Guest Connie Hambley

BarbaraKay1 is Connie’s winner! Check your email, Barbara.

Edith here, happy to welcome author Connie Hambley to the blog today. She’s my vice president at Sisters in Crime New England, and a talented and hard-working author. She has a trilogy of books out that all involve horses, and she’s going to talk to us about affinity marketing.trilogy equine promo without wording

In the trilogy, world-class equestrian Jessica Wyeth becomes a target of an international crime syndicate after uncovering how family secrets link her to the power behind a Boston-based terrorist cell. In this gripping, multi-generational tale, the bonds of blood and love are tested through times of war and peace.

She’s giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter here today, too! (For our regular readers, fair warning that these books aren’t cozy – but they have lots and lots of fans!) Take it away, Connie.

Engagement is the Key to Promotion

Selling head-to-head against better-known titles and authors is challenging for an emerging voice. Buy ads? Hire a publicist? Those are valid ideas and worth pursuing, but here’s the rub: It’s easy to spend money, but it’s very hard to make it.

THE WAKE - FRONT COVERRegardless of where you are in the publishing hierarchy – from independently published to small house to large publisher – the heft of promotion will fall on the author’s shoulders. So, what’s a writer to do?

First, let’s shatter the idea that we are out there to sell books. When the bulk of sales happen in the first weeks of publication, what does that say about our efforts for the following weeks or months?

The precursor to selling books is to engage your reader.

Two practices for successful engagements are something the Wickeds do very well. With an investment of time, the returns compound themselves. What are these magic practices? Affinity Marketing and Community Connection.

Affinity Marketing is a familiar and intuitive strategy used when authors want readers to feel an immediate connection to their work. We want our readers to identify some part of themselves with our stories, characters, or settings. Doing so elevates our book out of the din. We see this practice at work with books and blogs on adorable furry critters by Liz Mugavero’s Pawsitively Organic series, yard sales in Sherry Harris’ work and a love for Ireland in Sheila Connolly’s County Cork Mysteries.

Authors also forge relationships with readers based on aspects of their own lives that Hambley w Horseinfluence what they put down on paper. Sparking an interest in the person behind the stories makes readers interested in the whole journey of the author, not just in one title. Julie Hennrikus mines her experience in the theater for her new Theater Cop mysteries. I’ve woven a family experience with arson and a love of horses into the main character of my Jessica Trilogy books. Curious to know more? Exactly!

For affinity marketing to work, keep these things in mind:

Find your niche. Marketing head-to-head against best-sellers will exhaust and drown you. Find another love of your target audience and market through the “back door.” Genres can be used, too. History buffs will love immersing themselves in Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife series and learning about life in a Massachusetts mill town in the 1880’s.

Books can be sold anywhere. I’m the first one to say that supporting your local bookstore should be one of your missions in life, but after you’ve secured a spot on their shelves, then what? Think of where people might be ripe for an impulse buy. Find a pet store that will place your book in the isle beside dog treats or get the email list for the local dog park to let the members know about your book (with proceeds donated!) or to hold an event there. During the summer, you’ll find me ringside at Grand Prix events.

All of this snoodling in shared interests brings us to the heart of engagement, and that is forging a sense of connection and community with our readers.

Social media platforms of Facebook, blog, website, Twitter, and more are essential tools. Barbara Ross’ post on promotion provides some best practices for our digital widgets. Use what feels right for you. The key is not to be passive. Responding to comments? Great, but outreach is the better connector.

The social behind the media are people. Remember them? Our flesh and blood counterparts are more than the bodies we slay on the page. Supporting professional organizations leverages visibility by adding a spoke to our promotional wheel.

Windrush Volunteering Kathy

Active participation through volunteering broadens your community. I’m a big believer in forging connections through paying it forward. I learned about hippotherapy (horse-centric physical and behavioral therapy) when volunteering at a therapeutic riding stable and knew I had to weave it into my most recent book, The Wake. I reached out to the CEO of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International to tell her of my inspiration and my book. She wrote a wonderful endorsement and featured my book in their global magazine.

The Wickeds and I belong to Sisters in Crime, a national organization of mystery and thriller writers. Members enjoy networking and access to reader-centric events like library conventions and writer conferences. Being a dues-paying member is great, but passive membership has limits. By becoming a trusted member of a community, authors promote a sense of connection, familiarity, and comfort.

And with that connection comes engaged fans, and engaged fans buy books.

