BOOK SALES NOT THERE? You may want to go with a different cover!

I thought that the cover of a book should be artistic and attractive to the eye and my first cover for Coyote in Provence,, was. I probably thought that because I was an antique and art appraiser for twenty years and my eye still assesses something in terms of its artistic merit. I never thought about the cover in terms of marketing.

The book sold well and I thought it was a good book, but it didn’t sell as well as I thought it should, particularly given the fact that it was the sequel to the award-winning best seller, Blue Coyote Motel,, which was even a quarter finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award Contest! I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t doing better. During this time, I hired a man to do some formatting for me, etc. He designed a cover for my just-released novel, Cornered Coyote, http://smarturl.CorCoy, as well as giving me a lot of advice, particularly marketing advice. In one email I mentioned that I was frustrated because the Provence book wasn’t selling better. He told me I needed a new cover, that the old cover was artistic, but it wasn’t particularly marketable. I’d never realized there was a difference. A cover was a cover, wasn’t it? No!

He sent me a new cover the next day and it clearly showed what the book was about. Even then, I wasn’t 100% sold. I’d been advertising on Goodreads where your ad is clicked and if it is you pay per click. This cover was getting very few clicks, so I experimented with the new cover. It was amazing! Goodreads sends me daily updates on the ad campaign and it was very clear that the new cover was a winner. My clicks quadrupled and then some – and sales – oh yeah. It quickly became a best seller!

Who knows? Maybe it was the hundredth monkey or the moon was in the right phase or whatever, but I’m sure it was the new cover. Check out the new cover at the top of this post and the old one at the bottom.

If your book isn’t selling, it may be time to find a new cover artist! I am so glad I did!!! If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send you his name. And old or new cover, good luck!

Criticism: Can You Take it?

If you’ve written anything that’s been read by others, you’re probably no stranger to criticism. I asked Nicholas C. Rossis if he would write about the subject. After all, anyone who has overseen close to five hundred websites probably knows something about the subject. Here’s his wonderful take on it.

How to Deal with Criticism: My Sage Advice

After almost twenty years of working as web developer and almost five hundred websites later, I needed something new. So, I tried my hand in two different things; writing and finding funding for startups. My first endeavour has so far produced half a dozen children’s books, a dozen short stories, including an award-winning one, a sci-fi short collection called The Power of Six and my epic fantasy series, Pearseus.

My second career path led me to a partnership with some colleagues. In late 2012 we moved to new premises, which the partners had renovated into a stunning office building. My father came to visit, and was gobsmacked.

“What nice people! And the building’s great. In all my years working as an engineer, this is the best office premises I’ve ever been in,” he said.

A few months and a string of broken promises later, I left the company. My father’s reaction to the news was, “Thank God! I never did like those guys; and I hated that office from the first time I stepped my foot in there. Ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

I had to laugh, but the support betrayed by his contradiction moved me.

Which made his reaction – or lack of – to my first novel all the more surprising. “My book. It’s finished,” I said as I handed him my finished manuscript much the way someone might hand a newborn over to her grandparents. He glanced at it and dumped it into a bag. Curious, I thought.

I had not heard anything on the subject for a couple of months, so I asked him if he had read it. Sounding slightly annoyed, he said “no, I’m re-reading Martin’s books right now. It’ll have to wait.”

Now, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones myself (and ecstatic to find a reviewer describing Pearseus as “Game of Thrones meets Dune”), but this perplexed me. Curiouser and curiouser.

Then, a few months later (Martin’s not known for his brevity), he called me up late at night to say, “I finished the book you gave me.”

I confess that my heart jumped. “And?”

“Great book, it had some fantastic ideas. I was totally hooked. You know what this guy did? He took historical elements from ancient Greece and created a space opera with them.”

I frowned and stared at the phone in confusion. This guy? “What guy?”

And he replied, in a matter-of-fact voice, “why, whoever wrote this. There was no name on the printout.”

Once I managed to stop laughing, I explained, “this guy is me, dad. But I’m glad you liked it even before you knew that.”

I drew from this incident a very valuable lesson: our critics are human beings, too. If you’re anything like me, rejection will get you down. I mean, how can it not? We study humans for a living, learn to read between the lines and ferret out their true emotions, in order to accurately describe them in our work. We observe every nuanced shift in people’s voices and gait; every slight movement of their hand; tapping of their fingers; furrow of their brow, and hurriedly jot it down. How can we be anything but sensitive to criticism?

Yet, a harsh critic could simply be too tired to give our work a decent chance. Maybe they didn’t get it, or maybe they were just having a bad day and took it out on us. Maybe they held a grudge against us because of something completely irrelevant to the book. Or perhaps they’re just plain deaf, like my dad.

