Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘The Writing Life’ Category

Stuck in the Middle

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 25, 2017

While writing a novel, you are plodding along during the first half of your book, and all of a sudden you come to a halt. Now what? It’s too soon to start the revelations leading to the killer or to the romantic resolution. You need more material to make your word count. It’s also a good spot for a turning point in your plot. So what do you do? You face the blank white page and experience a sense of fear that your story will come up short. You’ve reached the dreaded Muddle in the Middle.

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Do not panic. Instead, read your synopsis over again or review your chapter-by-chapter outline. Haven’t done them? Do so now. Reviewing what you’ve written will reveal plotting elements you might have forgotten or personal threads you can expand on. Here’s what else you can do:

Raise the body count.
This is especially easy in a murder mystery. Just throw in another dead body. Who is dead and why? Who could have done it? How does this deepen the primary mystery? Could two different killers be involved? What if this victim was your prime suspect? Who does that leave? A whole new investigation will start based on who is dead, and it may throw your sleuth’s earlier theories out the door. Now she has to go in another direction for answers.

Crime Scene

Have an important character go missing.

If a character disappears mid-point in your story, that’s going to disrupt everyone’s plans. Is this person in jeopardy, or is he guilty of perpetrating the initial crime? Did another bad guy betray him? Or is this act staged, and the person isn’t really missing after all? How do your other characters feel about this missing person? Was he loved or despised? What efforts are being made to find him? How are the police treating his disappearing act?

Introduce a new character who shows up unexpectedly.

Think about a secret baby, secret lover, or secret sibling. Or a secret spouse. What is this person’s role in the mystery? How does his appearance change the investigation? Who was keeping this character’s identity a secret? This would be the time for that secret baby to come to light or the past husband no one knew about or the former girlfriend with a grudge. Or it could be someone who’s heard about the case and wants to cash in somehow. Could this new arrival be a fraud? How does his presence affect the other characters?

Twins

Resurrect a character thought to be dead.

This is possible if a death was staged, meaning no body was ever found, or the corpse was not identifiable. Is it someone who’d been gone for years or whose alleged murder started the current investigation? What made this person decide to reappear now? Or, what is the clue that leads the sleuth to believe this guy isn’t dead after all?

Steal a valuable object or return one.

Why was this item taken? Is it a clue to solving the mystery? Does it relate to another crime? Who took it and why? Is it meant to be a distraction from the murder investigation? Or was it part of the same crime all along? In the reverse, you could have a valuable object turn up, like a missing will or a more recent one that names a different heir.

Build on secrets and motives already present.

If you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, your characters have enough secrets, motives and hidden depths that you can explore as the story moves along. Write down each loose end as you review the high points and make sure you go down each trail until that thread is tied. Usually you’ll find you have enough material already hiding among your pages. Snippets of suspicions your characters mentioned can be plumped out until laid to rest. So give your people enough layers that peeling the onion takes the entire book. Except just when you thought you knew it all, throw in another twist like one of the points above.

What are your tips for getting through the muddled middle?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Get Started Blogging

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 10, 2017

What is a blog? And how do you start one? This past weekend, I gave a talk to a group of aspiring writers on “The Writer’s Life.” During the Q&A session, one person referred to my section on book marketing. “I don’t understand about blogs. Can you explain more about them?”

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So I thought this would be a good time for a review of the principles. I’ve been blogging for over ten years. I regard it as a live journal that includes glimpses into your life such as travels, hobbies, other fun activities or musings on life in general. Plus, as a writer, you can offer tips on writing craft and marketing and share the creative process. So here are some items to consider.

Define Your Purpose.

Are you aiming to build an author platform? Do you want to be recognized as an expert in your field? To engage with readers? Or to have other writers look to you for advice? Ask yourself why you want to start a blog.

Determine Your Goals.

Do you mean to increase book sales? Gain a substantial number of followers? Attract comments on each blog? Receive requests for guest posts? What’s your benchmark of success?

Set Parameters.

How often do you intend to post? What days of the week are best? What time during the day will more people likely read your post? How long should each post be? Check your analytics as time goes on and make adjustments accordingly.

Brainstorm Topics.

While you are writing a book, jot down blog topics related to your theme, research, and writing process. These will be useful either to show your story in progress or to provide fodder for blog tours when your new release comes out. Meanwhile, determine how your content can add value to people’s lives. In what way can your personal anecdotes inspire others? Some authors set certain days for specific blog topics. For example, one day they might post recipes. Another day they might bring in a guest blogger. Or perhaps they do author interviews. Excerpts, book reviews, or trivia related to a particular hobby or personal interest might fill in other slots. I like to do conference workshop recaps. Or you can write posts as they come to you.

Acquire a Site.

When you’re ready to start, register at WordPress.com or Blogger for a free site. Or add a blog to your website. Become familiar with the features and start posting.

Link the Blog to Your Social Media Sites.

Not only should visitors be able to tweet and share each particular article, but your posts can be linked to your Twitter and Facebook pages. Check your Settings for how to enable these features or ask your Web designer to add the proper Plug-In.

What Pages Should Your Blog Site Contain?

Keep in mind that visitors to your blog, if separate from your website, might not visit you elsewhere. So consider what Pages you’ll want to have. Here are some suggestions: Welcome or Home Page; About (Bio); Appearances; Book Trailers; Books List (with series books in order); Contact (your email); Giveaways. In the sidebar, you can show your book covers, a Blog Roll with links to other authors’ sites, a Search box, a Subscribe button, Social Networking Icons, and an RSS feed button.

Include Photos in your Posts.

Photos will draw more hits, but be careful of copyright issues. Upload your own photos. Obtain photos at royalty-free sites or at least make sure you provide attribution.

Use Keywords.

Use tags with keywords and put keywords in your text to drive traffic to your site.

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How to Gain Followers

  • Post often. Some people set themes, like “Recipe Monday” or “Guest Blogger Wednesday” or “Photo Friday.” Be consistent in your approach and keep your material current.
  • Have a clear and catchy headline for each post.
  • End your posts with a question to stimulate discussion.
  • Don’t use your blog solely to promote your books. You’re building a community of readers who want to get to know you, or else you are establishing yourself as an expert by offering useful material. Share new release info, reviews, and contests sparingly.
  • Comment on other people’s blogs.
  • Invite guests who have a following.
  • Always respond to comments and respect other people’s opinions.
  • On occasion, offer a prize drawing from commenters.
  • If you get a lot of comments on certain types of posts, steer your blog in that direction. Be responsive to readers. Note what engenders interest and what does not.
  • Be careful what you put out there. This is a public post. Avoid politics, religion, and any mention of personal business or issues you don’t want to share.
  • Always be respectful of other industry professionals.
  • Include links and images in your posts to raise visibility.

Index Your Blog

When your blog is a few years old, you might want to reissue an updated article. Keeping records of the topics, categories, and dates will help you retrieve these files. I suggest you write your blog in Word and save the posts by month and year. It’s imperative to keep your own blogs on your computer so you don’t lose them if there’s an online snafu. Then keep a separate file that’s an index so you can quickly search topics.

GIVEAWAYS

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Posted in Business of Writing, Marketing, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Mystery Fest Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 29, 2017

Here are notes from some of the workshops I’d attended at Mystery Fest Key West. Any errors are mine due to my misinterpretation.

Friday started off with a talk by a representative from the Bomb Squad. The bomb squad in Monroe County gets about thirty calls a year. Lots of them involve old military ordinance like torpedoes and grenades, and about eighty percent are still live. Once a mortar round was dug up in a fellow’s yard and it dated back to 1887. Other finds might include acid bombs, pipe bombs, vehicle bombs, flares, and other old explosives that turn up in people’s backyards.

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The investigators want to know: What is it? Why is it here? How can we disrupt it? Compressed water will tear the devices apart but won’t set them off. They have to make sure it’s safe while preserving the evidence.

When the guys respond, they keep a distance of three hundred feet or more and stay behind a protective barrier. If they have to go in closer to determine if an object is safe they’ll don helmets and flak jackets. Or they’ll send in the Robot.

The Robot is used for recon and demolition. It costs approximately $265,000 and can run up to seven miles per hour. It has six cameras, some of them encased, and it can climb stairs as well as go in and out of planes and buses. The Robot can take X-rays and can drag up to 300 pounds. It is remote-controlled at a five mile range. The machine runs on dual motorcycle batteries.

Police Myths

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James O. Born spoke about police myths and how to make our law enforcement officers more realistic in our stories. He distinguished between the uniformed Highway Patrol officers and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that’s more of an investigative agency. He spoke about pay and pensions and how patrol is the main job for a cop. They are taught to shoot in order to stop a suspect, not necessarily to kill. Deadly force would be a last resort. Plainclothes is not the same as undercover which involves deception.

I missed some of Lisa Black’s excellent talk on Blood Spatter as I had to prepare for my “Writing the Cozy Mystery” workshop coming next. Then it was time to head over to Hemingway House for an outdoor reception with drinks and appetizers.

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On Saturday, Randy Rawls moderated a panel on “Where I Get My Ideas” including John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd, and Paul Sinor. Next came Heather Graham moderating the interesting discussion on “How to Commit a Perfect Murder” with Lisa Black, Rick Ollerman, Robert Coburn, and Siera London. Here’s how: 1. Don’t Get Caught. 2. Is it really a murder if there’s no body? 3. Poisons have worked well throughout history, especially before modern forensics. 4. If there’s trace evidence, you will get caught. There really isn’t a right answer to this question.

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Honored Guest Clifford Irving gave the keynote luncheon speech. Here he is with conference chair, Shirrel Rhoades.

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I skipped the next panel, “It Takes a Crook,” to get ready for Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths. I moderated a panel about female sleuths where we touched upon many subjects. One of the main points that came across was that women sleuths are more intuitive and compassionate, and these stories often involve interpersonal relationships or family issues.

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The evening continued with a special dinner party held at the historical Custom House Museum, which houses displays on the island’s military history.

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This is always a fun conference in a relaxed atmosphere with fellow authors and fans who are eager to learn about our books.

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Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, Marketing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hair Brained

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 22, 2017

HAIR BRAINED (Bad Hair Day Mystery #14) is now available for pre-order in ebook format.

 

HAIR BRAINED ebook

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Ebook ISBN 9780997003871

Print ISBN 9780997003888

Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica

When hairstylist Marla Vail’s best friend is hurt in a car crash, Marla takes over as her baby’s guardian. No sooner does Marla say, “Baby want a bottle?” than she’s embroiled in another murder investigation. Her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, determines the crash may not have been an accident after all. But then, who would want Tally—or Ken in the car with her—out of the way?

Ken’s insurance agency was involved in a fraud investigation. Did someone mean to silence him? Or could something in Tally’s life have put her in jeopardy? She’d recently joined a tea ladies circle. Had she discovered secrets among the women that almost got her killed? Or could she be the target of a disgruntled employee from her dress shop? As Marla delves further into her friends’ backgrounds, she realizes she didn’t know them as well as she’d thought. Even so, Tally and Ken have trusted her with their child’s care. Can she protect the baby and find the culprit before someone else becomes roadkill?


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Praise for the Bad Hair Day Mysteries

“Marla and Dalton make a wonderful sleuthing team. They, as well as the secondary characters, are realistic, well-written and well-developed. Marla is someone readers can connect with. She’d make a great friend. The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end.”
Socrates Book Reviews

“The Bad Hair Day Mystery series books are captivating and exciting. It only took reading one book for me to become a fan.” Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

“The author excels in creating a unique and memorable cast of characters. One of her trademarks is that the mysteries always add to the reader’s knowledge in the field related to the mystery. It’s a joy to follow along with Marla and Dalton as they put the pieces together to solve the crime.”
Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore

“Author Nancy J. Cohen once again takes readers on a tantalizing ride of mystery, murder, mayhem, and humorCohen’s characters are quirky and well-developed, the type of friends you wish lived down the street. The setting quickly draws you in and the twists and turns hold you spellbound until the end. The author blends the murder mystery with family life and drama for a well-balanced story with touches of romance and humor.” Thoughts in Progress

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Mystery Movies

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 26, 2017

MYSTERY MOVIES and TV SHOWS

In addition to the classics like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, here are some of my favorite films in the mystery genre or movies involving writers. A happy ending is a must for my taste. This list does not include the Hallmark Channel mystery movies of which I’m also a fan.

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FILMS

AMERICAN DREAMER with JoBeth Williams and Tom Conti.

