The Crook’s Hill House

Crook's Hill Final Cover

My third mystery, Crook’s Hill, soon to be published, has two main settings: New York City and Crook’s Hill Farm, near fictional Spring Woods, Ontario.

The farm is based loosely on one that my godfather bought when I was twelve. He’d already involved me in his interest in horses, taking me many Sunday mornings to a place where you could rent a nag to shake every bone in your body. But he decided he wanted the full country life, and I visited his farm the day after he took possession of his farm.

This place wasn’t like many older Ontario farms, with square, two-level red or orange-brick houses on manicured front lawns. The house sat well back from the main road at the end of a long laneway, a bit like a lonely widow hiding on a hidden park bench, and it sprawled over one level, ivy consuming its stucco sides. It seemed to have been empty for months: the air was dank, the ancient cream wallpaper stained and peeling, and a massive hearth in the living room cold and dirty. And around the house, debris and thick brush ruled, hiding an ancient swimming pool and collapsed structures behind.

In other words, intrigue swirled around the place! Which only deepened when my godfather shared the local rumour that booze had been run from the farm during the Prohibition, and that the illegal proceeds were used to build not only the house, but the pool, cabanas, a ballroom and thoroughbred stables with leather-lined stalls.

So when I imagined writing a mystery involving two brothers who’d been fractious since the younger caused the older a terrible injury on their boyhood farm, I used my godfather’s place as a starting point. And if I self-publish, I’ll use the view of the back of the Crook’s Hill house shown above for the cover. My good friend and artist extraordinaire Peter Fischer did the painting, and below is a cool time lapse of his progress on the house.

And in Crook’s Hill, the house is only a small part of the intrigue!

For other time lapse videos, click on my Instagram follow icon above.

Fritze’s Back

May 15, 2013 178

I like Rome—a lot. The photo captures the front of the city’s famous Pantheon. Sometimes I look to Rome and its history for inspiration or support. For the last year, I’ve been leaning on the adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” actually a medieval French phrase, to explain the slow emergence of my third mystery novel, Crook’s Hill.

The storyline: insider trading, unexplained deaths and a horrific, long-buried crime envelop highly successful but fractious brothers. Seemed relatively straightforward when I created the first outline. But the six outlines, five chronologies and twelve or so drafts tell a different tale.

Still, I enjoyed almost every moment of writing Crook’s Hill. The truth is that the characters, especially the female characters, needed time and work to reach their potential. And when they did, the plot weaved in surprising directions. I went with the flow and am proud of the result. And I realized I have a male and female protagonist for a series.

The payoff? Lots of positive feedback from beta readers, and a very strong Kirkus review, which I’ll release once I know how Crook’s Hill will be published. I’ve been strongly encouraged to seek an agent, and I’ve sent about thirty queries. Let’s just say it’s like being one of a thousand anglers dangling hooks in a pond with one fish: no bites. Soon, I’ll submit Crook’s Hill directly to publishers interested in high quality mysteries. Likely, though, I’ll self-publish in early November. I’m gearing up for that now.

So, thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll like Crook’s Hill and maybe I’ll see you at the mystery convention, Bouchercon, in Toronto, October 11-14.

Copyright © 2017 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Having a Plan

Blog 90 ImageThis is the last post in my blog series on How to Self-Publish. In previous posts, I described ways a self-pub can promote her book. But rather than dipping into every strategy and seeing which, if any, sticks, a writer will find it useful to have a promotional plan.

There are several reasons for this. First, there are many other writers promoting their books and, for the most part, in very similar ways. A well-thought-out plan that builds interest in an upcoming book gives a writer a better chance of finding an edge. Second, many self-pubs write while holding down day jobs. Their time for promotion is limited and a plan can make them more efficient. Finally, a plan can keep marketing costs under control. It’s already a challenge for self-pubs to cover editorial and cover design costs, let alone clear a profit. And when it comes to promotion, it’s tempting to chase the dream of success and continue spending. A plan with a budget lowers this risk.

Here are some things writers should think about when developing a plan.

