Do Readers Care Where Books Come From

My guest today is Norah Wilson, author of sexy contemporary romances, a vampire romance series, and the Dix Dodd Mysteries.

Norah is a 3 times RWA Golden Heart Finalist and the 2003 winner of the New Voice in Romance contest sponsored by Dorchester Publishing and Romantic Times Magazine. You can find Norah at her website, "Where Danger and Desire meet," or her blog.

A few months ago, I included a review of Norah's vampire romance The Merzetti Effect in a trio of reviews. The second book in her Vampire Romance Series, Nightfall, is out now, and I can't wait to read it.

Now, please welcome Norah Wilson whose books are available from all the popular ebook sellers.

Do readers care where books come from?
By Norah Wilson

I self-published my first book in the summer of 2010. I had been previously published by a New York publisher, but after a six-year drought, upon hearing the fabulously talented Delle Jacobs talking about her experiences with self-publishing, I decided to follow the trail she was blazing.

Back then, I was eager to call myself an indie author and wanted to join every indie author network going. While I still have indie author affiliations (I’m a proud member of IndieRomanceInk), I no longer feel the need to wave the indie flag so aggressively. Nor do I build my platform around my indie status.

Why the change of heart?

Well, it’s more of a change of strategy than a change of heart, and here’s why: I’ve come to realize that most readers really don’t know or particularly care who publishes the books they browse and buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes. I don’t think readers are looking at the publisher’s name to ensure the book is traditionally published before they buy it.

Nor do I think they’re searching out indie books the way a jaded music listener might cruise indie music offerings. I think they’re just looking for books that appeal to them (attractive cover and compelling blurb) and which are well written and cleanly formatted (which they can easily ascertain from downloading a sample).

Entrepreneurs Enter Indie World

As self-publishing has matured, a number of services have sprung up to assist indie authors in putting forward books that are virtually indistinguishable from traditionally published books. From cover artists to content editors to copy editors to formatters, these professionals can help us compete for the hearts – and dollars! – of readers.

When I first started out, these resources were not so readily available, nor could I have seen my way clear to risking that kind of money on a market that was in its infancy. But the ebook market has evolved since then and become considerably more competitive. We can no longer count on modest indie pricing alone to deliver the customers. Also, many consumers have grown wary of indie offerings after having been disappointed on the quality front. Thus I think investing in professional assistance is more important now than ever.

Be Cautious

That said, I don’t recommend new indie authors leap into agreements with companies to “self-publish” for them. These companies typically take a fee upfront (sometimes a pretty substantial one), but they also glom a chunk of the author’s royalties, in perpetuity. If someone offers you that opportunity, I recommend running the other way. You can, and perhaps should, outsource certain pieces of the job (editing, proofing, cover design, formatting) to ensure quality, but that’s different.

In the latter case, you’re paying a fixed price for a one-time service. In my opinion, the author should never give up royalties in exchange for such services. (Of course, for every rule there is an exception. I’m thinking of the situation where the author strikes a deal with a translator to translate their book into another language. Translating a book can be prohibitively expensive, and royalty sharing might be a viable alternative.)

So that’s where I am right now – availing myself more and more of the services of professionals in order to give my books the best possible chance to compete in a crowded market. I want my books to be judged against all available titles, regardless of who the publisher may be.

Judge For Yourself

To that end, I recently replaced the covers on my Serve and Protect romantic suspense series. The graphic below contrasts the original covers and the new covers. If you click on the graphic to magnify it, you can see the changes more clearly.

Though I did pay a graphic designer to dress the original covers, I felt they needed sprucing up.

The new ones look more professional (I hope!) and do a better job of branding the series.

I hope they’ll also help me compete more effectively in a crowded market.

Thank you, Norah, for sharing your insights with us today. I'll add my two cents about the covers. I love the new covers. Great cover art, but, more importantly, they do brand the series and your author name extremely well. Come back and visit and tell us if the new covers are a success.

Takeaway Truth

Readers, you can thank Norah by buying any of her books. You'll find them at most ebook retailers.

Bride's Night Out

Last night was my daughter's bachelorette party. We were the rather loud bunch at Vincent's Italian Kitchen, one of my favorite Houston restaurants.

The bride's "to do" list, i.e., kiss a bald man on his head, obtain a stranger's boxers, and other, ahem, intriguing tasks, were great fodder for a romance novelist like me!

We--the lively bunch of friends and family (all female of course)--laughed like we'd never heard jokes before, swapped stories and a few lies, and generally ate too much. In short, we had a great time.

Ah, parties. I love parties. They always remind me of this tee shirt slogan from my youth: "Live for today; plan for tomorrow; party tonight!"

Takeaway Truth

Hear no evil, speak no evil--and you'll never be invited to a party. Only 2 weeks to the biggest party of all. The wedding!

Laughter Ends Week

I haven't blogged daily as is my habit. I've been having trouble making time to accomplish many tasks, but only 15 more days to the wedding! Woo hoo! Can't wait for daughter and fiance to tie the knot. Then maybe I can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to my life. *g*

If you're waiting for my Valentine gift, be patient. I had planned to get them in the mail this week, but real life and appointments interfered. However, they are packaged so Monday they go in the mail.

Let's end this frantic week with some belly laughs. How about some funny, but wise, aphorisms that one of my BFFs sent?

Aphorism: a short, pointed sentence that expresses a wise or clever observation, general truth or adage. The following dozen certainly fit that definition.

1. The nicest thing about the future is that it always starts tomorrow.

2. Money will buy a fine dog but only kindness will make him wag his tail.

3. Seat belts are not as confining as wheelchairs.

4. A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you're in deep water.

5. How come it takes so little time for a child who is afraid of the dark to become a teenager who wants to stay out all night?

6. Why is it that at class reunions you feel younger than everyone else looks ?

7. No one has more driving ambition than the boy who wants to buy a car.

8. No one ever says "It's only a game" when their team is winning.

9. Be careful reading the fine print. There's no way you're going to like it.

10. Do you realize that in about 40 years we'll have millions of old ladies running around with tattoos? (And rap music will be the Golden Oldies!)

