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Thursday, December 5, 2013

A2R Marketing: Be Relentless

Don't fool yourself. Positioning your work and your brand to find readers is not easy. You may have pushed through the top trending five steps to success and wonder why you're not swimming in readers. You've done what the experts have told you to do but wonder why success hasn't been bestowed upon you yet. What are you doing wrong?

Most likely, you're doing everything right. The only tweak needed is to become relentless.

Applying concepts from business development and marketing is not easy for many writers and authors. You've swallowed the castor oil of identifying your core identity (brand), crafting a message, targeting an audience and reaching out via your different platforms. Then you wipe the sweat from your brow and sit back, waiting for the readers to come. When they don't flock in the numbers you want, you think the process was flawed and you thrash about finding and experimenting with another recipe for the magic sauce.

Stop thrashing and adopt an athlete's focus. Success comes from doing the same sprint or lifting the same weight over and over again. The mindset needed is not much different from what we writers do when crafting a paragraph. We go over it repeatedly. We are relentless in our craft. We just have to apply that to our marketing efforts.

Failure or the word "No" are things that most writers shrink from but business development professionals take in stride. We writers can be a fragile bunch with all of our yearning to be read and liked, but BD folks know that you learn a lot from rejection and a failure. Failures don't stop them in their tracks. Instead, the reasons why something failed are examined and a new or modified approach is taken. BD folks don't let the Big Account get away just because one pitch on one particular day did not succeed. They circle back, reassess and re-approach with a refined pitch.

Once you've committed to writing, you must commit to the fact that it takes time to build a following. Don't stop. Keep going. Go back to the well again and again. Be relentless.

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Author's Tea at Newbury Library

Special Author Tea at the Newbury Town Library Thursday, December 5 from 4:00 - 5:00 pm

I'm very excited that the Newbury Town Library has invited me to be the featured speaker at their inaugural Author's High Tea. They are expanding their hours and programs and I am very pleased to help them launch their new initiatives.

The excitement around The Charity continues to grow and I look forward to speaking about the hidden stories of The Charity and more about the process of writing and publishing. What better way to celebrate Jessica's tale than to enjoy a hot cup of tea and talk about a hot book!

The Charity tells the story of a Hamilton, Massachusetts native, Jessica Wyeth. Jessica cannot connect the death of her family to being framed for murder. Her search for truth uncovers a network of powerful people with secret ties to terrorism.

Called a "stunning suspense thriller," The Charity brings the reader on a journey from innocence to guilt through the coercive power of a terrorist's heart. Irish roots and Boston lore of the Irish Republican Army (the IRA) are used to weave a compelling and timely story.

Please join me at the  Newbury Town Library Thursday, December 5 from 4:00 - 5:00 pm. I will share stories behind the book and answer any questions. Copies of The Charity will be available for purchase and a personal inscription!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A2R Marketing: Going Local

It's not just foodies who are interested in the "going local" trend. Readers love going local as well. Authors promoting their books are smart make part of their promotional readings to include house calls to local book groups.

This picture is of an active book group near where I live. They had read about my book, The Charity, in a local paper and chose it as their October selection. One of their members reached out to me because the book is set on the North Shore and relates to a passion of hers, horses. Learning I live close by, she offered a tour of the New England Equine Rescue facility as an enticement to join them. I happily accepted her invitation for an evening of chardonnay and laughter as we shared impressions and insights of the book. They said they rarely agree on whether a selection was liked by each member of their group, but The Charity won their unanimous praise. 

The evening was interesting for a couple of reasons. First, in the best of book group traditions, members sampled a genre not typical for them. One women would not have picked up a book in the thriller genre, but ended up loving the story and the main character. They also enjoyed reading a book that gave them a window into a darker side of their home surroundings. Readers are inherently curious about the process of writing a book. Having the author come to their home and share inside secrets on the research and writing of a book, especially one they loved, was a bonus.