Readers: What leads you to buy a book? Writers: how do you engage potential readers? Have you used affinity marketing? Remember, Connie is giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter. Hambley Business Headshot

Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a New York dairy farm and all would have been idyllic if an arsonist hadn’t torched her family’s barn. Bucolic bubble burst, she began to steadfastly plot her revenge against all bad guys, real and imagined. After receiving her law degree, she moved to Boston and wrote for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nature and other wonky outlets as she honed her skills of reaching readers at a deep emotional level with great research, laser-sharp focus on detail, and persuasive writing. Her high-concept thrillers feature remarkable women entangled in modern-day crimes and walk the reader on the razor’s edge between good and evil. Connie delights in creating worlds where the good guys win–eventually. Connie is a two-time winner of Best English Fiction literary award at the EQUUS International Film Festival in New York City. She is Vice President and Featured Speaker of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Find her at: www.conniejohnsonhambley.com, FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/facebookcjhamble, BLOG: http://bit.ly/outofthefog, TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ConnieHamble, PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/cjhambley/, and LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/conniejhambley

Introducing Julia Henry!

By Julie, thrilled to be introducing the latest JH Author!


Pruning The Dead MMI am beyond thrilled to tell you all about the new series I’m writing as Julia Henry for Kensington. The Garden Squad series is set in Goosebush, MA, a fictional town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Lilly Jayne is a widow in her mid sixties. Her best friend, Tamara O’Connor is a real estate agent in town. Ernie Johnson owns the town home and garden store. Delia Greenway was Lilly’s late husband’s student, and lives with Lilly. They take care of each other. Together these four friends garden together–the kind of gardening that “solves” town problems rather than beautification work. They also solve mysteries.

Here’s the cover blurb for the first book, Pruning the Dead:

Post-retirement aches and pains can’t prevent sixty-five-year-old Lilly Jayne from keeping the most manicured garden in Goosebush, Massachusetts. But as a murder mystery blooms in the sleepy New England town, can a green thumb weed out a killer?

With hundreds flocking to her inaugural garden party, meticulous Lilly Jayne hasn’t left a single petal out of place. But the picture-perfect gathering turns unruly upon the arrival of Merilee Frank, Lily’s ex-husband’s catty third wife. Merilee lives for trouble, so no one is surprised after she drinks too much, shoves a guest into the koi pond, and gets escorted off the property. The real surprise comes days later—when Merilee is found dead in a pile of mulch . . .

Lilly wishes she could stick to pruning roses and forget about Merilee’s murder—until her best friend and ex become suspects in an overgrown homicide case. Now, aided by the Garden Squad, an unlikely group of amateur crime solvers with a knack for planting, Lilly knows she has limited time to identify the true culprit and restore order to Goosebush. Because if the murderer’s plot isn’t nipped in the bud, another victim could be pushing up daisies!

I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying writing this series! Though it won’t be out until January 29, 2019, it is available for pre-order now. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next few months, but today I wanted to share the news, share the cover, and let you all know that the Wickeds are adding another author to the masthead!

Readers, how much do you love this cover? Isn’t it beautiful?

Wicked Wednesday: Mother May I?

Edith here, on a month of five Wednesdays in May. Who played “Mother May I?” with neighborhood kids out on the front (or back) lawn? I did, for one. Remember? The “mother” faced the group and gave commands: Take two giant steps forward, or tiptoe five tiny steps, or any other kind of forward movement. The child or group of children have to do that, but first they have to ask “Mother May I?” If they don’t, they have to go back to the start. The goal is to reach Mother first and become the new one.

Hopscotch_in_California

So let’s talk about other outdoor childhood games we played! Favorites? Not so favorites? In groups vs. individually?

Jessie: I loved Two Square. I had a knack for putting a spin on the ball and sending it out of the opposite square in such a way that it was really tough to reach it. I spent many happy recess hours playing it.

Barb: I saw my cousin last fall and she reminded me of the hours, and hours, and hours

we spent playing jacks on our grandparents front porch in Sea Girt, New Jersey. I had forgotten all about it, but the minute she said it, I remembered the summer we all played jacks. My manual dexterity is horrendous, as my typing proves, so it was probably good exercise for me, but why was I attracted to it in the first place?