11. Money can't buy happiness - but somehow it's more comfortable to cry in a Corvette than in an old Toyota Corolla.

12. Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job.

Takeaway Truth

Life's too short not to laugh. If you don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't have any sense at all.

Are You Tired?

I've had a whirlwind year filled with a lot of hard work and, thankfully, a lot of rewards. I also had a couple of accidents last year that kept me from working for quite a while.

Tired? No. Exhausted

When January rolled around, I had my physical and was complaining about how tired I was. Actually, I thought I was just over-worked since I'm like a lot of women--trying to balance family, home, and work. Often, I feel as if I'm juggling chainsaws and bowling balls.

Throw in planning the wedding of our youngest child--only 17 more days! (Truthfully, I wish I had just gone with a package deal from a wedding broker because taking care of every little detail--and all the "things" that crop up--has been exhausting for my daughter and me. But she's an artist and wanted something "different.")


Yesterday, I met with my doctor to discuss the blood work that was done. Surprise! I have 3 conditions that each result in tiredness and lack of energy: low thyroid, low B12 levels, and low Vitamin D.

I've been plagued with low Vitamin D before and have had to take the prescription supplements in the past--a 40,000 unit capsule once a week for 8 weeks. After the first one, I was sick for 2 days! I'm not looking forward to massive supplements again.

However, I'm happy to do anything to regain my energy and stop feeling so tired all the time. With me, exhaustion leaves me open to the invasion of pessimism. The only way I've managed to accomplish anything in the last six months is through sheer will power.


After talking to my doctor, I don't feel so bad that I've not blogged every day, finished the 2 books I'd planned to publish by this month, stay active with my Tweet peeps, and all the other activities that make up a writer's life.

Yesterday afternoon, I picked up my prescription, the B12 sublingual, and the Vitamin D3. I'm looking forward to feeling like my old self--in 4-6 weeks. Can't come too soon for me.

Takeaway Truth

If you're feeling unusually tired, don't wait for your annual exam to get some blood work done. There may be an easily corrected medical issue underlying your exhaustion.

2 Technology Tips

Let's start this Monday with a couple of useful technology tips.

Nuisance Popups For DL Apps

Have you ever had a website open and immediately a popup browser window pops open for a software download that you don't want?

Sometimes, when you stumble onto something like this, you immediately click cancel, but it doesn't go away. It just keeps coming at you and it won't go away no matter what you do.

The best thing to do is click Alt / F4 immediately. That should close the browser. If it doesn't, try closing it though Task Manager: click Alt / Ctrl / Del to open the Task Manager then click applications. Highlight the application you want to end (to close) and click end task. That should take care of it.

Investigate Websites

If you're wary, for whatever reason, of entering a new website, check out the validity of the website first by visiting URL Void and enter the URL into the box at the top. The app will scan the website for any potential problems.

Takeaway Truth

Technology is wonderful, but it can also be a nuisance if one is not careful.

Not Lazy--Just Too Brainy

I finally discovered why I can't make myself exercise later in the day: my brain is too smart to be deceived.

You see, Marsha Dobel said: "I have to exercise in the morning before my brain figures out what I’m doing."

That totally explains my inability to exercise in the afternoon or evening. Who knew? I thought I was just lazy or tired. Wrong! My brain is on to my tricks and cannot be deceived.

Guess that means that bright and early in the morning, I'll pull on my sweats and hit the pavement.

Takeaway Truth

Is it smart to procrastinate endlessly on good intentions? Uh, no. Use it or lose it.

5 Ways To Craft A Hook Sentence

If you are a reader, you know how that first sentence in a book hooks you and makes you buy the book. Or it doesn’t.

In the book biz, that first sentence is called the hook sentence, and that’s exactly what it should be: the hook that pulls you into the story.

If you are a writer, and you have been working at your craft longer than a nano second, you’ve already learned how crucial that strong introductory sentence is.

In fact, it’s the key to getting readers to read your book or blog or article, essay, or whatever is hooking them with that first sentence and then reeling them in.

Become A Happy Hooker

A few years ago, I gave a presentation to a room full of novelists. Since I know not only the importance of a strong hook sentence but also the importance of a good title, I called the workshop The Happy Hooker.

Yep, that packed the room. Seriously, that's what you always need to keep in mind when opening your piece of writing whatever it might be. You have a few seconds to hook the reader.

The Art of Fishing

I always think it's like fishing. You bait the hook. The bait is the title and/or any artwork. You want to capture the reader's attention so that he or she stops and looks.

Once the hook is baited, you wait for the fish to bite. In this analogy, once the reader stops cruising–whether you're talking about a reader in a bookstore or a reader on the Internet–because you've captured his attention with the bait, you have a few seconds to see if he will bite and be hooked.

Those few seconds are when he reads the first sentence of either the blurb aka Product Description or the first sentence in the book itself. That sentence has got to have something compelling in it to make him read the second sentence and the third. If he reads the second and third and keeps going, you have succeeded in hooking the reader.

With print books, when the reader is hooked, the book is bought. The same is true of the digitally published books. When the reader is hooked by the Product Description, the book is bought or a free sample is downloaded. Now the book's actual first sentence must hook the reader so the book will be bought.

I suspect, from a lot of web copy and blogs I read, many writers don't realize the importance of crafting a compelling sentence even if they’re writing a Product Description or a daily blog post. Or, sometimes, the book itself. I read a lot of ebooks, and a lot of them have mundane first sentences that do little to draw the reader into the story.

Perhaps many writers are stumped when it comes to creating a compelling description of the book they've spent so much time writing. Maybe they think the book will speak for itself. In the traditionally-print published world, publishers have editors who write these descriptions. In the indie published world, chances are the writer must do the task.

Perhaps many writers try to "write their way into the story" and think that the reader will follow along. Sorry. That's not going to happen–unless the reader is your mom or brother or beloved.

Expecting readers to buy your book is the real world of publishing, and books that don't ensnare the reader don't get bought. That's true in the real world of bookstore shelves and in the online bookstores too.

There are many wonderful books and blogs out there to help improve writing skills so start studying. Work at your craft. Take advantage of the wealth of resources offered for free. Here are some ways to help you get started–whether you're writing a book or an article.

