. (Stan, we are sorry, but we are sending you to the mainland for a reason we haven’t thought of yet – you’ll have a great time, we promise. Keoni doesn’t play ‘ukulele nearly as well as you do, just well enough to “sub” for Dramatic Purposes.)

Not only Hawaiian language and music but also other aspects of Hawaiian culture (food!) are an important part of our writing, and our onsite research, such as eating malasadas. These Portuguese fried donuts with ‘ono (delicious) fillings are the absolute best empty calories either of us can name. (If there is a Hawaiian word for “Mecca” it would be “Leonard’s Malasadas.”) Besides, if the filling is lilikoi (passion fruit), it‘s a fruit, right? Another important contribution to Hawaiian food culture, in our humble opinion, is the manapua (the name of which is a contraction of mea ‘ono a nā pua’a – “delicious pig thing”). This steamed dumpling filled with sweet barbecued pork is reminiscent of a Chinese char siu bao. An unfortunate side effect of enjoying manapua and malasada is an an ‘opu nui (big belly). (Despite our surname, we never considered writing Emma as a Norge-phile. Lutefisk, anyone?)

Needless to say, there is much more to Hawaiian culture than tiki bar umbrella drinks (part of Hawaiian tourist culture) and fat pills. As often as we’ve been to Hawai’i, we are always learning something new, which means The Next Trip is always market research that we hope will benefit and expand our writing. For example, did you know that there is a type of Hawaiian combat known as lua? And the Hawaiians had really cool weapons, like our favorite, lei o mano, which you can think of as a big ol’ club studded with shark teeth. (Guaranteed to scare off the next Jehovah’s Witness or Girl Scout Cookie Pusher who darkens your door. Oh, and it might work on the pua’a pupuka nui’s tire, too. Hmmm, one of us might try that on an annoying neighbor who keeps parking right across from her driveway even though it’s a no parking area. Strictly in the interests of “market research on the effect of sharks’ teeth on tires,” you understand.)

It’s not too early to wish our readers – no, not “happy holidays,” as we don’t do generic greetings – “Mele Kalikimaka a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou” which is, literally, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” And, “hau’oli heluhelu ‘ana” – happy reading!