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Many an author embarks upon a publishing journey armed with little more than talent, desire, and blind faith.  Unfortunately, snake oil salesmen love the rookies in this business (discussed in Part I of this Authors Helping Authors series) and my next guest learned this lesson the hard way. 

Meet mystery writer Evelyn Cullet. An aspiring author since high school, she began her first novel, Romancing A Mystery, while attending college. After years of hard work, she submitted the manuscript to multiple traditional publishers and, like many other talented writers, her efforts were met with rejection. She went on to self-publish the story. 

Evelyn,what can you tell others about your experience with self-publishing?

For my first book, Romancing A Mystery, I used an all-inclusive publishing company called Outskirts Press. It was an expensive option, but my book was published. Things went fine until I ended my contract. I wanted to re-write the book, so I asked that they remove my ebook from Kindle. They’d  set it up for me in the first place — at a price, I might add — but they informed me that, since my contract had ended, they had nothing to do with the Kindle version. They said, as the author, I had the responsibility to deal with Amazon. When I contacted Amazon, the reps told me that they could only deal with the company who set up the Kindle version. Outskirts Press refuses to help and Amazon says they are following ‘company policy’. So, it’s a “Catch 22”.  I’ve contacted both firms several times and they both say the same thing. It became so frustrating I finally gave up. It’s a big mess and there’s nothing I can do.  Getting old physical copies of that first novel off the market is impossible, too. Buyers are reselling copies on Amazon. Now it’s too late to do anything, but I am re-writing the book.

You’re rewriting Romancing A Mystery?

Yes. In retrospect, I see why it had been rejected by traditional publishers. The story had a lot of good light romance, but there wasn’t much of a mystery.

You went on to write more mysteries, but you didn’t self-publish those? 

No, I’m happy to say they were both accepted for publication by Wings ePress.  My second book, Love, Lies and Murder, is about two capricious friends who turn their small town upside down in an attempt to solve the gruesome murder of the town’s millionaire industrialist, only to discover that people are not always who they seem, and a single error in judgment can prove fatal. The third, Masterpiece of Murder, is the sequel about a heartbroken art student who follows her errant fiancé to Bariloche, Argentina. His reasons for being in Bariloche complicate her life and threaten her very existence as she unintentionally stumbles into a downward spiral of deceit, art forgery and murder. Both books are mysteries, but I’ve added light romance and a little humor.

Where do you get your story ideas?

So far, my story ideas come from my own experiences. Romancing A Mystery grew as a result of a trip to England I had planned with friends when I was twenty-four years old. I wound up getting married instead and since I couldn’t take the trip, I wrote about how it might have turned out had I gone. Most of the action in Love, Lies and Murder takes place in a small company office, much like the one where I worked when I was single — and where I had an office romance that ended badly. The idea for the Masterpiece of Murder came when I was taking art classes and met an artist who had gone to Bariloche, Argentina for a Master art class. Upon seeing the lovely photos the artist had brought back, the writer in me immediately envisioned Bariloche as a great setting for a murder mystery. And it turned out I was right.

If you could, what would you tell your ‘younger writing self’?

I’m sorry now that I didn’t work with a professional editor when I was writing my first novel. I wasted a great deal of time and expense that could have been avoided. I should have done more research before self-publishing. I also should have asked Outskirts to take the novel off of Kindle BEFORE I ended my contract. How many more mistakes could I possibly have made with that first novel? Live and learn.

You have learned. Now you enjoy a successful writing career. What’s your greatest struggle as a writer?

Finding the time to write. I thought that after I retired from my day job, I would finally have enough time, but in fact I don’t, because now I find all kinds of other things that require my attention. Marketing my novels and doing a blog are just two of them.  I just have to try and budget my time so I can get in a few hours of writing. Limiting my online time is important as well.

What do you think is the best way for authors to reach readers?

Guest blogging, doing library talks, book club talks and craft shows. I recently did a large Christmas craft show where I got a chance to talk with mystery readers who had never heard of me. I sold quite a few novels, and I passed out a lot of bookmarks to potential readers.

The experience with your first book obviously hasn’t stopped you from pursuing what you love. What are you working on now?

Right now I’m editing my next mystery, Once Upon a Crime. Containing several of the same characters mentioned in my previous novels, it’s about a newly published mystery author who goes to Michigan with her friend, to take a much needed rest. She gets anything but rest when she becomes involved with stolen gemstones, two murders, and her friend’s handsome, Machiavellian cousin. I’m working on a release date of Spring, 2014.

Evelyn is a current member of Sisters in Crime. When she’s not reading mysteries, reviewing them or writing them, she enjoys playing the piano, is an amateur Lapidary, and an organic gardener. When she’s not ‘limiting her online time’, you can find her on Facebook , Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website.

© 2014 Robin Cain, author of THE SECRET MISS RABBIT KEPT and WHEN DREAMS BLEED

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For the next entry in this Authors Helping Authors series, I’d like to introduce my friend and colleague Peter Bernhardt, whose work I discovered through the Internet Writing Workshop. A Quarter Finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Award, Peter is a talented author and one you need to know. His stories are a delight for the senses.

Unlike the snake oil salesmen residing in the corners of this business (a reference I made in Part 1 of this series, regarding the plethora of available bad advice), Peter Bernhardt is a professional who knows his way around this business and never hesitates in lending a hand to other writers.  Not a member of the ‘Let’s kick out a story this weekend and publish it on Monday’ group, Peter is the real deal — willing to put in the hours it takes to give the reader a hell of a good story.

I sat down with Peter and asked him about his experiences.

Peter, how many books have you written?

I have written two books that are published, and I am halfway through writing my third one. My first novel, The Stasi File – Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination an espionage thriller in which, following the age-old advice to “write what you know,” I wove together the unlikely combination of a German upbringing, a lifelong love of opera and my experiences as an attorney.

When I finished Stasi, I had a deep sense of loss. Sylvia and Rolf (the characters in the story) had been with me for several years and there was hardly a morning when I didn’t think about them during my jog through Sedona. I had already planned to write another spy novel involving the Stasi Romeos—the novel I am currently working on—but several readers encouraged me to write a sequel. The Stasi ending contained a subtle hint of a sequel to take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What better place to send Sylvia to perform than at the Santa Fe Opera, which is where my wife and I attend performances every summer? A magical setting, which I hope I managed to convey in Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter [Kiss].

The sequel turned out to be more of a mystery than a thriller and did not involve espionage. Surprisingly, this German male author penned chapters of an imaginary young Pueblo Indian girl who lived over three hundred years earlier in a voice that made me feel as if I had been there.

 Stasi seems to speak more to male readers while most female readers prefer Kiss.

Spoiler alert: if you plan on reading both novels, please start with Stasi, as it contains a plot twist that will be spoiled for you if you read Kiss first.

Where do you get your story ideas? 

I start out by asking myself what I want to write about. Then I open my mind for ideas to come. Most of them come while I’m running (the trick is to write them down as soon as I return home before they vanish). I find that it takes weeks of mulling over various ideas, considering them, thinking them over, casting them aside. One day an idea gels that my gut tells me is the one. Then it’s a matter of sketching it out. Of course, it often evolves into something different than what I envisioned at the start.

Let me illustrate with the example on how I arrived at the story for my second novel, Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter. Once I settled on the story location of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I let my imagination go to work, considering several scenarios that would create danger for Rolf and Sylvia, the Stasi protagonists. News accounts of traffickers in Native American artifacts in Utah gave me the idea of including archaeology and the illicit trade in the plot. Not knowing anything about the subject, I spent weeks researching on the Internet and reading numerous books. I had never heard of the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 and most readers I have asked haven’t either. The subject fascinated me and somehow this German without one drop of Indian blood came up with the idea of creating a young daughter of a Pueblo shaman and giving her a crucial role in the revolt. Add to that a news account in an Albuquerque paper of the lore of lost treasure of Indian artifacts and Spanish gold, and voilà.

But how do you combine two story lines over three hundred years apart?

I wanted to experiment with a novel approach that might stretch the imagination. I chewed on that for a long time until I came up with a technique I was happy with. So I wrote the contemporary chapters in past tense and the Pueblo Revolt chapters in present tense. I think it worked rather well.

How did you go about getting your first book published?

After collecting close to a hundred rejection slips, I took advantage of an offer of the YouWriteOn site sponsored by the British Arts Council of free paperback publication. Based on peer reviews, Stasi made the site’s monthly top-ten list and stayed there long enough to be included in its permanent bestseller list. After some time, I published a second edition on Create Space and Amazon Kindle.

How has your method of publication and/or writing changed over the years?

After wasting precious time in querying agents with my first novel, I will no longer pursue that avenue. The traditional publication model is flawed in my opinion. The business is populated by agents who are interested in serving existing clients with name recognition. Publishers no longer promote or develop new authors and the royalties are paltry. I want to make my books available to readers who have an interest in what I’m writing about. Feedback from readers as to how much they enjoyed my book is enough payoff for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would not scoff at sales in the thousands.

My writing has changed in that I have learned to express more with fewer words. And while it took two and a half years to write Stasi, I put Kiss to bed after a year and a half. In other words, I have learned how to get to the point faster, to economize, to be more efficient without sacrificing effectiveness.

Do you have a favorite among your titles? 

I have favorite parts but not an overall favorite as between my novels. My favorite scenes include those integrating opera seamlessly into tense action, showing a reader an aspect that he may not have known before, be it about opera, culture, or history. The most fun I’ve had was to write in the point of view of a thirteen-year old Pueblo Indian girl, who in this author’s imagination played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish invaders from New Mexico in 1680.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle as a writer? 

My greatest struggle as a writer comes whenever I start a new chapter. Fingers poised over the keyboard, I sit there while a multitude of openings flood my mind. More times than not, I change the opening paragraph half a dozen times before I’m satisfied. Once I’m beyond that, the prose usually flows. A close second as far as writing struggles concerns discipline, which tells me I should write every day, but another voice counsels that unless I experience life, I can’t possibly write about matters that will interest others. So I give myself permission to spend my mornings running, playing tennis, or to pursue other interests. I often recharge my batteries by following my passion for opera—watching one of my videos, listening to the Metropolitan Opera Radio, attending a performance. And then there are, of course, the daily tasks demanding my attention.

Thus, I usually don’t settle down to writing until afternoons and often stay with it into the evening. The way I overcome procrastination is by setting deadlines. For example, as the facilitator of the Sedona Writers’ Group, which meets twice a month at our local library, I do not permit myself to attend a meeting without submitting at least one chapter for critique. I suppose this harkens back to my attorney days when federal judges demanded pleadings on a certain date and if you wanted an extension you had better have a darn good reason.

When did you first feel you could call yourself a writer?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have considered myself a writer from as early as I can remember. I grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, during the post-WWII years where the occupying American forces set up a library. You could only check out three books at a time—not nearly enough to satisfy my voracious appetite for reading. When my mother turned out the light in the bedroom I shared with an older sister and brother, I read under the covers by flashlight.

German schools had composition classes, and my essays often received the top grades there as well as at an American university I later attended as a foreign exchange student. As a judicial clerk and later, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I made it a point to hone my skills in creative writing and to steer clear of legalese.

So I’ve been a writer all my life, albeit in fields different from fiction (no wisecracks please, about legal writing being fiction). But it was not until after I began receiving positive feedback from Stasi readers that I considered myself “an author.”

If you could, what would you tell your ‘younger writing self’? 

Where to start? I have learned so much over the years. Here’s my attempt at a list of dos and don’ts:

1. Find a good writer’s critique group and participate. Avoid puff groups (members showering your work with praise at the expense of thoughtful feedback).

2. Be open to well-founded criticism, but don’t let others write your novel for you. Always remain the final arbiter what works for the novel you want to write.

3. Learn about filters, echoes, was, as . . . dependent clauses, overexplaining, adverbs (especially those explaining dialogue), dangling modifiers, passive voice, mundane dialogue, POV, tenses . . . and the list goes on.

4. Purchase a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers—the only how-to book a writer needs.

5. Use The Chicago Manual of Style, a good dictionary and thesaurus.

6. Write for yourself. Write what interests you. Write what you’re passionate about.

7. Pay no heed to naysayers spouting artificial criteria (e.g., word count limits, no prologues).

What do you feel is the biggest mistake made by upcoming authors today?

1. Inability and unwillingness to accept and benefit from legitimate critique.

2. Becoming defensive when others point out shortcomings.

3. Taking others’ opinions as gospel. Develop an inner gauge what’s right for your novel and after giving reviews full consideration, stick with what feels right to you.

4. Failure to proofread and edit your work. If you don’t care about your work, why should the reader?

5. Writing for a perceived market instead of yourself.

6. Blindly adhering to cookie-cutter criteria advocated by unimaginative gatekeepers.

7. Failure to learn about the craft of writing, including proper use of point of view and dialogue mechanics.

8. Failure to perform adequate research. On the flipside: including too much research information instead of only so much as is necessary for plot progression, character development, or atmosphere. One must find the right balance.

What do you think is the best way to reach readers?

I believe word of mouth is the best way to reach readers. Someone active in social media probably has a leg up, but so far I have not been willing to invest the considerable time necessary to blog, tweet and Facebook. Traditional advertising is probably the least effective and a waste of resources in my opinion.

What are you working on now?

An espionage thriller involving a female West German intelligence officer on the trail of a Stasi Romeo who is seducing a secretary in the West German Chancellery in an effort to get her to spy for communist East Germany. Over forty West German secretaries were convicted in real life of spying for the East for love. While I use episodes based on true events, I, of course, infuse them with fictional characters of this authors’ imagination.

Considering the amount of books published every year, why should readers buy your book?

I write for readers who are looking for something other than the same old formula: the world will come to an end if the bad guys aren’t stopped; gore and violence; sex; the f-word used prominently; plots that choose shock value over logic and credibility. I cater to readers who value a tightly woven plot that makes sense, holds together, gives insights into an unfamiliar world. I do not insult the reader’s intelligence, be it by repeating things, by talking down or condescending, or by overexplaining, which deprive readers of the opportunity to use their imagination— the greatest pleasure fiction has to offer. If you fit this reader profile, my books are for you.

Not the same old formulas? Tightly woven plots? Insights into unfamiliar worlds? Peter, I couldn’t have described your stories any better. 

Readers, writers, do yourself a favor and pick up one of Peter’s books. And for the Germans in the audience, The Stasi File is  also available in German for the Kindle  Die Stasi-Akte – Oper und Spionage: Eine tödliche Kombination

© 2013 Robin Cain, author of The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept and When Dreams Bleed

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An AWESOME blogger friend has passed on the Kreativ Blogger award to me and I’m deeply honored. When I consider her talent, I’m particularly flattered she would even think of me. Thank you, Guilie Castillo-Oriard.

Now pay attention, readers. Guilie is an amazing writer, so if you’re not following her, you’re completely missing out. From her short stories to her soon-to-be-published novel (yes, Guilie, I’m certain!), Guilie will touch your heart with her words. Trust me on this.

Here are two of her more recent publications at Fiction 365 :

Mischievous Moonlight
Faithless

So. Kreativ Blogger award.

Here is what’s involved, four hoops that I must jump through. The first, most important, is to thank my awarder and link to her (done, but in case you missed it: Guilie Castillo-Oriard.

Then I must answer these ten questions:

Ready, set, go –

What’s your favorite song?
Anyone who knows me knows the answer to this question. Well, favorite artist anyway – DAVE MATTHEWS! No brainer. Now, favorite song? Hmmm… so many from which to choose. American Baby? Sleep To Dream Her? Crash? Lover Lay Down? Nope, can’t pick just one. Kind of like walking into a Baskin Robbins. So many flavors, so little time…

What’s your favorite dessert?
Dessert, by its very name, is my favorite. Enough said.

What ticks you off?
Ah, another long list. Racism. Whiney people. Rudeness. Mean people. Being lied to. (That’s a BIG one!) Small minds. Entitlement attitudes. Pettiness. Laziness.

What do you do when you’re upset?
Really, really upset? Oh, that’s easy. I cry. My emotions reside under a very fine layer of skin, in a water-based solution. Sad, happy, upset, angry, touched? Expect me to get teary.

Which is your favorite pet?
Every pet I’ve ever had or currently own. Or even ones my friends have owned. I like animals nearly more than I like people.

Which do you prefer, black or white?
I actually much prefer shades of gray. Nothing is ever black or white, is it?

What’s your biggest fear?
Being unable to find a solution to a problem.

What’s your attitude, mostly?
I believe one’s happiness is their own responsibility, so my attitude is one of gratitude, optimism and hope.

What is perfection?
To find happiness in any given moment is perfection.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Spending money on myself.

10 random facts about myself (Drumroll, please…):

1) I have a very hard time with funerals. If it’s someone I loved dearly, I don’t want the ceremony to be my last memory. If it’s someone I knew casually, I’ll still sob harder than any relative present. It’s absolute torture for me and my presence can bring no one comfort. Too emotional, too much of a thinker, I just fall apart at the seams. I probably need some kind of therapy for this…

2) When I love someone, I love them forever. Love, by its very nature – at least in my heart – is just that kind of commitment.

3) I love my own company. Many people I know can’t stand being alone for more than a few hours. I, on the other hand, go into sensory overload after hours with more than a few people. Call me easily amused.

4) On that same note, I usually don’t mingle at parties. I pick one or two spots and stay there. I’ve discovered, by the end of the night, I’ve managed to speak to everyone who was interested and interesting. I despise small talk, so why inflict it on myself or others? Conversation should be driven by desire, not guilt or obligation.

5) I have a weakness for fine hotels and fabulous Sunday Brunches. Put the two together and I’m in nirvana.

6) I am a fanatical saver of paperwork. I have a 5-drawer filing cabinet, which, literally, contains the history of my life. In my defense, it’s saved not only my life on several occasions, but my husband’s, as well.

7) I hate to have my picture taken. I’m just NEVER pleased with the results. Want proof? Take a look at my driver’s license photo. Think Charlyse Theron in her MONSTER role…

8) I don’t believe inherited wealth is ever a good thing. Having never met a person whose ambition was improved by a trust, I don’t think parents passing along fortunes to their children are doing them any favors. And children who fight over parents’ estates just piss me off to no end… Entitlement is such an ugly word.

9) Don’t ever try to push my head under water. I will get inordinately angry and likely try to kill you. Don’t say your weren’t warned.

10) I rarely answer my phone. Text me, email me, leave me a message – I’ll get back to you as soon as I finish this thought. Promise.

And these are my nominees for the Kreativ Blogger award because they stand out to me for one reason or another.

In no particular order:

L.J. Sellers, one of the hardest working indie authors I know. She sets the bar for the rest of us.

Ben Shipley, truly one of the greatest wordsmiths I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. He honors me with his wisdom, insight and friendship. His encouragement ain’t bad either.

Bob Sanchez , one of my newly discovered ‘great authors’. He deserves a huge audience.

Rick Bylina, he entertains my writing group with his dry humor on nearly a daily basis, he’s a good writer and a darn good book reviewer.

Holly Michael, who has previously won this award, but deserves another shout-out for her talent and tenacity. Another great writer you might want to check out.

I expect none of you to pass this award along. My intent is to drive traffic to your site, not unduly burden you with work. Your option to keep it going – or not. If you do, here are the rules, as they were passed along to me:

— thank the awarder, link back to them
— answer the ten questions above
— share ten random facts about yourself
— pass it on to seven other bloggers (or as many as you have energy for. Don’t make me look like the only loser!)

Thank you for your attention. That is all.

P.S. No, this had nothing to do with solving all the world’s problems. …Or did it?

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I should be cleaning my house…but my brain is in overdrive and I need to get my thoughts out. My column for the Examiner isn’t exactly conducive or appropriate for my rants and raves, so I will delegate these thoughts to my blog. Take it for what it’s worth and with a grain of salt.

The topic? The business of social media.

My book, WHEN DREAMS BLEED, has now been released. Yes, it’s a POD attempt to get my work out there and I make no excuses. I spent over a year querying agents, only to be put on hold for, literally, weeks and weeks (and in some cases, months). I’m old, impatient and spontaneous, so I’m not a good candidate for the “I’ll get back to you” game.

Yes, as a debut writer, I did get a great many rejections, but I also received a great many requests for more material. I waited and I waited, then I waited some more. I’m told it’s all part of the same game, but I didn’t like the rules – at least not at this point in my life. Ask ten people, get ten different answers. Such is life. I don’t claim to be the next Elizabeth Gilbert or Stephen King, but I do think I have an audience and my book is for them.

So, my book is out there and now I have to sell it. I’m contacting book stores, I’m handing out cards to every person I meet, sending out free books, doing interviews, using social media…

Which brings me to my point:

How is it that every single person in the entire world wants to befriend me, read their blog, buy their marketing or PR services, add chickens to their farms, play their war games, post their advertisements on my wall, join their religion, get the “don’t like button”, sign up for their cruise, etc. etc?

Right this very minute, I have 18 requests to join groups, 38 requests to join fan clubs, 3 Farmville requests, 4 podcast invites, 13 friend requests and 2 arbitrary “send a heart” requests. And this is AFTER cleaning out my list just last night.

I, for one, actually do read all these invites and then I decide which ones interest me and which ones do not. I figure I shouldn’t waste someone’s time by agreeing to participate and then blowing them off. What good does my joining serve them if I’m not truly interested? But if I delete them, they just keep re-inviting me. One person has asked me to join their fan club at least a dozen times! I don’t want to. When will she figure that out??? It’s just not something I’m ever going to buy or enjoy – sorry. Is it just a numbers game? Does anyone else actually participate in the things they agree to be a part of?

I know. I should get a life, right? Well, this is my life. I’m a writer trying to network, make friends, make contacts and get people truly interested in what I write. If I don’t spend time doing some of this, then my writing will get me nowhere. If you aren’t interested I will move on.

I don’t tend to like science fiction novels. Someone else may not like WHEN DREAMS BLEED or my column for the Examiner. That’s okay. If I like what you’re doing, I will support you. If you like mine, support me. I won’t waste your time if you don’t waste mine. Fair enough?

Now, off to clean my house….

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