5 Ways to Create Hook Sentences

1. Make a startling or interesting statement then follow it with a factual statement.

2. Begin by evoking an emotional reaction in the reader. Laughter, tears, anger, disgust–whatever you elicit–make sure it has a universality which gets the same response from someone in Houston as it does from someone in Rio or Prague or London. We are all basically the same human animal once you remove the trappings of our respective cultures and ethnicities. What makes me cry or laugh more than likely makes someone in Tokyo emote in the same way. Evoking emotional reactions will cause the reader to stick with you from the first word to the last.

3. By description, but only if it is a compelling description of something or someone remarkable. Most people don't get hooked by reading about an amazing sunset unless you're talking about the sunset as seen from a bar in Key West AND you use such evocative terms that make the reader lust after an ice-cold mojito on the deck of that bar.

4. By speech, meaning you directly quote or paraphrase what someone said. Maybe it's a joke Leno told that is germane to what you're writing about or something a kindergartener said about Life. Maybe it's the dying words of a soldier. Again, the keys are: compelling quotation and appealing to emotion.

5. By name dropping. Hey, face it. We're a celebrity culture. There are millions who will stop to read: Real Housewife of Wherever gives fashion advice to female prison inmates. They'll turn a blind eye to: High school home economics teacher gives fashion advice to female prison inmates.

These are just 5 ways to get you going. Study the narrative skills and find the other ways. When you can easily craft a great opening sentence, you'll be a happy hooker too.

Takeaway Truth

Don't be afraid to write a beginning and toss it away. Sometimes you have to write just to figure out what you’re trying to say. Don’t look at your words as if they are carved in stone. Be willing to experiment.

Valentine Gift For My Followers

Every Valentine's Day, it is my custom to send a little token of appreciation to those who are the Followers of SlingWords.

If you are one of the 109 who are today listed as Followers of SlingWords, I have a gift for you.

Claim Your Gift Procedure

1. Email me within the next 24 hours. That means from now 5:00 PM CST, U.S., to tomorrow, Feb. 15, at 5:00 PM CST.

Joan at JoanReeves dot com

2. In the subject box put: Real Live Person--I want my Valentine gift.

3. If you are in the U.S., send me your mailing address.

4. If you are international, send me your Smashwords registered email address.

Look for the gift within the next 2 weeks.

Takeaway Truth

On Valentine's Day, and on every day of the year, I appreciate your support and friendship.

Find Your Book's Rank on iTunes

Do you know how to find your book's rank on iTunes? It's not especially user-friendly or an easy process. I really hate when you have to click so many things to get the information you want, but that describes this process.

(This article previously appeared on Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Subscribe today if you'd like articles like this as soon as they are published.)

Here are step by step instructions for obtaining the rank of iTunes book bestsellers.

1. If you don't have iTunes software on your computer, download it now. It's free.

2. Get it up and running.

3. From the menu bar on top click Books.

4. On the right sidebar of the iTunes page you'll see Books. The first section is Books Quick Links. Click All Categories. I'll be using the Romance Category for illustration purposes. The process is the same for any category. From the drop-down menu that opens, click Romance.

5. When the Romance Category opens, scroll down to the third listing in the right sidebar, Top Charts. The words next to that say See All--Paid. Click See All-Paid, and the Top 200 Paid books in Romance displays. This Top 200 is the bestselling romances whether historical or contemporary. Most of these books are publisher books. However, some of the books are from indies.

6. If your book doesn't appear in the top 200 of All Romance, then you want to look into various niche categories based upon the category you selected for the book. Use the navigation arrow buttons in upper left of the iTunes page (They're on that black bar and kind of small and easy to miss) to go back to the previous page. Once there, scroll down, looking on right sidebar for More Romance. Click Cntemporary, then, scroll up to Top Charts / See All--Paid and click that. The Top 200 of Contemporary Romances on the Paid list opens.

7. Repeat this general process to view the Bestsellers in all categories. To find the link for your book once you locate it, just right click and Copy Link.

Takeaway Truth

Once you use this a few times, it won't seem so complicated.

Endless February

Today is cold here in Texas. In fact for the Gulf Coast area, one could conceivably say that it's bitterly cold. February is usually our winter with more bleak, overcast days than usual.

American writer Shirley Jackson described this month perfectly when she said, "February, when the days of winter seem endless and no amount of wistful recollecting can bring back any air of summer."

Takeaway Truth

The cold winds and gray days of February make me long for the torrid Texas summer.

Resources for Writers

Ah, the weekend is here. Time to relax, and also time to learn some tricks and tools of the writing trade. Here are a few freebies to help you.

My friend Joel Friedlander has a free 24-page book. Just click, fill in the form with your email addy, and 10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing will be delivered asap.

Kindle has a number of free books on writing and publishing. I haven't read these, but they look promising and have recent copyrights so, if the author knows the business, they should be worthwhile. Plus, they're free so you're not out any money if they don't pan out.

Go Publish Yourself! by Katie Salidas.

Smashwords Style Guide by Smashwords CEO Mark Coker is the most recent edition of the bible for Smashwords formatting. This is the Kindle link, but of course you can also get it from the Smashwords website

Write Good or Die, edited by Scott Nicholson, includes tips from best-selling authors.

Pimp Yourself by erotica author Tymber Dalton was just published. It's free so you might check it out if the whole self-promotion thing leaves you shaking with anxiety.

100 Websites for Fiction Authors by Ty Johnston is for beginning fiction writers looking for places to publish their writing gratis and paid.

Kindle Links to Top 100

Here are links to the Kindle store bestseller lists, Paid and Free, for books on writing and publishing. Peruse the list. You may find several books that will help you.

Top 100: Publishing and Books

Top 100: Words & Language Reference

Top 100: Editing Writing Reference

Top 100: Writing Skill Reference

Takeaway Truth

Never stop learning. That's one of the keys of success in any career.

Book Marketing Trinity

I know a lot of you are waiting for my next nonfiction for writers: Ebook Success: Joan Sells & Tells All.