The other reason why the evening was notable was due to the changes in the publishing industry. Authors are needing to be more creative in their outreach to gain new readers. An author's work no longer ends with a polished manuscript, but continues into worlds most writers know little or nothing about - business development and marketing. Any little hook that piques a reader's interest is worth the effort and rewarding them with personalized insights is important.  

As an emerging author, it's difficult to compete with the big advertising budgets and supreme PR machines that the big guys have. Keeping your focus on what is interesting and intriguing to your neighbors helps get the traction that any growing buzz needs. When readers connect in a personal way to a book they become a fan and, optimally, an evangelist. Buzz cannot grow without evangelists.

There are a lot of winners when you keep your focus local. Certainly, the women enjoyed an interesting evening of talk and sharing. Local bookstores benefited too. Because the readers needed the book quickly, they shopped local instead of shopping online. Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, which is one of the several area stores to carry my title, did a great business thanks to these ladies! Also, New England Equine Rescue was planning a silent auction and fundraiser and I happily donated a signed copy of my book to support their efforts. 

It's always smart to keep the bigger picture in mind when promoting your work. But it's even smarter to stay focused on what's right in your own backyard.

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Thriller Features ‘Independent-Thinking, Strong-Minded’ Bowdoin Grad

The Charity is out in the world and getting attention! A great story is nothing without a great character and Jessica Wyeth has it all.

Creating a fictional character is a great deal of work...and fun. The characters can be crafted out of the barest whiff of truth or can be grounded in a composite of the best attributes imaginable.

A character should be treated with the same care as the story itself. I've written before that finely crafted thriller hangs its plot lines on real events and real places, giving the reader more to grip onto. This makes the reading experience more engaging. If a story contains a larger-than-life protagonist, then the backstory, no matter how faintly alluded to, should answer why or how that character came to be. The backstory should always support the created character and not run in conflict with it.

Even a seemingly small detail like where that character may have gone to college is an important part of their persona. Feel the difference when a character "shopped at only the finest boutiques" and "prowled the clearance racks at the local thrift store." Where he or she shopped could be the most inconsequential aspect of the story, but that one detail shapes the reader experience of the character and thereby shapes their experience of the story.

Choosing my character's alma mater was an easy choice. Intelligent, robust and hailing from New England, Bowdoin College was a natural fit for Jessica Wyeth. By connecting a fictional character to a real college, the character becomes imbued with the perceptions the reader holds for that institution and becomes someone the reader can relate to or identify with. Conjuring that image can take pages or it can take the faintest of brush stokes, but it also has to mean something.

A good thriller doesn't clutter itself with irrelevant facts, but it does have to contain enough detail to help build the tension. Supporting the character's traits with real life details fleshes out the character and makes a fictional story more real.

This to the Bowdoin Daily Sun tells why I chose it for my character's backstory.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Simple Act

The dreaded iron fist of writer's block had me in its grip and I needed a change of pace. I was on my way to a self-imposed writer's retreat to spend an internet and phone free week, when I rounded the corner of Route 30 in Bondville,Vermont, a little before the Stratton access road. I was amazed at what I saw. In a bend of the river that runs along side the road were hundreds of small stone cairns. The stacks of washed white of the stones stood in stark contrast against the lush green of the forest behind them and the rushing river that surrounded them. 

It was a perfect summer day, so I pulled over and scrambled down the bank to get a closer look. The cairns, or trail markers to some, ranged from just a few simple stones of gradually smaller sizes to more elaborate structures. Some used bits of driftwood or logs to balance more stones on outstretched planks or to make an arch, a stone version of a snowman (appropriate for Vermont) or even something like a pagoda. 

What was this place? How did these things get there? There were lots of possible scenarios, but knowing how the rivers swell in spring I knew these monuments could not have been there for long, nor would they be there forever. In spite of that, the setting had an eternal quality to it that somehow let time slip away. I allowed myself linger, to meditate and pray and to just be. It just seemed like the right spot for it. I'm not sure how long I stayed, but I knew the scene would forever be in my memory. 