Liz: I loved hopscotch! I remember drawing the squares in everyone’s driveway – mine, my grandparents, friends’ houses. It was probably the only thing I played where I didn’t hurt myself. I also liked playing volleyball in my backyard – my father put up a net and left it there most of the summer so we could play whenever we wanted. I had fun with it until one day I sort of forgot it was there, and I was running through the yard and literally ran into it. I had a giant cut right across my nose for weeks. I wasn’t so fond of volleyball after that, and my new favorite outdoor game became reading…

Sherry: Red light, Green light — Statues — jacks — so many fun games. But a favorite of mine was an after dark game called Jailbreak. One person was it and everyone went to hide. If you got caught you had to sit on a designated front porch. While the person who was it tried to round everyone else up someone would sneak back to release the prisoners yelling jailbreak and the whole thing would start all over again.

Edith: Sherry reminds me of those summer evenings playing outside after dinner with the neighborhood kids until we got called in, sweaty and tired, for a bath and bed. We also had a tether ball in the back yard, with the pole in cement. I could whack that thing for hours. Wind it all the way up one way, let it unroll on its own and whack it the other way.  We also jump roped a lot with friends and sometimes used two ropes. Was that called Double Dutch? Oh, and roller skating in the patio and on the driveway, with the metal kind of skates that clipped onto your shoes and you tightened them with a hex key.

Julie: Sherry’s game sounds like it could be good fun at a mystery conference! I liked four square (must be like two square but with four people). I also enjoyed croquet. We made up our own rules, and had a course that wasn’t up to code, but it was always a ton of fun. But honestly, my favorite outdoor game was reading.

Readers: What were your favorite games to play outdoors? Have you taught them to the next generation, or the next?

I Just Can’t Talk to You

by Barb, in Boothbay Harbor on a gorgeous spring day (finally)

I’ve noticed lately that many of my relationships are defined by technology preferences–both my own and those of the people I communicate with.

I am an e-mail person–pure and simple. I’ve written before on the blog about how much I hate the phone. Phone calls require synchronous communication–both people have to be on at the same time for meaningful information to be transferred–which means it interrupts whatever you are doing when the call happens, and I hate to be interrupted. I accept that this is a personality quirk. I hate sudden changes of plan, too. I have the whatever the opposite of ADD is. Also, I hate that when you’re talking on the phone, you can’t see the other person’s face and judge it for comprehension, attention, acceptance and so on.

So I hate the phone. And unfortunately, that has caused many of my relationships with my phone-preferring friends to drift away. I’ve stayed closest to the distant people in my life who prefer my main mode of communication.

To me, e-mail was a miracle. It doesn’t have to be synchronous and, as a writerly person, I have time to craft my message. The pressure is off in all kinds of ways. When we first got e-mail, there was quite a long period, over a decade, when it could only be used for internal communication at work. It was a huge improvement over copying memos and sticking them in people’s physical mailboxes, and later a great way to communicate with far-flung colleagues. Then, miracle of miracles, e-mail moved outside the company so we could communicate with customers, suppliers, investors. Fantastic! My social use of e-mail increased on a pace with my use of it at work.

In a final miraculous step, e-mail appeared on my phone. That formerly loathed device. As a Chief Operating Officer at two higher ed technology companies, Customer Support ultimately reported to me. As you can imagine, our busy season was at the start of the fall semester in the northern hemisphere. From early August when many state college systems in the American south went back to work, through the end of September when the UK universities came online, I was virtually chained to my desk. But when I could follow the long e-mail support threads on my phone to monitor what was going on, I could go anywhere and do anything as long as no real emergency was taking place.

Alas, as with all technologies, the world has moved on. I know that if I send an evite to a family event, I have to text all my nieces and nephews to GO LOOK AT YOUR E-MAIL, because they never check it. My son, in his mid-thirties, was complaining that the youngest member of his Dungeons and Dragons group, in his early twenties, has asked that they not communicate about dates and places for games via e-mail because he doesn’t know how to use it.

And the number of ways people reach out is a problem for me. Sometimes I have to search all over, through my Facebook private messages, my Facebook fanpage private messages, Twitter and Instragram direct messages, and my Goodreads mailbox, looking for a message from a fan I know I want to get back to. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting fan mail, but it always puts me in mind of Drew Barrymore’s lament in He’s Just Not That Into You:

I have learned to text a fair amount, though I’m not good at keeping my phone by my side at all times, which my family finds mega-frustrating. I’ll adapt. I’ll learn, but I think I’ll always default to technologies that support my personality and don’t fight it.

Readers: What about you? Do you have a preferred mode of communication? What and why? Do you find it hard to keep in touch with people who have different preferences? Spill it all here.

