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Chocolate, the Ultimate Writing Inspiration

10 reasons(5)

More than one person recently emailed me an article which says that chocolate fights coughs better than codeine. This is the kind of science I like! I feel a coughing fit coming on—quick, pass the M&M’S.

Of course, I’m not sure what it says about me that people know I’d be interested in this kind of study. I guess I’ve developed a little bit of a reputation as a chocoholic. Okay, maybe a big reputation.

Chocolate inspires my writing in a significant way. Not only do I eat it while I’m writing, but my main character, Mollie McGhie, eats a lot of it while solving mysteries. Chocolate does help you think better, right?

Do you ever find things happen for a reason? I had been working on the next book in the series—Poisoned by the Pier—which has a sub-plot that revolves around Mollie’s husband going on an extreme diet. I was trying to figure out a way to work in a chocolate reference that Mollie could use along the lines of “science says chocolate is good for you” when I got sent a link to this study. Perfect! I figured out what scene to plug it into and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Now, if I could just find a study that says that chocolate is good for weight loss and my life would be complete.

Are you a chocoholic? What’s your favorite chocolate treat?

Cozy Mystery Author Interview

Cozy Mystery Author Interview: Elizabeth Spann Craig

10 reasons(7)

Today, I’m featuring an interview with the bestselling cozy mystery author, Elizabeth Spann Craig. For those of you who enjoy reading cozies, many of you will already be familiar with her series—the Myrtle Clover mysteries, the Southern Quilting mysteries, and the Memphis Barbecue mysteries (under the name Riley Adams). She’s also at work on a fourth series—the Village Library mysteries—which I’m really looking forward to reading cause libraries and cozy mysteries go really well together, kind of like peanut butter and jelly.

Elizabeth is also well known within the writing community as a go-to resource on all things writerly. She publishes a helpful blog with general writing tips and tricks, as well as detailed posts on the ins and outs of writing and publishing cozy mysteries. She also curates writing links on Twitter and sends out a weekly Twitterific round-up.  And if that wasn’t enough, she also takes time out of her busy schedule to act as a judge for the annual Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) anthologies. (As an aside, submitting a short story to one of the IWSG anthology contests was how I got my start writing.)

So, without further ado, let’s get into it and find out what Elizabeth has to say about writing, cookies, and penguins.

Interview with Elizabeth

elizabeth spann craig books

1 – What inspired you to write your books?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s books, and then M.C. Beaton’s books (especially her Hamish Macbeth stories).  I’d always wanted to write and decided that it would be easiest for me to write cozy mysteries, since I enjoyed reading them so much. My first series was the Myrtle Clover series and Myrtle was a mishmash of different people…mostly my grandmother and her strength, razor-sharp mind, quick and intuitive impressions of people, and her clever sense of humor. I also incorporated my past experience of living in a small Southern town.  All the pieces were there and I just had to put them together.

2 – Do you have any writing rituals?

I never really know whether to call what I do in the morning a routine or a ritual!  I think it’s pretty much muscle memory and not cool enough to be a ritual.  I get ready in the morning, go downstairs, let the corgi out and feed him, fix some coffee (decaf, sadly, now) and then open my laptop and start writing. I’ve done it so often that it feels very natural and seamless.  But I’d rather say that I do something interesting like light a candle or meditate or read inspirational quotes!

3 – What’s more important – character or plot? 

Naturally, they’re both really crucial. But, as a reader, I’ve read plenty of books where I enjoyed the characters and wasn’t as interested in the story.  I rarely finish a book where the story is interesting but the characters aren’t.  So, for me anyway, character is more important than plot.  I also think that it’s easier to fix plot than characters. If you have your characters downpat, you’re in great shape.  If your plot isn’t any good, there are many resources out there to help you make it better. It’s tough to fix flat characters.

4 – What do you like best about being an author? What do you like the least? 

The best thing about being an author is creating every day. Every day I get to wake up and make something.  It’s like living in Mr. Rogers’ “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe.” We create these little worlds and their inhabitants. It’s a really exciting process, when you think about it.  As far as what I enjoy the least, I don’t think I’m alone in listing promo.  🙂  That’s why I make my promo efforts as subtle as possible. My strategy has always been to build connections and to create visibility through a consistently-updated platform.