I was stunned when a week later I learned that a local Vermonter had deemed the site a traffic and environmental hazard and raked down each of the cairns. Evidently, I was not the only person who had stopped there and the place had begun to be quite a draw. It irked him, so he went into his shed, grabbed a rake and went to work. It took him only two hours to undo untold hours of work.

Other locals came to the defense of the site. It seemed that more people - a lot more - loved it and what it represented. So, a day or two after Mr. Rake had his say, an estimated fifty people showed up and rebuilt the cairns. Some were bigger and better than ever. Others were more humble, but the effect was still incredible. A bunch of stones, a placid river and a quiet forest combined to give people an experience that was more than the sum of its parts.

But why? I got my answer from my sister who lives a bit north of Rawsonville, the official town of record for that particular river bend. She had heard about it on the local news. It seems that a young man, Grant Bercik, had a very special bond with his dog, General. Where the river takes that turn was one of their favorite spots to walk. Grant would skip a few rocks and General would fetch a stick or maybe chase a squirrel or two. Then the unthinkable happened and General was killed by a truck this past spring. Grant was bereft and each time he felt lonely for his dog, he built a small stone cairn in their favorite spot. He loved his dog a lot. He missed his dog a lot. In a few weeks, Grant had built a few dozen cairns. Gradually, locals and flatlanders alike added their own cairns. Whether their markers were memorials or not is locked inside their hearts and it really doesn't matter. Together and unbeknownst to each other, they created a place that resonated inside of them and in the hearts of many. When it was destroyed, the simple act of rebuilding also healed.

I revisited the river a few weeks after all of the building, demolition and rebuilding took place. A few cars were pulled over and families stood on its banks snapping pictures, building their own tower or just staring in awe. I had a chance to tell the story to two young women. As I spoke, one woman repeatedly rubbed her arms with her hands, shoulders slightly hunched. "That story gives me chills," she said. 

She said something else that will stay with me forever, too. "This is bigger than one man and a dog and it's bigger than one man with a rake," she said, looking around us. Turning to her friend she added, "Let this be a lesson. The reason was right and the energy was positive. He created something bigger than all of us."

That was it. I felt a subtle splintering of something hard deep down inside of me. Some guy, a dog, a rake and some rocks did what countless blank hours in front of my computer had not. I sat down and let the words pour out.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Beach Reading

I'll confess that it is seriously cool to walk down a beach and see people reading my book. I've been blamed for dinners not cooked, kids forgotten on ball fields or at schools, missed trains, lost sleep and more because readers became too engrossed and lost track of time. I'm afraid now I'll be blamed for sunburns and skin cancer. So, readers, listen up. This is my one and only Public Service Announcement:

Put sunscreen on BEFORE you begin reading.

If you are looking for a book that features Hamilton, Ipswich and the North Shore of Massachusetts, Boston and its darker Irish connections with money laundering and the Irish Republican Army, the horse world at Suffolk Downs and Kentucky and crackling adventure, then this is definitely the book for you.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A2R Marketing: Using Author Profile Articles Strategically

It's nice to see a proof of concept that means more than "Oh, right. Interesting idea."

The June/July issue of Massachusetts Horse magazine just hit the news stands. I'm pleased to have been featured in a very nice two page article.  It proved the concept that sometimes the best way to find readers not to club them silly and drag them by their hair to your book. Sometimes a bit of finesse works wonders. I know what you're

There are two parts to the finesse concept. The first is "pull." Every author, from the minuscule indie to blockbuster best selling author, wants you to read their book. You know exactly what they want because you see images of the cover everywhere, reviews start popping up and you hear the "Read me. Read me." mantra. The summer reading season ensures that readers are inundated with ads and missives bluntly telling them what books to stick in their beach bag. Eventually readers become immune to the push of the direct ad. What they want is a siren song pulling them toward their next great read.

