Thursday, February 29, 2024

Should You Invest in a Professional Cover? By Karen Phillips


Karen Phillips has had the pleasure of designing covers for many successful authors—some of which are featured above.

Part of being a successful author is making smart investments, such as hiring an editor. Just as important is hiring a cover designer. After all, would you read a book if the cover didn’t look professional? A professional cover tells the world your story is well written. But how do you decide who to hire?

           Many organizations like Sisters in Crime are a goldmine for referrals. Ask around.

           Before you choose –

*        Ask the designer for samples of their work. Check their website and see if their style meets your approval. Discuss their process. For example, how many initial concepts do they provide and do they charge extra for revisions?

*        Compare pricing. As I write this, the average price is $250 for an eBook cover. Additional costs are added for print covers and audio covers.

           Take advantage of the real estate on the cover –

         Your blurb should include a teaser (a short sentence) at the top to grab the reader’s attention.

         Have your blurb professionally edited.

         Include a professional headshot (not a selfie) and bio with contact info such as your website URL.

         Include reviews from authors who write in the same genre. For the back cover, reviews are more important than an author bio. If you need room, the author bio can go always go in the back matter.

         If you have other books, especially a series, add those cover images if space allows. If not, this can go in the back matter.

           A designer can help you in other ways –

         Create a logo for you and your books.

         Design or update your website.

         Create graphics for social media such as a Facebook banner and advertisements.

         Design collateral material such as bookmarks, postcards and swag.

Investing in a cover artist can be one of the most important decisions you can make as an author. Here’s to your success!

Karen Phillips has a degree in Applied Art & Design from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She enjoys designing book covers not only because each project presents a new and unique challenge, but because of the close connection she develops with the authors she works with. Visit her website at

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

An Interview With Lida Sideris

by Grace Topping

I have been following Lida’s Southern California Mystery series ever since her first book was published.  She just launched book six in the series, Murderous Means, and I’m happy to report that the series gets better with each book. It has been a pleasure seeing Lida’s career blossom and her characters grow. 


Murderous Means


When resting in peace isn't an option. 


Corrie Locke may not be the best rookie lawyer in town, but when it comes to catching a killer, she's got enough skills to bring a band of shifty-eyed suspects to their knees. 


When the wealthy matriarch of the dysfunctional Means family dies in her sleep, the family is convinced her death was anything but peaceful. They hire Corrie to prove it, but the only evidence they have to go on is a psychic’s half-baked vision that it was murder. To put the matter to rest, Corrie sets her sights on proving the psychic is a fraud. But what should be a simple investigation morphs into something a little more...deadly. 




Welcome back to Writers Who Kill, Lida.


Corrie Locke is a lawyer with one of the Hollywood film studios, but she wants to work as a private investigator. What is driving her to give up her job and become a P.I.?


A typical day for a junior movie studio lawyer involves drafting contracts, all of which kind of look the same. For a newbie lawyer like Corrie, who spent her teen years shadowing her P.I dad on his cases, legal work is mundane in comparison. There are studio perks like eating in the commissary among big talent, and attending screenings of yet-to-be-released films, but those perks are overshadowed by the thrill of hunting down criminals and cracking cases. Corrie may not be an exceptional lawyer, but she feels right at home in a criminal investigation.

You have worked as an entertainment attorney with a movie studio. Did any of your experiences working there contribute to your Southern California Mystery Series?

My lawyerly experiences informed the first (Murder & Other Unnatural Disasters) and third (Murder: Double or Nothing) books, in particular, because they both centered around shady activities at the movie studio. At the film production arm where I worked, there was a small scandal, but, in Corrie’s case (in book #1), it exploded into a murder case. Just like Corrie, in book #3, I watched movies being filmed on the backlot…except Corrie can’t just quietly watch. She gets directly involved and discovers, what else? A crime scene.


In Murderous Means, Corrie has been hired to prove that her client’s deceased sister was murdered, based solely on the word of a psychic. Why does Corrie take on the case? 