I'm working on it and a novel that I hope to publish this month. I'm afraid Ebook Success: Joan Sells & Tells All won't be available until after my daughter's wedding next month. I'm just bogged down with wedding details and events.

Also, I've written so much about this subject that I'm trying to figure out what to delete since I don't think a 500 page volume is called for. Therefore, I must beg your indulgence and patience.

Today, I offer an excerpt from the book.

Book Marketing Holy Trinity

There are 3 main elements that determine your book's initial sales success. None of these 3, which I call the Book Marketing Holy Trinity, is actually the content. You see, the content of the book determines whether it continues selling over a long period of time, and the content also determines the sales success of your next book.

Here are what I think are the 3 crucial elements for successful initial sales, and all 3 must "equal each other." Let me explain.

1. Cover Art

2. Title

3. Product Description

Cover Art

You know that your cover art should be appealing and eye-catching. Cover art should also show exactly what kind of book the buyer gets in terms of genre, mood or tone--some call it style.

Is your book a sexy, humorous contemporary romance? Does the cover show that? Mystery thriller? Horror? Western? Books aimed at a female audience often get confused. A sexy cover on a women's fiction book is misleading just as roses and a pastoral scene on a steamy romance falls way short of the goal.

The cover should clearly depict the genre. But wait, there's more. The cover also should show the tone or mood of the book. It should show whether it's a humorous romance or a serious romance.

Remember back in the late 1990's when chick lit and romantic comedy ruled publishing? Just about all those books had "cartoon" covers to clearly indicate to the reader that the book was fun, humorous and romantic.

A cover should show whether a horror book is a humorous zombie like the movie Shaun of the Dead or a more cerebral horror like The Walking Dead. Same with mystery--funny or a gritty, hard-edged detective mystery. A good book cover should somehow indicate the mood, tone, or style of the book.

Additionally, the book cover should be specific and relate in some visual way to your story--not to any horror or mystery or romance. What in the book is depicted on the cover? A scene? The characters? Some emotional aspect?

The cover is more than a picture. The font used for the book title should visually tie to the story and the genre too. Click this link and look at the title font Cynthia Wicklund used for Thief of Souls. See how the letters looked cracked or fractured as if riddled with fault lines. That perfectly depicts the male protagonist whose exquisite features belie the evil.

(Note: The font used for the author name can be used for branding purposes, but that's a different article.)

If you need some more examples of this crucial element, look at some of the bestsellers in the same genre in which you write. Do they illustrate what I mean? Chances are the books selling the best over the longest period of time will do just that.


Every author begins a book with a working title. Often, with print publishing, that title changes according to editorial discretion. With indie self-publishing, you can keep your title, but be aware that the title should equal the cover art and the Product Description.

If you've got a funny cover, the title should reflect that. If you've got a somber cover, the same holds true. In fact, a good title should reflect the book and the cover art or in some way distil the essence of the story into those few words. I'm going to use my books as examples here because I know them best.

My first ebook was Just One Look. This is a great title for this book because there are layers to the meaning of the title. A lot of people think it's just that old song "Just One Look" so that's okay if it makes them take a look at this romantic comedy. That's also okay because it's a rocking, fun oldie.

However, the title actually refers to these facts: the gynecologist in the opening scene--who happens to be the heroine's high school heart throb--says to the heroine who recognizes him with just one look at his face and only to get the heck out of there: "Let's just take one look."

At another point in the story, he takes just one look at her, and because of the particular circumstances, belatedly recognizes her.

My reason for selecting The Trouble With Love (Texas One Night Stands) for the first book in my Texas One Night Stands series is because "love is fraught with trouble" is the theme running through the book. If you want to find out what the heroine thinks is the real trouble with love, I guess you'll have to read the book. I do confess to loving the Kelly Clarkson song by the same name. I must have listened to it a thousand times when I was writing the book.

One of my most recent books is Old Enough To Know Better. Sure, we all know that phrase. Maybe you've been told that. There are several scenes where the heroine reminds herself that she is old enough to know better than to get involved emotionally. That phrase is also integral to one of the final scenes in the book where I twist that phrase. If you've read the book, you know which scene I mean.

Down & Dirty Title Analysis

Here are a few other titles of mine and a quick analysis.

JANE I'm-Still-Single JONES says it all: embarrassing name tag for a woman at her 10 year high school reunion.

Nobody's Cinderella (Book 1 of San Antone Two-Step) is a romantic comedy about a woman who has self-image problems and who is in love with her handsome boss.

Romeo and Judy Anne (Book 2 of Texas One Night Stands) is one of my favorite titles. Romeo tells you handsome playboy. Judy Anne tells you small town Texas girl. Put them together and you have a fun incongruity that promises an adventure.

Still The One is about a man and a woman who married young and divorced shortly thereafter, but each is still the only one for the other. Another golden oldie that's a rocking, fun song which is a plus.

Product Description

The Product Description should continue where the title and blurb left off. What you say in this blurb should deliver what you've promised with the title and the cover art. You don't want to stop the buyer dead in her tracks with something in the blurb that conflicts with what you promised in the title and the cover art.

Anything that confuses the buyer or conflicts will make the buyer PAUSE, and that's never good. In that pause, they are thinking: "What does this mean? That's not what the cover promises. This says the book is one thing, but the title promises another." The pause gives the reader time to change his mind rather than happily click BUY.

You want the reader to say a resounding yes after reading the title, viewing the cover art, and reading the blurb. You want them motivated to buy, not to think of reasons why they shouldn't buy.

With all the books available in the ebook marketplace, you have about 10 seconds to hook the reader with the title and cover art in order to get the customer to read your blurb. All 3 elements should make the reader say: "Yep. Sounds like my kind of book."

Give Me One Reason To Stay Here

That Tracy Chapman song is one of my favorites. I listened to it when I wrote Old Enough To Know Better.

Tracy sings: "Give me a reason to stay here, or I'll turn my back around."

Adopt that as your theme song when you write your Product Description. Never give the reader a reason to leave your book page without buying.

At the beginning of the blurb, give me reasons to buy your book. That means, entice me with marketing hooks that I cannot refuse.

Do you know what marketing hooks are? They are buzz words or phrases that do these 3 things:

1. create excitement about your book

2. tell the reader what kind of book it is

3. make the reader want to read the book.

In case you think great reviews are marketing hooks, let me be clear. They can be, but only if the reviews mean anything to the book browser. A lot of people who read ebooks have already learned that reviews posted on the book page may not mean much.

If you post reviews in the body of your Product Description, they may or may not be read. It's a crap shoot.

Here are some marketing hooks: runaway bride, secret baby, ugly duckling, amnesia story, debt of honor, Cinderella, evil twin, love at first sight, bad cop, ripped from the headlines, woman in jeopardy, marriage of convenience, and on and on.

Carefully read the Product Descriptions on bestselling books. Learn from them.

This post is already too long, or I'd give you my take on a sound format for Product Descriptions. Maybe next time. For now, read and digest this. Then act upon it.

Takeaway Truth

Always remember: never give a reader a reason to say NO to your book.

Note: If Joan Reeves aka SlingWords helps you get ahead, please consider buying one of my books (Written Wisdom is perfect for writers--readers too!), subscribing (only $.99 per month) to the Kindle Edition of SlingWords,or making a donation of any amount by clicking the button below. Thank you for your moral support and any monetary support you see fit to contribute.

How To Research Agents

With the new year, come writers' conferences. Many of these offer agents who travel to the hinterlands to meet authors and to, allegedly, recruit authors.

Often, junior agents are sent from the big agencies to big national conferences because the agency needs a visible presence and the newby is low man on the totem pole.

Keeping It Real

Some agents go to conferences in popular cities because it's as near a relatively nice paid vacation as can be had or they just want to touch bases with their existing clients or whatever the reason that justifies going.

The sad truth is that many agents who go to conferences really aren't looking for you, Brilliant Writer. They're just doing what they're told or what they must for whatever reason.

On The Other Hand

Still, some agents do actually go with the hope of finding some solid writers to add to their client list. A lot of one-agent shops build a client list this way.

If your goal is to break into traditional print publishing, or maybe you're an indie with sub-rights dreams, it's a good idea to check out agents and meet a few. However, getting the right agent is supremely important.

Titanic Deck Chairs

A bad agent is worse than no agent. One anonymous wit once declared: "Changing literary agents was like changing deck chairs on the Titanic." This is definitely a "let the buyer beware" situation where you don't want to do something stupid.

There are a lot of flakes in this industry because anyone can hang out a shingle that says Literary Agent. Getting a flake, or worse, a crook, can cost you precious time, money, and self-esteem. The best course of action is to do your own research into agents. Draw up your own A (first choice) list as well as a B (second choice, etc.).

To begin your quest for an agent--either for now for print work or for the future when you have a sub-rights deal offer, learn how to research agents. Here's part 1 of a multi-part series dealing with agents.

5 Ways To Research Agents

1. Post to all your writer lists and forums and ask if anyone has information about the prospective agent. Request contact by private email, not on the list or forum. Swear a blood oath that what someone says will not be repeated or published anywhere. And mean it. Loose lips have sunk some writer's ships.

2. Plug the agent’s name into a couple of search engines and read whatever you find. Follow the research trail as far as possible, even to contacting the the person who posted the information if at all possible.

3. Check out the agent on Preditors and Editors, a group that's been publishing information about publishers and publishing services for writers since 1997.

4. If you are a member of Romance Writers of America or another professional writers’ organization, contact the main office and tell them who you're researching and ask if there are any complaints filed against said agent. RWA keeps records like this.

5. If the agent passes this basic scrutiny, add them to your list. That's when you contact them regarding representation. It's pointless to contact an agent without knowing their rep.

When one you've researched expresses serious interest in you as a writer, ask for references by asking for a list of the agent's clients and if you may contact some of the clients. Then do it. You wouldn’t hire someone to replace your roof or renovate your kitchen without references would you?

Next Week

Tune in next week for more about agents.

Takeaway Truth

Being a professional writer is often like tiptoeing through a minefield. One misstep, and you're history.

Jill Sadowsky and David's Story

Normally on SlingWords, we visit with authors of romance or mystery -- with a few authors of other genres and nonfiction tossed in occasionally.

Today, I welcome Jill Sadowsky to SlingWords. Jill doesn't write lighthearted fiction. Her book David's Story is a story she lived as the mother of a son with schizophrenia.

I met Jill, one of my international readers, when she contacted me after reading this blog. She planned to publish the story of her son's life. This YouTube video gives a glimpse of the agony and heartbreak and love that characterized her son and Jill herself. In the end, her life was transformed by David's illness.

David's Story is heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, but it is also a story of love--of grace. I invite you also to reading Jill's Mental Health Resources, her blog. At times I found myself laughing at the humorous quotations about mental institutions. She quotes her son often. Because of Jill, I can see David, the man, not the schizophrenia.

Now, please welcome Jill Sadowsky.

David's Story Is My Story Too
by Jill Sadowsky

No one was more surprised than I was when Joan invited me, a grandmother of five, to be her guest blogger. Most of my friends use their computers for mail only but my grandchildren think I am a modern grandma. “Why,” I asked. “Because you varnish your toenails, use a computer quite efficiently, and you have an iPad.”

What is David's Story about?

Lily Tomlin’s saying is so apt, that I am quoting it here as it’s self explanatory. "When we talk to God, it’s called prayer, but when God talks to us, it’s called schizophrenia."


When my son David thought that the driver of an oncoming car was flicking his headlamps at him, he threw a stone through the windscreen of that car. By some miracle, the driver was not hurt.

The police came to our house.

When my son heard voices telling him that an old woman on the bus was contacting The Establishment that was working against him, he raised a hand to her. Fortunately, she only suffered from shock and a bruise on her forehead.

The police came to our house.

When my son gave up hope of recovery and came to the conclusion that he would never have the peace of mind he craved and deserved, he chose to stop living.

The police did not come to our house. They telephoned.

Death had claimed our son, and the resultant anguish was ours to bear. He’d taken my life too, but I could not cry. I had used up all my tears. My recovery will begin when I give my late son an unconditional pardon and tell him that I love him despite the fact that "he" took my son away.

