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Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's the Difference? Blurb, Review, and Back Cover Copy?

A reader recently asked me to explain a few term that can be confusing. Knowing the difference might help you, as a reader, better discern whether a book is right for you.

Blurb, Review and Back Cover Copy

* In the book business, a "blurb" is a comment made by one author regarding the merits of a book by another author. These are always positive, and usually you try to match the blurber's audience to your intended audience. "Reviews" are written by reviewers, who may or may not be authors themselves, but who are disinterested parties who are weighing in. These are either negative or positive, although certainly you wouldn't share a negative comment on your book itself. "Back cover copy" is a teaser, a bit of a synopsis that will (we hope!) entice readers. Often the back cover copy is written by marketing interns at a publishing house. Several times, sad to say, I've had mine written by young folks who haven't even read the book in question. (Hard to believe, but true.) The purpose of the back cover copy is to give potential readers enough information so they can decide if the premise of the book sounds interesting, but not so much as to give away the whole plot. It's tricky.

 How Do You Get Them?

* I once overheard a bookseller telling a customer that authors pay for blurbs. That is not true! In fact, some blurbs are requested on behalf of a book by the publisher, who goes to another author in their "stable" of authors and asks for a blurb. Other times, we humble ourselves and ask friends if they'd blurb our books. This is tricky, since a refusal can mean the loss of a friendship.

*There are those in the industry known as "blurb sluts," people who will blurb any book by anyone to get their name in front of the public.

* Books are submitted for reviews, and of course, readers are now encouraged to submit reviews to Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and other sites. There are now services that will review a book for money, and then leave it to the author/publisher whether to share that review. Amazing, huh?

* Also when writing a review, versus a blurb, the reviewer will often structure their reviews so that portions can be excerpted. The professionals are particularly good at this. I use the term "professional" to divide those who review regularly and have training  from those who are simply reacting to a book they've read. But please note, I am NOT disparaging of the reader who shares his/her opinion. I appreciate it! The fact that someone would take time to share means the world to me.

My friend said, "I must admit to being a little puzzled by the back cover copy (of your newest book)." 

* The cover copy is supposed to be a bit puzzling so that I encourage you to pick up the book.This is tricky business. I aim to tease you, but be transparent about the mood of the book. Therefore, I need to simplify the concept, and give you enough so you can make an informed decision, but not so much that you don't feel the urge to buy the book. 

* Certain genres have certain "conventions" when it comes to back cover copy. For example, cozies are full of puns. Thrillers are ripe with hyperbole. It's a way of signaling to the reader, "You've come to the right place."

I hope this helps you make better decisions about which books you want to read. Of course, you can judge a book by its cover--and its back cover, but I must admit, these are tricky sources of information. Now you know why!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ten Things I Learned from Alice Zinn that Any Miniature Enthusiast Can Use -- Plus a Contest!

 By Joanna Campbell Slan

1.      Label all your storage containers. It makes locating items so much easier.
Win this basket by Alice Zinn. Go to Joanna's Facebook page for details.  and click on the GIVEAWAYS icon in bright blue under the BIG picture of Joanna.

2.      Use plastic storage containers. You never know when there will be water damage. Especially for those of us who live in Florida, this is a key. It should also cut down on the risk of mold.

3.      Surround yourself with things you love. Find unique ways to display them, as Alice did with her shelves above the doorframes.

4.      Collect fascinating containers. Many of Alice's most interesting scenes were inspired by boxes or containers that spoke to her, such as the kabuki theater that began "life" as a household shrine. She's stored more containers in her garage, where they wait for her magic touch to transform them into mini worlds.

5.      Stick to one scale at a time. That said, if you have an interesting collection in varying sizes, you might consider creating a "museum" in which to display these items. Think about it: In a real museum, you would see full-scale artifacts as well as models of the same. The sizes of the artifacts might vary, but that wouldn't be a problem because the setting around the items is always just one scale!

6.      Eschew miniature snobbery. Some of Alice's cutest pieces were found in non-traditional environments. For example, her Southwestern Storytellers were actually eraser-tips for pencils. Another storyteller doll was discovered in the gift shop section of a gas station. But taken together in a miniature Southwestern Museum, their origins don't matter one whit.

7.      Hoard cool stuff. (Like you needed permission? Seriously!) Alice found a tiny jukebox nightlight years ago. It will be a focal point in her "Piano Man" room.

8.      Embrace verisimilitude. Alice points out that real denim shrunk to the proper size for miniatures would be the same weight as silk on our bodies. And that wouldn't look right. The fabric wouldn't have enough heft. So the trick is to find the proper balance between "realistic" and "real."

9.      Fall in love and never give up. Alice couldn't afford Goebel's set of three tiny Alice in Wonderful figurines when she first saw them. Years went by, and she became a successful artist, so when presented with the chance to buy one of the figures, she did. More time passed, and she found the two remaining pieces of the set—and quickly snapped them up. Then when she was at a miniature show, a vendor was selling the empty case for the Goebel's collectibles. Voila! Now Alice has the set she originally wanted.

10.   Question everything. Rather than toss out packaging paper, the kind that has a lot of little slits in it, Alice saw the material as basketry. The tiny heart she made from a piece is truly a-ma-ZINNing!

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of twenty-eight books, including three mystery series. She loves turning trash into treasure. She shares tutorials are on her blog You can follow her on Pinterest at

For a free sample of Joanna's work, send an email to her assistant, Sally Lippert at and request the free copy of Ink, Red, Dead, one of Joanna's mysteries.

Visit Alice Zinn at her website or see her in person at the Tom Bishop Show. For info on the show, go to


Win a Zinn! You could win this basket by Alice Zinn. Just enter our contest.  If the link doesn't work, copy and paste this in your browser--

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day! (I'm Feeling the Love!)

Hi Joanna,
I just wanted you to know that I was so excited to find out my copy of Shotgun, Wedding, Bells was waiting for me on my kindle when I went to bed. I had to read "just a little bit." I am now starting chapter 45 and forcing myself to stop reading (it is after 1am) but man oh man that is a tough thing to do! The book is WONDERFUL! It is by far your best Kiki story ever! I know it is full of tragic circumstances, but I am totally spellbound and feel like I am in the room with Kiki. You ROCK Joanna! Fantastic job. I will have to wait to finish it in the morning, but I couldn't wait to tell you how great it is and thank you for writing it. Big hug to you! Happy Valentine's day to a fantastic author and someone who feels like a friend. I can't wait to finish the book!
Barbara Hackel


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An A -ma-ZINNing Afternoon with Alice Zinn

By Joanna Campbell Slan

At first blush, Alice Zinn's home looks like all the other houses in her neighborhood. The building is pleasant, on a pretty corner lot in a small city in Florida. However, when she opens the door and permits you entrance, you feel like you've fallen down a rabbit hole into an enchanted universe where fairytales and wishes come to life in miniature.

Because she knew I was interested in her workspace, Alice took me on a quick tour of her shop before we had the lunch she so kindly prepared. The converted garage is packed with supplies, as you might imagine, but most importantly, everything is labeled. Alice can put her hands on things quickly. I stood there and turned a tight circle at the stacks of plastic storage tubs that lined the walls and towered over my head. Her computer is at a right angle to the desk where she works, and therefore, perfectly situated for convenience. Although she enjoys working from the comfort of a big cushy office chair, because her work space is so large, she also makes use of a backless stool on rollers so she can scoot along the corridor in her warehouse of supplies.

When you meet Alice, you are immediately struck by her active, seeking mind. Her breadth of knowledge about the world in general is amazing. Her process is one of problem-solving. The pneumatic stool is an example. Its height is easily adjustable, and there's a tray on the bottom so the stool can actually be used to transport items. Really, it's perfect. I found myself coveting this handy seat. Alice laughed and said, "Stop by Harbor Freight. It's on your way home." I did and bought one for myself, a bargain at $26.

Walking from the workroom into the house, I paused to gawk at the shelving over the top of the doorsills. Alice set cove molding a ninety-five degree angle, turning the wood slats into narrow shelves. On these she's displayed miniature chairs in all sorts of furniture styles. There's also a cabinet full of gifts, including a china collie given to Alice by her grandmother. Alice was eight at the time and suffering from chickenpox. Young Alice was bothered by the fact that the dog didn't have fur, which made the piece more like a statue than a miniature pet. Many years later, when Alice decided to make miniature animals for a living, she set herself the task of making them furry, because no one else was doing so at the time.

We passed Alice's bathroom, and oh, my! A person could get lost in there. She's packed the place with tiny scenes, including a shadowbox of Teddy Bears, which houses another childhood favorite of hers. There's also a small nautical scene on the back of the toilet. "Guests go to the restroom and take forever," said Alice. "They get so involved with the minis."

As I wandered around Alice's home, it was delightful to pause and admire all the minis, including one particular castle, a showcase for Alice's sense of humor. The piece is called "Fear of Flying." It depicts a wizard teaching a young dragon to spread his wings.

"Dis-embarking"  *  Photo courtesy of Alice Zinn.
Nearby is a large Japanese house with a most unusual provenance. It was built post-WWII by a Japanese architect who wanted Westerners to see what a typical Japanese home was like. Alice's iconic Noah's Ark scene—"Dis-embARKing"—took my breath away, as I challenged myself to find as many of the 54 pairs of animals as I could. This is harder than it sounds, since tiny creatures scamper their way up the trees and hide in the leaves. The faces on her tigers are truly exquisite.

Her Amish barn scene shows off Alice's commitment to being tech-savvy. To produce two tiny saws and a wagon wheel, she turned to a "plotter," a "Wishblade" by Xyron. This machine allows Alice the freedom to design whatever she wants and let the machine cut it out for her.

A scene with Calpurnia and Caesar, emperor of Rome, delights the viewer, as it is easy to imagine these tiny people come to life. Their costuming is exquisite, right down to the way that Calpurnia's gown is carried over her forearm. The hair on Calpurnia is stunning, her tiny curls arranged perfectly in a noble style.

It is hard to believe that Alice designs the settings, curates and creates the furnishings, and creates the dolls as well. This speaks to the multiplicity of her talents.

Joanna Campbell Slan holding the "piano man" and the "bartender" by Alice Zinn.
In another room, Alice has the "Piano Man" scene she's busy creating for the Tom Bishop Show that will be held in Chicago, April 17-19, 2015. The dolls have already been created, although they have not yet been dressed. Currently, Alice is toying with the placement of the various elements that will bring the Tropical-style bar to life. We discussed where she might place a tiny gift shop, a cute way to display more tropical minis as part of this setting.

When assembling a "museum" scene that depicts various cultures, Alice likes to include a miniature house. These "minis within minis" serve as Alice's nod to the industry and a wink to her audience. They serve as a vivid reminder of the pervasiveness of miniatures through all cultures in all eras.

I left Alice's workshop with my head spinning. In fact, I went into a sort of "craft-induced" mental fugue state. Creativity begets creativity. Watching Alice decide what to place where in her "Piano Man" setting, see all the fantastic scenes she's already made, soaking up tidbits about her process, and thinking of how to apply all this to my own life nearly overwhelmed me. It occurred to me as I climbed into my car that I'd just attended a Master Class in miniatures from a Master of the Craft.

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Coming soon--"Ten Things I Learned from Miniaturist Alice Zinn That Any Miniature Enthusiast Can Use"
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Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of twenty-eight books, including three mystery series. She loves turning trash into treasure. She shares tutorials on her blog You can follow her on Pinterest at

For a free sample of Joanna's work, send an email to her assistant, Sally Lippert at and request the free copy of Ink, Red, Dead, one of Joanna's mysteries.

