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 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 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

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 ( or Amazon ( 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!


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 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 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!

Mahalo, e ke Akua

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends who are not turkeys! Scratch that, how about, “Happy Thanksgiving! May the only turkey present at your table be Tom Gobbler — and not Great Aunt Gertrude who every year insists on rehashing your top ten most embarrassing childhood moments.” Book news first: current ETA is around 15 December for Outsourcing Murder to be orderable on Amazon (Nook, Kindle, and “Tree-Killer” versions). More on which below.

One of us had occasion to reflect on the meaning of Thanksgiving more closely during dinner with a college friend recently. This friend has a kind and loyal heart but she has a “glass half empty” approach to life. And be careful with the glass because you could drop it, cut yourself and bleed to death.  Her outlook on life is a lot like Eeyore’s. She insisted on discussing classmates who had died or were facing a life-threatening illness (self, family member, or pet) or had been unemployed for a long period of time. (Side note: the one of us on the receiving end of all this cheerful news refilled her wine glass a couple times as it approached half empty.)

Over the course of dinner, the aforementioned friend said, of another classmate, “Dear Karen is someone who always looks on the bright side of things no matter how bad they are,” as if that was a problem. Think about that statement for a moment. In a backhanded kind of way, this woman had encapsulated the meaning of Thanksgiving: giving thanks for the good things no matter that there are also bad things. That isn’t to say that everything is good, only that you should not let the bad things drown out your thanks to God for all the good in your life. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica, said “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,” which is not the same as giving thanks for everything. For instance, you’re not really thankful when some jerk is tailgating you on the interstate. But, you could thank God for the honking big ticket Mr. Jerkface is going to get one of these days (remember that faith is belief in things unseen).

Back to our book. The delay in the ETA was not due to George Bush, the earthquake in Japan, the floods in Thailand, or even one sister’s screw-up. Okay, maybe a little of the latter. A contributing factor was that the talented artist doing our cover art was about 70% through the painting — which includes surfing and San Francisco motifs — when she encountered a problem. Her art supply dealer was out of her favorite brand and the substitute brand she was using had a cheap coating to make the surface feel higher quality than it really is. ‘Auwē (alas), when she went to add layers of paint to the work, the old layers had pilled, causing streaks and generally marring her work. She tried to salvage it, but the salvaged work was not up to her standards, so she is starting over.

Now, we could throw a fit over the delay, and moan and groan about our self-imposed schedule slipping, (and one of us did do that for thirty seconds), or be grateful that we have a wonderful artist creating a cover that captures the spirit of our work and who has high standards. Thank you, Sarah. The finished art will be worth the wait.

Everything takes practice to do well and that includes giving thanks. Not only is an “attitude of gratitude” a useful thing to contemplate on more than just Thanksgiving, it really does make you happier and, well, appreciative. To quote Pollyanna (or, more correctly, Hayley Mills playing Pollyanna quoting her father), “when you look for the bad in life expecting to find it, you surely will.”

Last year, one of us got hosed re: planned travel the day before Thanksgiving. Flight canceled, travel rebooked for mid-day on Thanksgiving. This was the best the airlines could do – everybody knows that this is one of the busiest times to travel and, short of Delta adding a new “roof rack” section, nobody was getting rebooked anywhere quickly. (Oh wait, haven’t I flown roof rack?) So, Thanksgiving didn’t actually start until 3:30, when the plane arrived. A friend picked her up at the airport, she got a few last minute things at the local grocery, began cooking at five (a glass of champagne made dinner prep more cheery) and dinner was served just before eight. This included a turkey breast stuffed with herbs under the skin, sweet potato soufflé with sherry and black walnuts, praline pumpkin pie, salad and biscuits (thank you, Pillsbury). It was one of the best Thanksgiving meals ever. The only thing missing was watching the Macy’s Parade while cooking and really, it’s the same floats and marginal Broadway show tunes every year so who cares? So dinner was delayed a bit – no worries.

Both of us who comprise Maddi are grateful to have family and to be family. Nobody (OK, except God) knows the dirty details about the other like we do, and nobody (OK, except God) loves you anyway and is there for you like a sister. Oh, and we each thank God that our sister is not perfect; we have a balance of blackmail power, as it were.

Our Thanksgiving this year will be for friends, family, food, nice home, doggy kisses (hmm, that may be number one on the list), and the steadfastness of God.

Shall We Dance? Writing With a Partner

Greetings devoted readers!

Maybe I should make that “devoted reader” since it’s not clear we have more than one groupie – yet. Anyway, much of writing is discipline so here is the second installment in our blog. We intend to be semi-regular bloggers in order to entertain our readers on topics as diverse as cultural influences on our writing (or, where to find the best Mai Tai on Waikīkī), our favorite Hawaiian music groups and why we are writing them into our books, the canine and feline inspirations for our four-legged characters and true stories behind some of the inanities our character encounters in the corporate and technology worlds.

One of the questions friends often ask is how do we manage to write together, particularly when we are three time zones removed from one another. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been a challenge for us, not that it has been all beer and skittles (for the record, one of us likes Skittles, the other prefers Coconut M&Ms). Perhaps we did all our squabbling growing up. (Mom liked ME best, I just want to say for the record.) (Believe what makes you feel good, even if it’s wrong.)

One of the things that makes writing together easy for us is that we do not have the same strengths as writers but, as the Apostle Paul would say, we are all part of the body. Meaning, one person is a hand and the other is a foot in terms of getting the body of work up and running. (I know which one of us is the ‘okole, and it isn’t I, hee hee.) That is, one of us is “the organizer” in terms of plotting, outline, structure, and the up and down lifting of writing. The other one is the “tarter-upper.” That’s “tart” as in “adorn or decorate,” NOT as in “promiscuous.” The TU adds a turn of phrase, pads out the scene (What does so and so look like? What are his or her quirks? What does the scene look like?). It’s not quite that black and white, but you get the idea. We write well together because we acknowledge and use each other’s strengths.

A challenge for writing partners is ensuring that the writing hangs together and there is no obvious change of voice (i.e., when one of us takes over the writing). We are lucky that, as sisters, we share the same demented sense of humor, to the point where neither of us can, in many cases, remember who wrote what. That’s the idea, really, because “Maddi” is THE writer and nobody reading our work should be able to tell when The Other Sister started writing. Even more telling, in some cases when one of us is reviewing/editing/adding to a section, we find that the other one had the same idea. You end up deleting things you added because the other sister already put the same ideas in there. They say that old married couples can finish one another’s sentences. We do that a lot – only in our case, we start one another’s sentences – the one the other one was about to say. (For the record, I thought of spanikopita in the Greek restaurant scene first).

Writing with a partner has many advantages. For example, someone else is always editing your writing. That someone won’t hesitate to tell you when something isn’t working or needs to be changed (or she might just go ahead and change it). Or the reverse: when one of us needs reassurance that our writing is witty, the other is there to provide it (lying when necessary). (Except my stuff is always funny.) When you are having trouble writing a scene or a chapter, you can turn to the other writer to finish it up. Perhaps the best thing about writing together is it’s great fun. We email one another wacky articles (reality is more hilarious and odder than anything you can imagine as fiction) and bounce ideas off one another. We delight in writing particularly entertaining sections and sharing immediately.

We aren’t expecting that Maddi Davidson will be added to the pantheon of great American writers (Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, note the absence of Hemingway because one of us things he is the most overrated writer on the planet…). (The other one of us thinks Dr. Seuss should be on the list.) We write because we like to laugh, and we like escapism, and it is a sad world in many respects, especially now. The nicest compliment – and validation of our writing – we received was when someone in a writing workshop said that she’d so much “awful stuff” in her life that she hadn’t been able to read more than a page or two for several years, until she started reading our writing submission. She was drawn in, found herself laughing, and read the entire chapter. That’s validation enough for what we do. Jesus put it more grandly: “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.” We are not going to overcome the world, but we hope we can deliver some good cheer to our readers that might help them overcome at least some tribulation in their lives. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” We hope so.


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