5 – What’s your favorite cookie? If you don’t like cookies, what’s wrong with you? Oops, sorry, scratch that. My follow-up question was meant to be far more polite – “Why don’t you like cookies?” 

People don’t like cookies?!  Can’t imagine! I like chocolate chip cookies: mostly the chewy type and not so much the crunchy ones. But I don’t bake them myself.  Fortunately, there are people who specialize in that sort of thing and they work at the grocery store deli.  I’m terrible at baking.  I either get distracted, am too impatient to measure properly, or mess up some aspect of the chemistry involved in the process.

6 – A penguin walks through your front door wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why did he come visit you? 

I think he tells me that he took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  And then he says that he has an idea for a book, but he wants me to write it.  He wishes he had time to write. And read.  And perhaps he’s curious where my ideas come from.

7 – What else would you like us to know about you? 

That I don’t get out much, but when I do, I’m collecting ideas for stories and characters. That I can promise  that doesn’t take a lot of time to write several books a year if you set your bar low and write consistently.  That I’m trying to read as much and as widely as possible because I’ve found that it really informs my writing, even though I don’t read the genre that I write. And that I have a really bad habit of trying to convince everyone I meet that they should try to write a cozy mystery because it’s so much fun. 🙂  So you’re lucky that you already write them, Ellen!  As for everyone else…why not give it a go?

Thanks so much for being on the blog, Elizabeth! I loved your answers, especially the one to the cookie question. I’m a big fan of chewy chocolate chip cookies too. 🙂

About Elizabeth

elizabeth-s-craig-white-background-me-787x1024Elizabeth is the bestselling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries, Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries, the upcoming Village Library Mysteries, and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and independently.

She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog , named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers.  She curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband.  She is the mother of two.  To receive a free ebook, updates, and recipes, sign up for her newsletter at http://eepurl.com/kCy5j .

You can follow Elizabeth on BookBub, Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

2018 in Review | Launching a Cozy Mystery Series

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2018 was a big year on the writing and publishing front for me. I launched my first cozy mystery series—The Mollie McGhie Sailing Mysteries—in June with the publication of my debut novel, Murder at the Marina. In November, I published the second book in the series, Bodies in the Boatyard. And, I made good progress on the third book, Poisoned by the Pier.

Now that the year has drawn to a close, I thought it would be interesting to share what my first year as a published author looked like in numbers. But, before we dive into that, if you haven’t already done so, you might want to check out this post where I talked about the launch of Murder at the Marina in numbers.

Please be aware that I won’t be sharing the number of sales I made over the course of the year. Yes, I know, that’s the number some of you are quite interested in and I’m sorry to disappoint, but I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing that. However, there are lots of other numbers you may find fascinating below.

{Note: Not all percentages add up to 100% and some items show up as 0% in the charts below due to rounding.}

Sales Peaks & Troughs

The chart below shows the peaks and troughs of my sales over the year. No surprise that I sold the greatest amount of books when I launched the first book in my series in June, followed by the second book in November.

After my initial release, sales slowed down quite a bit. I started to experiment with ads (more about that below) which led to a slight increase in sales. The release of my second book led to a spike in sales, but nowhere near the level of my debut book. That’s not all that surprising due to the fact that I didn’t do nearly as much marketing with the second book as I did with the first. I also assume that some people who bought the first book did so because they wanted to support me and not because they’re cozy mystery fans, then found that it really wasn’t their cup of tea and didn’t go on to buy the second.

I did have relatively strong sales during December which I think can be partially attributed to holiday gift buying (sales of large print books increased quite a bit during that period).

The other thing to note is that the majority of my sales are for my first book, Murder at the Marina, which isn’t really a surprise as it’s been out longer and I direct more advertising and promotional efforts toward it.

Sometimes people often focus on how many books they sold rather than how much they earned, which I think is an important distinction. Selling a lot of books at 99 cents may be less profitable than selling fewer books priced at $3.99. For example, although I sold more books in November than I did in December, my earnings were lower in November because I discounted Murder at the Marina as part of a promo.

2018 Review - Units Sales by Month Chart

Sales by Format

While the majority of my sales are in ebook format (67%), paperback and large print editions make up a substantial chunk of sales (21% of my sales are large print and 12% are paperback). I’m selling far more print books now than I did when I first launched Murder at the Marina due in a large part to Amazon ads. I’ve found that it’s definitely worth the extra time and expense involved in formatting and publishing print books and it’s something I’ll continue to do.

