Book Giveaways: Author ToolBox

It’s time for my May contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss the pluses and minuses of book giveaways.  Are they a good idea or a fool’s paradise?

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Last weekend I ran a Kindle Direct Publishing giveaway for MELTING SAND, the first book in my Miles Stevens, CIA suspense series. Hundreds of copies of the e-book were shot into cyberspace, moving it handsomely up the Amazon ranking, if only for a short period. This was my second Kindle Direct giveaway in the past eight years, each lasting two days.

I’ve provided limited copies of my books to advance reviewers, friends, and family.  I’ve also run promos on Amazon and Goodreads where I’ve offered a small number of books via a lottery system.  But pricing my e-book at $0.00 is not something I easily do, even for two days.

So, why do it?

Authors are divided on the benefits of offering free books. Researching the subject, I found as many writers are against giveaways as there are favor. Some of their opinions are based on empirical evidence; others on gut feel.  Here’s a brief summary of what I found along with my experiences:

Reasons supporting giveaways:

  • Authors need to generate interest in their work. With an estimated 600K to 1 million book titles published each year in the U.S., half being self-published, it is difficult to rise above the crowd. What better way to get your book in the hands of readers than to give them a copy? With the Kindle Direct giveaway program, it costs the author nothing, other than lost revenue, and can get hundreds, if not thousands, of copies to readers.
  • Giving away one of your books may generate sales of your other titles. My hope in giving away the first book in the Miles Stevens series was it would generate interest in the others in the series, including the recent release of GONE VIRAL. I saw evidence this occurred, but not what I’d consider a “swell in sales.”
  • You can build a following by asking recipients of your free book to agree to receive your newsletter or to follow your blog. My recent Kindle giveaway didn’t require additional action, but I’ve tried to gain email followers by offering free e-books in the past. Results were minimal.
  • Giveaways can generate book reviews. It’s true, but to get just a handful of reviews may require giving away hundreds of books.  It’s too early to assess results from last week’s Kindle giveaway, but I have received reviews from Amazon and Goodreads giveaways. A small percentage of those getting copies did review my book(s), particularly on Goodreads. (Note: Goodreads recently changed its giveaway program.  My experience was with the old program.)

Reasons against giveaways:

  • Giveaways cheapen your product. Why would anyone pay for your e-book if they know you will eventually offer it for nothing?  If an author gets a reputation for offering free books, it could make it hard to demand a sufficient price for his/her other titles.
  • Few of those receiving free books read them. We all know readers with Kindles and iPads filled with free titles that they’ve downloaded from BookBub and dozens of other sites.  They will read very few of them and write reviews on even fewer.
  • It’s hard to make a living giving away your time and your product. Authors spend months (maybe years) writing and editing each novel. At some point, writers need to demand a fair price for their work, or writing just becomes a time-consuming hobby.

My conclusion–When the time is right, I will offer Kindle giveaways of my older titles, particularly those that might stimulate sales of my new releases, but it is not a marketing program that I will use regularly.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blogging!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

You can check out excerpts of my work in progress, AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, by going HERE:

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Don’t Post and Panic #IWSG

Today’s post is in participation with other writers, bloggers and authors belonging to #IWSG, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, who post on the first Wednesday of each month.  Given the group’s name, it’s somewhat fitting that I’ve chosen the topic of Posting and Panicking.

stamp-114438_1920I spend a couple of hours each week writing posts to my blog, “Thoughts, Stories & Novels.”  The posts are usually about writing, but I occasionally venture into uncharted waters and write on a subject that hits me that morning.  I select topics that I think readers and writers will find interesting or amusing, maybe even a little edgy.  But I must admit the selection process isn’t well-defined.

I usually bounce my post off my editor and wife, Claudia, before I hit the publish button.  The goal is to make sure the post makes sense to someone other than me, and that I haven’t screwed up the their/they’re/there thing again.   Satisfied that it’s ready to go, I hit publish, take a quick look at the final version on my website, and then go about my business.

Frequently, later in the day or that evening, I’ll think about the post I’ve written. I may have second thoughts as to whether it needed more polishing, if it was appropriate for the audience, or if it was offensive to someone.   I’ve even sprung up in bed in the middle of the night, rehashing the article I posted the previous day.

After going back and looking at my posts, I rarely change them.   My concerns are usually unfounded, but still, I continue to have these unsettling experiences.

Before taking up writing, I had a long career in sales and marketing.  The business environment was filled with deadlines, targets, and commitments.  After surviving in that pressure-packed workplace, I’ve wondered–Why do I second-guess myself when posting to a writer’s blog?

I’m not really sure, but I think my second-guessing has to do with the vastness of the Internet and the unlimited number of people who can read what I post.  In business, I interfaced with a limited number of employees, associates, and clients, but writing exposes me to the world like nothing I’ve ever done.

I’m gradually becoming more accustomed to the exposure that comes with writing.  I’d better.  After all, what good is an under-exposed writer?

To follow more than 200 writers participating in this week’s IWSG blog hop, click on the icon below.  You can also follow on twitter @TheIWSG  or #IWSG.

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One Priceless Hour

My posts on Thoughts, Stories & Novels are usually on topics of writing, but I occasionally slip in one about life.  This is such a post.  To my writer friends and followers, consider it a short story directed at grandparents and parents of young children.


My wife Claudia and I planned weeks in advance to drive to Louisville for an important family event.

We left our home in the North Carolina mountains early Friday morning to take our dog, Milo, to her favorite doggie daycare.  The facility was an hour out of the way in Charlotte, but that didn’t seem to make much difference given the 450-mile journey ahead.

The initial leg of the trip went fine.  It was after passing through Knoxville that the trouble began.  Brake lights appeared in the distance, and we came to an abrupt halt 100 miles from the Kentucky state line. After thirty minutes, we began creeping forward a car length at a time.  Claudia took to her iPhone to investigate, and she discovered a semi-trailer truck porting sweet potatoes had caught fire four miles ahead.  More than an hour later we passed the largest pile of roasted taters you’ve ever seen in the right lane of I-75.

We’d originally planned a relaxing dinner for two at Bonefish Grill in Louisville, but we arrived two hours later than anticipated, grabbed a sandwich at Arby’s and dined in our hotel room before falling in bed, exhausted.

Our family event went well Saturday, and we hit the road at 8:00 a.m. Sunday for the return trip.  We needed to pick up Milo before the daycare closed at 5:00 p.m.   Nine hours should have been plenty of time, but severe thunderstorms persisted most of the way back.  At the height of a storm, our car was third in a line of vehicles to body roll a deer carcass, unable to swerve.  I needed to pull over several times during the trip to pry my fingers from the steering wheel and lower my blood pressure.

Finally, we picked up our beloved dog in Charlotte minutes before closing and headed north on I-77 to our home just over an hour away.  Five miles down the road, brake lights appeared–again! We’d been locked inside three lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic for half an hour when Claudia discovered the closure was anticipated to last four hours due to power lines having blown across the interstate.

Vehicles began leaving the highway on the shoulders, crossing the median and going up entrance ramps the wrong way.  The scene looked like rats fleeing a burning ship.  I resisted the illegal and unruly actions of those around me for another 30 minutes.  The next thing I remember is accelerating the wrong way up an entrance ramp with my flashers on.  Once at the top, I was greeted by surprised drivers wanting to merge onto the interstate.  I avoided their glares and turned carelessly into traffic.

Finding an alternate route north proved to be a challenge.  Lake Norman needed to be circumnavigated, and thousands of vehicles were clogging the secondary roads of the Charlotte suburbs like cholesterol in a fat man’s arteries. Determined drivers had Google maps on their iPhones in one hand and their steering wheels in the other.

The small, quaint towns of Cornelius and Davidson had been invaded by throngs of road-raged travelers seeking alternate paths to their destinations.  Traffic lights were out from the storm, and gridlock stalled progress at every intersection. Semi-trailer trucks struggled to make wide turns on narrow roads as cars and pickups refused to yield.  To say tempers flared would be an understatement.

Given that my wife and I had already been in the car more than ten hours and our dog was voicing an intense desire to get home, I can’t believe we were able to maintain our wits. Somehow we did.  We were ecstatic to reach our driveway slightly before 8 p.m.  The grand total for the weekend was 23 hours behind the wheel, including nearly 4 hours stalled in traffic.

You might ask why anyone would endure such a travel nightmare.  Well, our ten-year-old granddaughter was in a school play.  She had a lead role and performed like a star.  The play lasted one priceless hour.

We’d gladly make the trip again tomorrow.

Blending Facts Into Fiction: Author Toolbox

It’s time for my April contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Blending Facts Into Fiction.

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I write fiction novels and short stories, mainly suspense, but I dabble in a variety of genres.  One of the many challenges fiction writers face is how factual their novels should be when events occur in a real time and place.

There are two ways to approach this challenge.  The first is to assume authors of fiction have the literary freedom to develop their characters and tell their stories any way they please.  It is fiction after all.  The primary objective of fiction writers is to develop compelling characters and thought-provoking plots.  I’ve read books where authors have completely altered historic events or places to fit their characters and story development. If it’s done intentionally with the reader fully aware, there’s a good chance it can be done successfully.  However, if descriptions of people, places or events appear as mistakes to the reader, the author can come off as uninformed or lazy.  Anachronisms can kill a reader’s interest as quickly as boring characters.

The second approach, and one I have found preferable, is NOT to ignore the reality of times and places in writing fiction.  My goal is to have my descriptions of real events and locations be as accurate as possible.

The five novels I’ve written have all taken place in the future, giving me complete freedom to describe people and places as I see fitting the story.  But my current work in progress, ROUND PEAK MOUNTAIN, and many of my short stories, take place in present time and familiar locations.   Round Peak, North Carolina is a fictional town placed today in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  An unsolved murder and rumors of buried moonshine money at the center of the novel are fictional, but real geography and historic events are woven throughout the development of the story and the characters.  Interstate 77, the Blue Ridge Parkway, nearby cities, the history of moonshining and the Civil War are all real.  Failing to describe known times, places and events correctly would  diminish the plausibility of the story.  Accordingly, time spent researching places and events to ensure accuracy is time well spent.

Blending fiction with reality is an art in itself.  Some novels require more fiction than fact, some more fact than fiction, but I believe achieving plausibility in the development of compelling characters and an entertaining story is the goal.  It’s a goal I’m still striving to achieve.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Happy blogging!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

You can check out excerpts of my work in progress, ROUND PEAK MOUNTAIN, by going HERE:

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What Makes a Great First Line?

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What makes a great first line in a novel?

First and foremost, it must capture the reader’s attention.  A captivating opening line can pull a reader into even an average plot (for a while, anyway), but a mediocre start may turn readers off before they can assess the quality of the story that follows.

There are several ways to grab the attention of readers. Building suspense, appealing to a reader’s curiosity, and painting a vivid picture are among the most common.  Optimally, combining these three approaches can ensure a book gets off to a great start.

Below are memorable first lines from notable novels.  See if you can determine which of the three approaches are used to capture the reader’s attention.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen (1813): ”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT by Norman Maclean (1989):  ”In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith (1948): “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath (1963): “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (1984): ”The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman (2008): ”There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”

The first three authors clearly pique the reader’s curiosity in setting the stage for what follows.  The final three paint a distinct picture and build suspense.  You could argue that several of these lines combine all three approaches.

The opening line of a novel must also serve as a guidepost for what is to follow, setting proper expectations for the reader.  A suspenseful opening is appropriate in setting the stage for a murder mystery, but might establish the wrong tone for a romantic comedy.  In the six novels above, the reader gets a pretty good idea of what is to follow with each of the first lines.  Having read two of these books (albeit years ago), I can attest that the authors followed through with the expectations they set.

I recently returned to my prior novels and assessed the opening lines.  Oddly, I found my first book, CORRUPT CONNECTION, had the best start:

“In an unmarked commercial building on the Lower East Side, researchers were puzzled with what to try next. An hour into testing a biological computer implant, the situation became desperate.”

My current work in progress is a murder mystery.  Its working title is THE MYSTERY OF ROUND PEAK MOUNTAIN.  The unsolved murder of Mayor Hank Richards and rumors of moonshine money stashed in the Carolina foothills take center stage. Here’s the opening:

“A door slammed on the garage side of the house, jolting Hank Richards from the comfort of his leather recliner.  Richards tossed down his book and strode to the front window as the grandfather clock in the hallway gonged nine times.”

Without spoiling the plot, I can tell you Richards doesn’t make it past page 3. The first chapter is actually a flashback, and the former mayor’s unsolved murder is the basis for the entire novel.

I’m less than half complete with my current novel, and the opening line and initial chapters will likely be modified before the manuscript goes final. I recommend all writers hold off on finalizing the opening of their novel until it’s ready for print.  Authors only get one chance at making a good first impression with a reader, and if they’re lucky, they will get to do it again and again.

Please stop by and comment on Excerpts from my Work in Progress.

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Grade Your Chapters: Author ToolBox

It’s time for my March contribution to the #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of authors post their thoughts on subjects of writing.  This month I discuss Grading Your Chapters. Slide1

I tend to write short chapters that shift by venue, time or maybe point of view.  My 325-page novels may have 40 or more chapters.  I find shorter chapters help the story progress rapidly and give readers a sense of achievement as they move through the novel.

After finishing a first draft and before I turn the manuscript over to Claudia (my editor), I read the book end to end to get a feel for continuity and flow, grading each chapter (1-poor to 5-excellent).  I’ll then return to focus on those chapters rated the lowest, but will eventually work to improve each of them.

The questions I ask as I grade the chapters include:

  • Does the first paragraph(s) grab you, pulling you forward?
  • Is anything new presented to the reader? If so, is it described or told as backdrop?
  • If new characters are introduced, are they compelling and needed for the plot?
  • Are there elements of intrigue, danger, excitement, or mystery? If not, what purpose does the chapter serve?
  • Does the end of the chapter leave the reader wanting more or does it just fall off?

One additional editing step that can be done at this time is running each chapter through a writing editor like ProWritingAid, Grammarly, or AutoCrit.  There are many other editors, and I’m not suggesting which one is the best, although I’m most familiar with ProWritingAid.  The output of these tools is voluminous, and it’s eventually the author’s decision on which recommendations to use.

I will typically read and edit my manuscript several times before having Claudia mark it up, but this chapter focus is a bite-sized way for me to tackle the first major revisions.

Not all chapters can be spinetinglers, but having a multi-chapter lull in a book is difficult to overcome.  It might lead to the reader placing the book or e-reader on the nightstand, never to return.  Grading your chapters can find these lulls before your readers discover them.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE. Happy blogging!

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You can read an award-winning short story from MOST MEN HERE.  Pour a cup of coffee and sit back.  It’s FREE and very few calories.

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You Can’t Go Home Again


It was Thomas Wolfe who recognized that “you can’t go home again.”  Having just visited my hometown, I sadly agree.

During the 60’s, I grew up in Delavan, Illinois, a town of 2,000 people south of Peoria.  After going off to college and getting married, my job took me across the U.S. and the world.  My 88-year-old parents are doing well and still live in Delavan, hence my recent visit.

Founded in 1837, Delavan is much like you’d envision a small Midwestern town. It has a Main Street lined with two-story storefronts. Railroad tracks intersect near a towering grain elevator where an iconic train station formerly sat.  Streets are laid out in grids, extending one mile in each direction from the lone stoplight at the center of town.

I remember my childhood fondly. I imagine most of my Delavan schoolmates have similar memories.  Back then, the downtown was bustling with activity.  It’s not so now.  Many of the downtown stores are empty or transitioning to a business that history indicates will likely fail.  The bowling alley, movie theater, clothing stores, hardware store, lumber yard, jewelry store, and Ben Franklin are gone. Hometown eateries come and go, but mostly go.  Delavan supported two grocery stores for years, but now a Dollar General at the edge of town is the only option for food basics.

Taking a ride around the loop, the clutter and disrepair of homes and businesses detract from the charm of the historic town.  If Delavan has a zoning ordinance or building codes, they don’t appear to be enforced.  Home repairs and building projects continue in full view for years with little progress.  Entering the town from the east, a visitor’s first view of Delavan is acres of used cars and trucks, slowly sinking to their axles at the Ford dealership.

I’m not sure why things have gone downhill.  One factor is fewer manufacturing jobs are available in neighboring cities.  Walmart and other nearby big box stores also have impacted small-town retail businesses. Neither explains why clutter, disrepair and unenforced ordinances are tolerated.

There are elements of my childhood memories that remain intact. Delavan has maintained its parks and recreational facilities.  Kids play baseball at the same diamonds where I took the field over 50 years ago.  You can still go fishing at park ponds where I caught my first bluegill.  Citizens recently voted to increase property taxes to rebuild Delavan’s high school after town leaders stressed that a school was essential to maintaining the town’s identity.  The longstanding weekly newspaper, The Delavan Times, continues to publish community and school activities and provides a unique source of the town’s history.  Delavan also has a tradition of hosting a Fall Festival, complete with a parade, fireworks, talent contests, 5K run, and amusement rides.

I wish Delavan and its citizens well.  The community made a positive impact on my life, but my hometown changed.  I changed.  Once my parents are gone, I will visit less frequently, or maybe not at all.  Sadly, Thomas Wolfe was right.