What am I doing?

March 11th 2016

What am I doing lately?

Answer: writing. And planning.

Or trying to. Since I won Kindle Scout, I’ve hustled to finish a really crappy first draft of a new cozy mystery series with a curmudgeony protagonist based on my dad. I started working on a New Adult mystery serial set in the 90s. Sort of a Veronica Mars meets My So-Called Life. I’m 10K words into that project and loving it. It’s very freeing to write short episodes. If I’m smart, I’ll write the whole serial in one go and then release it every two weeks. Smart, being the key word.

Since I went on a writing retreat — an overnight at The Inn at Pocono Manor — and wrote 11K words in 30 hours, I have been making a habit to draft every day. I’m averaging 1500 words a day, but I’ll have to increase that output if I’m to compete in Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I’m writing Book 2 in the Cayo Hueso Mystery series. If Amazon puts Dead and Breakfast on a promo in the summer, I’d like to have it drive sales to the self-published sequel.

I am quite ambitious this year. I’d like to show my husband that I can turn a profit on my books. At least a small one. He’s very supportive, but money talks. Let’s hope it’s an exceptionally chatty year.

Total aside: If you’re a mystery lover, you must watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on Netflix. It’s crazy good. I wrote a blog post about my devotion to the show on the Mysteristas blog. You can read it here. I’m reading the books (by Kerry Greenwood) now and they’re sooooo good. The books are different from the show, so by all means, watch and read both. It won’t feel redundant.

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Dead and Breakfast and Kindle Scout

January 23rd 2016

Good news — Dead and Breakfast was selected by Kindle Scout and will be published by Kindle Press! In early December, I decided to hold off publishing the book, and instead submitted it to Kindle Scout. Kindle Scout is Amazon’s crowd-sourcing publishing arm. Authors submit publish-ready  manuscripts with cover art to the site. The book is listed for 30 days, and during that time authors are to campaign for nominations, thus earning them spots on the Hot and Trending list.

I blogged about the experience here and here. But long story short, I get a $1500 advance and Amazon springs for another round of editing. I make no money on my books, so $1500 is a big deal. It will pay for the cover art and editing for the entire trilogy.

After waiting 12 days, I was notified last Wednesday. And by notified, I saw my book cover on the website. I got the email a little while after. I’m very excited and I hope D&B is published late March or early April. That’s much later than I ever intended, but better to have a great book than a quick one. Stay tuned.

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8 Tips for Writing a Tenacious Teen Sleuth

December 9th 2015

Hey guys! I wrote this blog post for Writers Digest in September and I’m republishing it here (with permission). I think it’s one of the most useful posts I’ve ever written and I wanted to share it on my own blog.

Many years ago, I binge-watched Veronica Mars and I’ve been smitten ever since. I mean, who doesn’t love a smart teen sleuth who oozes chutzpah and an unwavering sense of justice? No one. And when I use the term sleuth here, I’m using it as a stand-in for any teen protagonist who finds herself in the midst of a crime. Sometimes, you have a professional sleuth, like Veronica Mars, who gets paid to investigate and other times, you have an accidental sleuth (this is my favorite) who involves herself in the mystery because the crime directly affects her or someone she loves. Either way, if you’re going to write a YA mystery, you’ll need a smart protagonist who can sniff out a killer. Here are my tips for creating a tenacious teen sleuth.

(I use female pronouns for simplicity, but teen sleuths can and do come in all genders.)


  1. Connect her to the crime

In a good YA mystery, the victim should be someone with a strong connection to your teen sleuth. If the teen sleuth has no vested interest in the crime other than superficial curiosity, then you need to rethink the mystery. The victim has to be important to the teen so that solving the murder provides justice for the victim and the accused, who might be a family member, friend, or romantic interest.

  1. Make her subversive

Unlike adults, your teen sleuth does not come from a position of power and this can work to her advantage. Whereas detectives and private investigators can flash their badge or utilize police databases and expensive surveillance equipment to investigate, your teen sleuth must observe without being seen. Instead, she can access her peers who are more apt to share information with her than they are with the police. Adults might have low expectations of your teen sleuth — they might consider her apathetic or unmotivated – thus allowing her to fly under the radar, collecting clues and information otherwise overlooked.

  1. Paint her as flawed, yet driven

Perfect people are boring, so give your teen sleuth flaws. Maybe she’s too cocky. Maybe she’s insecure. Maybe she has a disability that makes investigating extra difficult. But give her something she needs to overcome and then give her drive and an unflinching sense of justice. Your teen sleuth needs a character arc — and nothing is more compelling than watching a character overcome an inherent flaw.