I use Amazon and Ingram Spark to distribute large print and paperback books, however the majority of print books that I sell is via Amazon.

2018 Review - Sales by Format Chart

Ebook Sales by Retailer

Because I decided to go wide rather than be exclusive to Amazon, I was quite interested in seeing what proportion of sales came from non-Amazon retailers over the year. While the bulk of sales were on Amazon (86%), I had some sales on Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google Play, and Overdrive. I’d like to continue to see this percentage grow and will be focusing more efforts on advertising and promotions targeting non-Amazon retailers.

2018 Review - Ebook Sales by Retailer Chart

Ebook Sales by Geographic Region

It’s no surprise that I sell most of my ebooks in the States (81%), but it’s nice to see sales in other countries as well. It’s pretty cool to know that people are buying my books in places like Japan and Brazil.

2018 Review - Ebook Sales by Country Chart

Experimenting with Ads & Promos

As mentioned above, I started experimenting with advertising in September and October, which accounts for the gradual increase in sales during those months. During that time, I focused on Amazon Marketing Services sponsored ads (AMS), primarily for my large print edition of Murder at the Marina. I set pretty low daily budgets and bid levels and was pleasantly surprised to find that they worked pretty effectively. I think this is in part due to the fact that not many cozy mystery authors advertise large print editions so there isn’t a lot of competition for keywords such as “large print” and “large print mysteries.”

I also played around with a few ads for the ebook and paperback editions, but didn’t have much success with them. For ebooks and paperbacks, I can’t bid high enough for Amazon ads to be cost effective (people with several books in a series can bid higher on ads for the first book in their series and recoup their costs through read-through to subsequent books).

In December, I ramped up my spending on AMS ads for the large print editions of both Murder at the Marina and Bodies in the Boatyard in the hopes of driving some holiday-related sales. That strategy seemed to have worked. It is a bit scary to see the advertising costs escalate, so I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve crunched the numbers and that the ads are more than paying for themselves.

I also started experimenting with BookBub ads for the ebook edition of Murder at the Marina, primarily on non-Amazon retailers. (Note: These are the CPC ads, not the feature deals). It’s still early days, but so far they seem to be driving a few additional sales. Nothing to write home about though.

Kobo promotions was the other area that I dabbled in. If you publish directly with Kobo, they have a handy tab on the author dashboard where you can sign up for promotional opportunities. During 2018, I participated in four promos. I didn’t see a huge amount of sales as result, but it was more sales than I would have made on Kobo otherwise.

How did 2018 go for you? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

Are you interested in learning more about my cozy mystery publishing journey? If so, check out these posts:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Murder at the Marina Cover 1000 x 1400

Murder at the Marina is available at Amazon (US) |Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask you library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

 

Bodies in the Boatyard Cover 1000 x 1400 (2)

Bodies in the Boatyard is available at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask your library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

cozy mystery, Reading

7 Reasons to Read Cozy Mysteries

10 Reasons

People often ask me why I write cozy mysteries and I tell them it’s because I love to read them. I’ve been reading them in one form or another since I was a girl, if you count Nancy Drew as cozy mysteries, and continue to devour them to this day.

If you’ve never read a cozy mystery and you’re wondering why you should, here are seven reasons why I love cozies.

1 – They’re fast reads.

Cozy mysteries are generally shorter books. A typical novel-length cozy might be anywhere between 60,000 – 75,000 words. Cozy novellas are quite popular these days as well and they’re much shorter (perhaps between 20,000 – 30,000 words). Compare that to an epic fantasy which usually comes in well over 100,000 words and you can see the appeal when you’re looking for a fast read.

2 – It’s a chance to escape.

The world is crazy these days. The news is scary. Life can be downright depressing at times. Sometimes, you just need to escape into another world with a good book. Cozies are typically fun, clean reads—no gruesome violence, generally no swearing, and sex is just hinted at (if it takes place at all). When you pick up a cozy mystery, you know what you’re getting. Light some candles, run a bubble bath, pour a glass of wine or a cup of hot chocolate, relax, and enjoy your escape from the real world for a while.

3 – You get to solve a puzzle.