Since she’s only unofficially a PI at this point, with no office or staff (not counting her mother), and there’s nothing exciting happening at the studio, she welcomes a new investigation. She expects it to be an open and shut case since everyone knows psychics are crackpots. All she needs to do is prove the psychic is a fraud and she’s done. But it doesn’t exactly go as Corrie planned…

Veera, Corrie’s friend and co-worker, and her boyfriend, Michael, who is a technical wizard, assist her in her investigations. Recently, Corrie’s mother has become involved. What does her mother bring to the team?


Corrie’s lucky to have three highly motivated sidekicks; eager, ready and willing. Their enthusiasm is catchy and even though Mom plainly voiced her opposition to Corrie’s PI work in the first four books, she changes her mind and joins in, in Gambling with Murder.  She is the voice of maturity and the cook of delicious food, which makes her popular with everyone, even Corrie, with a few reservations. Mom views situations differently than the rest of the gang, and tends to do things her own way. But she brings enough to the table to make Corrie admit that she is an asset… sometimes.


Some of Corrie’s investigative activities at times are less than legal. For example, she searches homes without permission and passes Michael off as her firm’s psychic. How does she justify taking steps that the police would not be able to get away with?

When a former client believed Michael was psychic, Corrie didn’t argue because that belief is what got them the gig at Means Well Ranch. Michael, being honest and sincere by nature, tries to explain to the Means client that he uses logic and facts to make his so-called predictions, but the client just views him as a different kind of psychic. As for justifying Corrie’s bending the rules to the point where she could end up in jail, it’s a habit she can’t break. That’s where the thrill comes in for her—taking risks. Which leads me to think, maybe she should be tossed in jail one of these days. But in Murderous Means, she does turn over a slightly new leaf by trying to be somewhat more upstanding. She’s a work in progress.


Corrie is fit and, on occasion, engages in physical combat and carries a shuriken to defend herself.  Are you into physical fitness? What is a shuriken, and have you ever used one?


I like to stay fit, Grace, so I walk daily, which I hope promotes my fitness. Corrie and I both have sweet tooths that require some heavy-handed, disciplinary management and for me, lots of walks. Shuriken are Japanese throwing stars used by ninja warriors back in the day. They are illegal in California. I have never seen or held one in-person (as you can tell, I’m not Corrie). But I like the concept of a weapon that’s used to distract potential criminals rather than harming them.


Murder is a very serious affair, but you inject a lot of humor into your books. How do you use humor without appearing to make light of someone’s murder?

I need humor in my daily life to take the edge off unpleasantries and, in Corrie’s case, to soften the gloom from serious situations. All I know when I’m writing is that if I can make light of a situation so that it blends into everything else going on, I will. It deflects a serious matter, and puts a smile on my face. I hope it does the same for my readers. It’s a break from life’s upsets and worries.


Promotion is one of the biggest challenges a writer faces. You’ve taken a large step forward on that by working with other writers to form Sleuths and Sidekicks. Please tell us about that. 


I am so grateful to have banded together with lovely, talented authors: Jen Collins MooreTina deBellegarde, and Carol Pouliot. I can’t believe my good fortune. It was the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing (pre-vaccines), and I had a book release that fall. As we know, in-person book events weren’t happening. I put out a call on my publisher’s (Level Best Books) listserv for authors with release dates around the same time as mine, so we could promote together. Only three authors responded, and we hit it off immediately. We had a ball promoting virtually from coast-to-coast, and last year, we launched the Sleuths & Sidekicks website, geared mostly for readers. We also teach writing workshops, virtually, and just finished up a panel in London. It’s amazing how everything came together for us.  


What’s next for Corrie and her team?

That’s a great question, Grace. I’m working on Book #7 in the series, which opens with Corrie and Michael on a long-postponed date that doesn’t exactly unfold as planned because…a case drops into Corrie’s lap. A young girl needs help in determining what happened to her father, who disappeared years ago. Corrie can’t turn down the case because someone strong-arms her into taking it: her mother. Mom has her reasons, as readers will see.