The second part is "brilliance." Readers are a very smart group of people. They can easily sniff out a ploy which is also why the direct approach has its problems. They don't want to be told what to do or to be tricked into something. Feeling as if they have made a discovery on their own, they are then much more likely to share that discovery with others. If you feed your reader's innate curiosity enough to pull them to a topic, they will brilliantly discover your book.

An "author profile" is a great way to tickle your reader's curiosity and dangle your book out there without walloping them with a "read me" message. I've mentioned before that having a credential or two behind your fictional writing strengthens your written word. It also strengthens the bond you have with your reader. An author profile that showcases another aspect of yourself makes you more familiar and approachable. If the readers are interested in you as a person, they will be interested in learning what you have to say.

Susan Winslow's profile of me in Massachusetts Horse article is a great example of this. My book, The Charity, is not a book about horses. However, the main character and the story have strong bones there. I drew on my past of raising and training six horses and riding competitively to weave story threads that would ring true to an expert or a novice. The profile does a great job in writing to an audience of horse enthusiasts about someone who shares their passion and who might also be interesting to them.

So, in the process of marketing your book, consider the benefits of indirectly introducing your book to your readers by finding opportunities to introduce yourself.

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Terrorism: If? When.

I'm writing this five days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. While we struggle to make sense of this senseless act, many struggle to heal from wounds and losses no one wants to imagine. What needs to be said before anything is that my love and prayers go out to the victims and their families.

I live on the North Shore, barely thirty miles from Boston. As you have undoubtedly heard, Boston is a close-knit town and you did not have to be at the finish line on April 15 to feel the impact of these events on a deeply personal level. Like many parents, I experienced the lead weight fear in the pit of my stomach as I tracked down my son - a student at the Berklee College of Music who lives on Boylston Street - to thankfully learn he was enjoying a beautiful spring day off from school out of the city, far from harm's way.

Placing the phone down after connecting with him, I realized I was not washed clean with relief. The pure feelings of safety and security did not rush in to replace the feelings of concern and worry. Instead, the familiar, yet vague, sense of waiting came over me. "It" didn't happen to me or to someone I love. "It" was still out there, biding time.

In a recent interview about my book, inevitably I was asked about the lingering impact of an act of hatred long after the visible traces of healing had cured. Unfortunately, I have a bit more firsthand insight into the answer than I would like. As a child, my family was targeted by an arsonist. At a very early age, I learned that bad things happen to good people. There is a bubble of security that we are born into. It is the bubble we inhabit when we walk down a dark street without fear, or hear the slowing of a car behind us and know we will not meet harm, or stand in a crowd of people and feel we are among friends. It is the bubble where the voice of doubt that tells us to look over our shoulder cannot be heard. It is the place where harm is a hypothetical, an "if." That bubble burst for me when I was five and was replaced by a world of "when." My world became a place of when bad things happen not if they could happen.

There is an arch of surprise that bends over an event like what just happened to Boston. You can hear it in the bystanders' interviews and see it in the faces of people on the streets. "It" happened. Here! How can that be? Sharing the communal feelings of the shock and the grief and the sadness is part of the healing process that binds us together in a way subtly different than we were before. We are different because our world has shifted. The membrane of security ruptured and we are left to feel exposed.

I have lived a robust life in the world of "when" and have not been hobbled by the fears surrounding "if." The evidence of my experience is visible in ways I'm not always aware of. I do know that there is a clarity I have when I hear of a terrorist attack or another senseless act. It is an unfortunate act of fate that this clarity has already been recognized in my writing. I know that I cut through a lot of emotion because I don't have to wade through the sludge of shock. Bad things happen to good people. It's just the way it is.

Of course I wish that the 117th Boston Marathon ended the way it should have - with stories of personal bests and of traditions honored for another year. One thing I know for sure, once the keening and anger have subsided, we will settle into a world of "when" and be much stronger than we ever thought we could be.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Emma Andrews Library and Community Center: Author series presents: Constance Johnson Hambley

Please note that the date has been postponed until Thursday, April 25 at 7:30.