My son David was a surfer with a winning smile. David’s Story is about one family--my family--yet it's also the story of millions of families with mentally ill children from Africa to Alaska.

I had three beautiful, healthy children and a loving husband, who once said; "A lucky child is one whose father loves their mother, and I do."

We were blessed and unremarkable, until the Israeli Military delivered a knock-out-punch in the form of a telephone call. "Your son has taken an overdose of sleeping tablets."

David returned physically from the armed forces, but, mentally, he was missing in action. Much later, we heard the diagnosis, schizophrenia. Paranoid schizophrenia.

My son sparred with his demons, heard voices and had no peace of mind. Besides being ill, he was having a terrible time due to the stigma which affected us all, especially our teenage daughters.

Would a school friend discover my daughters’ secret; a mentally ill brother? Would someone walk into our house when David was shouting at me and my husband: "I’ll dance on your graves?"

Would a policeman knock on our front door asking for David while our daughters had friends over? Could that happen while we were entertaining friends?

David wanted someone to love, a decent job, and most of all, peace of mind. Three months before his 34th birthday, he finally came to the conclusion that the David who had sparred with demons for the past 16 years would never know that peace of mind again so he threw himself to what we can only hope is a place of calm, peace and endless waves fit for a surfer.

It took a long time, but our family finally chose life and eventually managed to emerge from our devastation to embrace life, even if it meant one without our beloved son and brother. My husband and I continued to love, to laugh and began to get some happiness back, as we continue to think about, talk about and remember our son.

I love you, David. Rest.
1962 – 1996


After losing my son, I continued my voluntary work with parents of mentally ill children, now known as "consumers." In the year 2005, I decided to start a police training course and managed, with the backing of ENOSH, the Israel Mental Health Association, to run a pilot program at police headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Simultaneously, I surfed the web and found Major Sam Cochran who started the first CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) in Memphis, Tennessee. After exchanging a multitude of emails, he invited me to give a presentation at the 2007 CIT Convention.

"Why me?" I asked. "We’ve never even met."

"Because, in the U.S.A. police officers do this kind of thing, not mothers."

We have come a long way since then, and, as I am a stubborn woman, I spend a lot of time hitting my head against walls of red tape, but I still have a few good years left and will fight for what is right until the end.

I promised my son, David, that I would do something about the stigma of mental illness and do what I can to let all the "consumers" out there walk with their heads held high and be accepted into their communities like the rest of us.

People ask me how I managed to continue tutoring and living in general. One of the things that left an indelible impression on me was an anonymously written, untitled poem I found in a magazine. The anonymous young girl was in the Terezin Concentration Camp near Prague. The poem was dated the day before she died.

On a purple son-shot evening
Under wide-flowering chestnut trees
Upon the threshold of
yesterday, today, the days are all alike there.

Trees flower forth in beauty.
Lovely too, their very wood, all gnarled and old
That I am half afraid to peer
Into their crowns of green and gold.

The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches
Above, he heavens shriek of blue
Convinced that I’ve smiled by mistake.

The world’s abloom and seems to smile
I want to fly, but where, how high?
If in barbed wire things can bloom
Why can’t I? I will not die.

My husband is no longer with us. He suffered from Alzheimer’s for some years. Soon, it will be two years since he passed away. I feel his absence every day.

Joan's Closing

Jill, thank you for sharing with us. I've purchased your book even though you sent me a complimentary copy because I support you and that for which you fight.

Takeaway Truth

Please thank Jill Sadowsky by purchasing David's Story and enabling her in some small way to keep fighting the good fight for what is right.

Personalized URL for Amazon Author Page

If you are an indie author publishing with Amazon, here's how to get your Amazon Author page URL with your name, not just a string of letters and numbers.

(This article previously appeared on Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Subscribe today if you'd like articles like this as soon as they are published.)

1. Read all the steps first--very important.

2. Sign into Author Central.

3. Click the Profile tab

4. When that opens, look to the right where your picture appears. Above your picture is a hot link that says ADD LINK.

5. Click add link.

6. A small window will open showing the suggested link. If it's not what you want, you can change it BUT whatever you put in can not be changed again so make sure you know what you want in case the one suggested by Amazon isn't your name and your name is not available. Be prepared. Make a short list of all the variations you might use for your name.

That's all there is to it! You'll get an email from Amazon showing the new URL. Actually, the original URL is still it, the new URL just re-directs to the original. With a personalized URL, it's easier to use it on promotion materials and to give out to readers.

Example: my Amazon URL was --

Now, it's --

Takeaway Truth

Always try to get your author pages branded with your name.

Prolong Hard Drive Life

This Monday, I'd like to remind you of something that will help prolong the life of your hard drive--that piece of hard equipment that operates your PC.

Hard Drive Health

A hard drive, aka hard disk drive, is the device that writes data, that is, stores data on rotating plates with magnetic surfaces. When you issue a command to open a file on your computer, the data is retrieved and made viewable.

One of the routine tasks you should do to keep your hard drive healthy is to defrag it, aka defragment it, on a regular schedule. This is another of those tasks you should make a habit. It's easy to do since you can schedule the task to run at the same time on a day and time you select.

Why Defrag?

Fragmentation occurs when your operating system breaks a file into pieces because there is not enough space on the storage device where the file was originally saved.

Your computer system keeps a record of where the different pieces of the file are stored. This is done by using a FAT (File Allocation Table). A similar file system is NTFS (New Technology File System).

When you retrieve the file again, the operating system queries the file system (FAT or NTFS) to locate all the different pieces of the file.

Defragmentation, or defrag for short, is the process of scanning the file system and rejoining the split files. It's rather like gathering all the pieces together and lining them up next to each other so they're easier to find which means they load faster.

A lot of people ignore this maintenance task because they think defragging was something required when computers ran DOS or an early version of Windows. Wrong! Defragging regularly will keep your PC from picking up bad habits like running and performing at a snail's pace.

Takeaway Truth

A stitch in time saves nine, and a little time spent taking care of your computer saves a lot of bucks down the road.

Super Bowl 46

Albert Einstein once said: "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?"