This classic tale of intrigue is one of my favorites. A romance novelist wins a contest and a trip to Paris. En route to the awards luncheon, she’s in an accident and suffers a head injury. She wakes up believing herself to be the heroine in her favorite books. A spy caper follows that’s all too real, as she teams up with the author’s handsome son who thinks she’s a nutcase. That is, until someone tries to kill them. http://amzn.to/2qZVEhl

DROWNING MONA with Danny DeVito and Bette Midler.

This funny whodunit in a small town has a cast of wacky characters. Classic example of a cozy. http://amzn.to/2rkArzR

GOSFORD PARK with Helen Mirren and Jeremy Northam.

This is an English drawing room mystery that takes place at a country estate. Aristocrats and servants alike have secrets that slowly unravel during a hunting party weekend. Albeit a bit slow-paced, this film requires repeat viewings to catch the nuances. http://amzn.to/2rklnC8

HER ALIBI with Tom Selleck and Paulina Portzkova.

This hilarious escapade finds mystery novelist Phillip Blackwood falling for a suspected murderess while he searches for inspiration to unlock his writer’s block. Did the mysterious and beautiful foreigner have a hand in the victim’s death? If so, was he foolish to vouch for her alibi and bring her home? And are the accidents that occur after her arrival truly accidents, or is Philip next in line for his guest’s lethal hijinks? http://amzn.to/2qjtafC

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

A Manhattan housewife thinks her next door neighbor is a murderer. She enlists her friends to search for clues. Probably my favorite Woody Allen film out of all of them. http://amzn.to/2qZEEIb

MURDER 101 with Pierce Brosnan.

English professor Charles Lattimore assigns his class to plan the perfect murder as a literary exercise. When he’s framed for a woman’s death, he has to find the killer before the detective on the case finds him. Will his students help him solve a real murder, or is one of them guilty? http://amzn.to/2qje0qK

MURDER BY THE BOOK with Robert Hays.

A mystery novelist thinks he’s hallucinating when his hero appears in front of him and talks back. He’s been thinking of changing to a new series and scrapping the sleuth, but now he needs the fellow’s help to solve a real murder. http://amzn.to/2qZrQzF

MY COUSIN VINNY with Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, and Fred Gwynne

In this funny courtroom drama, a New York lawyer on his first case defends two fellows in Alabama who are mistakenly accused of murder. Watch for the clues in this hilarious mystery. http://amzn.to/2qnMisB

THE BOY NEXT DOOR with Dina Meyer and Cory Monteith.

A romance writer goes on a retreat to a small town to seek inspiration for her next story. When her next door neighbor is found dead, the chief of police suspects her. Even when her place is ransacked and someone tries to run her off the road, he discounts her theories and refuses to look into the incidents. It’s up to our heroine to prove her innocence and uncover the killer before his next attack turns fatal. http://amzn.to/2qZQXEi

TV SHOWS

THE BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES with Neill Rea and Fern Sutherland.

I’ve bought the DVDs. Otherwise, you can find this show on the Acorn TV Channel. http://thebrokenwoodmysteries.com/
Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd and Detective Constable Kristin Sims solve mysteries involving a limited number of suspects, most of whom know each other, in a distinct setting and with a definite sense of humor. Emphasis is on the relationships between characters and personal motives rather than forensics. Each episode is a perfect example of a cozy mystery despite the lack of an amateur sleuth. http://amzn.to/2qjcPYl

Brokenwood

MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES with Essie Davis and Nathan Page.

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/miss-fishers-murder-mysteries/
The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher solves crimes in 1929 Melbourne, Australia. Essie Davis plays the lead while Nathan Page plays her romantic interest, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. Warning: Miss Fisher’s spectacular outfits threaten to steal the show. http://amzn.to/2qjwVle

Miss Fisher

MIDSOMER MURDERS with John Nettles and Jane Wymark.

A police detective and his deputy solve murders in small town England. Some people love this show. I couldn’t get into it but it might appeal to you. http://amzn.to/2qSu0Cu

ROSEMARY AND THYME with Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris.

Two ladies in England solve mysteries together. One is a plant pathologist. The other woman is separated from her husband. I haven’t watched too many of these but they caught my interest. http://amzn.to/2qj87ty

Disclosure: I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate program. These are affiliate links.

So here you go. If you have some free time this weekend, look up these films and have a good time. Keep watch for Murder on the Orient Express, an upcoming theatrical release and remake of the classic Agatha Christie tale, with Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Penelope Cruz in an all-star cast.

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Posted in Research, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Malice Domestic Mystery Conference

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 8, 2017

Malice Domestic is a conference for cozy mystery writers and fans. This one began with a bang on Friday morning with the always fun but exhausting Malice-Go-Round. I was number four on the wait list in this author lottery, but I got in as no one else waited in the wings. Armed with my series postcards and a two-minute spiel promoting Facials Can Be Fatal, I sat at the first table with my partner, author Jeri Westerson. The two of us would hop from table-to-table twenty times in total. By the time we ended, my voice came out as a croak and my throat was dry despite the water provided. But I’d met my goal of encountering new readers and greeting author friends along the way. This remains a favorite event to introduce my books to potential fans.

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On Friday afternoon, I skipped out to meet family at Brookside Gardens. We had a lovely stroll and a snack together. I returned in time for the opening ceremonies at Malice. Dinner on your own followed. I’m afraid I bypassed the live auction and later reception in favor of retiring early.

Saturday morning, I attended the Sisters in Crime breakfast.

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At 10 am, I was on a panel titled Just Die Laughing: Humor in Mysteries with authors Donna Andrews, Jessie Chandler, and Nancy G. West. Our moderator was Karen Cantwell who did an excellent job. We laughed along with the audience hearing our stories about research and other experiences. Some humor can be slapstick. Some can be situational. Or some can come from secondary characters or the sleuth’s world view. I enjoyed listening to my fellow panelists.

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A booksigning followed upstairs in the atrium. Here I am sitting next to Marla Cooper, author of Terror in Taffeta, a Destination Wedding Mystery.

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After lunch, I sat in on a panel about U.S. Historicals. It was interesting to hear about each author’s sleuth and series setting.

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Saturday evening was the Agatha Awards Banquet. Congratulations to all the winners! The meal was delicious and my table companions were delightful. I sat with the elegant Carole Nelson Douglas along with Julie McKuras and Patti Ruocco.

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Sunday morning, I attended the new author’s breakfast. It’s fun to hear the newbies speak and tell about their first published mystery novels. Then I sat in on another panel titled “Death for Dessert: Sweet Murder.” These authors write culinary mysteries. Listening to them speak about their works made me hungry again.

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I satisfied this urge at the final Agatha Tea and closing ceremonies. Then we were off to see family again before leaving the next day. Into my suitcase went this stack of books I’d acquired at the conference.

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The best part of any conference is the friends you make. Here are some of the wonderful people I met at Malice.

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SEE ALL PHOTOS HERE


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Tips for the Hot Pitch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 27, 2017

Pitching Your Novel to an Editor/Agent

Are you preparing for a conference but your knees get shaky at the thought of an editor/agent appointment? Be prepared, not scared. Begin your ten minute pitch session by offering the editor or agent a handshake along with your name. If you have a business card, hand it over. Sit down and smile and state your story’s genre and word count. Mention which imprint at the publishing house you are targeting. Then continue with the following.

Do not bring your manuscript. Do not ramble on with plot details. Do have a completed book ready to submit. Do hit these high points and then let the editor do the talking.

interview

LOG LINE: When planning your pitch, think in terms of Key Words and Hot Premises for a one line summary of your work. Look at TV Guide for examples of log lines. Examples of key words are “humorous cozy”, “legal thriller” or “courtroom drama.” Be prepared to compare your work to movies or other authors in the same genre.

Facials Can Be Fatal: Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial in this killer cozy mystery.

Warrior Lord: A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.

CHARACTERS: Don’t crowd your pitch with too many character names. In a mystery, stick with the sleuth, victim, and killer. In a romance, just the hero and heroine count. Identify your main characters by means of an adjective and a noun. i.e. sassy hairstylist, scandalous socialite, shy schoolteacher, reckless ranger, dashing detective.

OPENING HOOK: Describe the initial set up or how the story opens.

Permed to Death: Hairstylist Marla Shore is giving her client a perm when she goes into the back room to get some clean towels. She hears a loud crash, rushes back into the salon, and finds her client dead in the shampoo chair.

Warrior Prince: Mythology student Nira Larsen receives a summer job offer she can’t refuse—to act as a tour guide for a team of warriors from another planet.

MOTIVATION: In a romance, this is the internal conflict that keeps the couple apart. In a mystery, this would be why the sleuth feels compelled to get involved.

Hanging by a Hair: Marla’s husband is implicated in the murder of their neighbor. A police detective, he’s removed from the case. She means to find the killer, clear her husband’s name, and make the neighborhood safe again.

Warrior Lord: Magnor is a Tsuran swordsman who has been shunned by his tribe. Evidence pointed his way when his brother-in-law was found murdered. He took the fall for his sister, who lied him to gain his property. He doesn’t trust women who might betray a man, nor does he consider himself worthy of love since he lost his honor.

RESOLUTION: How will your characters grow and change by the end of the story? In a romance, what compromises will each person make to bring about a HEA ending? In a mystery, what insight does the main character have about herself by the final chapter?

UNIQUENESS: How is your book different from others in the genre? What special knowledge or fresh angle do you have to offer? Does the theme deal with any issues in today’s news?

SERIES OR SINGLE TITLE: If this is meant to be a series, give the overall series title and brief blurbs for the next books. If you have an overall arc for your main character, here’s where you can mention your protagonist’s inner journey.

If the editor or agent shows interest, you can briefly mention the continuing characters that will populate your stories. In the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, these include Detective Dalton Vail, who becomes Marla’s love interest. There’s her mother and other relatives, her salon colleague Nicole, and her friends Tally and Arnie. These people are part of the world you are creating. They’ll become friends to your readers.

MARKETING: What is your series marketing hook? i.e. “It’s Murder, She Wrote in a beauty salon with a South Florida slant.”

Do you have a platform? A niche audience? How do you plan to promote the book? When I was starting out with my series, I might have said: “Besides appealing to mystery lovers who like humor and a touch of romance, I’ll target people in the beauty business such as hairstylists, manicurists, and salons owners. Plus, Florida is a popular site for mysteries. People who’ve visited here or who live here like to read about familiar places.”

Are you set up with a website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter? Are you prepared to do a virtual blog tour, book trailer, and more? Show that you’re willing to work hard as a partner in marketing your work.

SELL YOURSELF: Ultimately, it’s your energy and enthusiasm that count. You have to be someone the agent or editor wants to acquire as a client. Be professional and courteous at all times. It may even be that you speak about something else you have in common, i.e. trying new recipes or touring the city sights. Then when you send in your proposal, your cover letter can state: “I enjoyed our discussion at the XYZ conference about seafood. If you recall, I’d mentioned my book….”

Restrict your pitch to the above essentials. Avoid descriptions of plot details, physical character traits, and your own personal history unless it relates to the story.

CONCLUDING THE INTERVIEW
Thank the editor or agent for their time. If they request you send them something, ask if they want to see a query letter, proposal, or the full manuscript. Also, do they prefer an email or snail mail submission? Ask for their business card before you shake hands again and depart.

FOLLOW UP: At the editor or agent’s request, mail your work to them afterward. If it’s via snail mail, which is unusual these days, mark the package “Requested Material.” If it’s an email, be sure to put in the subject line a reference to where you met, i.e. SleuthFest Conference Author. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best!

CLICK TO TWEET

Did you miss my earlier posts on Getting an Agent? Go here for Part 1 and Part 2.

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Getting an Agent – Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 24, 2017

In Getting an Agent – Part 1, we discussed how to find a literary agent. Let’s say you’ve made the connection. Here’s what to do next.

Questions to ask a potential agent

How many agents and staff work in your agency?
How many clients does the agency represent? How many clients do you handle personally?
How long have you been an agent? Are you a member of AAR?
What is your particular area of interest?
How many new authors have you sold in the past year?
What is your average response time for a completed manuscript?
Do you prefer emails or phone calls?
How long does it take for you to return a phone call or email inquiry?
How do you feel about multiple submissions?
How long do you wait after sending an editor a manuscript before following up?
Do you give your client an update on the status of their projects, or do they have to contact you?
How many rejections would it take on a manuscript before you stop marketing it?
Do you handle subsidiary rights, such as translation, foreign sales, film/TV, audio?
Do you offer a written or verbal contract?
What percentage do you charge? (15% is standard for domestic sales)
What happens if you die or are disabled?
Do you deposit money received into an escrow account for clients?
How soon do you pay clients after receiving a royalty check?
How do you keep track of submissions?
Do you submit to digital first publishers?
Do you allow an author to do indie projects separate from the work you represent?
What do you expect from your clients?