Cozy mysteries are just that—mysteries. Which means you get to try to figure out who did it along with the sleuth. You might not always guess correctly, but it’s fun to note the clues and red herrings, consider the various suspects, and think about motives and alibis.

4 – Learning about new things and places.

The amateur sleuths in cozies often have an interesting hobby or occupation, something you may have no experience with, or live someplace you’ve never visited. For example, I share my experiences living on a boat in my cozy series. I love learning about new things and places, especially from the comfort of my armchair. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll take up llama husbandry or glass-blowing.

5 – A satisfying ending.

Everyone likes to see the bad guy get caught, right? When you pick up a cozy, you know that justice will be served. Finishing one of these books is always so satisfying—the mystery is solved, good triumphs over evil and all of the loose ends are tied up.

6 – Characters you want to spend more time with.

Cozy mysteries are usually part of series, not stand-alone books. And there’s a good reason for this—you end up loving the characters and can’t wait to read the next book and see what happens to them. Personally, I love cozies that are chock-full of quirky characters that make me laugh out loud. It’s fun to see how they develop over the course of the series.

7 – They go well with chocolate.

I’m assuming everyone knows this already, but just in case, let’s just talk about how well reading a cozy mystery goes with nibbling on some chocolate. Or nibbling on some cookies, or candy, or a piece of cake, or two pieces of cake, or the whole darn cake because no one is around to see you. . .well, you get the idea.

So go on, if you haven’t read a cozy mystery before, now’s the time to grab one and try it out. Just make sure you stock up on some chocolate first.

If you’re interested in checking out my cozy series—the Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries—check out the links below.

Murder at the Marina Cover 1000 x 1400Murder at the Marina is available at Amazon (US) |Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask you library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

 

Bodies in the Boatyard Cover 1000 x 1400 (2)

Bodies in the Boatyard is available at Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo

Ask your library to order a copy—here’s the info you need.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Large Print Books | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Large Print Cozy Mysteries

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked with you about ARCs (advance reader copies). Today, I’m going to tell you about my experiences publishing large print editions of my cozy mysteries.

What is a large print edition?

This seems like a simple question, but when I did some research on large print books I found varying answers.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn uses 16-point font for her large print editions which is consistent with Amazon’s criteria and the Royal National Institute for Blind People. I’ve heard other people say that 14-point font is considered large print. However, both the American Council for the Blind and the American Federation for the Blind suggest a minimum of 18-point font. And what some organizations and readers consider to be “large print” is what others consider to be “giant print.”

Font size isn’t the only consideration—line spacing (increasing the space between lines can improve readability) and type of font (sans serif may be easier to read for some) are also important. As with font size, I found varying advice on the ideal line spacing and type of font for large print editions.

Formatting my large print editions

When I decided to create a large print edition of my first cozy mystery, Murder at the Marina, I found Joanna Penn’s tips to be really good starting point. I also went and looked at large print editions of novels at my local library to get a feel for what readers might expect in terms of font size and spacing.

First off, I decided to go with a larger trim size (6×9 inches for my large print edition vs. 5.5×8.5 inches for my paperback edition). Next, I took my paperback document and reformatted it using a larger font (17-point compared to 11-point in my paperback edition) and increased the line spacing. {You can read more about how I formatted my paperback and ebooks here.} Finally, I adapted my paperback book cover by increasing the trim size and adding a “Large Print” sticker to the front to differentiate it from the paperback version.

Then I uploaded my files and hit the publish button. Everything went smoothly after that. . .well, that is, until it didn’t.

Yikes! Negative feedback

A few weeks after I published the large print edition of Murder at the Marina, I received a negative comment on Amazon saying that it wasn’t comparable to Reader’s Digest large print editions. Remember what I said above about varying definitions of large print? Well, I ran smack-dab into that.

I felt absolutely horrible that this poor man bought something that didn’t live up to his expectations. I really wished I could have contacted him, but I had no way of doing so. I can only hope he was able to return it and get a refund.

Despite the negative feedback, it was a great learning experience. I updated my book descriptions to indicate what size font and type of font I was using in my large print editions. For the Amazon description, I also added in a section letting potential buyers know they can use the “Look Inside” feature to see if the font size would meet their needs

When it came time to format my second cozy mystery, Bodies in the Boatyard, I went with an even larger font (18-point this time) and used a sans-serif font (Arial vs. Gentium Book Basic in the paperback) to improve readability.

Large print editions make up a good chunk of my sales

When I first set out to make a large print edition, I thought I might sell a few copies and I liked the idea of having a version that would be easier for some folks to read. Little did I know that my large print books would end up being 17% of my sales. So, although it takes some effort to produce a large print version (not to mention the cost of an additional ISBN), it’s been quite worthwhile.

For another perspective on formatting and publishing large print cozy mysteries, check out this informative post over at The Ninja Librarian.

What are your thoughts and experiences with large print editions?

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Large Print Front Cover

The large print edition of Murder at the Marina is available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Indigo. If you would like to request that your local library order a copy of  Murder at the Marina, you can find the necessary information here.

 

Bodies in the Boatyard Large Print Front Cover

The large print edition of Bodies in the Boatyard is available at Amazon | Barnes & Noble. If you would like to request that your local library order a copy of Bodies in the Boatyard, you can find the necessary information here.

Boat Life, USA

When a Book Comes True | A Leaky Boat & The Boatyard Blues

You know how they say that the imagination is a powerful thing? Well, in my case, it seems to be a bit too powerful. My cozy mystery, Bodies in the Boatyard, kicks off with Mollie and Scooter finding a leak on their sailboat and having to have their boat hauled out of the water and taken to the boatyard.

Sounds great on paper, right? Trust me, it’s not so great in real life, especially when you live on your boat and it’s the only home you have.

A few days ago we discovered a crack in the hull of our sailboat. A crack is bad enough. It’s even worse when it’s below the water line and letting water into your boat. Water on the outside of a boat, great. Water on the inside, not so great.

By the way, our sailboat is named Tickety Boo which means it’s all good. Things are definitely not tickety boo on Tickety Boo just now. {sigh}

So, like Mollie and Scooter, we’ve arranged to haul our boat out and move her into the boatyard to assess the damage and address it. That means that our plans to head off cruising to the Bahamas have had to be put on hold in the meantime. Hopefully, this is where the similarities end – fingers crossed we don’t stumble across any dead bodies in our boatyard.

Given how the things I’ve imagined are coming true in real life, I should probably be careful about what I write about in my next book, Poisoned by the Pier. {grin}

Here’s what it looked like last time we had our sailboat in the boatyard. This was right after we bought her when she used to be called Moody Blue.

Tickety Boo Indiantown Hard

And here’s what she looks like when she’s happiest – in the water.

Tickety Boo Little Bahama Bank - Copy

Have you ever imagined something that’s come true in your life – good or bad?

The latest Mollie McGhie cozy sailing mystery is now available! Pick up a copy of >>Bodies in the Boatyard<< at:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play

Paperback available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Writing

Bodies in the Boatyard Now Available

BB Now Available

I’m excited to announce that Bodies in the Boatyard is now available. This is the second book in the Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery series which features a reluctant sailor turned amateur sleuth.

Selling your house and moving onto a rundown sailboat—not a dream come true. Finding dead bodies in the boatyard—a total nightmare.

Things aren’t looking great when Mollie and her husband, Scooter, discover that their sailboat is leaking. Next Scooter announces that he wants to sell their house, downsize, and move on board. Mollie is less than impressed with her husband’s latest hare-brained scheme. Then, just when things couldn’t get worse, Mollie discovers a dead body in the boatyard. With her feline companion, Mrs. Moto, at her side, Mollie sets out to investigate. But can she catch the killer in time before someone else ends up dead?

If you like light-hearted cozy mysteries with quirky characters, you’ll love Bodies in the Boatyard.

EBOOK: Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple Books | Google Play

Paperback available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Large print available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

New to the series? Start with Murder at the Marina. Find out more here.

STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH MY FREE NEWSLETTER: Click here to sign up and stay in touch. You can expect occasional updates from me, typically about new releases and projects I’m currently working on, as well as snippets about life aboard our sailboat.

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Getting Advance Reviews |Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Advance Reviews

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked with you about blog tours. Today, I’m discussing ARCs (advance reader copy) and getting advance reviews for Murder at the Marina.

What is an ARC?

ARCs are free copies of a book (ebook and/or print) that is going to be published but hasn’t been released yet. While they are fully formatted, they’re not necessarily the final version of the book. Through the ARC process, readers and the publisher may find typos or other errors that need to be fixed before the release.

ARCs are used not only to get advance reviews, but also to build excitement about the release (some people give out ARCs as part of giveaways) and, in the case of traditional publishers, to advertise to libraries and bookstores.

How I used ARCs

For Murder at the Marina, I touched base with three main groups of potential readers: (1) cozy mystery book bloggers; (2) friends within the writing community; and (3) members of the boating community.

For the first group, I sent emails asking if they would be interested in reviewing Murder at the Marina and included a link to BookFunnel where they could download a copy of the ebook. Because this was my debut novel, I didn’t expect that many established book bloggers would be willing or able to review my cozy mystery, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was pleasantly surprised that a few agreed to help out.

For the second and third groups, I put out a call on my other blog (The Cynical Sailor) asking if anyone would be interested in helping out. I had a fantastic response which was so encouraging.

In the end, I ended up sending ARCs to over 60 people (including my beta readers) and about half of those people left reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. (A few people also left reviews on the other major eretailers.)

In my initial email to my advance readers, I explained why reviews are important—they make your book more visible to potential readers and provide social proof and credibility (i.e., people are going to be more willing to read your book if they see other people have read it and enjoyed it).

I also explained what’s involved in writing a review (they can be short, a sentence or two is fine) and suggested that they might want to include a disclaimer in their review such as: “I received an ARC of this book and voluntarily chose to leave an honest review.”

The other thing I mentioned was Amazon’s review restrictions—you need to have spent $50 in the last twelve months to be eligible to review.

When the book was released, I sent through a follow-up email letting them know that they could now go ahead and leave reviews.

After my book launch, I sent an email to everyone who had left a review to thank them and ask if they would be interested in being on my ARC team for the next book in the series (Bodies in the Boatyard). Most people said yes leaving me with around 30 people on the list (not including beta readers).

Using BookFunnel to distribute ARCs

I chose to use an online solution, BookFunnel, to distribute ARCs. While I could have just emailed files to my advance readers, BookFunnel takes the hassle out of everything by making it simple for users to download the file that best suits their device and providing support if they have any technical issues.

I signed up for the First Time Author plan which allows me to store five books and have up to 500 downloads a month. It costs $20 a year and is more than adequate for my needs. BookFunnel has other plans which allow for more than one pen name and more monthly downloads, as well as collect email addresses (useful for building your newsletter lists).

I also use BookFunnel to distribute draft manuscripts to my beta readers and final manuscripts to family, friends, giveaway winners etc.

What about reviews going forward?

Advance reviews are great, but you also want people to leave reviews once your book is published. The easiest way to do this is to ask your readers to help out. I add in a request for reviews in the Author’s Note & Acknowledgements section at the end of my book, as well as mention it on social media (Facebook and Twitter).

FB Review Post

Want to know more?

Bookworks discusses tools you can use to share your ARCs (including BookFunnel) with readers.

Check out Jenna Moreci’s video on how to get advance reviews (warning—she uses strong language at times).

The Author Learning Center has a good overview of ARCs and how they’re used.

Alex O’Connel discusses ARC dos and don’ts for self-publishers.

If you’re interested in distributing print ARCs, Ingram Spark has a useful article on how to create them.

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook, paperback, and large print), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.

USA, Writing

Writing Inspiration | Cedar Key, Florida

Shell-Mound-Sunset_thumb2
Nothing beats a beautiful sunset.

When I was thinking about the setting for my cozy mystery series, The Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries, my thoughts turned to our time visiting Cedar Key on the northwest coast of Florida. It’s a cute little tourist town full of historical sites, fun shops, inviting restaurants, and art galleries, all surrounded by the water.

I based the fictional town of Coconut Cove in part on Cedar Key. They both have palm trees and coconuts scattered about.

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Nice place to sit and watch the boats anchored nearby.

You can charter boats and go out on fishing trips. Competition between fishing charter businesses plays a big part in the second book in the series, Bodies in the Boatyard.

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I love the fish signs.

There are lots of great places to stop and have a drink. I can’t remember the name of this place in Cedar Key, but the local bar in the fictional town of Coconut Cove is the Tipsy Pirate.

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There’s nothing better than a cold beer on a hot day.

Sailboats anchor near Coconut Cove, just like they do in Cedar Key.

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Buildings on the waterfront.

And no town — fictional or real — would be complete without a few cats hanging about.

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Nothing was going to disturb this kitty’s nap.

If you want to read more about our visit to Cedar Key and the surrounding area, check out this post on my other blog, The Cynical Sailor.

What inspires your creative pursuits?

MM &amp; BB Sailing Deadly Graphic

 

Cozy Mystery Publishing, Writing

Blog Tours | Cozy Mystery Publishing Process

Blog Tours

This post is part of my series on “Publishing a Cozy Mystery.” This series isn’t meant to tell you how you have to go about it and dictate what’s right or wrong. Instead, I’m sharing my personal journey from writing my initial draft to seeing my first book, Murder at the Marina, be released. I’ll talk about the good, bad, and the ugly. And trust me, there was plenty of ugly along the way.

Last time I talked with you about my book release in numbers. Today, I’m sharing how I went about organizing a DIY blog tour to get the word out about the release of Murder at the Marina.

What exactly is a blog tour?

A blog tour is pretty much what it says on the tin—a trip around multiple sites during a set period of time to promote your release. Kind of like a virtual book tour, but do much less stressful for introverts like me as you interact with folks through blog posts and comments, rather than face-to-face.

I’ve hosted a number of people’s blog tours over on my other blog, The Cynical Sailor, so I thought it might be a fun thing to do for my own release.

It seemed like a pretty straightforward thing to organize—ask people to participate, set up a schedule, prepare blog posts and release materials, and visit all of the participants during the tour. I’m a big fan of project planning and spreadsheets, so I dove right in.

But while it is a straightforward process, there are a lot of logistics to manage. And it can get time-consuming. Which is why some people outsource the whole thing.

Should you outsource or take a DIY approach?

I don’t actually know what the right answer to the question above might be for you. But I can tell you why I chose to do it myself. There are three reasons:

(1) Cost – Independently publishing a book is expensive. Where I could do things myself and save money, I did, like managing my own blog tour.

(2) Capability – I knew I had the skills needed to manage a blog tour.

(3) Time – If you’re short on time and have the money, this might be an activity to consider outsourcing. It took many hours to manage the process. Perhaps time that could have been invested more wisely in sorting out the cause of the leak on my sailboat, making chocolate chip cookies, or working on the next book in my series. But I had the time and didn’t want to spend the money, so DIY it was.

The downside of taking a DIY approach

My blog tour was fantastic with wonderful participants, but there was one major downside to doing it myself, namely not having many cozy reader blogger connections.

I have two primary audiences for my cozy mystery series: (1) boaters who might enjoy light-hearted mysteries with a nautical setting and (2) die-hard cozy mystery readers. While a number of my blog tour participants were fellow boaters, I didn’t manage to include many cozy mystery bloggers.

If I do a blog tour again in the future, and have the funds for it, I might consider outsourcing to someone like Lori at Great Escapes with Dollycas who has an extensive list of cozy mystery bloggers that she works with.

In some ways, going DIY for my first cozy release was realistic. Many cozy mystery readers aren’t likely to pick up the first book in a new series from an indie author who doesn’t have a proven track record. They’re more likely to want to wait until they see that you’ve published a few books already before they invest their time in your series. I figure I’ll go harder after the cozy reader audience once I’ve published the third book in my series.

{Note: Authors in Kindle Unlimited have an advantage in this area as readers can take a chance on a new author/series as they don’t have to buy the book, but can read it as part of their subscription. This doesn’t work for me as I’m wide, not exclusive – read more about that here.}

The nitty-gritty of organizing my blog tour

The first step in organizing my blog tour was to put out a call for participants on my other blog as part of the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) blog hop in March (my book released on June 21st). I set up a Google Docs sign-up form and thought I would be doing well if I got somewhere between five and seven people to raise their hands. Over twenty people volunteered. Twenty plus. A whole lot of people. I was stunned. This wasn’t any old blog tour anymore, this had turned into a blog fiesta!

These wonderful folks were a mix of sailing bloggers, fellow authors I had met through the IWSG, and blogging buddies. I also reached out to some cozy mystery bloggers, some of whom were kind enough to take a chance on a new author.

I offered participants the choice between: (1) writing their own blog post to tie in with the release and the start of summer in the northern hemisphere; (2) having me write a short boating-related post to tie in with the book; or (3) something else. Most people went with option #2.

Now, remember I thought I might be lucky to get seven participants. Writing custom blog posts seemed doable for that amount of people. I ended up having to write a lot more than I anticipated. Yikes, but in a really good way cause it meant so many people wanted to help out with my blog tour.

Did I mention that I love spreadsheets? And that’s a good thing because having a way to track all of the participants, what date they were scheduled for, their name and email address, what kind of post they wanted etc. was essential. I also made a calendar so that I could visually see where people were scheduled and make sure to spread participants out during the course of the blog tour (it ran from June 21st-July 3rd).

Once everyone was scheduled and sorted, I pulled together the custom blog posts along with a book release “package” (cover image, other promo images, tagline/blurb, buy links, author bio, social media links etc.). I then emailed everyone with what they would need and followed-up closer to their scheduled blog tour stop.

Before the blog tour kicked off, I did a post letting everyone know about the “blog fiesta” with dates and names of everyone participating. I also included a little bit of personal info about each participant, such as how I know them, what they blog about etc. I also encouraged my blog followers to go visit their sites. The way I see it, blog tours are a two-way street. The participants are hosting you and sharing your book release with their followers, but you can also drive traffic to participants’ sites and they’ll hopefully end up with new followers as well. {You can see my blog tour fiesta kick-off post here.}

During the blog tour, I visited each participant and responded to comments on their sites. It was so much fun to read the kind and encouraging comments that everyone left.

And perhaps the most important step of all was thanking the blog tour participants after the fiesta was over. They were all truly awesome! I still can’t believe how generous people were with their time and energy hosting me on their blogs.

So was it worth it?

I was talking with a friend the other day and she asked me if I thought it had been successful. My immediate answer was yes, followed by a “but.” That “but” has to do with how you measure the success of something like this.

It would be nice if there was some magic calculating device that could tell me if I sold more books as a result of it, but there isn’t. {Some people use Amazon affiliate links to track sales as a result of promos. I don’t.} Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I’ll never know.

Selling books is only one success criteria. Raising awareness of your book release and your author brand with your target audience is also important. I think the blog tour was helpful in regards to the boating community, but less so in terms of cozy mystery readers (which I knew would be the case). There’s probably also some knock-on effect in terms of SEO with Murder at the Marina coming up in search results and linking back to blog tour participants’ sites.

However, regardless of generating sales or reaching my target audience, I think it was a huge success for three reasons: (1) it underscored how wonderfully generous and supportive the the blogging community is; (2) in the end, I did get the word out about my book release; and (3) it was a lot of fun!

Want to know more?

If you’re thinking about organizing a cozy mystery blog tour, here are a few sites to check out. Lori at Great Escapes with Dollycas organizes blog tours. Marie at A Cozy Book Experience organizes book release Facebook parties, among other things. Dru’s Book Musings features upcoming releases, character interviews, and day in the life posts and was gracious enough to host me during the blog tour. Many thanks to Linda at Chatting about Cozies for reviewing Murder at the Marina on her site.

Mixtus Media, has a downloadable blog tour worksheet and explains How to Set Up a Successful Blog Tour.

Stephanie Bond talks about How to Book a Successful Blog Tour over at the Book Marketing Tools site.

Janice Hardy talks about How to Promote Your Book with Blog Tour on Anne R. Allen’s site. She also has a follow-up post on her own site about whether blog tours are worth it.

Anne R. Allen’s offers some crucial advice—Treat Book Bloggers with Respect.

The Alliance of Independent Authors talks about Why Blog Tours aren’t about Sales.

Elaine Viets shares tips about Cozy Book Promotion: A Soft Sell in a Hard Business. While this is primarily aimed at traditionally published authors, it’s also good food for thought for independent authors.

Penguin Random House tells you Everything You Need to Know about Organizing a Blog Tour. It’s interesting to note that the onus for organizing a blog tour is on the author, even if they’re traditionally published.

What do you think about blog tours?

Other posts in my “Publishing a Cozy Mystery” series:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

Murder at the Marina Banner - Available Now

A dilapidated sailboat for your anniversary—not very romantic. A dead body on board—even worse.

If you’d like to pick up your own copy (ebook, paperback, and large print), you can do so at your favorite online retailer:

Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (AU) | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Google Play | Book Depository | Books-A-Million

You can also add Murder at the Marina to your to-read list on Goodreads and subscribe to my newsletter here.