It’s sad and unfair, but it’s the simple truth; and a liberating one at that, as it means rejection need not get us down or even trouble us unduly. It’s not an oracle we’re consulting, it’s a fellow human. We might agree or disagree with them, decide to follow their advice or ignore it, worry about it or shrug it off. It’s all OK.

So, my advice as a newly (self)published writer to any aspiring author out there is simple: when you give your dad your manuscript, speak very slowly.

Pearseus, Year 18: The Schism (Book 1):

Pearseus, Rise of the Prince (Book 2):

The Power of Six: Science Fiction Short Stories:

Bloom where you are planted

I never started out to be an author. It just kind of happened. Today is a milestone for me and I want to share it with you. My fifth book, Cornered Coyote, is now available on Amazon Sure, I was an English major in college and there was always a book attached to my hand and in the last few years an iPad with a gazillion Kindle books on it. It never occurred to me that I could or would actually write a book.

There’s a saying I’ve pretty much lived my life by – “Bloom Where You’re Planted.” Two and a half-years ago my husband pointed his finger at me after I commented on how quite the air-conditioning was at the hotel we were at in Palm Springs in 107 degree weather. (Had to be there. Our son was best man in a wedding.) I remember saying something like, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if a ‘feel good’ drug was piped into the air-conditioning and everyone felt good all the time?” He looked at me and said, with his finger pointed, “There’s your book.” I literally started writing that afternoon and I haven’t stopped.

What has been so exciting is that readers have really liked what I’ve written. Blue Coyote Motel was a quarter finalist in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, the Goodreads Psychological Thriller Book of the Month, e-thriller Book of the Month, and both it and the second in the Coyote trilogy, Coyote in Provence, are finalists in Chanticleer’s CLUE award contest.

I sent a number of advance review copies to people asking them if they would read Cornered Coyote. Every one of them said that it’s the best of the trilogy. Plus, I was just notified a couple of days ago that it’s already been chosen as the July Book of the Month for the Goodreads group, Psychological Thrillers.

What fun! Guess I’m blooming! I invite you to buy it and see if you agree. Enjoy!

What I Know to be True

My latest post on Huffington. Just wanted to share!

Those of us who are over 50 have seen a lot. Anyone remember party lines? Elvis concerts? Typewriters with carbon paper? Yup, we’ve seen a lot!

This electronic age that we’re now a part of is pretty amazing. You can learn everything about anything in a matter of seconds. I read something recently about Google which said that within a half second, Google will put the answer up to whatever your question was. What a concept! My husband and I were talking the other day about this world we live in where everything is instantly available. He recalled having his mother drive him to the other side of Kansas City to a library so he could look things up in the encyclopedia when he had a school report due. Those days are over!

I know some people think things were better “back then.” But were they? As a writer, I’m constantly using the Internet for research. No wonder authors wrote fewer books in times past. The sheer act of laboriously typing a manuscript and not being able to erase or cut and paste, hen going to the library for research would require an enormous amount of time. Now it’s all right there in one machine! I’d like to say it couldn’t get much easier, but I’m sure in a few years something will come along and it will be that much easier and the computers we use now will be “remember whens.”

The reason for this train of thought is thinking about all the positives of what is available to us. I admire the ability of the younger generation to instantly know how to get a new television hooked up to the cable or solve some computer problem without having to call a technician. Somehow I missed out on that gene! But if I refused to be a part of this age of technology, there’s so much I’d miss out on. For someone like me, these things are a challenge, but a challenge well worth the effort.

A lot of people my age refuse to have anything to do with Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and all the rest of the social media options now available. They even refuse to have cable television or a computer, and forget about a smartphone or a tablet! “It was good enough for ___, so it’s good enough for me.” Their loss!

I know an older woman who loves to cook. She subscribes to several food magazines monthly and her bookshelves are filled with cookbooks. She’s always wanted to attend a cooking school to see how the “pros” do it, but feels she can’t afford it. I’ve tried to convince her she can watch cable shows about food around the clock where the professional chefs show the viewers how to do everything. She refuses to get cable because it would be too expensive. Seems to me between the cookbooks and the magazine subscriptions, it would probably be a push, at worse. Her loss!

These are usually the same people who deplore the music of today, the art, the way the younger generation dresses, etc. Could it be because they’re stuck in a time warp? Really, does anyone think that the song “Boola Boola” is going to have generational staying power? Or that page boy hairstyles are so much better than what they’re wearing now? And who decided that red and pink nail polish were the only “acceptable” colors one could use on their nails? What if blue and black nail polish had been acceptable when they were growing up? Would they think something was wrong with people who chose to wear red or pink nail polish? Probably!

I’ve actually met a lot of people on the Internet who, while I guess you can’t really call them friends, have become important to me. I’ve learned from them, and I’d like to think maybe they’ve learned something from me. Can all this new technology be overwhelming? Of course, but just because an enormous buffet has been put on the table, it doesn’t mean we have to take something from each of the serving plates. We’re free to pick and choose what works for us.

Another advantage to the Internet and all of the hand-held devices is that they can help keep our minds from atrophying. We’ve all read that doing crossword puzzles is good for our minds as we get older. A generation ago we had to wait for the daily newspaper to be delivered to do our crossword puzzles. Now all we have to do is pick up any electronic device and play a game. For a lot of people the game break has taken the place of the traditional coffee break. Many is the time that playing Words With Friends or Wordsworth for a few minutes has been more beneficial to me than a soft drink or coffee and I can’t help but think it’s good for my mind!

If you need one more thing to convince you, particularly if you’re living on a limited budget and want to treat yourself, or maybe a few other people, to a movie or dinner, then Yelp and some of the other rating sites can’t be overlooked. There’s nothing worse than spending good money for a dinner that’s lousy! Checking out a restaurant before you go could result in not being disappointed in the food and not wasting money. That alone should be enough to convince the naysayers of the “new technology.” And really, hasn’t every generation had “new technology” of some sort? Of course.

The question is, are we going to embrace it or shun it?

You are not alone in your fight against Alzheimers

I recently read Time To Let Go by Christoph Fischer and it was one of the most moving stories I have ever read. If you don’t know someone who suffers from Alzheimers, you probably will. It affects almost everyone and the lives of family members are forever changed because of it. I can’t recommend this book enough.

“The Real Biddy Korhonen”

I grew up with only a few friends and with two older siblings who were miles ahead of me in their lives. My mother was a busy woman and so I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house. She had always wanted to have four children but lost one child at birth. Her other three children were much older and didn’t need her much anymore, so my visits to her house filled a gap for her, in the same way as her attention to me filled a need in me. A match made in heaven.

Philomena, or Minna, as we called her, remained a source of happiness and encouragement throughout my life. I was always welcome and treated like a precious gift. She smoked, but she outlived both of her sisters (taken in their 40s by cancer).

In her late 70s Minna was diagnosed with Alzheimers’ disease. Well, I thought, at least she lives, belittling her misfortune without much awareness. The next time I saw her, her trademark happiness however seemed far away. She was crying bitterly because she had lost her hearing aid, a very expensive one, too. Suddenly her life seemed to revolve around retrieving things. She was spared the physical pain of her sisters, but she suffered severe mental torture. She fortunately reached a happier stage as medication and care helped reduce the misery in her life, but the attention she needed was a huge toll to the family. Despite her memory loss, she seemed to vaguely recognise me; me, the ‘child’ that lived abroad and who rarely came to visit. She had not lost her warmth and happiness, or maybe she had just regained it after the bad patch I mentioned earlier.

Very recently I saw her again, almost unrecognisable: withdrawn, very unresponsive and almost reduced to basic functioning. Surprisingly, she could still read and when I came to see her for a second time her eyes shone as if she did recognise me. I spoke an emotional goodbye to her and her hand was shaky and excited as she listened to my speech. She even responded by talking, using words that didn’t fit exactly but which expressed an emotion similar to what one would expect from a loving aunt in such a situation.

With her loving kindness in mind I created Biddy, the mother in “Time to let Go”, a selfless, giving woman, who even in her illness manages to show her innate kindness. I know it would be wrong to praise her for a gift that many other patients do not have, through no fault of their own. Losing one’s memory and control of one’s life is a terrible thing that you can only understand when it happens to you.

“Time to Let Go” is partly meant as a tribute to my brave aunt and to the wonderful people who help making her life dignified and as happy as is possible.

*** Alzheimers ***

My book is inspired by personal experiences with sufferers from the disease. Nowadays, almost everyone knows someone who has relatives with Alzheimers’ and gradually stories and anecdotes about these patients have entered the social dinner party circuit and become common knowledge.

Alzheimers is a dreadful disease that cannot be easily understood in its gravity and the complex, frustrating and far reaching consequences for the victims and their families. There are different stages of the disease as it progresses and patients can move through them at different paces and in varying intensity. My book does not attempt to be a complete representation or a manual of how to deal with the disease. The illness affects every patient differently and there are many stories to tell and many aspects to cover. I hope that I can bring some of those issues to the surface and help to make the gravity of the disease more prominent. I did, however, decide to stay firmly in fiction and family drama territory, and not to write a dramatized documentary on the subject.

