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Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Published Authors Do That Non-Published Authors Won't

In a few minutes, I'll leave to teach a class called "The Practical Guide to Getting Published." I'm all prepared except for changing out of my jeans. I have this nifty 14-page handout with all sorts of resources, and I have tons of stories.

I tell all my students this: "You might not like what I have to say, you might disagree with what I have to say, but please know, that what I tell you is the truth according to my experience or the truth as I've heard it from other authors." I say this because invariably someone will argue with me. They will explain to me very patiently that they don't need to worry about grammar because an editor will do that. Or that they aren't concerned about word length in a book or article because that's the editor's job. Or that their book is different from every book that's ever been published, so the "rules" don't apply. Or that they intend to self-publish and, therefore, using a style manual isn't necessary--and besides, they can't afford a good proofreader. Or that their mother/sister/brother/in-laws/high school teacher told them their book was worthy of publication, so surely it is.

And they might all be right.

It's just that, in my experience, authors who get published:

1. Learn the rules of grammar and usage. (Come on, people. Mastering comma placement is NOT that difficult. I suggest you get a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves at the very least.)
2. Look stuff up all the time in a style manual. (For example, I get confused as to whether "was" or "were" is appropriate when there are conditional circumstances which must be considered. So, I'm always looking that up.)
3. Spell-check and rigorously edit their own work. (And often submit their work to other authors/friends to help them proofread. Many published writers belong to critique groups and welcome criticism. Sometimes they just swap stuff back and forth between good friends like Shirley Damsgaard and I do.)
4. Understand word counts and adhere to them. (MS Word has a function in the tools area which gives you word count. That's close enough. No one would quibble with whether a word like "get-together" counts as two or one of its kind.)
5. Read about their intended markets and submit work that fits within listed guidelines.

But then, what do I know?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Crafty Type of Girl

That's what my friend Rosemary Harris calls me. You know how you meet someone and even without a lot of chatter, you recognize a "kindred spirit"? Yep. That's how I feel about Ro. She's very elegant, very smart and you can almost see the wheels clicking as she listens because she's REALLY tuned in and thoughtful. (The page above is a "virtual" cupcake from me to Ro. Enjoy!)

Ro is celebrating her new book The Big Dirt Nap. Nab it now--I predict it will sell out quickly! Go to

And even though she's incredibly busy, she found time to allow me the honor of guest blogging on at Jungle Red Writers. I wrote about our common love of dogs. Check it out at

Now that blog post initiated a response from Jan, who said she'd really like to get into scrapbooking. And Ro was a bit surprised, I think, when she saw my scrapbook layouts. I brought them to Love Is Murder where Ro and I were on a panel. I had a hunch that a lot of our audience would be unfamiliar with what modern scrapbooking looks like. I remember the first time I saw pages which had been published in Memory Makers, the scrapbook magazine. My jaw dropped. You see, the publication process flattens out pages (of course, since it's translating them from 3-dimensions to 2), and often alters the colors. So the first time you see real pages in real life, well, it can be a bit of a shock.

So, Jan, here are some of my most recent pages. I've been teaching classes on doodling, and these were created specifically to show different ways to use pen marking on layouts. I hope you like them!

PS You do know you can follow me now on twitter, right? I post journaling prompts regularly. If you are a scrapbooker or a diarist or someone who needs a nudge with his/her writing, they might be useful. Go to and click FOLLOW under my name.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Missing: A Mysterious Gathering of Tales

by Amy Alessio

What a treat to blog on this site. I really enjoyed Joanna's mystery and love to make scrapbook cookbooks for folks. (I'm a cookbook junkie:

It's an even bigger privilege to write about Missing: A Mysterious Gathering of Tales. In 2007, Echelon Press President Karen Syed asked me to contribute a story to her anthology The Heat of the Moment, benefiting the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County, where thousands of folks lost their homes to fires. I wrote about Alana, an antiques store bookkeeper and cookbook collector, and her savvy teenage son, who solve an arson case at their business. I was so impressed with Karen for putting this project together, and I was also impressed with the other area authors I met from the project, including Margot Justes, Norm Cowie and Robert Goldsborough.

At the same time the nightly news in Chicago was filled with stories of missing adults. Stacey Peterson, Lisa Stebic, John Spira. These folks, with families and busy lives, simply vanished. For many years, I had followed the stories of the young Bradley sisters, who disappeared after being seen on a Chicago playground. I asked Karen if she could do another anthology about missing people or animals, with the proceeds benefiting a missing persons organization, so someone could be found. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children does not publicly endorse projects like this, but we have chosen as a group of authors and publisher to donate all proceeds of the book to their important work. As Karen posted on the cover: During 2007, 814,967 missing person records were entered into the National Crime Information Center's Database.

It was my pleasure to edit the collection, and to contribute another story about Alana and her cookbooks. Many popular authors came forward to be involved in this project, including Henry Perez and J.A. Konrath. Michele Scott has two popular series with Berkley and a new YA from Echelon, and she also took time to add a story. Luisa Buehler, Mary Welk, Margot, Norm and Robert added stories from their series. Some new authors also brought wonderful stories to the collection. While I had edited some librarian publications, this was my first fiction edition project, and these authors made it easy. Every story has something unique to bring, and readers of all types of mysteries should find many stories to enjoy.

The anthology is available now at, but will soon be up on Amazon and through distributors like Ingram and other places.

Title: Missing
Author: Anthology
ISBN: 978-1-59080-611-1
Genre: MysteryPages: 344 Price: $16.99 US

Amy Alessio"Missing Andy", Missing, Echelon Press, February 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet--and You Could Win a Big Box of Books!

Argh. Every day I open my email and think: I don’t have time for all this. I especially don’t have time to update my website, to check all the posts on all the list-serves I belong to, visit every online community I need to, and comment on everyone’s blog as I should.

But I do have time to Twitter. Apparently, the rest of the world agrees. The site has reported an eight-fold rise in visitors since 2007, and in December reported 2.7 million people stopped by. At this rate, it is poised to overtake Facebook. It’s especially popular among the young and restless. One in five people between the ages of 18 and 35 with Internet access have “tweeted” or posted short messages of 140 characters on Twitter at least once.

Why do we twitter? Because we can. Because I can dash off a 140-character (that’s letters and symbols, not characters as in people who populate books!) post to update people on the release date of Cut, Crop & Die, the second book in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery Series. (That’s June 1, so mark your calendars or go to and place your order.)

Because I can post regular journaling prompts to remind scrapbookers the world over to write about their own lives. (Check it out at If you are an author, the journaling prompts are great tools for overcoming writer’s block. Try them and you’ll see!)

Because I can follow my favorite authors, geeks, and newsmakers by hitting the FOLLOW button.

Because I can make a post to Twitter from a Blackberry. (Try doing that with a regular blog post. I mean, if you are young and have well-trained thumbs, you probably can handle this, but I can’t. Yet.)

Because Twitter will automatically take any regular URL and turn it into a tiny URL and post the link for me. Because I can quickly scan the posts and see what interests me. Shakespeare said, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” so I think he would have LOVED Twitter.

Because Twitter fits. I can squeeze it in.

Want to see how it works? Become one of my followers on Twitter and I’ll enter your name in a contest to win a Box of Books. Yep, I did find time to cull an entire box of mysteries from my bookshelves. (It's a honking big box!) So, add your name to my followers on Twitter by going to, hitting, FOLLOW, and then EMAILING me at and telling me you are now following me. Be sure to tell me your “twitter” name so I can see that you did it! (No cheating!) I’ll choose one follower and mail him/her that box of books. For best results, share your postal address with me. Otherwise if I can't get a hold of you and get your address confirmed within a day or two, I'll choose another winner. (Life's too short to chase you down!)

Let’s see if this Tweeting works!

PS You can hear a live broadcast of a scrapbook crop at If you have NO idea what a “crop” is, or why women love them, this will be very, very enlightening!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Live from a Scrapbook Crop

Ever wonder what women actually DO at scrapbook crops? Here's a live broadcast from one I attended last night:

Yep, it's really all that much fun! You can hear the women cheering in the background. Smell the food. (All the best crops have loads of fun, food and prizes.) And hear why women are loving my book, Paper, Scissors, Death.

Happy Valentine's Day to all my sweethearts!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How to Doodle

What is doodling? It’s playing with your pen on paper. You can’t do it wrong.

What are the “secrets” of doodling?