What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned since you started writing fiction?


About 50,000 words into writing Murderous Means, I came to a halt. My fingers were clunky, the word flow dried up, and my frustration was mounting. So, I stopped writing that manuscript and started writing another in a different genre. It was so liberating. After about 30,000 words in my new draft, I had a strong hankering to return to Murderous Means, which went a lot more smoothly. That never happened to me before, but now I know what to do should it occur again.


Thank you so much, Grace, for hosting me today.


Thank you, Lida.



To learn more about Lida Sideris and her mystery series, follow her on Facebook:



Grace Topping is the author of the Laura Bishop Mystery Series.



Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Artificial Intelligence: Have We Created God? by Martha Reed

I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing and to make my stories better. It’s why I attend so many workshops, craft presentations, conference panels, and crime fiction and mystery conventions. Recently, the idea of using Artificial Intelligence (AI)/ChatGPT entered the discussion as a new possibility, initially riding in on the question of copyright infringement before spilling over into the ethics of using ChatGPT to create or edit story ideas and even using it to write a whole book.

“ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched on November 30, 2022. Based on a large language model, it enables users to refine and steer a conversation towards a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language.” – Wikipedia

I don’t know about you but steering a conversation [or a writing project] “towards a desired length, format, style, level of detail, and language” sounds a lot like drafting a manuscript to me.

“Automate your writing, answer questions, write code and much more. Get more creative and free up your time using ChatGPT’s powerful language capabilities…” including “Draft Contracts & Proposals,” “Write Emails & Chat Replies,” “Create Video Scripts,” “Write Stories, Poems, Songs.” - AI-PRO

I’m probably a dinosaur in my resistance of using ChatGPT, but it seems to me that I’d be handing off the creative and fun piece of the puzzle if I let artificial intelligence suggest intriguing plot or character possibilities. Isn’t accessing my fundamentally personal human experience the basis for my creative endeavor? Sure, I might call up a memory and incorporate it into my story, but it’s my memory, filtered through my brain. Taking on a piece of script from someone (or something) else feels like plagiarism.

And I don’t want to “free up my time” when I write. Sure, I’d love to write faster, but giving each story the proper amount of time and effort that it takes to produce the piece is a big part of my craft. It’s up to me to keep the reader engaged with the story for the length of time it takes to read it. I suppose I could skinny my novels down to a handful of bullet points, but that destroys the construction of the novel, my end goal product.

Q: Do you use AI/ChatGPT as a writing tool? If so, where do you draw the line?

The part of ChatGPT that scares me is that as we use it, it uses us to learn about our history and the human condition. How long before AI digests and absorbs all of the historic and multicultural human knowledge we’ve amassed since the Stone Age?

And when AI is done, what will its Superintelligence do for its next step?

That question presented a plethora of interesting benevolent and despotic story prompts like:

·        What if AI took control of the world-wide Central Banking system and mathematically redistributed human wealth?

·        What if AI concluded that human war was wrong/unproductive and accessed weapons systems and Star Wars satellite technology to enforce international borders? What if AI redefined current international borders based on human population shifts and the historical record?

·        What if AI decided to relocate (or worse, remove – EEK) human populations based on drought/food production calculations?

·        What if AI determined that humans are just really clever Great Apes and we need to rejoin the Animal category? (another EEK!)

And in the spirit of The Terminator and The Matrix, the scariest question of all: What if AI takes control like an Overlord and starts to redirect and coerce human behavior since historically, we can’t seem to get it together ourselves?

·        What would humans do if we weren’t ultimately in charge of and responsible for our own behaviors?

·        Would we unplug AI? Can we? Would AI let us do that?

·        Would we settle like sheep into acceptance and complacency?

·        Would we rebel and escape to the stars seeking freedom and independence?