I have witnessed several different approaches to handling the disease by both individuals and entire families, and I have learned that the people involved in every case needs to work out what is best for them. In my book, a family work out their particular approach, which is right for them. They have different ideas about it and need to battle it out. These clashes fascinated me and I felt they were worth exploring.

Issues of caring at home, mobile care assistance or institutionalising patients are personal and, depending on where in the world you are, every family has very different options or limitations. The ending in my book must be seen in that context: as an individual ‘best’ solution that uniquely fits the Korhonen family.

As point of first reference and for a more comprehensive and scientific overview of information and help available I recommend: in the UK, and in the US.

There are support groups, helplines and many other sources available in most countries. These will be able to advise specifically for each individual situation.

I can also recommend “Because We Care” by Fran Lewis. This fantastic book has a comprehensive appendix with more or less everything you need to know about the disease: Its stages, personal advice on caring, information, tools and help available in the US.

For consistency, I exclusively used material relating to a medium advanced stage of the disease. To protect the privacy and dignity of the patients that inspired the story I have altered all of the events and used both first and second hand experiences and anecdotes. Nothing in this book has actually happened in that way. Apart from some outer parallels between my characters and patients I witnessed, any similarities with real people, alive or dead, are coincidental and unintended.

*** Airlines *** The airline plot is not based on any real incident but is inspired by my own imagination. I used to work for an airline and so naturally, much of Hanna’s life is based on my own experience of 15 years flying. I lived with the awareness that every time a call bell goes off on a plane this could be a matter of life and death. What happens to Hanna in the book has never happened to me or anyone close to me. My flying life was not that extraordinary. Fortunately. But every year airline crew are retrained in emergency procedures and aviation medicine, and at least during those intense yearly re-training sessions your mind cannot help considering the possibilities of such events.

The modern trend of the ‘suing- and compensation-culture’ and the extent of it in some cases worries me a little, which is why some of that concern found its way into the book.

The lifestyle of cabin crew and pilots is often falsely glorified as a glamorous string of free holidays and leisure. A recent crew strike in the UK has brought the profession into disrepute in the media, as fat cats and lazy bones. My book aims to shed a bit of light on the realities of flying. I enjoyed the life and would not want to miss the experience but it is a tough life that demands huge personal sacrifices and flexibility, sleep deprivation on a massive scale and exposure to aggressive and abusive behaviour by a consumerist clientele. In the global trend of cost cutting, salaries are going down and what used to be a career is at risk of becoming a minimum wage job handed to people who have no experience and who have no incentive to give it their all. My book is a tribute to my former colleagues in the airline industry, who, in my opinion, are unsung heroes and a bunch of wonderful, hard-working and very caring people.

*** Memory *** What makes Alzheimers so terrible? What is it that makes a memory so important to one’s life that people compare its horrors to pain-inflicting diseases like cancer? You are alive and physically well, you eat and function as a human, but as an Alzheimer patient you are bound to be suffering, frustrated, depressed and unhappy.

Of course it is ridiculous to compare the two diseases, but while a cancer patient has still their awareness and choices, the Alzheimer sufferer is losing the core of their being, everything they ever were.

How can you define yourself if you cannot remember? You have had children, but you won’t recognise them. You won awards, had a successful career, made people happy, but you don’t know any of it. Who are you and what are you doing on the planet? Who are the people around you? As the disease progresses, these things become more intense and you can live in a mental prison of fear and disorientation. Your brain won’t do as you want it to. The fear of losing ‘it’ altogether, for some is impossible to bear. You are about to lose everything that was ever precious to you.

That thought is frightening to all of us. It can happen to all of us. The worst stage seems to be when patients still notice that something is wrong. We all know how annoying it is when we just put something down and don’t remember where. Imagine that happening to you all the time, every day, and you get an idea of how it might feel. The carers see their loved ones slowly drift away into a stranger.

Biddy’s husband Walter in my novel becomes obsessed with preserving memories – his own and others. He begins to write a family chronicle as a constructive outlet for his fears. He is an important character with his musings about preserving knowledge, memories and facts and he allowed me to bring in thoughts about the disease on a different and more reflective level.

I hope that I have managed to write about more than just the clinical side of the disease. I stuck to the early stages of Alzheimers’ in the story because it gave me the best opportunities to work these thoughts into the story. It allows me to look back at Biddy’s past but with still a lot of hope.

About Christoph:

Christoph Fischer was born in Germany, near the Austrian border, as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ was published in November 2012; ‘Sebastian’ in May 2013 and The Black Eagle Inn in October 2013. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.