When to work up the plan. It’s easy to leave the development of a promotional plan until a book is done. However, many strategies such as building a social media presence require time to build followers. A writer should create and start implementing a plan once she’s certain she’s going to self-publish.

Consider what the market is. A lot of promotion involves a writer sharing content about her books and/or herself. As she develops that content, a writer should consider the profile of her potential market. Few self-pubs have the resources to do things like market surveys. However, a writer might be able to research sales of well-known books in her genre.

Types of promotion. The goal of a promotional plan is to build interest in an upcoming book that peaks when the book is published and is maintained for months and even years after. The core of the plan settles the strategies that will be used to achieve this goal. Since many writers use the same strategies and lives are busy, at any stage of implementing the plan, it’s probably best to do one or two things really well.

Timing of the strategies. Some strategies, like social media, are long-term or even ongoing. Others, like asking friends and family for help or contacting bloggers for reviews, are usually implemented in the months before publication. A promotional plan should create dates for executing all strategies to maximum effect.

Costs. A writer’s plan should also create an overall budget for promotion broken down by strategy. As I already said, the dream of success creates a temptation to spend, spend, spend, and many service providers look to take advantage of that.

Measure results. Finally, a plan should include times when the writer assesses her promotional strategies. For example, she might review social media analytics to see which content has generated the most interest. A writer will never be a hundred percent certain which strategies are working and which aren’t, but there’ll be enough information to tweak the plan and make adjustments.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Spending the Marketing Budget

Blog 89 ImageI have two posts left under How to Self-Publish about promotion. This week I look at fee-based services and next week I’ll discuss having a promotional strategy.

To date, my posts about promotion have largely focused on approaches involving little or no cost, such as invoking the help of family and friends, having a website and blogging and using social media. My last post on reviews did touch on two services that cost money: email blasts promoting price discounts and paid-for reviews. This post picks up on that thread and looks at a few more promotional services self-pubs can buy.

Most people trying to sell a new product or service think about marketing it with a dedicated budget. Self-pub writers, though, are more likely to i) think their books will sell themselves, ii) then realize that they must promote their books, and iii) grudgingly become willing to spend a few bucks on that promotion.

Unfortunately, having arrived at iii), self-pubs will find that spending money on promotion often doesn’t cure poor sales. There simply are too many books published. In addition, it can be hard to know which promotional/marketing/consulting service affected sales. All I can say is that self-pubs should be skeptical about what’s on offer, understand exactly what the value proposition is and ask other writers about their experiences. With all that, here are some ways to eat up the marketing budget.

Facebook Advertising: This social media behemoth makes money, among other things, from selling targeted advertising using the staggering data it has collected about users. Self-pubs could, for example, advertise their books to users in Ontario who like specified authors. When I researched this type of advertising, though, I couldn’t find any evidence that it produced meaningful sales.

Tweets: Of course, self-pubs can promote their own books on a cost-free basis through their Twitter accounts. “Buy my book” tweets irritate readers, though, so tweets that are more subtle and engaging are best. However, services exist that have built up large numbers of Twitter followers and that, for a fee, will blast their followers with book recommendations. Just as irritating if you ask me.

Giveaways/Contests: Self-pubs can arrange to give away copies of their books on sites like Goodreads as well as have giveaways and contests through Facebook. The idea is to create profile and the possibility of reviews to generate sales. Self-pubs shouldn’t underestimate the costs of getting print copies of books made and delivered to interested readers, or of sending twenty-five tote bags to their contest winners.

Blog Tours: In theory, a self-pub could try to organize a traditional book tour for his new book. However, even assuming book stores would agree to host the writer, the costs could be significant. An alternative is blog tours, in which a self-pub searches out a series of blog writers who agree to host content like a Q&A, a video, a blog post and so on. These tours take a lot of organization, so some services set up the tours for a fee. While I haven’t tried a blog tour, I know writers who have and thought they obtained good exposure. As usual, it would be useful to know if the exposure translates into sales.

Old-School Advertising: A self-pub writer could buy a radio ad or a poster spot on the subway or have his book featured in a movie. A really famous writer with lots of money at least.