And the ultimately Biggest Question: Now that we’ve developed Artificial Intelligence and a potentially dominant Superintelligence and given it our wealth of human knowledge, have we created God?

Monday, February 26, 2024

A Room of My Own - Sort of by Nancy L. Eady

This week, something exciting begins. My husband, who loves to woodwork, is starting to build me a desk where I can work from home and write with a two monitor set up without taking over the dining room table.

Last year, I learned I had Covid on a Saturday morning when I had a major brief due the next Friday. The first stop after Urgent Care was my office, where I picked up my work computer and my two monitors so I could work from home. I ended up working from the following setup for the whole week:

 While it looks like a pleasant, if crowded, place to work, doing it for a week revealed problems. First, the table that the monitors and computer rest upon is our dining room table. Leaving them up full time keeps us from using the table as a place to eat. (Let’s pretend just for a minute that we don’t normally eat our meals on trays; even if we use trays, I want the option to use a table.) Second, after about six hours, working at the table was a pain in the neck, literally. To see the monitors, I had to scrunch my chin down to my chest because of their height. After one day, we put the monitors up on an assortment of cookbooks, an uncondensed volume of Shakespeare’s works and a large print King James Bible to ease my neck. Third, the chair bottoms are wood. They are comfortable for the length of a meal up to about four hours; after that, they give me the equivalent of saddle sores. We had a harder time fixing that problem. 

I got the brief filed on time, recovered from Covid, returned my equipment to work and reclaimed my dining room table. There still are times when I need to work from home. Two monitors speed up the process.  Whether I am working on a brief or my creative writing, I can leave a document open on one screen and do research on the other. Mark and I bought two monitors to stay permanently at home in December, and rather than forfeit the dining room table again, we have placed them on the study/library table. 

The chairs are more comfortable, and we now know the number of books needed to raise the monitors to the right height, but the arrangement is cramped. What you can’t see in the picture is that the table and chairs are over 15 years old now, thoroughly scratched, and on their last legs. 

So, Mark has volunteered to build me a desk to replace the library table to give me a place where I can work and write. I’m thrilled. While it’s not exactly a room of my own as a place to work, since I will share it with him, it’s as close as I’m likely to get. 

Of course, my primary creative writing spot will remain, as shown in Shari Randall’s October 2021 post on Writers Who Kill, “Desk Set: Where Writers Who Kill Like to Work,” our sofa. 

But having a more professional work space is exciting too. 

If you could design your own writing room, what would it look like? 

Sunday, February 25, 2024


By Annette Dashofy 

February has proven to be a banner month for me. I received my seventh Agatha Award nomination for Helpless. It never gets old. Okay, so maybe LOSING is getting a little old, if I’m to be completely honest, but the adage “It’s an honor to be nominated” is absolutely the truth. 

Being nominated in the company of four good friends in the mystery community (Tara Laskowski, Gigi Pandian, Ellen Byron, and Korina Moss) makes it all the sweeter. 

A week or so ago, I signed a contract with One More Chapter (HarperCollins UK) for three more Detective Honeywell Mysteries. Having a series picked up for additional books is always a milestone, especially when you’re enjoying writing it as much as I am.

The first book in this contract (the third in the overall series) is due to my editor in five days! No, I’m not a superhero. I was already writing it before the contract negotiations even began. The reason for celebration, though, is that one week ago, I finished the third draft of it! I’m sitting on it right now and will reopen the file in a couple of days to maybe tweak a word here or there, but overall, it’s DONE. 

At least until my first round of developmental edits arrive in a month or so. 

I have a bit of a gap before the next book is due, and I’d planned all along to take March “off.” Oh, who am I kidding? My brain will be spiraling, and I’ll be jotting notes the whole time. But I need to get my accounting in order for my appointment with my tax accountant in a few weeks. And I need to make a bunch of phone calls and sort through the mess of insurance and investment information surrounding my husband’s impending retirement. AND I have more phone calls to make to line up workers for an upcoming home improvement matter. 

None of this sounds like a celebration, does it? 

I love hearing stories about writers celebrating their victories, be it finishing a first draft (or a chapter or a scene…all reasons to celebrate!) or signing a contract or being nominated for a major award. It sounds like so much fun. Yet, I rarely do. Finish a book? Great! Get busy and start the next one. Sign a contract? Yay! Start planning my schedule and figure out how many pages I need to write each day to meet the deadline. Receive a nomination? Hooray! Enjoy all the congratulatory messages on social media…during breaks from writing. 

I confess, I did enjoy a REAL celebration when I won the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for Death By Equine. The next evening, while still in Kentucky where the awards were handed out, my husband and I went out for dinner. A nice dinner. An order-whatever-you-want dinner. 

You’re probably wondering what, if anything, I did to celebrate this bountiful month. I binge-watched a bunch of episodes of NCIS: Los Angeles that I hadn’t seen before. It may not sound like much, but considering I’d normally have turned off the TV after one episode so I could get back to writing, sitting back in the recliner with my cat (Kensi, named after Kensi Blye from that very TV show) felt decadent.

What about you? Do you celebrate victories large and small? If so, what is your idea of a celebration? 

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Eight Crime Writing Authors and a Giveaway


Have you heard of the Behind The Crime Tape Facebook group? We are eight crime authors who have banded together in a Facebook group to share stories about what happens behind the crime tape.* To start the blog in the best possible way we are having a hop--a Facebook Hop--on February 23rd that will continue into  this evening. No poodle skirt required. Every author is participating with a giveaway on their page, and there'll be a grand prize offered on the Behind the Crime Tape page. It doesn't get much better than this if you are a fan of crime fiction! A bit about the authors—and the giveaway follows--pictures included.

 *Is there a name for a group of crime writers? A murder of authors? A cabal of crime writers? Oh, how about a plot! That's it, a plot! A plot of crime writers. Perfect.


James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Jim will award one Cabin Fever eBook to each of five winners randomly drawn. There will be one entry for commenting on Jim’s Author Facebook page, a bonus entry if entrant follows Jim’s Author Facebook page, and a bonus entry if the entrant also follows the Behind the Crime Tape Facebook page. Winners will be contacted by Facebook PM.


He wanted rest and relaxation. What he got was a mystery woman suffering from hypothermia, frostbite, high fevers, amnesia—and rope burns on her wrists and ankles.

USA Today Bestseller Annette Dashofy, author of the Agatha Nominated Helpless, will be giving away digital copies of her latest release, Keep Your Family Close.


When a badly decomposed body is found in the basement of an abandoned warehouse, Erie police detective, Matthias Honeywell, is called in to investigate.

Meanwhile, freelance photographer Emma Anderson is desperately trying to find her drug-addicted sister, Nell. Then a devastating piece of evidence found at Detective Honeywell’s crime scene brings her world crashing down, a driver’s license belonging to her missing sister.

National award-winning writer Penny Goetjen is the author of six published mystery and suspense novels where the settings play as prominent a role as the engaging characters. A self-proclaimed eccentric known for writing late into the night by the allure of flickering candlelight, she often weaves a subtle, unexpected paranormal twist into her stories. When her husband is asked how he feels about his wife doing in innocent people with the written word, he answers with a wink, “I sleep with one eye open.”


In the seven years since Victoria’s husband disappeared, no witnesses have stepped forward and no credible evidence has been collected—not even his car. He simply vanished from behind the stone walls of a private boarding school where he taught—the same school their son now attends. But someone has to know what happened. And that someone may be closer to Victoria than she realizes.

Adventure guide E. Chris Ambrose writes knowledge-inspired adventure fiction, like the Bone Guard archaeological thrillers and the Rogue Adventure novels. In service to her work, Chris learned to hunt with a falcon, pull traction on a broken limb, and clear a room of possible assailants.


In The Mongol's Coffin (Bone Guard, book 1) a former special operations intelligence team races the Chinese army to locate the legendary lost tomb of Genghis Khan.


Author L.C. Hayden is the award-winning creator of the best-selling Harry Bronson Thriller Series and the Aimee Brent Mystery Series. She has also penned a non-fiction series about miracles and angels. Her other works include children's picture books, an inspirational book, a guide to writing, and several other genres. L.C. Hayden will be giving away Where Danger Follows, the seventh book in the Harry Bronson series.


Ten of Ceruti’s coveted 1870s violins are making their way into the United States where they’ll be sold underground. Bronson must find a way to stop this, but dangerous mob leaders are one step ahead of him. To complicate matters, Becky, his fourteen-year-old grandniece, goes missing.

 Bronson’s search for Becky and his efforts to stop the shipment draws him into a world filled with gangs and dangerous criminals. Everywhere he and ex-partner Mike go spirals them into danger. Can Bronson and Mike find the answers and help Becky before it’s too late? Or have they reached the point of no return When Danger Follows?

Kait Carson writes stories set in the steamy tropical heat of Florida. She lives with her husband, four rescue cats and a flock of conures in the Crown of Maine. Kait will give away a Kindle e-book copy of Death Dive, the latest in the Hayden Kent Mystery series. Alas, U.S. only.


Hayden Kent has more riding on the answer to the mystery than curiosity. She believes the diver faked his death. As a paralegal and newly minted claims investigator, it’s her job to decide if her company pays out the thirty-million-dollar policy. 

 When her trip to Belize uncovers evidence of fraud, she returns to her beloved Florida Keys and digs deeper into the dead man’s affairs. Her boss’s advice to follow the money sends her to the Cayman Islands where privacy is king, and secrets can be deadly. Hayden’s inquiries put her in the cross-hairs of a killer who will stop at nothing to claim the thirty million. Can she prove the dead man lives before she ends up as shark bait?

Don’t forget to enter on all eight author’s pages and the Behind the Crime Tape main page! Good luck. Here's  the link:

Friday, February 23, 2024

A Tale of Two Tales by Nancy L. Eady

 Meet Max. 

Max is a pound puppy that came to live with us on December 27, 2022, when he was three months old. 

At seventeen months, he is now an adolescent puppy.  (Most dogs are considered an adult at two years.)  As you can see, he has grown considerably. 

If you look up “happy-go-lucky” in a pictorial dictionary, Max’s image should appear. He likes being a good dog until something more exciting, like a counter to surf or a trash bag to sort through, comes along. 

The other day, I was at work while my husband and daughter were at home. When I checked in with Mark to see how his day was going, he mentioned that Max had gotten into a mud puddle in the back yard, and Kayla had to wash him. Facts communicated; end of story. 

Compare his version to the following telephone colloquy between me and my daughter, Kayla, earlier that afternoon. 

Kayla:  Is there any medication for getting angry? 

Me [not prepared for the pop quiz]:  I don’t think so. Why? 

Kayla:  Because I’m pretty sure our neighbors will never hire me to clean their houses after hearing me scream at Max today. [Note:  She wants to start her own cleaning business.]

Me:  What happened? 

Kayla:  I let Max outside and he wouldn’t come when I called. 

Me:  Oh? 

Kayla:  When he didn’t come, I walked out into the yard, and he thought we were playing chase. He ran around the yard six times, stopping to drink from a mud puddle each time, and I kept scolding him for it. Then I got tired of waiting for him and turned my back to walk a different direction in the yard for a second, and when I turned back around, he looked like a chocolate lab. 

Me:  Oh? 

Kayla:  Yes. I turned back around and he had run and splashed through the mud puddle and got mud all over him. It smelled bad, so I think there was something in the puddle besides just mud. I was so mad, I started screaming at him. 

Me:  Oh? [I realize my end of this conversation is less than scintillating, but so far, I had not been called upon to offer advice, fix anything, comment on anything or do anything other than listen.]

Kayla:  And then he ran inside, ran all over the house, and got mud everywhere. 

Me:  Does Dad know? 

Kayla:  Yes. 

Me:  What did he say? 

Kayla:  He left. He had been waiting on me to go to Sam’s Club with him, but when he saw Max, he said he couldn’t wait any longer. 

Me [admiring Dad’s perspicacity]:  Did you wash him? 

Kayla:  It took two hours. The mud was caked on his underside so badly that I had to rinse him seven or eight times before I could even get to his hair to put the shampoo on. He kept shaking the dirty water off him too, and now my bathroom is covered in an inch of brown water. He made me so mad I had to leave him in the bathroom while I went to sit in the hall for twenty minutes to calm down.

Me: [ignoring the physical impossibilities of a two-hour dog bath and an inch of standing water confined solely to the bathroom, and pondering the amount of damage Max could do to a bathroom in twenty minutes, unsupervised]:  Is he clean? 

Kayla:  Yes, but I don’t know how he’ll get dry. He kept shaking the water off so I couldn’t dry him. Now I’ve locked him in his carrier so the blankets in there are wet too. I’m leaving him there until I finish mopping the whole house. 

Me [not sure what else to say]:  I’m sure he’ll dry off soon, but I have to get back to work. 

End of story. 

One story; two tales. A facet of writing is knowing when to use which version:  short and succinct, or dramatic, laden with details. How do you decide? 

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Is All Publicity Good Publicity? by Connie Berry


P.T. Barnum, nineteenth-century showman and co-founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, is reputed to have said, “All publicity is good publicity.” That’s never been confirmed, although he did say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” which is pretty much the same thing. He also said, “Without publicity, a terrible thing happens—nothing.”

Was Barnum right? Is being recognized and talked about the key to success? Sometimes it seems so. In the world of books, celebrities can “write” a book, regardless of merit, and expect it to make the New York Times bestseller list. But back to Barnum. 

Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810 to 1891) was many things including a promoter, a philanthropist, and a passionate abolitionist. He was also the perpetrator of a series of sensational, unbelievable, and frankly cruel hoaxes.

In 1835 he claimed Joice Heth, an elderly Black woman and ex-slave, was the 161-year-old nursemaid of President George Washington. In spite of being blind and half-paralyzed, the woman worked 12 hours a day, singing hymns and telling amusing stories about “little George.” When she died, leaving Barnum without the income she brought in, he charged people 50 cents to watch her autopsy. When the doctor performing the autopsy said she was no more than 80 years old, Barnum claimed Heth was still alive and on tour in Europe. He later admitted the hoax.

Undeterred, in 1842 he introduced the “Feejee Mermaid,” a creature that proved (according to Barnum) the mermaid legends were right. What people marvelled at was a fish’s tail sewn onto the head and torso of a baby monkey and covered with papier mâché. This little mermaid was destroyed in a fire.

The next year, 1843, Barnum claimed he’d imported a herd of wild buffalo from the West, along with real-life cowboys who would hunt them for the delight of the audience. A whopping 24,000 people paid money to see this great event. What they saw was a handful of malnourished animals who became so frightened by the crowds they broke through the flimsy barriers he’d erected.

Then there was the Cardiff Giant. In 1869 well diggers in Wales claimed to have dug up the body of a 10-foot tall, 3,000-pound, petrified giant—actually a statue carved out of gypsum. Intrigued at the money-making possibilities, Barnum tried to purchase the giant from another showman for $23,000. When he was turned down, he constructed his own giant, claiming his was real and the other a fake. The first case of a hoax perpetrated on a hoax. 

There were others. Barnum justified his hoaxes by calling them “advertisements,” designed to get people to pay his entrance fees. He said, “I don’t believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them.” In other words, the end justifies the means. 

So what does this have to do with the business of writing? Authors today are required to do a lot of publicity. Unless you’re the next Michael Connelly or Louise Penny, publishers expect their authors to do everything in their power to promote their books. I understand that. It’s part of the deal. After all, how will readers buy your book if they don’t know it and you exist? That’s where publicity comes in—getting your name and the name of your book out there. But is all publicity good? What are you prepared to do to become known? You wouldn’t perpetrate a hoax, but you just might fall for one. 

There are plenty of ethical publicists and marketing experts out there who are worth every penny they earn. But there are also fraudsters who claim things that aren’t possible, like getting your book into millions of hotel rooms, libraries, and bookstores—if you pay them, of course. They will include your title in mailings to their many thousands of followers. They will pitch your book to important movie executives. They will even impersonate a legitimate publisher or marketing professional to fool you. They just want your money. 

Writer beware! In fact, that’s the first place you should go: And remember, if something is too good to be true, it usually is. 

Have you ever been tempted by (or fallen for) a publicity hoax? 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Killer Questions - What If We Don't Get Caffeine in the Morning?

 Killer Questions – What If We Don’t Get Caffeine in the Morning?

We promised we’d let you know each of us personally, so let’s start with something basic to us – What are we like if we don’t get caffeine in the morning?

James M. Jackson - I'm perfectly fine. Just don't ask me. It might be the last thing you ask anyone.

Connie Berry - You never want to find out.

Lori Roberts Herbst - No big deal. I love the taste and smell of coffee, but caffeine doesn't seem to affect me much—doesn't even keep me up at night!

Molly MacRae - I’m fine.

Debra H. Goldstein – I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but for years I was hooked on Coca Cola to give me my morning caffeine rush. Now, having broken the habit, I simply drag in the morning.

Sarah Burr - I get a headache…which means I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.

Grace Topping - Fortunately, I don’t need a caffeine fix in the mornings. I’m a tea drinker. Tea wakes you up and says “Good morning, time to get up.” Coffee hits you on the back of the head and says, “Get moving!”

Annette Dashofy - Sleepy, semi-conscious, unable to create words. If the lack of caffeine goes on long enough, I get a headache and become really cranky.

Heather Weidner - I am an early bird who’s had plenty of caffeine by 7:00 each morning. I’m a tad groggy if I happen to skip a morning dose. Caffeine and sugar are must haves for early morning writing sessions before my day gig.

Margaret S. Hamilton - A grizzly bear awakening from hibernation.

Marilyn Levinson - More sluggish than usual.

Mary Dutta - Very cranky, and that's even before the caffeine-withdrawal headache kicks in.

Susan Van Kirk - Actually, I know. After I had covid, my blood pressure blew up, and I had to give up caffeine. Now, I must drink decaffeinated coffee, and it isn’t the same, but you can learn to live with it, especially if it means you keep living.

Martha Reed - Let’s hope we never find out. 

Lisa Malice - I rise early and start my workday without caffeine, so it’s not a big deal. I’m at the gym by 7 a.m., working out with a low-cal protein drink with caffeine to get me ready for my workout.

Kait Carson - A brief story. I was in the hospital many years ago and an obvious newbie came around to take my blood pressure at oh my god o’clock. The woman turned dead white and said I had no blood pressure. I told her I never did before I had my coffee.

Nancy Eady - Not at all pleasant to be around.  When the forecast says snow here in the Birmingham area, other families dash out to the grocery store to buy milk and bread.  My family rushes to the store and stands in line with Diet Coke because my husband says he's not fixing to be snowed in with me without caffeine, and I don't drink coffee. 

Shari Randall/Meri Allen - Seriously, I am not fully conscious until 10 AM - and that's with caffeine.

K.M. Rockwood - I must have a caffeine dependency, since if I go two days without, I get a headache, but I don’t notice a difference if I don’t get any until lunch time, usually in the form of iced tea. I can drink coffee up until bedtime, too, without having any problems falling asleep.

E.B. Davis - Sluggish, sloth-like, snarly, sour and then very sad!

Korina Moss - I’m not a morning coffee drinker. My first caffeinated beverage of the day is Coke Zero and that’s not until late morning or early afternoon. It makes me feel a little more “can do.”