Monday, October 17, 2016

 This is the book I used to find my "voice."

I write two series and I’ve produced a couple of standalone books. Switching from one protagonist to another can be a little tricky.

I’m preparing to write another book in The Bogey Man series, having recently finished with a book from the Sandi Webster series. Every character in every book needs to have a distinct “voice.” I found myself in a quandary. Would Pamela, Mrs. Bogey Man, end up sounding like Sandi?

If you write a series starring Jane Doe and a series with Mary Smith, you don’t want the two characters to sound alike and be interchangeable.

I decided to sit down and read some of one of the Bogey Man books to “get into voice,” so to speak. It struck me that because of differences in age, lifestyles and families, of course the voices would be different.

Habits are part of the voice, too. Sandi sighs a lot and occasionally rolls her eyes. On the other hand, Pamela has a habit of rolling her eyes frequently and only occasionally sighing. Sure, they can share habits, but only to an extent.

I, personally, both sigh and roll my eyes, habits I hadn’t realized I had until my husband called it to my attention. However, the characters aren’t based on me, other than having a few annoying traits.

There are some traits they can share because they’re things many women can relate to, such as eating chocolate because it’s comfort food.

As I mentioned, lifestyles can make a big difference between characters. Sandi and Pete have only recently married. Chris (the Bogey Man) and Pamela have been married for a few years and have a young son. Sandi and Pete look out for each other. Chris and Pamela have a son to add to their equation. It makes a difference.

Pamela’s husband is a Humphrey Bogart look-alike. He walks the walk and talks the talk. In other words, he uses old-time slang. Pamela’s character needs to fit in with him, but Sandi is too much in the present. Pamela and Chris own a forties-themed restaurant and dress the part. Sandi is a jeans and comfy shirt woman. Major differences.

In the two standalone stories, there were more differences. I couldn’t let the protagonists take on traits of Sandi or Pamela. They each needed personalities of their own and they needed fresh, new voices. I had to wipe the two series women out of my mind, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If you’re writing books with different protagonists, try reading aloud in the voice of each character. See if they sound alike or not. Better yet, have someone else read a piece from each person. You can make the words sound any way you want them to, but an outsider will read it the way it appears on the page. Does that make sense? I hope so.

So, now you have a few of my thoughts about voices. Any thoughts you’d like to share about keeping them separate and unique?

Until next time, think about the voices you’ve read in the books of prolific authors. Do they manage to keep voices fresh?

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Monday, October 10, 2016

Is a Lemon Always a Lemon?

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, is it a duck? Probably, although I once knew of a roadrunner that quacked like a duck. Maybe it had voice issues?

So is a lemon always a lemon? No.

Many moons ago I was invited to do an author presentation at an RV park. The woman who managed the park said they were full and many of the RVers were readers. She thought it would be a great venue for me. I drove to the RV park, unloaded all of my books and promotional goodies, and set up in the recreation room. Several people arrived and sat at the tables. I thought this was going to be a killer event.

As I started to speak, people began talking to each other. A couple of men even played poker. The funny thing was that I kept receiving odd looks, like “What the heck is she doing?” I had no clue what was going on.

It turned out the manager hadn’t told anyone who I was or what I was doing there. She’d simply told everyone that if they came to the Recreation Room, there would be free ice cream. Talk about feeling foolish! But that’s the life of a writer. You never know what’s  going to happen. In that case, I didn’t sell one single book, no one listened to me, and I didn’t even receive any free ice cream.

Oh, well, it was a good experience. Yes, I said good. You have to learn to take the good with the bad. I once did a book signing at a Senior Center. I figured it was good exposure, although I didn’t expect to sell many books. Uh, with one exception, I sold more at the Senior Center than at any other event I’ve ever done. You just never know what’s going to happen.

Fast forward a few years. I spent an entire day at a book fair in the park. What a great place to sell books, right? Nope. I don’t know if it was the economy or what, but there weren’t all that many people buying books. A few people stopped to tell me they’d enjoyed a radio interview I’d done a few days earlier, but they weren’t buying either.

However, while at the park I was invited to speak to a writers’ group about marketing and promotion, and I was invited to do a presentation for a civic group. I was able to do a lot of networking, and I made a few new friends. The weather was beautiful and although the wind was blowing, it felt good. I got out of my office and enjoyed a park setting. Sales or no sales, it turned out to be a glorious day. I got a little sun, had a tasty hot dog and chatted with some interesting people.

I once did a spot on the morning news in Northern Nevada. The station called me later in the day to tell me how well I did. They also asked me to call the Mayor’s wife who had an offer of a large arts and craft fair she wanted me to attend. I also got another presentation out of the appearance.

So even if you feel frustrated and things don’t go quite the way you planned, don’t lose heart. There’s always the next event, and the one after that. You never know what might come from the experience.

You may sell a ton of books, or you might not sell any. However, any way you look at it, it’s exposure for you and your books, and experience is the best teacher. It gives people the opportunity to get to know you, and if they like what they see, your name will be tossed around like a great big red rubber ball.

The frosting on the author’s cake is meeting new and interesting people.

Have you, as an author or a reader, had any memorable experiences that made you spread the word?

Until next time, remember that Christmas isn’t all that far off and books make great gifts. (Don’t snarl at me because I’ve already mentioned a holiday.)

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Monday, October 3, 2016

Catchy Titles

A little self-promotion: Having a Great Crime – Wish You Were Here, A Sandi Webster Mystery, is available in ebook format, and should be available in paperback today or tomorrow.

1936 – In the small farming community of Battle Ground, Washington, a scream is heard and actress Bonnie Singleton is found dead. With no evidence or suspects, the crime goes down in history as an unsolved murder. The only one who knows the truth is Bonnie Singleton, and her voice has been silenced.