  1. Burden her with personal conflict

Give your teen sleuth personal conflict in the form of subplots. Perhaps she’s struggling with friendships, academics, romance, or parents. Perhaps it’s all of these. Give her something to take the focus away from the investigation. This will divide her attention, thus allowing her to make mistakes, and will heighten suspense and conflict throughout the main storyline. Also, subplots prevent readers from getting bored of the investigation itself and divert the readers’ attention from solving the mystery too easily.


  1. Allow her to break the rules

The great thing about being a teenager is the ability to bend or break the rules. If your teen sleuth enters a suspect’s home without a warrant, that transgression can more easily be forgiven than if a police officer does the same thing. Again, because your teen sleuth doesn’t initially have a lot of power, this is one way she can be subversive.

  1. Let her make mistakes

With age comes wisdom, but your teen sleuth has neither – and for story purposes, that’s okay. She’s more likely to misjudge character behavior. She might mistrust the right people and trust the wrong ones. Use this. If your teen sleuth messes up, she’ll have to learn from those mistakes and that will enrich her character arc.

  1. Litter her walkway with stumbling blocks

A good mystery shouldn’t be easy to solve for either the teen sleuth or the reader. Make sure each scene provides a clue to move the mystery forward but set the teen sleuth back. Red herrings, or false clues, are a smart tactic to use here as well. Perhaps your sleuth breaks into a suspect’s room and finds a cryptic letter, but then she gets caught. Or your teen speaks to a witness the police haven’t questioned only to find out that witness is lying, or later ends up dead. By allowing her to stumble, you set the pacing for a page-turner.

  1. Give her allies

Give your teen sleuth friends with connections. Allow her to trust certain people so that she can get help when she needs it. A friend whose parent is a cop will come in handy when your sleuth needs information she can only garner from a police report. Also, by providing your sleuth with allies, you’re not only giving readers a cast of characters to love, you’re making your teen sleuth likeable.


Do you have any tips for writing a smart teen sleuth? Please share in the comments.


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Running a collective giveaway

October 31st 2015

I wrote this post for Across the Board, a group blog, and I’m posting it here with permission from Stephen Kozeniewski, the admin.

What up, guys! Are you in for an informative treat today. This post is all about running a collective giveaway. But before I begin, I must thank my author BFF, Kate Moretti, for her wisdom in all things marketing. She is Mr. Miyagi to my Danielson. Anyhoo, moving on…

I’m currently running a YA collective giveaway that ends today and I want to talk about how to set up a collective giveaway and why you should bother doing it — cuz’ you really should.

What is a collective giveaway? 

It’s when a group of authors donate prizes and promote the giveaway to their respective readerships. Giveaways can last anywhere from days to weeks — although a shorter time period is best (I’ll explain why in a bit), have 8-10 authors participating, and award one mega prize for one winner.

Why participate in a collective giveaway? 

Two words: visibility and access. I’ve tried to run one-author giveaways on my website and I’ve gotten zero traction. And that’s after I contacted my Facebook friends and subscriber list. Last month, I gave away five hot YA books (by big name YA authors — not me) and I had only 12 entrants.

If you want to be seen, you need a large group of people willing to participate and share the giveaway. One author screaming into the void isn’t going to cut it.

How do you set up a collective giveaway?

Someone needs to volunteer to organize and host the giveaway. This is work, but the organizer reaps the benefits.

1. Set up the parameters. If you’re running the show, you need to figure out some details. Is the giveaway global? In which case, are your participants willing to ship books overseas? If not, can everyone contribute an ebook? If you’re doing ebooks, can multiple ebook formats be offered? If you’re going to limit your giveaway to the U.S. to keep shipping costs down, signed paperbacks and swag can increase interest. But, it also limits entrants to being U.S. residents — so there’s that. How long will you run the giveaway for? A month is too long. A few days too short. The biggest spike of entries come in on the first few days and the last. I’d say no shorter than a week, no longer than two weeks.

2. Pick a theme. If you’re running your giveaway in October (as I am), then it makes sense to do spooky reads for Halloween. This would be be great for speculative fiction or horror writers. Romance writers would do better around Valentine’s Day. Cozy mystery writers might do well during Christmas. It doesn’t mean you have to wait until a holiday to roll out a giveaway, but using a theme will make your giveaway cohesive. Last year, I organized a YA giveaway for the ‘Back to School’ season. A SciFi giveaway would be cool to coincide with the new Star Wars movie release. The possibilities are endless.

3. Gather thee author buddies. Put out a call to your author friends. You want around 8-10 authors. Too few and the prize isn’t big enough to draw interest. Too many and it becomes unwieldy. In my opinion, 8-10 is a good number. There are plenty of larger giveaways (YA Scavenger Hunt comes to mind), but I could not imagine the organizational undertaking. Ask your author friends for their cover art, website, and what they’ll be donating to the giveaway. Ebook only. Signed paperbacks. Swag. Boxed set. In the current giveaway, I have two generous authors offering up boxed sets.