UPDATE: I'll be back at Emma Andrews on November 19, 2015. More information can be found by linking through here.

Emma Andrews Library and Community Center: Author series presents: Constance Johnson Hambley: Constance Johnson Hambley of Rowley drew on her professional experiences in banking, finance, teaching and business, to write her first ...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Author Signed Copies in Demand

I was pleasantly surprised when much of my time today was spent signing and sending books ordered through this blog site. I personalize each softcover book and include a special note of thanks. My readers send books for a variety of reasons including acknowledgement for a job well done, birthday wishes and simple encouragement. A few 'order givers' even admit to having the book personally inscribed to themselves!

It's quick and easy! Just click on the "Buy Author Signed Copies" button in the right hand corner. That will bring you to a secure PayPal site where you note your preferences and delivery address.

Allow one to two weeks for delivery. I'll contact you within 24 hours if I have questions or if you indicate you need express delivery (additional charges would be incurred).

Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Reader Observations of "The Charity"

(There are some mild spoilers ahead.)

Readers of The Charity come from a variety of different backgrounds. They are young and old, men and women. I am learning that each reader finds a truth which makes the book especially compelling for them.

One of my readers observed that no matter how much the main character, Jessica Wyeth, tried to hide, her privileged upbringing could never be successfully hidden. Dying her hair or changing her name would never hide the behavioral and personality quirks that exposed who she really was. This reader really knows what she talks about. As one of the country's foremost forensic psychologists, she has been an expert witness in several high profile criminal cases. One her favorite scenes was when Jessica was having a conversation with Electra Lavielle, a wealthy and powerful woman. Jessica was not intimidated by Electra's position and enjoyed a playful exchange. Also, she noted that Jessica's fears and behaviors in the book accurately reflected what someone would feel if the events had been real. These dynamics work together to create a character that is both flawed and compelling.

I was very pleased with the compliment. The actions and behaviors of characters in thrillers make or break the story. Think about it: Where is the suspense if a character decides to avoid the cemetery on a dark and stormy night? It is exquisitely suspenseful and enriching if the reader understands why a choice was made or an emotion displayed. The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are accurately reflected in Jessica's character. The resolution of PTSD in Jessica helps to resolve the story. I was gratified to hear from an expert that the story rang true to her and helped her to love the story.

One of my guy readers wrote that he "only reads historical non-fiction." He said he doesn't have a lot of time to read, so when he commits to a book, he wants to feel as if he's getting something in return. After finishing The Charity ('in record time' he notes), he praised the book's accurate portrayal of money laundering schemes and grand jury proceedings. Although the story itself was fiction, he felt that he learned as much from my book as he would have from a non-fiction book.

I'm glad he felt that way. One of the processes I went through while writing this story was to make sure it was as accurate as possible in describing the business behind the money of illicit organizations. I used my career experience in the banking and financial worlds to make sure what I wrote was crisp and accurate.

More than one reader comes away from the book feeling that they have really learned something. I respect the fact that my readers are smart people. If I wrote a completely implausible plot line and did not surround it with facts that my readers know were true, they would have felt cheated and their reading experience would have been cheapened.

And Jessica would never tolerate being cheap.

Monday, March 25, 2013

When a Reader Loves a Character

Whenever I do a book signing, I always insert a little "Thank You" note into the book. As a new author, I am genuinely appreciative when a reader buys my book and I want to thank them for their support. I find that readers like feeling a personal connection to the author and I provide my email address and encourage them to drop me a note.

It is an unanticipated pleasure when I get an email from readers. I truly enjoy hearing what their experience is as they venture deeper into Jessica's story. They will tell me where Jessica is, what just happened in the book and what plans of theirs just got messed up because they became too engrossed in reading and lost track of time. I'm not sorry they burned dinner, forgot to pick up their kids, or stayed up too late reading and had a rough day at work because of Jessica. Those little mishaps are music to my ears.

The note also tells readers that I am happy to do a book club for them, so Skype and I are getting to be good friends. Candidly, the thought of my face being plastered up on someone's big screen TV in their living room is a bit unnerving, but if that's what a reader wants, I'm happy to oblige. The conversations I have during these clubs are really enlightening. What makes The Charity so compelling for them is the love they have for the main character, Jessica Wyeth.

They tell me how approachable Jessica is and how much they can relate to her yearning for roots and a community where she can belong.  They admire her strength but are not put off by her being a strong woman. They cheer her on and bask in her successes without reservation. After the book clubs, I'll often get a message that reads, "What would Jessica be doing right now?" I respond immediately by looking out my office window and checking the time. Mid afternoon and sunny? Jessica is riding. Late evening? Bedding down the horses for the night.

The prospect of a sequel is something all the readers ask me about. They really want to know what more happens to Jessica. They have a sense that my ending was not of the "...and they lived happily ever after" variety. True, a sequel is in progress. However, I am as interested in hearing what the readers think happens next to Jessica as they are in what I'm going to make happen. It's proving to be challenging to capture the essence of what resonated with them because I respect that the feelings they have for Jessica are very real.

An example of that came in an email last week. A reader told me that she saw a sign in her apartment building that someone had some furniture for sale and did anyone need some good stuff cheap? The sign had the little fringe of paper at the bottom where the seller's phone number was printed. The reader immediately felt excited. Yes! She knew someone who was moving and was in need of furniture. Her hands were just about to tear off a phone number when she paused. 'Wait a second,' she thought, 'I don't know anyone. That was Jessica I was thinking of!'

I respect the very real feelings my readers have. At first, I felt my job as a writer was to make the reader feel excited or scared to compel them to keep turning the pages. Now I appreciate that in addition to those feelings, are the very real connections and bonds that are equally as compelling.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A2R Marketing: Book Launch Marketing Plan

You know the saying "Good ideas are a dime a dozen?" You're an author. You're filled with good ideas. So why is your bank account so empty?

Simple: It's the execution, dummy.

There are plenty of writers out there who write for the pure love of writing. Their desks and hard drives are filled with their efforts and they take pride and comfort just knowing they've produced essays, short stories, screen plays or any other written output. If you have decided to be an author who writes for others in the hope of finding readers who will pay for the privilege of reading your work, then you know that you are embarking on a different mission.

I'm going to assume here that you have a really superb piece of written work that has been thoroughly vetted by a professional editor or crowd-sourced editing. I'm also going to assume that this post caught your eye because you pressed the magic "Publish" button and nothing happened. Or very little happened and now you want to take your book to the next level.

Simple: You need a plan.

It's easier to make a step-by-step plan when you have certain core concepts down cold.

Key elements for a structured approach are:

1. Know your idea. Take the time and write three specific summaries of your work. By writing these three summaries, you have a "go to" encapsulation of your work when asked about your book for different platforms. Think of them as a tweet, Facebook post and back cover or dust jacket summary.
  • One sentence grab. The business world calls this the "elevator pitch." What would you say in the fifteen seconds when serendipity plunked you into the same elevator that Mr./Ms. Moneybucks is riding? What compelling tidbit would you share on why your company (a.k.a. "book") is the best investment of money and time s/he could make? This single sentence should sum up your book with excitement and compel a reader to want more.
  • One paragraph summary. Give a little more detail of the setting, characters and tension but insert the emotional ride the reader will experience.
  • One page description. That space on the back cover of your book or the inside flaps of the dust jacket is just waiting for the answer to "Why should I care?" This should NOT be a plot-driven summary. Give the readers a better sense of why the setting is important, who these characters are and the over-arching tension of the story. 
2. Know your audience. Know your genre, word count, audience, what makes your work unique (voice, subject matter, setting). Askville has a good summary of a variety of genres. The Atlantic as a very humorous description of different readers. Knowing these two points are essential for all future targeting you will do to your audience.
  • Write a one sentence summary of who your target reader is. Learn what their top "emotional words" are. Will "yearn" gain your reader's interest or will "search" work? (Feel the difference of "Jenny yearned for answers." or "Jenny searched for answers.")
3. Know your goal. Are you looking to become a Top 100 author? Targeting your book in a specific genre will help tremendously. You have a better chance of getting into the top if your genre is "French Chic Lit" rather than "Women's Fiction."
  • Break your goal into smaller pieces either by a time period or an event. "I will increase my author's rank by 20%." or "This week I will contact five newspapers and tell them about my book."
4. Know your tools. What do you have at your disposal for making it all happen? Signings, readings, give aways, book clubs, social media, review sites. Use them.
  • You need to have a "web presence" that will give potential readers the comfort of knowing their investment of money and time will be well made.
5. Know your budget. Go ahead. Search the web under "Book Promotion" or "Book Marketing." There are any number of ways people are looking to part you with your money. Even if you're lucky enough to have a big budget for a book trailer, ad placements, a full time PR person, and all other promotions, eventually the money is going to run out and you're going to be left to your own resourcefulness.

Be disciplined and create your own success.

Book Launch: Part 2
Book Launch: Part 3

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Strong Women as Main Characters: Do They Need Superpowers?

Once a reader puts his or her nose into a book, one key element that pulls them along with the story is whether or not they like the main character. Without some kind of connection, the reader won't care what happens to them or, worse yet, may look at what that character does with a jaded eye putting the whole plot in jeopardy. After all, buy-in with the main character is essential if the reader is to suspend their belief enough to become immersed in the writer's carefully constructed story.

Skillful writers use the reader's own biases to quickly create a connection. It's not a coincidence that many murder mysteries have intelligent, quirky women as prime sleuths or razor edge thrillers have steely-eyed men  as MCs. These character types come with a wealth of baggage that a writer can quickly unpack to dress a scene with a few key phrases and keep the story moving in the right direction.

When creating a thriller or suspense novel, the MC is going to be placed in situations that a reader would never encounter in real life and then has to extricate him- or herself out of it with cunning and skill. They need to find a special strength to win against the bad guys. Having a woman MC in a thriller is a tougher act to create because the writer is has to balance existing baggage of stereotype with that "special something" which enables them prevail.

Some thriller writers create their women MCs with superhuman powers. Maybe it's an ability to read minds or have lasers shoot from her eyes that provides the extra element that pushes the story over the top. Handled with skill, enhanced powers can trigger a connection with the reader by tapping into an unspoken fantasy. Who hasn't walked into a crowded room and wondered what people were thinking?

A writer doesn't have to imbue special powers in the MC or sacrifice action when a woman is in the center of it. They just have to be keenly aware of what reader biases they are tapping into and how they are manipulating reader emotions. After all, putting superhuman powers into a woman MC is acknowledging a stereotype that a mere human woman isn't strong enough or smart enough on her own to prevail.

The best women MCs are those that play against stereotype in some fashion. By providing another dimension, the writer creates a living, breathing person that the reader cares about. A strong woman can quickly become a two dimensional cardboard cutout if the writer isn't careful - a Rambo in a cami only goes so far.