That is, until many years later when Sandi Webster-Goldberg and her husband, Pete, go on a belated honeymoon to a new Bed and Breakfast in the small community.

Plenty of surprises await the couple when the proprietor of the B&B asks for their help. She doesn’t want her business to be known as the local haunted house.

Have Sandi and Pete ever been able to turn down a challenge? The request to find the truth has been made and once again they’re reluctantly on a cold case.

I thought that was a catchy title, but then I have to think that.

Sue Grafton has done the Alphabet series and Janet Evanovich has done the Numbered series. Mary Higgins Clark has done some with song titles. And, like mine, there are some that are sort of a play on words. There are titles of series where all of them have something to do with food, and many of Elizabeth Peters titles have to do with archaeology. So far, J. Michael Orenduff’s titles have to do with a pot thief. Interesting. Carolyn J. Rose’s titles in her series have “substitute” in the titles. Her character is a substitute teacher, so it makes perfect sense.

I have to admit that I’ve picked up many books based on the title. Any mystery that has “chocolate” in the title will get my attention.

I’ve never been able to come up with a hook like that. Maybe someday I’ll think of just the right hook. My husband came up with the title, Old Murders Never Die, which I thought was great and apropos to the story. He also came up with How Now Purple Cow. If I saw that title on someone else’s book, I’d have to wonder what a purple cow might have to do with a mystery. I might walk away shaking my head, but then again, I might pick it up and read the description on the back. Who knows? Sometimes I think it depends on our mood at the time.

Sometimes a title will take hold and it won’t let go. I’ve been known to buy a book, and then months or a few years later buy the same book again, not remembering that I’ve already read it. It was the title, grabbing me again. Another issue is when I find a great title, but when I read the book I find that the title has absolutely nothing to do with the story. In a way, it reminds me of false advertising. Oh, well, that’s my problem. However, if you think about it, a title is a form of advertising. Huh. I’ve never thought about that before.

There have been times when I came up with a title before a story. I know other authors who’ve done the same thing. Having a Great Crime – Wish You Were Here was one of those times. I have a card file where I keep notes about stories and titles. This title was something I jotted down a few years ago. The time finally seemed right to use it.

What are some of your favorite titles and what was it that caught your eye? The word “secret” always catches my eye and, like I said, “chocolate” grabs me.

Until next time, read some good books, no matter what the title is. Just enjoy reading. Let a book take you away from day to day life.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Don’t forget that Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery is also a new addition to the McGraw books. Have I been blatant enough yet?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rah! Rah! Zisboombah!

Today I’m taking on the role of cheerleader. We go through a lot when we write a book, and too often there’s someone on the sidelines going, “Tsk tsk. He/she is making an awful big deal out of nothing.” How many times has someone referred to your writing as your “hobby?” Couldn’t you just throw something? Don’t do it. Prove them wrong.

What you need is someone saying, “Go for it! You can do it!” That would be me.

Is your back hurting from sitting at a computer for so long? Do you have a headache? Have you been unable to take a deep breath and let it out while you wait to see what happens to your book?

Forget it! You’ve done the best you can and it’s time to bask in your accomplishment. If no one, other than family and friends, reads your book, at least you accomplished something that so many don’t. This is huge! You’ve honest-to-goodness written a book, and you’re an author. A real author!

When I finish a book, or even while I’m writing it, I often have thoughts about whether people will want to read it and whether they’ll enjoy it if they do read it. I know I’m not alone in this because authors talk amongst themselves. Surprise! Surprise! Yes, we do talk to each other.

So I’m here to say, quit worrying. Get out and promote your book any way you can. Don’t wait to see what happens. Stay busy.

I take a break between books. I clean house, run long overdue errands, and try to socialize a little. I have to admit that I’ll mention my books to anyone who’ll listen – the checker at the grocery store, the saleslady at the mall, the mailman, and even my doctor and his assistant.

Yesterday a woman sat next to me at a meeting (not book related). By the time we left she was on her way to buy one of my books. It was a casual conversation. I asked her if she enjoyed reading and that started the ball rolling.

Don’t be pushy. Keep it casual. If someone isn’t interested, don’t belabor the point. Move on to the next casual encounter.

I’ve read a number of good books lately and I’m sorry to say I haven’t put up reviews yet. I need to let readers know I’ve read a good book, and the author needs to know he or she was appreciated, too.

I can even be a cheerleader for readers. There are scads of new authors out there just waiting to be discovered. Give a few a try. If you find you’re not enjoying a book, set it aside and move on to another new author. You’ll probably find a few that make you want to read more of their work.

You’ve just written your first book? Or your third? Either one is a major accomplishment.

I don’t know about you, but the word promotion has almost become a dirty word to me. It can give a writer the shivers, although I know others who revel in it. Not all of us have a big budget to work with, so we have to do the best we can on little money. Word-of-mouth, talking to the delivery or repair guy, sucking it up and asking for a little help from our friends – these are ways to get the word out there and they don’t cost a cent.

Offer to help others, but don’t overextend yourself. You can only do so much before it takes its toll. Inviting someone to be a guest on your blog can’t hurt.

I honestly believe that we get back what we give out. In other words, what goes around, comes around. How many more ways can I say that?

So while I’m cheering for you, why don’t you cheer for someone else? Keep it going.
Rah! Rah! Zisboombah! Okay, I’m not dating myself. That’s from before my time. However, feel free to picture me waving pompoms in the air.

“Go for it! You can do it!”

Until next time, I wish both writers and readers the best. Go for it! Write a book. Read a book. And share through word-of-mouth.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
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Coming soon – watch for it: Having a Great Crime – Wish You Were Here – A Sandi Webster Mystery.
Preview of the new book cover