Contracts

contract

Not all agents offer written contracts. If you do get one, be careful to read the terms before you sign. See if the agreement covers only this project or everything you write. You may request changes, such as to specify novel-length works of fiction only. If you want to do indie projects on the side, make sure the agent is agreeable and that you’re not obligated to pay him any part of this income. The agent should get paid only for rights he sells on your behalf.

Be careful of committing yourself for more than a year, and make sure you can disengage with a written notice. If you terminate, you should have no further obligation to the agent except for works which the agent has submitted or sold.

Beware of “interminable agency” or “perpetual agency” clauses in your publishing contracts. This clause grants the agent the exclusive right to represent your work for the length of the copyright. Terminology like “agency coupled with an interest” is also to be avoided. Do not commit for sequels or subsequent works or the length of your copyright. Also examine the clause an agent puts into a publishing contract when the time comes. Some of the professional writing organizations have sample contracts online, so get involved in the writing community and ask experienced authors your questions after you’ve done your own research.

How to tell if your agent isn’t working out

agent2

A. You never hear from him.
B. He doesn’t answer your calls or emails.
C. You don’t receive copies of rejection letters if you’ve requested them.
D. The agent turns down your new ideas.
E. He claims to be busy with more important clients.
F. You find out he never submitted your manuscript to an editor as promised.

How to switch agents

Send your current agent a letter or email and say your relationship isn’t working out as desired, and you wish to move in a new direction. Thus you are terminating your agreement. Keep a printed copy of his acknowledgment. Keep in mind that you remain under obligation to this agent for any work he has submitted or sold for you. To be clear on the termination terms, check your agency agreement. Once you are free from your previous relationship, you can seek a new agent.

Author/Agent Etiquette

interview2

  • Be prepared to suggest markets to an agent to show you are savvy about the business and have done your research. It’s hard to keep up with all the changes in the publishing industry. Consider your relationship as a business partnership where you each contribute.
  • Don’t accost an agent in the restroom at a conference or if they are in a deep discussion with another author.
  • Leave your manuscript at home. If an agent agrees to see your work, follow up with an email and ask for his submission requirements. Remind him where you met.
  • Don’t hound your agent. Responses from editors can take months. If you need someone to hold your hand, join a critique group. Remember that you are not the agent’s only client.
  • Always be courteous and professional. Keep producing new work at a steady pace. Listen to your agent’s suggestions even if you agree to disagree. Maintain a social media presence and keep up to date on industry news.

CLICK TO TWEET 

Coming Next: Tips for the Hot Pitch

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Getting an Agent – Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 20, 2017

How do you get a literary agent? Here are some tips to start your journey from writer to published author. First, complete your manuscript in the proper format. Look online at literary agent sites for submission requirements.

Where do you find an agent? Sign up for writers’ conferences with editor/agent appointments. If your group runs a local event, volunteer for the editor/agent committee. Enter writing contests where agents are the final judges. Note the acknowledgments to agents in books by your favorite authors to find people who represent your genre. Search the Guide to Literary Agents or Writer’s Market at your local library.

agent 

Follow agents on Twitter. Look for the hashtag #MSWL (manuscript wish list). You can get more specific for a particular genre (i.e. #MSWL Mystery). Also check out #Pitchmas, #AdPit, #Pit2Pub, #PitMad, #AgentsDay, #Carinapitch, #PitMatch for online pitches. Also use #AskAgent if you want to find agents who might be interested your story. Here are some places that might hold online pitch sessions:

http://cupidslitconnection.blogspot.com/
http://www.savvyauthors.com
http://www.brenda-drake.com/pitmad/
http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/

Also follow blogs by well-known agents and publishing industry professionals. You’ll learn who these people are by getting involved in the writing community.