Of course, Mr. Einstein died before the Super Bowl was invented. I'm sure if he'd lived to see the first gridiron "king of the hill" battle, he might have changed bowl of fruit to Super Bowl of football. Right?

Okay, probably not. However, on this day that celebrates football greatness, one would think the above statement might be true in light of all the hoopla associated with this game.

Players & Their Super Bowl Dreams

Let's have some fun today with a few quotes from some of the best known football players.

Terry Bradshaw said, "As a player, it says everything about you if you made the Hall of Fame. But, then again, boy... there's something about winning a Super Bowl."

Michael Strahan said, "I always have a lot of personal goals, but primarily my main goal each year is to obviously win a Super Bowl."

Dan Marino said, "I want to know what it's like to play in a Super Bowl and win one. My career will be great without it. But, personally, selfishly, I want to know what it feels like."

And, finally, from Dallas Cowboys Duane Thomas: "If it's the ultimate game, how come they're playing it again next year?"

Takeaway Truth

Enjoy this unofficial American holiday that's similar to Thanksgiving--large gathering of family and friends, lots of food, and football on the TV.

7 Steps To Writing Success

Here's some great advice from 7 writers. The advice was good when each first uttered it, and it's still good today.

(This article previously appeared on Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Subscribe today if you'd like articles like this as soon as they are published.)

1. Be professional.

"Fortify yourself within an impregnable structure of writing habits." Leonard Bishop

2. Don't talk about writing, write.

"You must write. You must finish what you write. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. You must put it on the market until sold." Robert A. Heinlein

3. Improve your skills.

"The difference between using the right word and the one that is almost right is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." Mark Twain

4. Get the story told.

"Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft." Stephen King

5. Keep your focus on what you can control - the writing.

"It is more profitable to stay aware of trends generally, yet concentrate your energies on simply writing the best novel you know how to write. Don't chase the market. Write the novel that is in you." Jack Bickham

6. Don't write static copy.

"When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns." Raymond Chandler

7. Write for today's reading audience.

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." Elmore Leonard

Takeaway Truth

Model your behavior and habits after those who have succeeded in your career field.

Review: The Ninth Step by Sissel

Move over, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Delinsky, et al. There's a new women's fiction author in town, and her name is Barbara Taylor Sissel!

I've had a copy of The Ninth Step since it first came out. I read it quickly because I couldn't put it down, but I didn't get a review posted until recently.

Fate intervened, much as it does in this book, and my time was swallowed up by other issues. Finally, I have time to tell you about this book. If you like fiction that hits all the right notes of heartbreak and redemption, while never sinking into melodrama or maudlin sentimentality, this book is for you.

Livie, the heroine, is authentic in her heartbreak, her emotional confusion, and her desperate quest for connection--for closeness--for surcease of pain. I suspect every woman has a bit of Livie hiding inside. Just as Livie thinks she has her life in order, at least her life as viewed by the outside world, the man who deserted her returns, bringing with him a world of trouble.

This is an emotional journey fueled by problems too many people face in real life. If you've ever struggled with an addiction, then you know to what the title refers. This is not a romance novel with the guaranteed happy ending. This is women's fiction where there are always consequences for foolish choices and where character growth is required in order to deliver a satisfying ending.

Barbara Taylor Sissel weaves a gut-wrenching, emotion-drenched tale about a woman to whom you'll probably feel a certain kinship. You'll find the story sticks in your mind long after the book ends. Well done, Ms. Sissel!

Takeaway Truth

A good book is the least expensive form of entertainment. For a few dollars, you can be whisked away to another world.

10 Tips For Press Release Success

Are press releases still effective? I think so.

Get a media directory or do online research to find newspapers, radio stations, and television stations, if you aim high, in your target area. Many take email press releases now. Some still take only hard copy, but those are easy to write too.

Install a form on your website or blog where people can sign up to receive emails regarding your new product or book releases or events.

If you do ‟meet and greets” or book signings, take along a guest book where people can sign up to receive emails from you.

If you want to send email press releases, either to print or online media or as an exciting announcement to friends, business associates, and family, follow these rules so your announcement won’t be deleted, filtered to spam, or judged rude by the recipient.

1. Don’t send the email to anyone who (a) has not signed up to receive promotional emails, (b) does not accept press releases by email (check media directory, or (c) isn’t a close enough relative or friend who will think your news is exciting and be glad that you notified them.

2. Follow the KISS rule - keep it short, sweetheart. People are busy. Give the pertinent information, you know, the old who, what, when, where, why, and how. For a book also give the publishing info: title, genre, ISBN, publisher, release date, price, & how to get a copy. Keep it to a couple of paragraphs so the reader doesn’t have to scroll and scroll again.

3. Address the emails individually. Don't send them en masse. What’s worse than BCC’ing everyone though is putting all of them in as recipients where everyone can see everyone else’s email addresses. I can’t tell you how much annoying mail I’ve received from total strangers who click a mass email Reply To All. Don’t be guilty of this. If you send each one individually, the recipient will think you actually thought of them especially for this, and it will make them feel special.

4. Personalize where possible. Put a little note at the top of the email with a personal message. The few seconds you spend doing this will make the recipient regard you warmly rather than with irritation.

5. Send your email announcements in a timely fashion - not so far in advance of the product's release, anniversary celebration date, or whatever you're wanting remembered that, by the date, the recipient has forgotten. Also, don't send so far after the event, like a book release, that the book is no longer available. Timing, as funny man Steve Martin said, is everything.

6. Make sure your news is not only of interest but is presented in an interesting or entertaining manner. If mailing to media for inclusion in local newspapers, remember to find a hook that makes it local newsworthy.

7. Narrow your focus so that your press release is important to your target group. Instead of sending an announcement about a book with a plot set in a small Texas town to newspapers in Houston, send it to the towns that surround your setting area. If you have something involving a landscaper who grafts a special rose, don’t send it to just any garden society, target the rose growers. The more you narrow your focus, the better results you’ll have in garnering interest.

8. Always, be a professional. Proofread your email. Don’t treat it as if it’s a hurriedly scribbled Post It Note. It’s professional correspondence so make sure it looks like that.