1. Pencil-in first—You can always erase. Even if you don’t follow your pencil lines exactly, you’ll have a better end product. Soft, number 2 lead is best. 2. Create a shape--Use pre-cut shapes such as templates for a more controlled outcome. Pencil around the shapes—and then use ink. Wobbly lines look great! You can also trace around the outside of chipboard letters or inside any negative shape from a punch.
3. Add filler—These are the doodles within doodles that fill up the empty spaces. Start a collection of fillers, covering enough space so you can see how they look, how much density and visual weight they have. I suggest you put this collection in a small notebook, preferably one with blank pages. You can also keep samples and clippings in the notebook for reference.
4. Consider visual balance—If you have too much fill or too much thickness at one end of a shape, your doodle might not look “right.” Give your work the squinch test: Squinch your eyes nearly closed and look at your work. You’ll see what stands out and what looks right.
5. Use pens in differing thicknesses—This’ll give you variety in the filler and the outlines. But…please note that some inks smear. The best pens for doodling seem to be the Sakura Micron and the Zig markers. Let them dry a few minutes first before adding any color. Flair markers make a lovely line, but…they definitely smear. So read # 6 and # 7 carefully.
6. Scan your doodles before you add color—Once you do, you can add any color you want. If the color smears, or isn’t to your liking, simply print out your scan and start over.
7. Thicken or extend depth—Thicken some of your lines, or add background, or add a “drop shadow” (Best done AFTER you color in your doodle and let the color dry.)
8. Cut it up—If you cut out your doodles, you’ll have more control over them. You can always cut away parts that aren’t as pretty as you’d like. Also, if you doodle several of the same letters, you can cut out the ones you like and leave behind those that aren’t as satisfactory. Use a fresh blade in your craft knife and cut out the CENTER of your letters first. Instead of a cutting mat, cut on a glass surface. (I use an old kitchen cutting board of tempered glass. The self-healing mat surfaces are often uneven, and your knife can get caught in the “scars.”)
9. Practice! Here are a few ideas to try:
* Doodle a phrase inside a box—This will force you to alternate shapes and sizes of lettering to make the phrase fit.
* Snuggle the letters up to each other so they nearly touch—or fit one letter almost inside the other.
* Trace around a photo and doodle a frame! Cut out the inside and put the photo behind your frame.
* Outline a border on a die cut or a punched embellishment.

Here's a list of great resources with examples of doodling:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Live from Love Is Murder

Whew, so many sessions so little time! And the hallways are packed with fascinating people, too.

I met up with Karen Syed for a chat about how she uses Twitter and MySpace. She's a genius about online social networking. Her advice on Twitter is to follow others who will often then follow you. How smart is that?

Then I heard Jeff Deaver talk about writing a suspense novel. Everything Deaver does is for the reader. Each time I'm around him, I am struck by how self-indulgent a lot of our writing is. And boy, is he a big believer in outlining.

Next, Steve Berry filled in for Alex Kava, who has a family medical emergency. (You're in our prayers, Alex.) Steve's message couldn't have been clearer: Write every day. Discipline yourself. When that big publisher wants a book every year, you'll be prepared to turn one out.

I had to leave his session early to participate in a panel on marketing. What did I learn from that? Um, can you say "" I can and I will.

Now back to the conference!

PS Big shout out to my buddy Rosemary Harris whose new book The Dirt Nap is making its debut here. Rosemary is smart and sweet and a joy to be around!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prepping for Marketing Panel at Love Is Murder

Note: I haven't forgotten to discuss other considerations about self-publishing...I'm just making a short detour here.

I spent the day today getting ready to go up to Chicago for Love Is Murder, and I noticed something curious. I'm appearing on a marketing panel, and Morgan Mandel asked what sorts of marketing materials and activities we'd done. (I'm on the panel with Jenny Spallone and Rosemary Harris.)


I started by making a list of things I could show our audience, and nearly fell over. Here 'tis:

1. Business cards
3. Bookplates
4. Excerpt booklets--real and online at (which has had 1,300 some views!)
5. Album kits (Courtesy of AW Crestwood)
6. Coupon code in the back of the book from Snapfish
7. Best of British Scrapbooking contest (Okay, it's not physical, but the mentions in ScrapBook inspirations sure are!)
8. You Tube video about Paper, Scissors, Death
9. A new You Tube video taped by the folks at Ball State University
10. Signs (I make them here on my color printer, post them on foam core board, and the folks at Barnes & Noble love them!)
11. Customized bookplates for the Great Dane rescue people
12. Recipe cards
13. Cookies
14. A notebook full of reviews and interviews
15. Handouts (I'm a big believer in these!)
16. The World Aquarium invitation I did, and then they auctioned off the original art
17. Character naming privileges
18. "Autographed by" stickers
19. Slam albums that I teach people to make in classes
20. A tablecloth with the book cover on it
21. Art I give away through my ezine
22. Packets sent to all the Independent Mystery Booksellers with a folder to give to a mystery bookclub and an introductory letter.
23. Podcasts--You can get to them through my website.

Okay, I can't possibly drag all that up to Chicago. But I did manage to pack a lot of it into my suitcase.

Pretty amazing. That list above doesn't even include the various things I do when I teach classes, or the classes and presentations I make. Or my philosophy about promotion with its three pillars: excellence, value-added and memorable.

Very interesting.

And what works best? What sells the most books? What advances my career?

The most important single marketing thing I've done is....


I have written the best book I could write. And I've followed it up with two more in the series--which aren't out yet--that are equally as good. (I'm deferring to my copy editor at Midnight Ink who really loves Book #2, Cut, Crop & Die and my agent who is pleased with Book #3.)

Other than that, who knows? I think it's all part of the job. I try to make it easy for people to remember me. I use my bookmarks a lot as business cards, and pass them out whenever I meet anyone who might read mysteries. I try to support all my appearances with small tangibles like the handouts. I try to offer "value-added" by teaching a skill like making slam albums or doodling. I give away a lot of books to others who give them away on their websites and blogs--and I've given copies away to charities.

Of course, I blog in three places regularly (here, and, and I now have nearly 40 people who follow me on Twitter. (Go to I post "journaling prompts" on Twitter to encourage folks to write more about their lives.) I do Facebook. I teach classes. I try to participate in list-serves. I write columns and articles. I respond to any and all requests such as the one from Scrap Scene.

And whenever possible, I try to "double up." This weekend, I'll not only be in Chicago, but I'll also be "appearing" virtually in England. They have more than 1,100 scrapbookers signed up to participate in a Scrapbooking Mystery Weekend built, in part, around Paper, Scissors, Death. So they'll do all sorts of fun activities, virtual and real. And I'll stop by via the magic of the Internet. (Sadly, the people in the UK won't get to taste my Fudgy Peanut Butter Oatmeal cookies, but the people in Chicago will!)

When I travel, I drop in to local independent booksellers and chain stores and sign a copy of my book for their staff. When I was in New York City, the folks at the Barnes & Noble off of Times Square immediately ordered six copies of the book. The nice people at The Mysterious Bookstore promised to give my book a read and see if it would work for them. (What a thrill it was just to be considered by them! They're legendary!)

Life is good. I'm awfully lucky to be doing what I love. And people have been so kind to me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Should You Self-Publish?

Should you self-publish?

That's a tough question, and you're the only one who can answer it. I can't tell you what to do...but I since I've been both self-published and traditionally published, I can share some insights.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself is: What's my goal? And as you ponder that question, mull over these four considerations:

1. If your goal is to make money...

Unless you can snag a big advance, you might be able to make more money fast self-publishing. Of course, it depends on whether you can buy your books at a reasonable price and if you have a way to sell them. But let's say you do. Let's say you're a motivational speaker, a job I did full-time for years. Since I was already in front of audiences, selling books was a way to add income to my speaker's fee. So, yes, it's possible that self-publishing will quickly put more money in your pocket. By contrast, with traditional publishing, you have to first repay your advance, and then wait for the publisher to calculate your royalties. (And know that publishing houses hold out a portion of those royalties until they see what your returns are.)

2. If your goal is to minimalize your risk...

You won't want to self-publish. At the very least, you won't want to act like a traditional publisher, a job which includes book design, cover design, getting the ISBN, setting the price, paying for the printing, shipping and warehousing books, and getting distribution. But, you might want to self-publish through a POD (print on demand) publisher or through an ebook publisher.

3. If your goal is to be known as an author...

This one is tricky. Yes, if you self-publish you can call yourself an author. You will be able to point to a book with your name on the cover. However, in the hierarchy of author-dom, and yes, there is definitely a food-chain, you probably won't get a lot of respect. So if you want to be accepted in almost every venue--such as author's conferences and at booksignings--you probably won't want to self-publish. (By the way, to the best of my understanding, the food chain starts with literary authors at the top of the pyramid, then thriller and suspense writers, then hard-and medium boiled mysteries, and finally cozies. Yeah, I'm probably wrong. This is pretty much on the basis of my observations. And yeah, I have NO idea why it seems to be like this...but even Stephen King admits that his commercial success hasn't always brought him respect as an author. It's a weird, weird world.)

4. If your goal is to have a career...

Um, self-publishing will not ruin your career. I know, I know. You've heard it said it will. But if your self-publish a great book--one that's well-written, well-edited, and professionally produced--you aren't going to deep six your career. That said, if you self-publish a product which is shoddy, you take your chances. And if you only feel you have one GREAT book in you, then self-publishing it is risky because once your book is out there, you might (and I emphasize MIGHT) have issues with copyright. (But I'm not a lawyer, so don't take this as legal advice.) Do realize that ebooks are much trickier when it comes to protecting your rights. Anything on the Internet is harder to monitor and control. The biggest fear you should have is how your final product witll reflect on you as an author. On your professionalism. Frankly, this is incredibly important. (At least to me!)

So now I've given you four considerations. There are more, and I'll cover them in another post.