Category Archives: Books & Reviews

#Bookish Instagram

img_1446I may be a late comer to this, but I had been under the impression that Instagram was all about pictures. I was wrong. It is a hub of communities and images are the common language.

In fact, there are rich communities passionate about reading and books and authors and anything even remotely related to words.

Head over to Instagram for a moment and search #bookish, #bookstagram or #booknerdigan. These are a few of the many hashtag communities thriving on book covers, artistic compositions of favorite titles, and rich word of mouth recommendations of what to read next.

A lot of authors are building their communities on Twitter and Facebook. But my Twitter feed seems to reach writers more than readers, and I’m too busy with social media for my day job to want to nurture a Facebook community larger than my immediate family. I wanted to connect with readers that love books the same way I do and have fun doing it. Because anything that is fun never feels like work.

bookblabpicI did the homework to find out how to launch on Instagram and build an audience quickly. It’s not gaming the system, it’s coming out of the gate with the foundational knowledge that minimizes the stumbles. I’m eight weeks in and @bookblab is still growing.

What I like about Instagram?

  • Once you know how to look, it’s easy to find like-minded book lovers to connect with.
  • You can post several images at a time and fill a whole day’s worth of content in a few minutes.
  • Visual content inspires written content.
  • The platform does not allow links in posts which discourages spammy content.

How To Grow Your Bookish Community

What’s in a name?
Start with a name for your account that says what you’re about. I knew I would be reposting a lot of content rather than creating original images to build a virtual library of beautiful books and titles readers recommend, so @Bookblab felt like a perfect fit from the start. Occasionally I post my own titles, but mainly I look for my favorites books and authors to promote. Whatever name you choose, you want it to be easy to remember.

instagramlogoGot the picture?

There are also image guidelines I follow. I look for content to reshare that is beautiful or unique, or a book cover that is exceptionally well done. If you browse similar accounts, you’ll see how lovingly some of these are composed. When you talk about a passion for reading, this is the community that builds the altar. Even if I like the book, if I don’t love the image, I don’t repost. Bookblab’s original images are usually tagged with my handle so if they are reshared, I get trackable credit to lead folks back to my account. This is easy to do using WordSwag from the app store.

Where are our manners?

As with all social sharing, etiquette is important. Reposts should be tagged as reposts with the creator credited. I also take it a step further and tag the creator’s account so they know I used their image. Often I get a follow back and some of my posts are reshared as the word of mouth variability of social media takes the content to new homes.

What’s the theme?

Make images relevant to your theme. I post only fiction titles, mainly mystery, suspense and Sci Fi/Fantasy. Staying within a theme helps people know what to expect and focuses your audience.
inst-bookblab-header

How & Where?

If you want to build a following quickly, you need to start off with a lot of posts, as many as 8-10 images a day for the first few weeks. This builds your content library quickly and makes your new account look not so new.

A few minutes of research will go a long way in finding your audience. Use Instagram’s search tool and type in keywords or hashtags for your theme. Pay attention to the hashtags others are using. Click to discover what type of content you’ll find with each. This reveals niches within the larger communities. If you post for family and fun, skip the hashtags. If you post for marketing or business you need these to get discovered.

Hanging Out

Like any social media platform, you need to hang out before venturing too far. Learn from the accounts that are successful in the same theme as you before diving into contests and challenges. Also, be honest with yourself and how much time you have to give to the platform. I find that when I’m on Instagram, I spend less time on Twitter. Is that good or bad? It’s a very different audience on both platforms, both equally important when maintaining a fan base. Once a foundation is built, you can spend time on one social network then another without overlapping or having to give something up.

I set a daily time limit for social media marketing, but I may be on a different platform from one day to the next to mix it up and keep it interesting. It appeals to my squirrel-like attention span.

I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and repost your beautiful #bookaholic images. Tag @Bookblab on your posts so it pops into my box and I’ll happily re-share. This is what Indie Authors do, we cross promote and share what we know so we can all get better at our craft and be successful.

If you have tips for Instagram or book marketing, please share in the comments below. Thanks for hanging out with me.

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Wired Judith GainesWired by Judith Gaines

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

How to Find Great Books by Indie Authors

Red PencilThere’s a plethora of great books on the market by Indie Authors, but in the growing e-book flood waters there are quite a few that are less than satisfying, and far from the professional product you are expecting for your investment (time & money).

Here’s my method for finding great books and discovering emerging writers.

Can you trust reviews?

Yes and no. It’s well-known that some reviews are planted to increase initial sales to get a book on a list or two, and boost its visibility. That doesn’t mean you can’t trust reviews, but you should look at the spread of ratings. Most books will have a distribution with the majority of ratings falling within a small range. These are likely the most trustworthy. I like to read the bad ones first, and it’s usually easy to spot the bitter, “this was not for me” or “not what I expected” reviews. Then I move on to those that fall in the mid range, and usually I get a good idea if the novel is something I want to try out.