9. Keep a log of the press releases you send so you’ll know if you’re getting any publicity as a result, and so you won't send others and be remembered as a nuisance.

10. If someone objects to what you send, be polite and assure them you will remove their name from your list. Then do it.

That's it. Pretty simple and mostly common sense. Just give some thought to the result you want to achieve and then plan your publicity campaign carefully.

Takeaway Truth

Email Press Releases and old-school hard copy press releases all make low-cost, excellent promotion if used correctly.

Note: If Joan Reeves aka SlingWords helps you get ahead, please consider buying one of my books (Written Wisdom is perfect for writers--readers too!), subscribing (only $.99 per month) to the Kindle Edition of SlingWords,or making a donation of any amount by clicking the button below. Thank you for your moral support and any monetary support you see fit to contribute.

10 Commandments For Writers Online

For all of you who are trying to carve out a career as a writer, here's a little advice that might smooth the way and remove some of the stress.

1. Don't kill the messenger.

When someone offers a report or just negative comments about a publisher or about self-publishing authors or about any of the writer mills for which you may be working in order to get your foot in the door, don't feel compelled to launch an offensive on the person making the report or comments.

2. Do feel compelled to discover your own truths.

If you wish to be an indie author, but your writing friends disdain that path, then grow a thick skin and prepare to prove them wrong. Or get a new set of friends who support your efforts.

Take all comments in stride and do your own research to discover whether they are valid or not. If you’re writing for a publisher that is roundly criticized, then do your own fact checking to see if your experience is unique or the report is false. Search engines make it easy to discover the truth or falseness of a claim.

3. Don't fail to read the Terms of Service.

No exceptions. For any business for whom you intend to write or any website with which you plan to self-publish or for anything that requires you to agree to Terms of Service, ALWAYS read the TofS so you know exactly to what you are agreeing, how your content will be used, how and when you will be compensated, what rights if any you are selling, and how your private information will be used.

4. Do know what remedies are available to you if things go badly.

In a writing career, as in life, things often go badly. Always know what you can do if that happens. In advance, think about the worst thing that can happen and have a plan to deal with that. Try to find a positive in every negative situation. Always have a plan B. And C, D, E, etc. Whatever it takes.

5. Don't accept rudeness from anyone.

Rudeness should not be tolerated in professional writing relationships whether it’s writer to writer, reader to writer, writer to publisher, or vice versa on all these. A true professional knows how to critique in a way that helps the writer produce better copy. A pro editor or agent should want to build a solid relationship with writers where respect is given on both sides of the desk.

Every person, editors and agents, have someone to whom they answer. Find out who that someone is and file a complaint if you feel you must, but be sure you are prepared to deal with the fallout and also be sure you can back up your complaint with evidence, not hearsay. Keep a paper trail of correspondence and be ready to produce it.

6. Do meet rudeness, if you get it, with calm professionalism.

A writer should never engage in a dialogue with anyone who has posted a bad review. Nothing good ever comes of it. Shrug it off, ignore the stings, and do what you do best–write. Live Coco Chanel’s creed: ‟The best revenge is living well.”

7. Don't let others make your decisions.

Read, research, and reflect. Draw your own conclusions. If Ima Writer says the company you write for sucks, don't feel bad even if you personally agree. You have your own reasons for staying with them. If she says a company is wonderful, but you don't think so, don't feel as if you have to persuade her to avoid them. She has her reasons just as you have yours.

8. Do make conscious choices about what you write and for whom you write and for what compensation.

If you are a freelance writer or a struggling novelist trying to get your foot in the door, and you choose to write for low pay, then acknowledge that it's low pay and that you have valid reasons for doing it. Don't try to convince others that it's not low pay or a bum deal. Don't deny the facts of the situation. Suck it up, do the best work you can, and look for better freelance clients, better publishing contracts.

Occasionally, there are times when all writers knowingly write for less than they should. They do this for many reasons from economic necessity to hoping it paves the way to a bigger job.

If you are self-publishing, and you price your work low just to generate sales, don’t hang your head in shame. Don’t let anyone denigrate your work or your decision because the bottom line is that if your spouse is out of work, and you're scrambling to just create some income, then you may do anything that generates sales. Why? Because your ability to earn bucks supercedes the value of your time, the opinion of others, and just about anything and anyone who is not in your situation.

You may write for low pay, but do so because it’s a conscious decision, not because of lack of knowledge of the business.

9. Don't take it personally.

Life is too short to get bent out of shape over what other people say. Sticks and stones. When you read something that questions the integrity of a website or client for whom you're writing or of self-publishing, don't take it as a personal insult to you and a negative judgment about your decision to follow a particular career path. Again, your decisions are your own. The writing business is hard and competitive, and it can grind your soul to dust if you let it. Don't let it.

10. Do strive for excellence in your writing.

Self-publishing authors compete with book authors from all over the world. Learn how to produce the best book you can with solid production values. Be resolved that your book can measure up to anything produced by the big print publishers. That should always be your goal.

On the Internet, freelance writers in North America compete with writers from India and the Philippines where a buck an article for 100 articles is considered good pay. That writing though may sometimes not be very good because idiomatic English is a skill not usually possessed by those who learn English as a second language.

For us in the U. S., compensation like that is not something we can live on, and I don't truly believe anyone can turn out 100 well-written, researched articles in a week or less. If you’re aiming at freelance writing, you must know from the get-go that you're going to lose a lot of jobs to writers whose first language is not English because they'll work for pennies an hour.

The answer is not for you to attempt to do the same, but for you to polish your skills and become a consummate professional. You'll get the higher paying jobs from clients who want excellent writing and who will respect your ability.

Takeaway Truth

Be resolved to be the consummate professional in your writing career, and be further resolved to use every writing project as a stepping stone to something better.

Note: If Joan Reeves aka SlingWords helps you get ahead, please consider buying one of my books (Written Wisdom is perfect for writers--readers too!), subscribing (only $.99 per month) to the Kindle Edition of SlingWords,or making a donation of any amount by clicking the button below. Thank you for your moral support and any monetary support you see fit to contribute.