Visit Alice Zinn at her website or see her in person at the Tom Bishop Show. For info on the show, go to

Monday, February 9, 2015

Crafts to Do When the Weather Outside Is Frightful

By Joanna Campbell Slan

Snow, snow, snow. The weather report sounds like a broken record. As I write this, the Boston area is bracing for yet another blizzard-like blast, adding more flakes to the growing mountains of white fluff.
Even though I now live in Florida, I remember those winter days "up yonder" when we could get out the front door because the snow was piled up high.  I can still hear the sound of a snow shovel scraping the concrete of our walk. My nose prickles to the smell of the diesel fumes that wafted over the neighborhood as husbands vroom-vroomed from behind their snow blowers. And I'll never forget how my son would send up a cheer at the words, "Snow day!" Meanwhile, I would groan, wondering, "How am I going to keep him busy?"
So I used these memories in my newest book—Shotgun, Wedding, Bells—to create a scene where Kiki Lowenstein's children are going stir-crazy, thanks to days of inclement weather. Because Kiki has a criminal to track down, her good friend Laurel helps out by babysitting Anya Lowenstein (age 13) and Erik Detweiler (age 5). Laurel is a kid at heart, so she comes up with these terrific ideas for indoor fun:

1.      Snow candy – You need good, clean snow for this. So the badder the weather, the gooder the treat! Scoop up enough to fill a cake pan. Stir together ¼ C. butter to 1 C. maple syrup in a sturdy pot. Bring to a boil, watching constantly. (This is a job for grown-ups, of course!) After it bubbles for six minutes, pour it over the snow. The candy will harden. Once it is cool, break it into pieces and enjoy. Alternately, you can use ½ C. honey and ¼ C. brown sugar for your mix.
2.      Newspaper sailboats – Grab some newspapers out of your recycling bin. Or grab some paper out of your printer. I could explain it, but instead, go here and follow the directions! Now fill a bath tub with warm water and sail your boat.
3.      Fashion show – Throw open your closet doors and invite the kids to play dress up. Be sure to take lots and lots of photos.
4. Catalog memory album -- If you're like Kiki, you get a zillion mail order catalogs every week. Since the US Postal Service will keep delivering, no matter what the weather deals us, here's a jiffy way to have fun with those catalogs. (You can also use a magazine in a pinch.) Start with one that isn't too thick, preferably one with a staple holding in the pages. Glue pages together in sets of two or three to make stronger, less flexible pages. Now cover the pages with scrapbook paper--and use those pages as the base for your layouts! This is perfect for kids because there's a lot of activity, but it doesn't need to be precise. They can use a glue stick to add photos, words, or even images they like.
5. Pistachio nut boats (miniatures) -- Going nuts? Why not put those shells to good use? You'll need shells, paper, toothpicks, glue, scissors, markers, acrylic paint and a brush, and buttons. Begin by painting the outside of your boat. (Tip: Tape a piece of masking tape sticky side up to your work surface to hold the shells down.) Now snap your toothpicks in half and paint them. While those pieces are drying, work on your sails. Snip off a corner of your piece of paper so that you have a triangle about 3/4 inch on the longest side--this will be your sail. (Play with these! They should vary according to the size of your empty shell.) Use your markers to add stripes to the sail. Glue the long edge of your sail to your toothpick. Glue the toothpick to the hull of your boat (the painted shell), and finally glue the sailboat to a button or a small piece of balsa wood.
6.   Curl up and read as a family -- Your children will be more likely to read if they see you doing it! Need a good book? Send an email to my assistant Sally Lippert at and she'll "gift" you a copy of Ink, Red, Dead for your e-reader.
7.   Plan for better weather--or more of the same! I suggest you pre-order a copy of Shotgun, Wedding, Bells, so you have something fun to look forward to. When the book is released on Valentine's Day, you'll get a special treat—along with this e-book comes a second e-book, your free copy of Tear Down and Die (the first book in my new Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series with 48 five-star reviews on Amazon). 
 Meanwhile, stay safe and stay warm!
Your friend,
PS Just in case the link to Shotgun, Wedding, Bells doesn't work, try this: