Monday, July 31, 2017

Back Cover Artistry

I'm not expecting you to read this. It's just an example of a back cover. : )

What is it about a book that grabs your attention, other than the story itself? I was talking to a mystery reader (who just happens to be my daughter), and she said when she’s browsing for books she’ll pick up one with a great cover or a catchy title and proceed to the back cover to see what the book’s about. If the back cover description doesn’t grab her then she puts the book back. That sounds like a pretty simple process of elimination – and it is.

Of course, don’t we all do that? Probably not, but that back cover is so important. As a reader, I want to see what the story is about. If the author gives too much detail it can sometimes give the story away. Not enough detail bores me. There’s got to be a happy medium.

The problem is, how do you take a full-length novel and reduce it to a paragraph or two (or three)? You pick out tidbits from the story that will pique the reader’s interest.

An example comes from the back cover of Old Murders Never Die – A Sandi Webster Mystery.

“Sandi Webster, private investigator, and her partner, Pete, become stranded in an old ghost town inhabited by a mysterious cowboy and haunted by some Old West Murders. What better way to spend a well-earned vacation than running down old clues and searching vintage houses that haven’t been entered in over a hundred and twenty years? Bubba, Sandi’s half wolf/half Golden retriever, keeps the action moving in his own quirky way, along with a big black horse and the mysterious cowboy.”

I’m no expert, but I managed to include the main characters, the location of the story, a dog and the fact that there were murders committed in this old town. Oh, and it seems to be clear that the town was abandoned and no one has visited it for many years. Stranded in a ghost town with a mysterious cowboy? A little more to whet the reader’s appetite.


Just like your story, the first sentence will hopefully grab the reader. How about: “What could purple cows and elderly spies possibly have to do with each other?” There’s more to the back cover description than that one sentence, but didn’t it kind of grab you? (I hope.) I mean, purple cows and spies? (From How Now Purple Cow – A Bogey Man Mystery)

Patricia Gligor grabbed my attention with the first two sentences on the back of Mixed Messages – A Malone Mystery. “It is estimated there are at least twenty to thirty active serial killers in the United States at any given time. There’s one on the loose on the west side of Cincinnati…” Many readers are fascinated with serial killers. This would definitely grab their attention.

Two more back cover examples: “A hot air balloon, lost children in the woods, and a collie litter with a supposed curse on it draw Jennet Ferguson into a deadly confrontation.” (Another Part of the Forest by Dorothy Bodoin)

“While illegally digging for Anasazi pots in an ancient cliff dwelling, Hubie Schuze unexpectedly grasps a human hand. He was hoping for an artifact, not a handshake…” (The Pot Thief Who Studied Billy the Kid by J. Michael Orenduff) Humor works, too.

These are all part of back cover blurbs that would make me take a good look at the book. Pick out the most enticing parts of the story, but be careful not to give the story away. You want the readers to be curious. You want them to long for more, to search for answers to the comments on the back of the book, to think, “Yes! I must read this, and I must do it now.” Okay, that’s what we all hope for, and we try to stir up all kinds of feelings in just a paragraph or two.

I looked at the back of a lot of books sitting in my bookcases, and some writers have brought this to an art form. I have to admit, though, that some of the books got my attention just from amazing art on the covers. We’ll talk about that another time.

What are some of your favorite one-liners on the back of books?

Until next time, browse to your heart’s content until you find a book that grabs your hand and won’t let go.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Monday, July 24, 2017

Writer Reading About a Writer's Life

This week I read a book by E.J. Copperman titled Written Off. It’s the first in a new series called “A Mysterious Detective Mystery.” I loved the book. The protagonist is a mystery writer, which wouldn’t be that earthshaking, but she has something out of the ordinary to deal with, and… Okay, I don’t want to give the story away. Let me just say that the premise is fairly unique.

However, in the process of writing this book, Copperman let the fictional author discuss some of her experiences as a writer – and I could relate – which made it a fun read.

For instance, Rachel Goldman (the fictional writer) does a book launch at her friendly bookstore. You never know how many people will show up at a book signing or a book launch, or how it’ll end up. You might twiddle your thumbs all day or you might run out of ink while signing books.
I recall once when I did a book signing at an RV park. Several people showed up, and when I began to give my presentation, they looked at me like I was nuts. As it turned out, the woman who set it up invited everyone to the recreation room for free ice cream. She forgot to mention there’d be an author doing a presentation. Oh, well, that’s the life of a writer.

Another time I was set to do a presentation at a library in a town that consisted of mostly Asians. I had to wonder when, on my way to the library, I saw that most of the advertising signs were in Asian script, but I shook my head and forgot about it. Only one person showed up – a young Chinese man who attended a local college. I gave my presentation to him and the librarian. His only question at the end? Would I please explain what humor is? Interesting day.

What about a bookstore owner “hand selling” your books? I’ve had a couple of people do that, and I can’t tell you how thankful I was. Imagine someone liking your books enough to recommend them to readers. Amazing!

The fictional mystery writer also talks about revisions and how they made her feel. Need I say more? Sometimes the revisions are more difficult than writing the book.

As I said, I don’t want to give the story away, so I’ll switch to a few things I’ve been through and things other writers have talked about.
How about when a fan tells you they looooved your book, but it turns out you’re not the person they thought you were. They actually looooved someone else’s book. Uh…

What do authors do in their “down time?” Yes, there are occasional moments of free time, although it’s not often. My down time is spent cleaning the house I’ve let go for too long. I’ve got to think of something more entertaining.

The age old question: What if, as a mystery writer, you were asked to help solve a real life crime? We’ve seen it done over and over again on “Murder She Wrote” and enjoyed watching the way her thought processes worked, and it happened in “Written Off.” (I’m still not giving away the unique part of this storyline.) What would you do if this actually came to pass?

Research is another issue for many of us. It can be time-consuming, especially if the research turns out to be interesting. There are rare occasions when the research may cause you to head in a new direction instead of what you’d planned on writing.

What if someone said they didn’t like the way you ended your story, and went on to tell you how it should have ended? Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me – yet.

Anyway, as I read this book there were parts where I found myself thinking, Yes. That’s just how I feel. It was refreshing to read about another mystery writer’s thoughts, even though the story was one of fiction. Or was it? Maybe the author’s writing experiences and thoughts were real. Ya think?

Until next time, I hope the things you experience this week are all positive, and if they’re not, I hope you can find a funny side to them.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Definitely to be updated this week)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Do you think you understand billionaires, the Internet and bad guys? Give Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery a try. Find out if she understands these things.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Good News and Not So Good News

This weekend I decided it was finally time to update my website. After all, I have a new book out and I needed to add it to the site. As long as I was there, I thought I might as well update everything.

First I’ll tell you a little about the book, another Sandi Webster Mystery.
“Sandi Webster-Goldberg and her husband, Pete, are definitely out of their comfort zone when they become involved in kidnapping, Internet hacking, cybersecurity, and domestic terrorism.

Sandi’s cantankerous Aunt Martha arrives for a visit at the most inopportune time and discovers that the kidnapping victim is someone from her past; a former student and friend.

Who’s behind what could end up becoming the crime of the century, and can Sandi, Pete and Aunt Martha rescue Andrew Trapper, billionaire, before it’s too late?”

This story was both fun to write, and informative for me. I learned a lot about the world of the Internet, although I didn’t include enough information to bore the reader. After all, this is a mystery, not an over the top learning experience.

When you have a new book, you want to promote it. One thing I did a long time ago was build a short video that shows each book cover in the two series I write. I had to update it and add Entrance to Nowhere - A Sandi Webster Mystery. Therein lies the problem.

I discovered, quite by accident, that an extra frame had been added to the video containing photographs. The frame supposedly indicates places I’ve visited and the viewer can click on the photos to see more videos (not mine). I’ve never visited sites where most of the photographs came from, and one of the photos included a very scantily clad woman. There was another photo of a dog biting someone’s hand. Since my two series include dogs, this is not a good thing. Need I mention that I was upset about this added frame? Oh, I also learned that different people get a different last frame. Go figure.

I called the company I used to build my website. With their newest program, you can’t download your video from your computer. You have to upload it to a specific Internet site and then download it from there. Notice how polite I am about not mentioning company names? Anyway, the video site is the one who adds that last frame, not the website people. I tactfully suggested that the website builder program needs to add an alternative to downloading from another site.

So, when I finish the work on my website, I’ll take down the video altogether.

Writing a book is only part of the process. When you start promoting and marketing, often there are surprises waiting for you. That video of book covers has been up for at least a year, and I’d never played it through on my website, only on my computer. Of course, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual. Surprise!

Last, but not least, I'm happy to say that Marja’s Mystery Blog won a spot on the list of the Feedspot Top Fifty Mystery Blogs ( on the web (#29). You may have seen the Badge at the beginning of this week’s post.

I started with good news, moved on to a mini rant, and ended up with a compliment. That’s it for this week, folks.

Now I’ve got to get busy and finish the update to my website, including deleting the offending video. Well, at least the last frame is offensive (to me).

Until next week, have a good week. It’s summer, and with any luck you’re getting ready to take a relaxing vacation. If not, enjoy your weekends.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website (Hopefully you’ll see the updated site)
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

Enjoy Black Butterfly – A Bogey Man Mystery, and when you’re done with that, give Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery a try. The first book revolves around an elderly woman who may be a retired Hit Lady. The second book includes kidnapping, hacking, cybersecurity and a domestic terrorist. Hint: The Sandi Webster book also includes a cantankerous aunt. You’ll love her.

Monday, July 10, 2017

From Beginning to End

The two most fulfilling moments while writing a book, at least for me, are the beginning and the end. Big surprise, right?

At the beginning I’m full of enthusiasm and ideas. It seems like everything around me is an inspiration.
Then comes the dreaded (for me) middle, where I’m trying to keep all of my ducks in a row, trying not to lose sight of where I’m going, and hoping I don’t leave any loose ends. I have notes all over my desk. That’s about the time I think, “Oh. I think I want to go in this other direction. Will it work? Should I do it? What does my protagonist want?”

Yes, I think about what’s going to work best for my protagonist. Sometimes I think she knows more than I do. Scary thought.

I have to admit that my latest book, Entrance to Nowhere, took a few turns that I hadn’t anticipated. In this case, I wasn’t surprised. The story touches on topics I hadn’t thought about too much. Okay, that’s not true. It touches on topics that I’ve thought about and read about and that we hear about frequently on the news, but hadn’t applied to my own life.

Sandi Webster gets caught up in kidnapping, Internet technology, hacking, cybersecurity, and a domestic terrorist crosses her path. Oh, and her Aunt Martha comes for a visit at the most inopportune time. This is the same moody Aunt Martha who’s been mentioned in other stories, but this is her first actual appearance. Sandi is most definitely out of her comfort zone.

This story taught me a lot about what’s going on in today’s world of technology, although you don’t have to be a computer nerd to understand the story. It’s simple. Someone wants to bring down the electrical grid in America, and he needs the brilliant mind of Andrew Trapper to help reach his goals.

I wrote, I learned, I added a touch of humor where necessary, and I finally completed the story on July 7th.
That’s where The End comes in. There’s something so fulfilling about typing those words. As a writer you (the general “you”) worry, you fret, you wonder if this story will appeal to anyone, and you’ve done the best job you can while hoping for results that will make you smile.

Unfortunately, it may be the end of the story, but the work isn’t done yet. Now it’s time for final editing and creating a book cover. The cover won’t be too much of an issue because I found the perfect Entrance to Nowhere just down the street and took pictures. You’ll see what I mean when I post a picture of the cover, coming soon.

I have to admit that it’s difficult to make a sharp turn from writing to marketing and promoting. I’m not good at these things and it’s been a long time since a fresh idea slapped me in the face and said, “Do it!” Oh, well, something new will come to me.

Do you get the feeling this talk about The Beginning and The End is just an attempt to self-promote tactfully? Okay, you’re onto me. I’m self-promoting. It’s all part of the marketing experience.

To writers, feel free to promote your latest title or an upcoming book.

To readers, what types of books do you enjoy reading? Is there something in particular you look for in a story?

Until next time, remember that summer reading can be soooo relaxing.

CLICK HERE to visit Marja McGraw’s website
CLICK HERE for a quick trip to

COMING SOON: What would you do if faced with a nationwide disaster? Get a few tips from a man named Griz in Entrance to Nowhere – A Sandi Webster Mystery.