4. Set up a prize widget like Rafflecopter or Gleam. Gleam is awesome and I’m currently using it for the Halloween giveaway. I think it offers more than Rafflecopter and allows entrants to use their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter accounts to enter. Everyone can gain one entry with just an email. Nice and easy. But you can gain more entries by tweeting the giveaway, viral sharing, liking a photo on Instagram, or pinning a photo on Pinterest. It’s not about following social media accounts. It’s more about sharing your book covers and having readers interact with the giveaway and spreading the news. Check it out! We have over 1350 entries!!!

I asked the authors what they hoped to get out of the giveaway and everyone said newsletter subscribers. Of course. We indie authors need to expand our lists, BUT…here’s the rub. One, the free versions of Rafflecopter and Gleam do not offer adding newsletter subscribers as an option and two, asking contest entrants to sign up for 9 newsletters as a way to gain entries is tedious. And a turn-off. The goal here is visibility. Readers need to know who we are and they need to see our book covers. That’s not going to happen if people are bogged down by the contest itself.

5. Get graphic! Go to Canva and make something pretty with all the book covers. You need this graphic for several reasons. First, you put it on your website above the Rafflecopter or Gleam widget. This shows readers exactly what they’ll win (all these jazzy books). Second, you’ll be using this graphic to advertise the giveaway — for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your newsletter. And third, you’ll need this graphic for the Gleam widget where readers can gain entries by pinning the graphic or liking it on Instagram. Below is the one I made. See? Nothing fancy. You can do it.

6. Build the giveaway on your website. I made a separate page on my website for giveaways and all traffic is being directed there. Include the graphic, contest widget, links to all the authors’ websites, and any other pertinent information.

7. Advertise the giveaway. On opening day, every author should be promoting this via their subscriber list, Twitter, Facebook page, etc. I checked my website stats and saw referrals coming from the authors’ newsletters and Twitter accounts.

8. Let the contest run. Eight days into our Halloween giveaway, we have over 1200 entries. I could continue to promote it, but things seem to be moving nicely on their own. I’ll do one big push on the last day or two.

9. Let the contest widget pick a winner. Pretty self-explanatory. Email the winner to let them know they won this awesome contest. I don’t think it’s uncalled for to also ask the winner to review the books they read. Maybe, if the winner is willing, interview the winner for a blog post.

What kind of results can one expect?

Well, your miles may vary on this, but here are the results I’m seeing.

  • A huge uptick in web traffic. One the first day of the giveaway launch, I had 251 views on my website. (That’s unheard of for me. My website normally gets no more than 10 views a day.) It dropped off the next day, netting me 84 views. Then on the 6th day, I had 163 views. Not sure why. Perhaps, newsletters went out (mine did the day before). This means new eyeballs on my books page, blog, and writers resource page (which I spent a long time cultivating).

  • An uptick in newsletter subscribers. With that new web traffic comes an influx of readers voluntarily signing up for my newsletter so make sure your newsletter sign-up is visible on your website. One week into the giveaway, I had 27 new subscribers. I only started with 70. Because of this, it is only fair that authors take turns hosting and organizing the giveaway. I did ask the other authors if they had seen an uptick in newsletter subscribers and one author replied that she had gotten a couple of new subscribers and some sales on a short story she hadn’t advertised. Another author said her blog post about the giveaway got “great reader interaction.” So even if you’re not the organizer, you will gain reader attention by participating.
  • A slight uptick in Instagram followers. Since liking the graphic on Instagram was a way to gain entries, it’s no wonder a few readers decided to follow my feed as well (although it certainly was not a requirement on the widget). Honestly, I’m terrible at marketing my authorness via IG. It’s mostly photos of my kids.

So that’s it, folks. Phew! I’m done.

What say you, dear readers and writers? Do you like collective giveaways? Do you have any tips or tricks that I’ve neglected to mention? Please sound off in the comments.

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September 30th 2015

I have excellent news! Grunge Gods and Graveyards is a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best YA! Yeehaw! The award is given out at the Killer Nashville mystery conference on Halloween (such a fitting time of year for GG&G).

Dude, no one is more shocked than I am. There were 35 YA books for consideration and my little ol’ novel is one of 5 finalists. I am crazy stoked and flabbergasted. Also, I made a large, braggy graphic for the occasion.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend Killer Nashville because I’m leaving for my first vacay — in 4 years — only days later. One day, though, I plan on going to all the conferences. Be prepared, writers.

Looky here!

Looky here!

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