Talking and Silence

Years ago, I had a friend who said she thought in colors. This would have been handy for her, since we were both studying art history, but I never quite understood what she meant. We had different mental languages, because I think in words. I even edit as I go.

Like other Wickeds here, I attended Malice Domestic at the end of April. I don’t go to a lot of conferences—maybe three or four a year—and I’m always amazed that I can spend three days or more talking. To friends, strangers, panelists, my writer idols, wait staff, and just about anybody who is human and breathing (and even some non-humans too).

Idols! (And yes, I talked to both women.)

Which is in stark contrast to the other ninety percent of my life. I’m a full-time writer, working from home, usually without any other people around, so I spend a significant amount of my time sitting in front of my computer creating stories in my head. I’m sure you all know that any piece of writing takes more than just stringing words together: you have to hear the voices of your characters in your head before you can set their words down on paper/your screen. And then there’s the invisible narrator if you write in the third person, because somebody has to describe things like the scenery, clothes, food and so on, and then you have to have your characters move through all this clutter that you’ve created.

Plus  you have to make each character a distinct individual and differentiate between them all (and don’t even ask about using accents!). To put it simply, it gets pretty noisy in a writer’s head.

Yes, I talk to cows too. This one’s a neighbor in Ireland.

But that does not mean I work in absolute silence. I talk to my cats (there are three of them, and one or another, or sometimes two, and occasionally three will be sitting on me as I work). In fact, I carry on complete conversations with my cats (no, they don’t answer, although I can usually figure out what they want through their body language, and most often it involves food). I also talk to the neighbors’ cats, and the rare dog that wanders by, and birds, and squirrels, and anything else living that passes through my yard. It seems rude to ignore them, and usually I welcome them.

An Irish cat — my daughter and I both had a conversation with it.

At Malice I’ve shared a hotel room with the same person for several years now, but I hadn’t realized that she talks to herself too. She’s been published for a long time, but I didn’t think to ask her when she started doing this. I have a feeling there are a lot of us who talk when there’s no one there.

Writers use words. Sometimes we need to try them out, because a spoken word “feels” different than a word you think. We (and the cats) are our own first audience. And for me, at least, it makes a difference.

How about you? Do you think in words? Colors? Musical notes? Even smells? And do you talk when there’s nobody to hear you?

Memories of Malice 2018

Five of the Wickeds and two of our accomplices attended the 30th Malice Domestic conference last weekend. Malice celebrates the traditional mystery, and we celebrate alongside hundreds of mystery fans and authors (although we sorely missed Liz and Jane joining us). Here are some of our highlights.

Sheila:  Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn. Need I say more? Delightful and talented women who were gracious to the adoring throngs of fans. I asked and was told that “pet” is a term that applies to both men and women and is regularly used by Geordies (those who live in Northumberland, I understand).

Apart from the miles of walking from one end of the convention hotel to the other, everything went smoothly, and I saw many happy faces, and talked to more people than I can count.

Edith: So many highlights!  The core Wickeds started off with dinner together, minus Liz, alas.

WickedsDinner

Jessie and I found our Agatha-nominated books on the special table in the bookstore!

EdithJessieAgathaBooks

The Sisters in Crime breakfast is always a wonderful gathering. Those of us present from the Sprint Club – which Ramona DeFelice Long runs every morning – got a group shot in, too.  The sprints get me writing every morning at seven and I am grateful.

SprintClub

Sprint Leader Ramona DeFelice Long at far right.

The Kensington signing and book giveaway on Saturday was very popular, with an entire box of my books going in under an hour. I had a delightful crew at my banquet table that night, including the Wickeds’ agent, John Talbot, and a bunch of avid fans, plus Map Your Mystery blogger Christine Gentes (standing at far left).

Mybanquettable

Sunday was topped off by a fabulous interview between Catriona McPherson, Toastmaster, and Lori Rader-Day (who could do stand-up comedy if she wished), then the Agatha Tea. But I don’t want to monopolize the blog! Next?

Sherry: One of the highlights for me was introducing Dorothy Cannell and Marcia Adair at the Sisters in Crime Breakfast on Saturday morning. Every year a scholarship is given in Dorothy Cannell’s name to a member of the Guppy chapter of Sisters in Crime so that member can attend Malice Domestic. This year the winner was Marcia. I had a great time getting to know her during the conference. And as I said in my post yesterday it’s just about getting to hang out with members of the crime fiction community be they readers or writers.