Do Your Research

http://aaronline.org/
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/activity.php
http://accrispin.blogspot.com/
http://www.agentresearch.com
http://www.agentquery.com
http://www.literarymarketplace.com/
http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/
http://mswishlist.com/
http://www.publishersmarketplace.com
http://www.querytracker.net
http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/alerts/
http://www.writersmarket.com/
http://www.1000literaryagents.com/

Follow the guidelines for submissions on the agent’s website. Write a snappy query letter introducing yourself, giving the word count and genre for your book, your writing credits, and a few sentences about your story. Make it read like back cover copy. Include a hot premise or marketing hook that makes your story stand out. This letter should be no longer than one page. DO NOT describe your life history or any personal details that do not relate to your writing career. DO include if you belong to a critique group, have won writing contests, or if you’ve attended writing workshops and conferences.

If you hear nothing for a couple of months, send a follow-up email to ask if the agent received your query. Be courteous and respectful of the agent’s time. Be aware that some agents won’t respond at all, and this can be taken as a rejection. But follow through at least once to make sure your email was received. As an alternative, you can request a return receipt for when the agent opens the mail.

If you receive a rejection letter with detailed suggestions for your work, write a thank you note. Remember, an author-agent relationship is a two-way street. Just as you want to hire the ideal agent, the agent wants to land the ideal client. Be courteous, professional, and savvy about the industry. Never pay an agent any fees. The agent will receive a commission on sales.

CLICK TO TWEET

Coming Next: Getting an Agent – Part 2

You’ve found an agent who interests you. Now what?

 

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Pirates – Fact or Fiction?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 7, 2017

Research Notes: Pirates – Fact or Fiction?

Pirates have always fascinated readers. Witness the myriad romance novels wherein the hero, or even the heroine, is a pirate. How about the swashbuckling movies featuring pirate heroes? Yet for all their romantic image, these scourges of the high seas reaped death and destruction in their wake. We tend to overlook the reality and cling to the fictional counterpart.

Pirate With A Treasure Of Gold Behind A Lot Of Candles

Florida has a romanticized pirate named José Gaspar. Tampa has a Gasparilla Pirate Fest every year to celebrate this renowned character. So how does this apply to Facials Can Be Fatal, my latest Bad Hair Day Mystery featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail?

GasparillaParade

Marla uncovers an old family journal belonging to a lady who died while getting a facial at her day spa. This journal tells about a pirate and his buried treasure. Here is a conversation Marla and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, have with a journalist in Key West. My fictionalized pirate is based on the Gasparilla legend. The reporter is speaking.

“I recalled the story of the infamous brigand known as Red Ted. Born Thaddeus Montoya, he was a nobleman’s son from Spain whose exploits with the ladies caused his hasty departure aboard a naval vessel. Because he could read and write, he rose to officer’s status and got himself appointed as a liaison to the court. But his old habits died hard, and he once again found himself fleeing Spanish authorities. He commandeered a ship and set sail, forcing the crew to either join him or be hanged. His nickname came from his fondness for bloodshed.

“Wanting to get even with Spain, he set out for the next decade to raid helpless merchant ships. But his inflated ego eventually caused his demise. Before his last voyage, Red Ted was getting set to retire. He’d loaded his goods onto a mule train and told his second in command to take it to Key West, where he planned to hole up in his later years. Then a sighting came for one more merchant ship that appeared to be unarmed. He couldn’t resist this last kill and set sail. The vessel turned out to be a warship hiding under a merchant flag, and Red Ted shot himself rather than be captured.”

“What happened to his mule train?” Marla asked.

“They were attacked by Indians on the route south. The natives made off with horses and mules and left them with fewer pack animals. They had to lighten their load and so buried some of the chests. They didn’t have much better luck as they headed into swampland and were beset by storms as well as bandits. With dwindling resources, they buried more loads along the way.”

How do these past events relate to the present? Facials Can Be Fatal has real journal entries from my father’s 1935 trip to Florida. He discovered a buried chest along the wilds of Fort Lauderdale beach. What was in this chest? In my fictional tale, it’s something quite different than what my father found. Read more in Facials Can Be Fatal.

What’s your favorite pirate movie?

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FacialsCanBeFatalFront

Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13)

Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial. To salvage her reputation, Marla jumps on the trail of the killer. Soon she’s unraveling clues involving historic buildings, family journals, pirates, and shipwrecks off the Florida coast. The victim may have stumbled onto secrets others would kill to keep.

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