If there are only a few reviews, and they are all five stars with glowing praise, that doesn’t mean it’s planted, but be cautious. That’s where this next item comes in handy.

Sample

If you’re not 100% sure, sample the book before you buy.

For authors reading this, a generous sample is more likely to lead to a happy customer than a tiny excerpt. Once a reader has invested the time to read a quarter of a novel and is hooked, they’ll come back and complete the purchase.

For readers, this is test drive time. Get a cup of peach tea, glass of wine, or coffee and kick back. Either you’re going to love the story and the writing, OR you’ll delete the sample from your library and move on. You may be out a little time, but not the few dollars you would have spent on that particular title. If you love it, you’ll have another great author to follow, and you’ll know when you buy their other titles, you will have constancy in quality and content.

Indie Reads

Here are a few titles that made me stay up way past my bed time. The plots and characters are engaging, and the quality of the presentation (clean copyediting & professional cover) was spot on.

Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

Cyberstorm MatherDescription from Amazon

Sometimes the worst storms aren’t from Mother Nature, and sometimes the worst nightmares aren’t the ones in our heads. Mike Mitchell, an average New Yorker already struggling to keep his family together, suddenly finds himself fighting just to keep them alive when an increasingly bizarre string of disasters start appearing on the world’s news networks. As the world and cyberworld come crashing down, bending perception and reality, a monster snowstorm cuts New York off from the world, turning it into a wintry tomb where nothing is what it seems…

Review: Believable characters, combined with strong writing, provides enough realism to make you think this could happen today. Just when you think this is another end of the world story, it takes an abrupt turn. Not for squeamish types;)

Timebound by Rysa Walker

Time Bound WalkerDescription from Amazon

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and her genetic ability to time travel makes Kate the only one who can fix the future. Risking everything, she travels back in time to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the murder and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does Kate have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

Review: Time travel stories are always fun to read. Time Bound is inventive and well written, with just enough tension to keep the pages turning. This story would appeal to ages mid teens and above, with lots of room to imagine joining the cause to stop the Cyrists.

Time’s Echo by Rysa Walker

Times Echo WalkerDescription from Amazon

A Kindle exclusive novella, set in the world of Rysa Walker’s Timebound. 

Kiernan Dunne abandoned his family ties to help Kate fight the Cyrists, and he’s never regretted that for one moment. But he doesn’t understand why Kate can’t remember that night in 1893 Chicago, when she turned back to face the killer chasing them through the smoky corridors of the World’s Fair Hotel. Kate placed the CHRONOS key around his neck and made his eight year old self promise to wear it always, and that’s a promise Kiernan has never broken. 

When Kate suddenly vanishes after a Cyrist-engineered time shift, that hidden medallion is Kiernan’s only hope for finding her. He returns to the Cyrist fold to look for clues, but his search will lead him back to the question that has haunted him for years–what really happened after he left Kate at the World’s Fair Hotel?

Review: A quick read, and also a great follow-up to Time Bound, this can be considered a supplemental story to the series. Book two in the Chronos Files series is due out later in 2014.

Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn

Poe JLFennDescription from Amazon

It’s Halloween, and life is grim for twenty-three-year-old Dimitri Petrov. It’s the one-year anniversary of his parents’ deaths, he’s stuck on page one thousand of his Rasputin zombie novel, and he makes his living writing obituaries.

But things turn from bleak to terrifying when Dimitri gets a last-minute assignment to cover a séance at the reputedly haunted Aspinwall Mansion.

There, Dimitri meets Lisa, a punk-rock drummer he falls hard for. But just as he’s about to ask her out, he unwittingly unleashes malevolent forces, throwing him into a deadly mystery. When Dimitri wakes up, he is in the morgue—icy cold and haunted by a cryptic warning given by a tantalizing female spirit.

As town residents begin to turn up gruesomely murdered, Dimitri must play detective in his own story and unravel the connections among his family, the Aspinwall Mansion, the female spirit, and the secrets held in a pair of crumbling antiquarian books. If he doesn’t, it’s quite possible Lisa will be the next victim.

