Saturday, August 20, 2016


I recently received an email from a sharp-eyed reader I’ll identify as JC. The note informed me that I’d given one character, who appears in both “The Echo of the Whip” and “The Daddy’s Girl Decoy” two different names. In “Whip,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Beck; in “Decoy,” he’s named Eugene (Gene) Ludwig.
Sigh. Over the course of nine Jim McGill novels, I’ve created a very large cast of characters. It appears they’ve finally gotten the better of me. The way all this came about is I first used the surname Ludwig for the character Auric Ludwig, the gun lobbyist. Then I attached it to Gene Ludwig. My wife, the first person to read all my work, pointed out this repetition to me.
I said, okay, I’ll change Gene’s family name to Beck, which is how it appears in “Whip.” But when I was assembling the cast for “Decoy” I used an earlier edition of the preceding novel for reference, and put Ludwig back in by mistake. None of a half-dozen proofreaders caught the glitch.
But JC did. For which I say, “Thank you.”
The writer-to-reader-to-writer loop is very important. It lets me know what you like and what you don’t. It also might tell me where I’ve messed up.
One of the nice things about ebooks is they are easily corrected. So Gene Beck, by virtue of seniority and a preponderance of appearances, will stay. Gene Ludwig is out. We’re uploading a corrected file of the book to Amazon. For those of you who already have a Gene Ludwig copy of “Decoy,” I can’t swear that it will become a collector’s item like a stamp that mistakenly got goofed up, but it might be an interesting piece of small talk.
One bit of unrelated concern: Some readers have complained about copies of “Decoy” and other of my books that seem to have continuity problems, missing sentences and the like. Please be advised that ebook files can sometimes become corrupted during downloading. The thing to do then is to delete the file of the book from your e-reader (but not from your account). Do another download and that will usually solve the problem. If it doesn’t, contact Amazon for advice.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Old Friends and New Acquaintances

Jim McGill is back today in “The Daddy’s Girl Decoy,” number nine in the White House cycle of the McGill saga. This is the e-book edition; the print version will be a month or two in coming. “Decoy” is the penultimate book in this cycle. The next title, yet to be named, will close out the second term of Patricia Grant’s presidency and Jim McGill’s position as the president’s henchman.

I’m happy to say I still enjoy exploring McGill’s character. I think he’s grown since the day he was introduced in “The President’s Henchman,” and I feel he has miles to go before he calls it quits. He’s about to embark on a career as an international businessman — without giving up his own sleuthing, of course. Patti is about to become a venture capitalist with a social conscience. The McGill kids are becoming independent adults and, who knows, one or more of them might make McGill a grandfather.

That’s the thing that keeps me interested in McGill, Patti and all the others. They age just like the rest of us. Their situations change and they have to adapt. They outgrow old circumstances and move on to new ones. Old friends depart and new ones appear. I certainly anticipate all these things as the next cycle of McGill stories are written.

One reader review of McGill on Amazon said I make the characters in the story “too perfect.” To that I plead somewhat guilty. McGill has his regrets like the rest of us, but he’s probably more fortunate than we are, too. He gets along with his ex-wife. His kids are fairly well adjusted and self-directed. His second chance at love with Patti Grant is pretty much a winning lottery ticket.

I could have made McGill a darker character, but there are plenty of novels with those guys, and there’s grim news daily in just about any newspaper that comes to hand. From my point of view, McGill and his friends, with new ones to come, help to balance the daily dose of hard reality we get delivered to our front doors (or computers) every morning.

So, one more title in the White House cycle and then on to new contexts with new characters joining the familiar favorites. One thing McGill can always use is new readers. Please continue to introduce him to anyone who enjoys a good read. You know, stories with characters who are just a bit more perfect than you are.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Famous Up and Down the Block

I've been lucky in my career as a writer. I got my first story idea on the way to my first day of college and little more than a couple of decades later I got my first publishing deal. By today's impoverished publishing standards, the money for a paperback original deal was pretty good. By the standards of the time, it was modest at best. I was thrilled anyway.

My first book, "The Concrete Inquisition," would be sold and read all over the United States. I learned from my sister who was vacationing in Mexico that a resale copy was even available south of the border. Great, I thought, I'd reached two out of three of the biggest countries in North America.

My second traditional publishing deal, a two-book deal with a combined advance adding another zero to the payout, put Canada on the list of countries my work had reached. An Italian edition was considered for one of those two books but was never completed. For all I know, though, Italy being Italy, it might still be under discussion.

With my move to indie publishing on Amazon, I went global. Today, I know that my books have sold in the U.K. (my second biggest market), Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and even one book in Brazil.

So I have a global brand. With plenty of room to grow, of course.

Even so, I was surprised the other day when I took a morning run. I was on my way to the park near my home when I stopped, while running in place, in front of a neighbor's house. A woman with two small children was enjoying the pleasant weather. Her front porch had a shade/privacy screen that I admired. I said hello and asked where she got the screen.

Without having introduced myself, she nonetheless said, "Oh, you're the writer, aren't you?"

She pointed and added, "You live in that house over there, right?"

Not getting the least impression she intended to burgle me, I said she was right both times.

"What kind of books do you write?"

Her dossier on me was obviously incomplete. I told her mysteries, thrillers, the occasional comedy.

She asked where she could get them and I told her to visit my website:

I thanked her for the information about the screen — she gave me the website for that — and continued on my run, asking myself how she knew about me.

I'm generally friendly with my neighbors, know a handful by name, but I'm not a big socializer. My wife, child, work and siblings take up most of my time. So having been known, somewhat, by a person down the block surprised me.

It became obvious to me almost immediately that one of the neighbors who knows what I do must have spread the word, and the woman I talked to had found it sufficiently interesting that she remembered at least some of the details.

She even said that she'd buy a book, being a mystery fan.

Who knows, someday I might be out for another run and see a front porch book club discussing my newest title. I'll have to stop by and say hello. See how many of them already know me.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keeping Familiar Characters Fresh

One of the great things about writing novels is hearing from readers that they love the characters you create. No, that's the wrong verb. You don't create characters as much as find or discover them.
When I decided to write a private investigator novel, I had to ask myself where I wanted to set it. Many authors will stake a claim to a city or a state as their protagonist's turf. I wanted to do something different. So I thought I'd use a house as my guy's central setting. To make things interesting, I chose the White House.
That's natural for me. I have an interest in politics that started early and remains strong. But I didn't want to echo my own character directly in Jim McGill. So I went a different way. McGill is an unflagging supporter of his wife, President Patricia Grant, because he loves her above all else. Except for his kids.
He's a family man, first and foremost. I liked that because it's not typical for a tough-guy PI. Using that as a starting point, I looked for other things about McGill that would differentiate him from other characters in his genre. One of those traits was a reverence for life and a reluctance to take lives.
Sure, he'd be happy to bust someone's nose, if that's called for, but he doesn't pull his gun and shoot people willy-nilly. And when he gets in a physical confrontation, he doesn't shrug it off. Sometimes he needs the attention of massage therapists and a long soak in a hot bath to ease the pain.
Heck, he's so human he even has to submit to a colonoscopy and has pre-cancerous polyps removed.
All of that is part of discovering just who this guy is. But now we know all that. Along with his wife, McGill is now coming to the end of his time in the White House. Which is good because he's grown tired of it. The relentless pressures are wearing on everyone involved, not just him.
And as much as readers have enjoyed McGill in that context, they (you) might soon think things are getting stale. So McGill, to stay fresh, has to move on. Just as all of us do as we move through life.
He has to assume new roles: the CEO of an international detective agency, not just the head of a one-man shop; the father of children fast becoming adults, and maybe soon the role of being a grandfather; maybe someone who has to deal with an unexpected physical limitation.
I can't say for sure. I'll have to find out as I go along. Make new discoveries. That's what will keep McGill fresh for me and, I hope, enjoyable for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Please Tip Your Author

No, don't tip him or her over. Don't even dig in your pocket or purse for a few bucks. All we ask is a few moments of your time and as many kind words as you can spare.
When you read a book you like — one of mine or somebody else's — please show your appreciation with a favorable review on Amazon, Goodreads or the on-line forum of your choice.
Every author loves to see that readers have enjoyed what we do. On sites like Amazon, your approval can help spur the Amazon algorithm to give the book greater exposure. That means more sales and page-reads for the author. In other words more income.
Authors who don't have to scramble for every nickel and dime have more time to write. So if you post good reviews for the authors you like, you're helping to make sure the author will write another book.
FYI: I'm doing okay in the nickels-and-dimes department, but I still love to see good reviews for my books.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

KDP Select, BookBub & New Developments

My first paid writing gig was at an ad agency. I started at $13,000 per year. I was elated. I got my own office, an IBM Selectric typewriter and free beer on Friday afternoons. To earn my keep all I had to do was fire up my imagination, synch it to my vocabulary and crank out copy for print ads, radio commercials and TV spots.