A believable strong woman main character needs to have the following traits:

  1. Warmth. She needs to be able to connect with other characters around her and form a believable relationship. The bond she forms will enable the reader to say to themselves, "Oh. I get her. She would feel like I feel." The bond doesn't have to be with a person. A compelling MC may be a woman with Autism who can't connect with people but forges a bond with an animal. But showing that warmth can also expose an essential weakness that can be a mechanism for driving the plot forward.
  2. Intelligence. The woman MC needs to be able to put pieces together in a way the reader might not do. The MC does not have to be a genius, but just has to understand her world enough to figure out the ins and outs of a situation with a fresh perspective that makes a reader think.
  3. Passion. Readers understand going the extra mile for a cause that is near and dear to their hearts. Tapping into a passion ignites the drive that raises a regular woman into a tigress. Just threaten a mild-mannered mother's child to see this in action or put into jeopardy someones deeply held political beliefs. 
  4. One special skill. The world created in a thriller often revolves around a unique characteristic of the main character. The special skill for a woman needs to both flesh out her world for the reader and her abilities for the story. For example, a brilliant chemist will inhabit a world with test tubes and beakers and may hold the key to prevent a chemical weapon from being created. 
  5. Beauty. She needs to possess a beauty that the reader can admire or aspire to. Whether it's inner or outer beauty, the woman MC benefits from a beauty that transcends the reader's everyday world.
  6. Resourcefulness. The main character in a thriller is going to be in a sticky situation or two. Figuring out how to survive when she can't morph into a moth or bend a steel bar is going to create compelling scenes for the reader. 
  7. Vision. Simply put, she needs to see a better world that can be created from her efforts. 
If the writer is able to create a female main character who avoids the pitfalls of stereotype and provides traits that a reader can relate to, then they have created a way for their stories to move forward on a suspenseful journey.

FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here.  

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Word Continues to Spread Making Kindle Sales Pop!

Thank you to Michelle Pelletier Marshall, reporter for the Newburyport Daily News, for writing a very nice article about me and The Charity! In the day the article has been published, my sales on Kindle have popped! Positively wonderful!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Club Questions/Reader's Guide

With my books readers growing in number, I've had a few reach out to me asking for questions that would be good conversation starters for their book clubs. I've put together a list with some questions that are good for any of my books,The Charity, The Troubles, or The Wake. Yes, they are part of The Jessica Trilogy, but each book stands alone and you don't have to read a prior book to get up to speed. I've had great fun talking with book groups in person and LOVE meeting groups via Skype, Facebook chats, and Google Hangouts.

  • The Jessica Trilogy has been applauded for realistic portrayals of behaviors, motivations and consequences behind terrorist acts as well as the history of the Troubles. Do these books challenge your perspective on terrorism? How? 
  • Each book's plot hinges on a real event. Specifically, the Manchester shopping mall bombing in June 1996 propels action in The Troubles and the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympic games in Atlanta, Georgia frames the action in The Wake. How did these books change your perspective of real life events?
  • Was there a point in the book when you knew you had to keep reading? What was it?
  • Who was your favorite character?
  • Do you feel as if your views on the struggle for Northern Ireland's independence or reunification have changed since you read the book?
  • Was there a theme you felt that I, as the author, emphasized through the story?What do you think I was trying to say?
  • What characters evolved throughout the book? If you read the whole trilogy, who changed the most? 
    • Was it the character who changed or your perspective on that character which changed? What were the reasons for that change and was that effective for you as a reader?
  • Was there a character that you first thought of as "good" or "bad" and then changed your mind? How did that happen?
  • What was it about Jessica that she could not disguise about herself? 
  • Readers often think fiction main characters expose an author's life. Did you see any ways in which you feel I was revealed through Jessica? How?
  • Were there any passages in the book that made you feel uncomfortable? Why? Does that say more about you or me as the author?
These are questions I most hear from different readers and book clubs. Questions I have for my readers is what do you think happens to Jessica after the book ends? What do you want to see happen to her?

This list should get the conversation rolling for most book groups. Of course, a glass of chardonnay or a Jessica Cocktail or two wouldn't hurt.


Friday, January 4, 2013

A2R Marketing - Good Outlook for 2013

I wanted to take a minute to share a post from the Alliance of Independent Authors. It confirms all of what I've been seeing and sensing in the marketplace. Independent authors are gaining marketshare because they are paying attention to best practices and, as the attached link expands upon, the infrastructure is adapting to a new business model.

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.