PR: When I published The Case for Killing, I thought of hiring a public relations firm. I couldn’t find any affordable, experienced firms.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Reviews

Blog 88 ImageI’ve been posting about how self-published writers can promote their books. In my first post, I said, “Readers will buy a self-published writer’s book if they believe they’ll be entertained or get some other benefit. This means they have to know about the book and likely what other readers think of it.”

User-generated reviews offer some of the best promotion of a self-published writer’s book. As with any product or service, if a book’s reviews are independent and overall positive, there’s a chance potential buyers’ eyes will be caught.

Traditional publishers have long supplied copies of books to periodicals for reviews. However, periodicals generally don’t review self-published books. So what can self-pubs do to get reviews?

Write a Good Book. It always seems to come back to this. If readers like a book, some will be encouraged to rate and review it. This in turn builds an average rating and collection of reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads which other readers use in their purchase decisions.

Ask for Objective Reviews. There’s nothing wrong with a self-pub asking readers to review his book. So, in situations where the writer is selling or giving away copies of his book in person, he should add that any review would be appreciated. Some self-pub writers also include a review request at the back of their books. Because reviews can be so helpful, writers may be tempted to ask people he knows to read and review the book. It’s essential that the writer be clear that he expects objective reviews.

As long as they are unbiased, people whom a writer could ask to review his book include friends and acquaintances, beta readers, blurb writers and Amazon’s Top Reviewers/Hall of Fame Reviewers. Also, there are many bloggers who review copies of books given to them, but my experience is that it’s very difficult for a writer to have his book selected.

Reduce the Book Price. A writer can reduce the price of his book to encourage sales and hopefully reviews. Kindle Select allows books to be given away or sold at a discount if certain conditions are met.

A vast array of services has developed around publicizing the giveaways and discounts. Given the large number of self-pub books, services charging money should be viewed with scepticism. One service I’ve heard positive anecdotes about is Bookbub. It charges writers to promote price reductions of well-reviewed books to a database of email subscribers. The charges are significant and vary according to genre, so writers must assess whether they’ll be justified by increased sales.

Purchase a Review. Various organizations provide professional reviews for a fee. I’ve blogged about Kirkus Reviews here and other services here (and there are still more).

As long as the reviews are objective, I don’t see any issue with purchasing these services. But as with buying any promotional service, the question is what value the writer gets. I found validation in reviews I purchased for The Case for Killing (here) and False Guilt (here and here), which for me was important. However, my reviews compete with thousands of others and I’m unclear whether they had a material impact on sales of my books.

Lastly, believe it or not, there are “services” that will guarantee five-star reviews. Avoid.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Other Free Tools

Blog 87 ImageIn my last posts under How to Self-Publish, I focused on promotion through family and friends, a website and blogging, social media and appearances like library presentations. These are all ways a writer can publicize his name and books for free.

This post is a catchall for additional promotional techniques that only cost the writer time. In the weeks to come, I’ll complete my thoughts on promotion by discussing reviews, techniques that cost money and the need for an overall strategy.

Email. In a world of social media and texting, email feels old school. Even so, many people advocate that writers continue to use email to stay in touch with current and potential readers. Usually, the advice is to distribute newsletters by email. Jane Friedman has an excellent blog on this type of promotion.

Email is seen as a more direct, intimate and stable form of communication than social media. Since addressees are already inundated with email, writers need to develop and maintain their lists in a manner that respects the privacy of addressees. They should use proper subscription services with clear opt-in and opt-out rights reflecting current laws.

Newsletters. The content of newsletters often relates to the writer or his books since people who’ve given their email address are assumed to be interested in this. However, newsletter content can extend to matters of broader interest or opinion and could overlap with a writer’s blog.

To date, I’ve only used email to promote releases of my books and I don’t have a newsletter. I need to figure out how to write blog posts more quickly…

Book-Based Social Networks. Beyond the giant, general purpose social networks like Facebook, there are several sites that focus on reading. Among them are Goodreads (an Amazon company), booktalk and Shelfari (another Amazon company).

These networks are mainly for readers to share about what they’ve read. Writers may be able to supplement that content with information about themselves but the networks aren’t environments for hard pitches. Better for a writer to share about what he’s reading.

Author Profile Pages. Online platforms that a self-pub writer uses to sell books may permit him to create a page with a picture, bio, reviews and other personal content. Examples are Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Book-based social networks like Goodreads offer writers similar opportunities to create profiles.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Self-Care

Blog 86 ImageWhen I made a serious commitment to writing about three years ago, I had good energy for creating but was very inefficient. A page a day was an accomplishment. Now my energy can be hit-and-miss but I get more done. I consider a thousand words my minimum daily output.

The moderation in energy hasn’t surprised me. I think it often comes with any long-term pursuit or job. However, it’s important to do what I can to keep the words coming and part of that is proper self-care.

Here’s some of the self-care that I find helps writing.

Write Most Days at the Same Time. This isn’t an original thought and I’ve blogged about it before. In the context of self-care, though, committing to creating at the same time on most days means I know I’ll accumulate a bunch of hours in the writer’s chair. This removes the stress of worrying whether I’m really honoring my commitment to writing.

Then Give the Writing a Rest. When I get up from the writer’s chair, I have to resist the temptation to brood the rest of the day over a writing problem. More often than not, the subconscious as well as the passage of time do the work. In a sense, I have to let the story come to me.

And Give Myself Good Rest. Proper sleep for self-care isn’t just about maintaining energy. It also gives the subconscious time to do its creative work. Many of my best ideas come in the first half hour of a day before things get too busy. Exercise and good meals also give energy and spark creativity.

Get Myself Out. Another temptation I have to resist is living in my head. There’s not a lot of extra energy there. By reconnecting me with the world, a walk in the park, a sunset or a visit to a coffee shop offers much more.

Get Myself Interacting. Good exchanges with caring people are another way to get me out of my head. With a few friends, I’ll talk about my writing. Mostly, though, I’m interested in the charge I get from new ideas.

Those self-care strategies should keep me writing a while longer. Perhaps you as well.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Appearances

Blog 85 ImageIn traditional publishing, events where writers meet readers have long been a staple of book promotion. As part of their promotional strategy, self-published writers can do some of the same.

The usual events are book launches and signings as well as library and book club readings. These are wonderful opportunities for writers to connect with readers, spark some sales and support word-of-mouth endorsement. Self-pub writers, though, will bear all the costs of these events themselves. So which should they focus on?

Here are my thoughts.

Be Careful with Book Launches. From the anecdotes I’ve read, even in the traditional publishing world, book launch events are on the decline. The costs for publishers add up and may not be recouped from additional sales. Social media can be more effective because it’s cheaper and the marketing message lasts longer.

Most attendees at the average self-pub’s launch will be family and friends who’ll probably buy the writer’s book anyways. While the launch is a way for the writer to celebrate an accomplishment, it will eat up the marketing budget without adding much word-of-mouth support.

Be Creative Around Signings. While the best-known writers will enjoy long lines of fans waiting to have their books inscribed, many self-pubs will find book signings as challenging as launches. It may be hard to find bookstores willing to host the events and the writers will have to be thick-skinned and reach out for interest.

One way to be creative around signings is to choose venues other than bookstores. Examples are fairs as well as art and craft shows. Crowds there might be more exploratory and relatively easy to engage. Writers must weigh the cost of a booth against projected sales.

Grab Library and Book Club Readings. It’s great when a writer knows that people she’ll meet like to read and that’s what library patrons and book club members offer. Self-pub writers should jump at opportunities to do library and book club readings and leave plenty of time after to chat with attendees.

However, the value of these opportunities is no secret, and writers and publishers pester libraries and book clubs for readings. Self-pubs are likely to find more opportunities with libraries outside of major metropolitan areas and with clubs in which acquaintances are members.

Offer Content Other than Book Excerpts. For library presentations, I get greater interest in a one-hour talk about how to self-publish than in readings from my books. I still get sales but make more connections because I’m offering free content that is (hopefully) entertaining and useful.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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5 Ways Music Can Help Writers

Blog 84 ImageThis week, I listened to a CBC interview of Ian Rankin in which he discusses the large influence music has had on him. The same is true for me. I especially remember punk and new wave emerging in my late 70s undergrad days. I was in an all-male residence and there was a big debate over how that music measured up to traditional rock. We did agree to disparage disco…until we figured out girls didn’t show up at our parties without it.

Here’s how music can help writers.

Inspiration. Music can inspire a writer to sit down and start writing. The melody or rhythm might energize him. The lyrics might spawn a storyline. The emotion might conjure a scene. (Or he might just be inspired to listen to the next song. No one said it was easy.)

A background for writing…maybe. I need quiet to write. Otherwise I can’t hear the characters speak or feel the rhythm of sentences. Lots of writers do have music on when they write. In the interview, Rankin talks about using electronic music as he writes to separate his real and fictional worlds. Each to his own here.

Characterization. When a writer shares a character’s musical interests, he helps readers learn how the character emotes. In a difficult situation or looking for comfort, does the character long for Dylan’s penetrating lyrics, Miles Davis’s aching trumpet or Amy Winehouse’s sorrowful vocals? In effect, music is a shorthand way for readers to feel more involved, positively or negatively, with characters.

So, at least for main characters, a writer may want to ask himself what music they like. And rather than just saying that a character likes jazz or Top 40, the writer can pick an artist or sub-genre, give the music a listen and figure out what draws the character. Whether or not that detail finds its way into the book, the writer will know his character better.

Setting. In describing setting, writers usually focus on the visual. But telling readers what can be heard offers a lot, too. A Top 40 song places the period of a scene. Music defines a club or bar. A background song increases the sense of a character brooding over a difficult problem.

For Social Exploration. Of course, many writers use their stories to explore social conditions. The musical context can be highly relevant. A great example is Esi Edugyan‘s Half-Blood Blues, which uses jazz in 1940s Europe as a backdrop.

Time for me to go listen to some Deep Purple.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Social Media

Blog 83 ImageIn my blog series “How to Self-Publish”, I’ve been posting about how writers can promote their books and themselves. Needless to say, these days everyone thinks about social media as a way to promote.

I’ve been careful in my use of social media. I continue to think that a writer’s best promotional tools are creating a good book and word of mouth. However, social media used intelligently and efficiently is an important support.

Here are my thoughts on approaches that work and that don’t.

Social Media Approaches That Work

  1. Pick a Few Platforms. There are many social media platforms writers can use: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Snapchat and others. A writer working alone won’t have the time for a meaningful presence on all platforms. Instead, to share effectively, he should focus on learning and contributing to one or two platforms.
  2. Look to Build Relationships. At its core, a writer’s promotion is effective when it results in readers talking about the writer or his books. People are more likely to do that if they feel connected to the writer in some way. A writer should approach social media as a way to offer that connection in an online relationship.
  3. Share in a Way that Builds Those Relationships. Content that helps or interests others will build connections. Authentic personal sharing that’s not overdone may as well. Sharing about writing is good but many topics will work.
  4. Have Fun and Be Creative. Maintaining a social media presence for the long term can be daunting. Writers who choose platforms and content that interest and inspire them will find it easier.
  5. Analyse the Results. Most social media platforms as well as Google offer analytics so that a writer can see which of his shares are effective. That information, in turn, allows him to be more efficient in contributing.

Social Media Approaches That Don’t Work

  1. There’s No Time Left for Writing. Again, the starting point for a writer is a good book. Any promotional method, including using social media, must leave time for the writing.
  2. Sales Pitches. A writer who only uses social media to tell people to buy his book will lose, not build, relationships.
  3. Making It All About the Writer. Except perhaps for the most successful writers, content that looks outward instead of inward will interest social media contacts more.
  4. Making It All About the Numbers. More friends on FB and followers on Twitter is not the best social media goal. The numbers can be bloated by folks trying to flog services or with only a passing interest in the writer. A smaller number of good connections is better.
  5. Forgetting About the Visual. Much of social media is a visual experience while the writer’s bedrock is of course words. Writers who don’t use images or videos in social media will be excluded from some platforms (Instagram) or have poorer take-up on others (FB). Even on Twitter, photos increase impressions.

Overall, it’s best to experiment and keep learning, a few minutes each day.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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