I had a series of wonderful creative partners, art directors, with whom I could have great conversations, bounce ideas off of, share a lot of laughs with and of course get the work done.

Once the work was done, we "creative" people had a whole network of support staff. There were illustrators, photographers, producers, directors, acting talent, voice talent, and all sorts of other people. Even a few account executives — suits — who knew what they were doing. Then there were media people who made sure the finished creative product was seen by the right audience, i.e. people who were interested in buying the goods and services we were pitching.

Flash forward to the present. Now, I'm a novelist with twenty titles for sale online. I'm also half of a Mom and Pop publishing company: Stray Dog Press, Inc. I have my own (home) office, an iMac and I can drink beer any time I want, but I have to pay for it. Mom, aka my wife, Catherine, is a wonderful creative partner. We bounce ideas off each other, laugh and have great conversations. Catherine also has an amazing number of talents and skills we put to use in our business.

But both of us know roughly zilch when it comes to doing what every successful business has to do: find its target market. Oh, we know who they are: people who like to read mysteries, thrillers and comic novels. But where do they live? What's the best way to reach them? How do we do that with far less money to spend than it costs for one second of a Super Bowl TV spot?

Here's where I do my testimonial: We heard of a potent combination from the apostle of indie publishing, Joe Konrath. He said to the multitudes: Go forth and sign up for Kindle Select. Use the five-day free promotion the Select are offered. Multiply your loaves and fishes — i.e. opportunities — with an ad on BookBub. com.

So that's what we did. We took our novel, Nailed, off all the other distributors, PubIt, iTunes, et. al., and enrolled it in Amazon Select. We scheduled a free promotion from Amazon for the period 3/28 - 4/1/13 and backed it up with a BookBub ad at a cost of $230.

Remember what I said about finding our target audience? BookBub did that for us. It sent our email ad to 360,000 mystery and thriller fans. Of that number, we downloaded 57,189 copies. Better than a 15% response. If you ask people who know about this kind of thing, they'll tell you that's a fantastic number. Here's another one. Nailed went to No.1 on the Amazon Top 100 for mysteries and thrillers. In the first five days of April, Nailed has made more money for us than all twenty of our titles did in the entire month of March.

So, it probably won't come as a big surprise that were thinking of enrolling all our books in KDP Select and planning BookBub promotions for more than a few of them. This means we'll have to take our books down from the other distributors. Fans who don't have Kindles won't be left out in the cold because there are free Kindle apps available for every device short of a cuckoo clock, and that will likely be available soon.

Now, Nailed had thirty-four reader reviews with a 4.5-star average before we enrolled it in KDP Select.   So we had reason to believe it was a good book. Not every book will do as well as Nailed. But if you're an indie writer with a book you really believe in, and can spare the money for a BookBub ad — the mystery and thriller category is the most expensive because it reaches the most readers — you might do well to look into the KDP Select/BookBub combination.

If you're a reader/fan without a Kindle, please consider getting one or at least a free app. I think a lot of your favorite writers will be taking the same path we've taken. The other distributors just aren't trying as hard as Amazon to make indie writing and publishing a paying proposition.

Of necessity, writers have to do what Willie Sutton said bank robbers do: Go where the money is.

Last but not least, Jim McGill #5 will be out within a month — God and Catherine willing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Writing Time and Typos

My wife tells me I don’t spend enough time blogging. She’s probably right; she is about most things. Some marketing gurus tell writers that regular blog posts are critical tools for a writer to build his/her audience. Other people say blogs are a waste of time. Precious few are read by anyone beyond a writer’s immediate family and close friends.

This one draws only slightly more people than that.

But then I’ve put a bare minimum, if that, into building an audience for Committing Fiction. Truth is, I’d rather write a story than a blog post. The work is more interesting and the payoff is more immediate.

I’m fairly optimistic, though, that this post might be read by two more people than usually show up at this dusty outpost of the Internet. Two readers of my novels recently commented on my Jim McGill novels. The comments dovetail neatly from my point of view.

The first is a question that comes from Andy S.: “What is a normal, if there is one,  time frame to write a complete novel, like the Jim McGill book you will be starting, 3 months, 6 months?”

The answer is I never know how long a book will take to write. I can say that once I begin writing the first draft, I work seven days per week until I’m finished. I wish I could take more of a prima donna attitude and let nothing interrupt the work flow, but that isn’t realistic. I’m at the stage of life where my family obligations extend to both child and parent, and of course to my wife.

Family is the only thing that matters to me more than my writing. My mother and father both worked a lot harder than I do to make things right for my five siblings and me. My wife, as you’ll see below, also works very hard. I have to do what I can to hold up my end of the bargain. So, while I write every day to complete the first draft of a novel, the number of hours I have to write in a given day can vary greatly.

Then there’s the story itself. It might be complex or simple. The nature of a story determines its length. The longer the story, the greater the time it takes to tell. More words equals more pages equals more time needed at the keyboard.

I work hard at maintaining good health, so I don’t lose much time to sick days. Hardly any, really. But I’m not Superman. Toward the end of writing “The Last Ballot Cast,” I’d been at the keyboard so long, writing so persistently, that the fingers of my left hand started to spasm. That limited me in terms of the time I could spend working. This was very frustrating. I could see the end was close. I had all the words in my head. But if I pushed too hard my hand might have gotten really screwed up. I did what I needed to do; I pulled back.

Cost myself maybe an extra two weeks to complete the first draft.

There’s more to say about what happens next, but first I’ll mention the second reader comment.

Jeffrie F. posted the following comment on the Facebook page Friends of Jim McGill: “Love all 4 McGill Books. However, these last two books need a better KINDLE EDITOR. For such a great author, it is terrible to have the books not at its finest level. Way too many errors in the last two books.”

After I complete the first draft of a novel, it gets proofread, usually by five people, including me. We all find errors, often the same ones but not infrequently errors that one of us spots while the others miss them. Proofreading at a professional level is an exacting and uncommon skill. That’s why good proofreaders can charge handsome fees.

If I had hired a proofreading pro, it would have cost me $4,000-$5,000 to have a book the length of “The Last Ballot Cast” done. Sorry to say there’s no such thing as a Kindle Editor; you either do the work in-house or you hire an outside expert. The profit margin on most of my novels is two to three dollars. You can do the arithmetic to figure out how many copies I’d have to sell just to break even.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that TLBC suffered because two of my usual proofreaders were unavailable at the time. One was at summer school taking an extra course so she might graduate from college on time. The other was having back surgery. Life intrudes on everyone’s plans.

Besides what it might cost to hire an outside proofreader, there’s the matter of time it always takes to pick out at least most of the rough spots in a first draft. After I get back the corrections from my other readers and clean up those mistakes, I reread the manuscript again, polishing and making sure any continuity errors are corrected. More time.

Then the polished manuscript goes to my wife, Catherine, for formatting and page layout. Then Catherine and I have to come up with a cover design. Next, Catherine has to make the design computer ready. More time again. In short, a book’s ready when it’s ready.

Please understand, I hate finding typos in my work. So does Catherine. They make us cringe. Fortunately, e-books are infinitely revisable. If you spot mistakes we’ve missed and would care to point them out to us, please do. We will make the corrections and upload the cleaner copy.

In the meanwhile, we are looking for a sixth proofreader within the community where we live. We’ll also be checking the Net to see if there’s any good, reasonably priced software on the market that does more than check spelling. If you know of any, please let us know.

Perfection is never possible, but it’s always worth striving for.

One more thing, if you like the Jim McGill novels, please visit the Friends of Jim McGill page. I’d love to see a community of readers form there. I don’t always have the time to communicate one to one, but it would be great if McGill’s fans could start a dialogue among themselves.