Review: This is a good old-fashioned ghost story with some interesting twists, and a few chills. The descriptive scenes bring the story to life, as you get to see the story unfold through Dimitri’s eyes. Lighter than Stephen King, this blends humor with suspense in a unique way.

~~~~~~~~~~~

When you find a great book, pass it along, tell a friend, tweet it, or share it on Facebook. This is how the  great books are discovered.  Thanks.

Shameless self-promotion;)

Wired Judith GainesDescription from Amazon

Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past. 

Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions? 

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

Wired for the Weekend

A Jade Weekes Art Mystery
A Jade Weekes Art Mystery

Wired went live on Smashwords in the early hours of March 15th, and is already flying off the virtual shelves. It’s available for Free through March 29th as I tweak the formatting, cover image, and promo copy. While there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate for the official launch, I’m excited to finally have it available, and look forward to feedback from readers.

Wired is the first installment of the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series, with the 2nd novel, Enigma, scheduled for release late 2013. Set in Paris, St. Pete, and Chicago, this mystery unravels an organized crime gang, solves a murder, and reveals the haunting past of main character, Jade Weekes.

Here’s the promo copy from Smashwords:

Short description
Read for FREE through March 29, 2013! Jade Weekes emerged from the oily wash of the Seine five years ago with no memory of her life, but an uncanny knowledge of fine art, museum security, and a knack for walking away with priceless treasures. Now she’s tracking an elusive Van Gogh with ties to an underworld struggle that will reveal her forgotten past.

Extended description
Jade Weekes leaves Paris to track a priceless Van Gogh from St. Pete to Chicago. Her contacts are shady and she is beginning to think there is more to this job than a buyer wanting a gift for his wife. Otherwise, why would Simon Morrell, a rival thief, cross her path just as the FBI begins asking questions?

Caught up in the six billion dollar international art theft industry, she enlists help from unlikely sources: film actor Alex Ford, and veteran FBI specialists Stewart Connor and John Young.

No one is who they seem, most of all Jade Weekes.

You can download Wired for your e-reader here.

The Red PencilLook for me to return to blogging on a regular basis as I vet ideas for novel number 3 in the series (working title The Missing), and ramble on techniques for character development. Enjoy your weekend, and get outside to soak up the extra sunshine. 😉

The Power of Quiet

My idea of a perfect afternoon is this:

The sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air that hints at a hard freeze by nightfall. The house is unnaturally quiet and I like that. I pull a blanket from its drawer, the light blue polar fleece with snowflakes, and curl up in my favorite chair. I prefer the chair over the sofa or even the recliner. It hugs me and makes me feel secure and I am small enough to almost lie sideways and nap. But today I take advantage of the quiet and write. I may take a break to read or look up a reference, but mainly I am cruising through my own imagination creating problems for my characters. I lose track of time this way. An hour isn’t enough; two maybe; a whole afternoon even better.

It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my family—they’re the solid foundation that keeps me sane—it’s just that 99% of the time I am surrounded by people. Being alone helps me discharge stress and recharge my mental energy.

I am an introvert.

I’ve always known I was introverted, with brief periods of sociableness. Now I know why.

A fMRI scan showing regions of activation in o...I’ve been listening to the Audible version of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. This non-fiction examination of what makes each of us an introvert or extrovert gives engaging stories of some of the most famous introverts (think Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak) and how their quiet contributions have changed our lives. Extroverts are not left out. In fact, we learn a great deal about our out-going friends and how their minds work.

What’s to be gleaned is how, as introverts, we can trust our instincts and insights gained from listening and observing before acting. We are thinkers, planners and love to have as much information as possible before voicing opinions in public.

As I’ve listened, two thoughts have been swirling in the back of my mind:

  • How do I harness my focus to improve my writing and productivity? I know that when I shut my “office door” to interruptions and noise I can accomplish a greater amount of work, and at a higher quality. I’m also happier because my sense of accomplishment comes from completing a task without skipping steps to race to the finish.
  • Next, I wonder how I can use these insights to develop my characters. Cain goes into great detail of how introverts and extroverts differ in behavior and habits, but then takes it even further with an examination of the physiological differences. We are wired and evolved for the temperament we have, and it can even be measured with FMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging. Being introverted or extroverted is not a choice, but simply how our bodies and brain function. Now I’ve added to my “writing tool kit” ways to strengthen my character’s convictions with habits to match their personality type. I can make their hearts palpitate in crowds and raise their stress level as a restaurant becomes noisy with boisterous partygoers.

Are you introverted or extroverted? Have you given it much thought? “Quiet” will give you a lot to think about and a lot of information to help build your character’s inner world. The scene at the beginning of this article describes my “flow”, a state at which I feel most energized and able to do my best work with seemingly little effort. Learning to create this more often and in different settings for myself and my characters will lead to a mutual understanding that if I put them on the page, they can find their preferred state of social engagement too.

Just as a footnote, there are many great resource books on personality and behavior that aren’t in the writing reference book section. Go to your favorite bookstore website and look up “Quiet”, then check out the “Customers Also Bought” section for ideas on  multi-faceted traits you can give your characters. SavvyAuthors.com also has great workshops for developing your character’s inner life.

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon and what does it say about you:)

13 Titles – An Incomplete List of Books I Love

The Monster at the End of this Book13

I don’t think I could count how many books I’ve read over the years, but some stand out in my memory for various reasons.  Instead of telling you what’s special about each, I’ll let you enjoy them for yourself. 

The Professor’s House Willa Cather
Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
Walden Henry David Thoreau
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. Le Guin
Lost Michael Robotham
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson
A Parchment of Leaves Silas House
Books A through V Sue Grafton
Far and Away; A Prize Every Time Neil Peart
Outlander Diana Gabaldon
The Monster at the end of this Book Jon Stone & Michael Smollin
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein