The Savvy Author


The Immense Popularity of the Cozy Mysteries

02/04/2016 11:57 am ET

What's a mystery book-wise? Well... "If it's got a dead body in it, it's a mystery!" Sounds about right. That's the statement Butch Cassiday, author of Mayhem in the Mainstream: A Study in Bloodlines, received when he asked a neighborhood librarian how she would describe a mystery.

Call them thrillers, crime or detective fiction; all of these and the slang term, whodunits, have been used to describe the mystery or crime story. Readers, it seems, love a good mystery. According to book sales reported by Simba Information, the top two most popular book genres generating big money are Romance/Erotica closely followed by Crime/Mystery. Sex may sell but so apparently do crime and mystery. The 'criminal element' pulls in upwards of $730 million a year in book sales.

Like all genres in literature there is the sub-genre; under romance/erotica there's the lighter version, mostly romance with a sprinkling of sex. In the crime and mystery category there's also a sub-genre that downplays sex and violence; they're called "Cozy Mysteries." The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The Golden Age was the time when a novel, Mademoiselle de Scudéri was penned by E.T.A Hoffmann in 1819, introducing an elderly well-known poet during the reign of King Louis XIV of France, who helps the police in their search for the murderer of a jeweler. She ultimately proves that the main suspect they are holding is innocent... She obviously was a better sleuth!

Cozies are fun to read. There's a formula to the cozies that work very well drawing readers back again and again. The amateurs in such stories are nearly always well educated, intuitive women. Books, especially in series form usually have the story line relate to the detective's job or hobby. Murderers in cozy mysteries are generally intelligent, rational, articulate people, and murders are pretty much bloodless and neat. Violence and sex are low-key and supporting background characters bring comic relief to the story. Some cozy series are set during holidays such as Valentine Day or Christmas making them more intimate to the reader.

The Detection Club, founded in 1930 and including such members as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, created the Rules of Fair Play for those writing this type of mystery. Writers belonging to this club had to create proper mystery stories following those rules and also had to swear an oath written by Ms. Sayers herself.

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

Love the part about 'mumbo-jumbo, jiggery-pokery!'

Today, authors no longer have to follow 'rules' and now set their own formula for success with their sleuthing women and men, including professional detectives and private investigators. Today's cozy mysteries are popular because readers feel connected to the characters who seem like someone they would want to have as a friend. The situations are never overly done and all is usually neatly tied up by book's end.

The popularity of mystery shows no sign of retiring. The books remain as popular as ever especially since today's mystery writers are more diverse than ever before. While Victorian cozies are highly popular and read by scores of readers, the modern sleuth with her hand on the computer and a cell phone in her pocket are just as popular and gaining more so every day. The strong woman who can kick-box a criminal into submission is becoming a role model. Murder mysteries are a genre which will never fade. In all its forms mysteries will definitely continue to capture readers' imagination,now and long into the future.

Happy writing!

Read the adventures of Kristen Houghton's own popular sleuth in the A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series available at all book venues

Copyright 2016 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved


Fiction vs Non-Fiction: Which Do You Prefer?

New year, time to review what you're going to be writing in the coming months. Maybe like me you have a project or two already in the works from the previous year and you're working hard to reach a book launch deadline. Or maybe you're mulling over new ideas and deciding if you want to try a new genre. If you're a fiction writer you may have an idea in the back of your mind to do a non-fiction book about a specific time or event in history. Maybe you'd like to write about an interesting period in your own family history. Non-fiction writers may want to begin to write that long-delayed fictional novel whose characters and settings have been rolling around in the back of their heads.

You're a writer and anything is possible.

So what exactly is the difference between fiction and non-fiction? Simply put fiction is not true and non-fiction is true. Non-fiction involves real things, real people, real events and real places. True facts are needed for a non-fiction book. Fiction is a creation of imaginary things, imaginary people, imaginary events, and imaginary places. Imagination creates fiction. But whatever your preferred genre may be, the fact is that both fiction and non-fiction use the writer's creativity.

Can you be both a fiction and non-fiction writer? Absolutely; some of the best authors got their start writing journalism and memoirs. Margaret Mitchell, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and reporter-turned-novelist Willa Cather.

On the practical side, and if you're a true author, you have to think of the practical side of writing which is book sales, which genre is easier to sell? While there is still a healthy market for fiction, a demand for the attention of publishers and booksellers has moved elsewhere. Publishers are in agreement that it is getting harder to sell a new novel, even by a known author. Book buyers seem more and more interested in non-fiction. Finding a publishing house for your non-fiction is far easier than for your fiction.

It makes sense especially since there is a section of writing, known as literary non-fiction or creative non-fiction, that employs the literary techniques usually associated with fiction or poetry. Under this non-fiction umbrella falls the subjects of travel writing, nature writing, autobiography, interviews, memoir, and autobiography or personal essay.

Books about self-help, cooking, making life changes, dieting, and job strategies sell well, really well. More people read short, non-fiction stories than short, fiction stories. My first book And Then I'll Be Happy! is a collection of true stories about why women find happiness so elusive. My literary agent was able to sell the idea to a publisher in a relatively short period of time. It is still selling well today even though it was published seven years ago. My true love is writing fiction but that non-fiction book got me noticed and, since my writing style was established, it made it easier to have the first book in my Cate Harlow Private Investigation series picked up by a new publisher.

A positive of non-fiction writing is that you have to love facts, order of events, and research to write a good non-fiction article or book. Since non-fiction writers usually start out writing for on-lines, print magazines, and newspapers, there is a formula that has to be followed. Having to make deadlines, do research, and guarantee truthful facts create a great writing discipline. I still write for magazines and that discipline has carried over to how I write my novels.

But fiction, despite the latest trend in the publishing industry to acquire more non-fiction works, is far from gone. It may be hiding a bit but it is still alive and kicking. Once they are established with a solid fiction book, authors find that readers of fiction are more prone to become regular readers of their favorite author. Twain wrote wonderful articles on his travels but what we mainly remember him for are his fiction such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

And if I may quote this master humorist and prolific writer of both genres, he had a very good comment to make about writing fiction and non-fiction: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

A good thing to remember is that as a writer you should take advantage of various areas of writing. If you write mostly fiction, you might try writing a non-fiction article for the numerous online magazines available. Switching from one area of writing to another stimulates creativity. The same is true for the non-fiction writer; try writing a short story and learn the differences and possible similarities between the two writing genres.

Remember that writing what you love is the real key. Your best work shows through in that form. That doesn't mean that you can't try something new every once in awhile. See where the muse takes you and enjoy the journey.

Happy writing!

Copyright 2015 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved


Tips for Becoming a Successful E-Book Author

If the publishing world is changing it is because of the many ways authors are choosing to find and expand their audiences through self-publishing. One of the newest ways to find an audience is by being an ebook-only author. Believe it or not, these authors who write only in the digital form have gotten great results as well as sales.

There is an art to creating ebooks and writing a good readable story is only part of the process.

Ebooks are real books and you need to prepare them for your readers with the same sense of professional attention to detail as you do for your print books.

Basically authors begin writing their ebook the same way as they would a print book; they prepare their manuscript by writing it in a word document and then turn it into a pdf. This makes it easy to upload into any ebook venue. A word to the wise here; when your writing is finished get a professional editor to proof read your ebook. This is an important part of the publishing process. Grammatical errors, proper spacing, and spelling are as important in a digital version of a book as it is in a print one. Spacing is especially crucial for digital books as there are times when the sentences can be "off the line." A solid professional editor knows how to edit to avoid this potential problem.

After your manuscript has been proofed, and well before you upload it, you need to think about presentation. You want to give your book a professional look and that means having an eye-catching cover, a title that will capture readers' imaginations, and a great presentation on the inside. A good online site for design and help with ebook development is Book Resource. They have links to many other legitimate sites which supply valuable information.

As for book covers, there are more choices today than ever before. I have purchased pictures and images from iStock for my both my print and ebook covers; the images work well for both. Some authors I know use Fiverr, a site for ebook design only. Both sites are not expensive. Traditional publishers, my own included, use iStock and other digital images accounts for book covers as well. It cuts production expenses way down. Gone are the days when professional illustrators and photographers were on retainer for publishing houses; publishing is paring expenses in all areas.

That being said, you do have options other than digital images sites. You may want to use a photo or illustration of your own that you think will work for your book cover. This has been successfully done by author D.L. Cocchio who writes YA paranormal novels and by Nancy Jill Thames, author of a successful series of cozy murder mysteries.

If you feel you absolutely can't do the presentation work yourself, consider using legitimate professionals in the field. It's well worth spending a few hundred dollars to get a professional design for your book. Don't hesitate to ask tons of questions from this pro so you can learn to do this work yourself for your future books.

To be successful as an ebook author you simply need to follow a few rules.

Find the genre that works best for you and create your own niche.

Brand yourself through your fiction; successful authors let readers hear their distinctive personality through their words and writing style.

Be professional and get professional help when needed.

Use social media to promote your ebook and include the price of it. Many readers will be interested because it is lower-priced than a print book.

If you plan to make your ebook manuscript into a physical book at a later date, it is certainly do-able. I recommend that you check out the places where you will be uploading your ebook to make sure this is possible. Kindling Publishing uses CreateSpace for a physical edition, Nook ebooks uses Nook Press; both are good and inexpensive for this process. Click on the links these sites provide for a step by step publishing guide. These will help you create both the digital and the printed versions of your book for best results.

If you have any thoughts of publishing an ebook, don't hesitate. The publishing landscape is changing dramatically and self-publishing will only become more common.


The Keys to Publishing Success Are In Your Hands

Getting your book published is no longer a 'wait-and-hope' proposition. There are so many ways to get published today that no author has to go through the process of submitting a proposal (non-fiction) or a full manuscript (fiction) to literary agents and endure the agonizing wait to see if it's accepted by them and then wait some more for the agent to make a deal with a publisher.

Publishing has undergone major changes, not all good. From a business perspective and in practical terms, the process a publisher faces in publishing a book by a new author is extensive and expensive. Publishing houses have staffers to read proposals and manuscripts, teams of editors, cover designers, book layout designers, printers, and distributors; all this is done with no certainty that the book will find its audience. They're hesitant to take a chance.

Every new author poses a risk for a publishing house because there's no sure way to tell which books will sell well, hopefully making the best-seller lists, and which ones will do poorly. It's risky and costly for the publishing house.

But don't get discouraged because, as the title says, the keys to publishing are literally in your own hands. The following are a few ways to get your book published. The first one is something that has started to become a favorite of many new, as well as established, authors; hybrid publishing.

Hybrid publishing has a few possible variations. It's neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing but a comfortable combination of the two. It isn't just for a single book; it can establish your entire career as an author and you may continue to stay with this form of press.

Who uses hybrid publishing? One example is the author whose career started with traditionally published books and has now decided to go with a hybrid publisher for deadline and financial control. When you publish with a traditional press, there is a long waiting period, sometimes more than a year, from finished book to launch date. With hybrid publishing the waiting time for your book to be published is cut dramatically. You're calling the shots as far as deadlines and launch date of the book. Book covers, layout, it's your call and all sales revenue from your book are yours alone.

Hybrid publishing is also becoming increasingly popular with boutique publishing. This is usually a group of authors, some traditionally published, some not, who have joined together to form their own publishing house or press. It makes good sense for them to go with hybrid publishing.

The hybrid publisher, many times associated with a traditional publisher, does all the work of editing, layout, and printing. After expenses are paid for this work, all revenue go to the individual authors. It shouldn't be surprising that many traditionally published authors, including me, like the control an author has with hybrid publishing.

Hybrid publishing has benefits for traditional publishers as well as authors. These houses will actively woo new authors who may have begun to have establish an audience through this form of publishing. It's a lower-risk investment for the publisher and a good deal for a new author.

Then there's the self-published author. Self-publishing is not the dirty hyphenated word it once was in the publishing industry. Once called 'vanity press' self-publishing actually has a rather storied and best-seller history. This is just a short list of best-selling self-published authors but it is impressive: Mark Twain, John Grisham, Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Sandberg, Gertrude Stein, Deepak Chopra, Upton Sinclair, D.H. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, e.e. cummings, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Tom Clancy, EL James and Amanda Hocking. Nice company, right?

Many of these authors kept on self-publishing even after their books hit best-selling status because they were able to maintain control of how their books were marketed and did not have to share royalties with publishers.

As with hybrid publishing you are in charge which isn't a bad thing. It's your business and you are the CEO and CFO of the company. Keep in mind that with hiring an editor, purchasing the cover art or photo, as well as the work done by the hybrid publisher, you may be spending $1800 to $2500 to bring your book to print. However many authors feel that it is worth the initial cost.

The third way to publish is through the digital world. It has been a real boon for authors. Ebooks are big business and many authors are choosing to only create digital versions of their work. Marketing an ebook is easier than marketing a print version. For one thing the ebook is less expensive and therefore more attractive to readers. The benefit to authors choosing to go this route is less cash outlay. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have easy uploads for your books with simple step-by-step directions. Again, you set the price and gain the royalties. The great thing is that once you establish yourself and gain readers, you can do a print version through CreateSpace, IngramSpark, or Nook Publishing for about $400 to $500.

Major upheavals and changes in publishing benefit authors who now have choices other than the traditional press. Whichever route you choose, getting your book out in the reading world is key to your success. You can be an exceptionally good author but unless your work gets read, no one will ever know.

Happy writing!


The Author & Editor Relationship: Professional Sparring Partners 

A friend of mine who is about to join the ranks of published authors emailed me in a panic. His new manuscript was in editing with a small but well-respected press and the edits he was receiving from their top-notch editor were not at all to his liking. "This guy is making changes that completely sabotage my original manuscript! Everything is getting altered. Any suggestions?"

I called him and basically talked him down from the ledge of editing disaster. I told him to seriously consider all edits, not as a form of sabotage, but as possibilities and see if maybe a compromise in the manuscript could be made.

"You're not suggesting that I allow my book to be so edited by this person so that it doesn't even resemble my original work, are you?"

Not at all. I then told him that if he truly wasn't comfortable with the amount of edits or inserts, he should stand his ground and not accept the edits. "It's your book, after all."

Editors and authors have a long relationship in the world of writing. Most experienced editors make small positive changes that enhance the story. You can accept the edits or not but sometimes you can see that the edits don't change the original story at all; they simply help it flow a little more easily. No really good editor will want to drastically change a manuscript that has been accepted by a publisher.

Going over the edits from the first book in my Cate Harlow Private Investigation series I was surprised at a line my editor had inserted for my main male character, Detective Will Benigni, to say. The line came after a somewhat heated exchange between that character and another male character, Giles Barrett. The original scene that I had written had Will make an "obscene gesture" towards Giles after the argument and then walk away. I knew that any readers of the book would know what that meant.

But my editor wanted it to go further and inserted certain words that can accompany that gesture. I balked. I had created the character and that wasn't what I felt would happen in that scene. My character wouldn't say it; he would just walk away. I knew that the gesture was enough. We went back and forth over that one edit for quite a few emails and SKYPE sessions while my editor, a man I knew and respected, tried to convince me to keep the line in. I firmly refused and the line was deleted.

Now I didn't feel smug as in an "I-won-you-lost" scenario; of course not. But I did feel a certain satisfaction that I had been true to my character by holding my ground. My editor went on to make a few very good minor changes which I accepted and our working relationship continued to be a good one. We even jokingly called each other "my favorite sparring partner."

Every editor with whom I have had the pleasure of working has been more than professional and fair. I have the utmost respect for editors. It is their job to see that your book is readable and flows from start to finish. There will always be times, however, when disagreements about characters, lines, and scenes are going to happen. And those disagreements are a good thing. As the author you need to be practical about any possible edits and try to see if certain changes make for a better read. You also need to understand that, as the author, you always have the last word. I have never met an editor who would blatantly disregard an author not accepting their edits, or who would make major changes to a manuscript without author permission.

Publishing houses and presses tend to hire good, solid editors. Trust is at the core of the editor-author relationship. They work with you not against you. If you feel uncomfortable with a particular editor speak up and see how you can both work together. The editor only knows what you say, not how you feel inside.

During the editorial process the editor will offer honest feedback and constructive advice. It is the editor's responsibility to work with the author in a professional manner. She or he respects the author's point of view, the genre, and the style. As far as edits go, don't see the editor as supercritical of your work. Rather see this professional as someone who is working with you to make your book as excellent as it can be in terms of both content and quality.

As for my friend, the new author, after we spoke several times he understood that the editor was not "his enemy" or trying to sabotage his manuscript. Several subtle changes and one major one were accepted and he admitted that the changes really did make a positive difference.

In a good sense you and your editor are co-workers, working to make your book into a top-seller.
Happy writing!

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