Jessie: On Thursday I started out the weekend by spending the day with most of the Sleuths in Time for a plotting and chatting session. They are a fun group of women! Friday evening I had a great time at dinner with the Wickeds own Kim Gray and a host of other friends both old and new.  On Saturday I really loved signing books for some new readers at the Kensington book giveaway! I also had a wonderful time meeting some of the lovely ladies who have already read some of my work at the table I hosted for the Agatha banquet. They were a lively and fun group!

Barb: In the photo below I’m with two members of the Maine Crime Writers, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett and Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd. Bruce Robert Coffin and Maureen Milliken were also there, though I only saw Maureen once, passing in the long hallways.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett, Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd, Barbara Ross. No, we did not coordinate our outfits!

I had loads of fun on my panel Murder at the Improv, making up a mystery on the fly from audience suggestions with Sheila Connolly, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Parnell Hall.

Murder at the Improv with Barbara Ross, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Sheila Connolly and Parnell Hall.

Julie: I am still exhausted from Malice! Favorite parts? Seeing folks, even in passing.  My panel with Sherry, Shari, and Leslie that Sherry talked about yesterday.  Barb and I hosting a really fun table of folks we didn’t know at the banquet. Seeing Catriona McPherson shine as the toastmaster. Edith and Jessie’s excellent panel (with Rhys Bowen, moderated by Harriet Sackler). Breakfast with Jacki York, who we first met when we carried her on a stick a few Malices back. Seeing Annette and Ramona, the sisters de Felice. Meeting people, as always. But the best part? Laughing. What a great group of folks at Malice. SO much laughing!

Malice going friends, what was your favorite part of the weekend?

Ah Malice Domestic

By Sherry — I’m home recovering from the lack of sleep and all the fun at Malice

Malice Domestic is the annual conference for fans of the traditional mystery. The first time I went was in 2003 as fan and hopeful writer. I was amazed by the crime fiction community then and continue to be now. I didn’t know a soul at that first conference. I stood in line at the restaurant for lunch and the woman in front of me turned and asked me to join her and her friend. It turns out that she was the prolific writer Lee Harris.

I have talked often about meeting Julie Hennrikus at Malice and how that changed the trajectory of my writing life. I gave Malice a shout out in the acknowledgements of my first book, Tagged for Death. For me Malice is all about connecting with people – seeing old friend and making new ones.

Here are Jessie and Edith with Rhys Bowen getting their certificates for their Agatha Best Historical nomination.

I don’t get to see the Wickeds very often. While it may seem like we are running over to each other’s houses for tea every other day, the truth is we are spread out all over the place. And poor me – I’m the farthest away. So Malice is one of the three or four times a year that I get to see them.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones

This year I was on a panel, Murder in New England, with friends Shari Randall and Julie Hennrikus  — how lucky is that? The other panel member was writer Leslie Meier who writes the Lucy Stone mystery series. I confess when I saw her name on the list of panel members I went total fan girl, but managed to maintain my cool on the actual panel.

Some people you only see long enough to give them a quick hug. Others you are lucky enough to sit down with for a chat. And some people you see photos of and wonder how you never managed to glimpse them!

 

This year my publisher Kensington gave away books. I sat by Debra Goldstein. Her new book, One Taste Too Many, doesn’t come out until December 18, 2018, but she passed out bookmarks. Then she said to each person, “I only have a bookmark, but Sherry has a great book you can get.” Did I mention how generous the crime writing community is? Oh, and Debra’s book is available for pre-order.

Attending the Sisters in Crime breakfast and the New Authors breakfast is always fun but oh so early when you’ve stayed up late so you don’t miss a minute of talking to someone. I keep campaigning for New Authors cocktail parties but no one listens to me. I confess I was a bit late to the New Authors breakfast but got to hear most of the authors. The short interviews are always a lot of fun. Here are just a few of the many wonderful debut authors:

Then there is getting to meet people you’ve only known online. The banquet, the Agatha Awards… Aw, heck, I could go on and on about how wonderful Malice is, but I’m guessing you get the point.

This year my Malice experience was extended for a bit because author Leslie Budewitz came home with me. We yakked until the wee hours and then got up at 5:30 to get Leslie to the Metro station for her flight home. Boo-hoo – why do you live so far away Leslie? And now it’s all over for another year. I’ve gotten some sleep (including a two hour nap Monday morning) and am now recharged and renewed.

I hope if you’ve never been to Malice that you get to go some day. It’s special. They give out scholarships to people who might not otherwise be able to attend. Here is the contact information: MaliceAngels@comcast.net

Readers: Is there a place you go to see old friends and meet new ones?