10 Winning Rituals to Bust the Broken Resolution Cycle

10 Winning Rituals to Bust the Broken Resolution Cycle

We make resolutions, fight the good fight for a while, and then lose track and lose heart.

Sigh.

This year,  break the resolution-defeat-discouragement cycle before it gets going. Start some rituals instead. These 10 help me keep writing, hit deadlines, and generally stay sane.

 1. Make a daily to-do list

Have at least 3 specific things on the list you want to get done that day. Nothing vague like lose weight. One should relate to a larger goal. The list needs to be written down—on your phone, on a sticky note. Don’t keep mental lists, they are easily misplaced and fatiguing.

2018 update: I’m giving Triple fold-out planning folios from Levenger’s a try. With the whole week on one expanding accordian card, I can easily carry over unfinished tasks from one day to the next.

 2. Own a Calendar

Put it on the wall, on your phone, in a planner. Get into the habit of looking at the month view rather than just the day or week layout. A month gives you a larger perspective for planning purposes. Don’t just let the year happen.

 3. Watch or Read Some International News

The world is a big place! Know what is going on beyond your own doorstep. It will stretch your brain, give you new perspectives and give you something interesting to say in an interview, cocktail party, or the first day in a new job. Try BBC News.

4. Keep a Small Victory List

Especially when things seem bad, you need to record the small victories. Got the child to stop crying, remembered to set up that automatic payment into your savings account, brought a mug to work to drink office coffee instead of buying a latte, etc. After a few weeks of keeping such a list, you’ll recognize talents you didn’t know you had.

5. Say Hello and Goodbye

We can enrich our relationships with just a hail and farewell. Greetings are such simple things but they provide acknowledgment and respect.

6. Thank the person who prepared or brought your meal

In our house, the dinner prayer always ends with a thank-you to whomever cooked. At a restaurant, we always thank the server. Gratitude for food sometimes gets lost in a fast food culture but it is basic good manners and always appreciated.

7. Eat at least 1 meal/day with an identifiable vegetable component

We can’t live by carbs and fried stuff alone. Eat something green, something fresh. Your colon and arteries will thank you.

8. Save Money

Put something in the bank every month or every payday. If you can set up an automatic deposit to a savings account, do it. Doesn’t have to be a lot. But the ritual of paying yourself first will pay dividends (pun intended) down the road.

9. Make a Schedule for Checking Your Finances

Every 2 weeks or so, check all your online banking accounts (write a reminder on the calendar!) Open up the statements that came in the mail and got dumped by the sofa. Have a folder for tax-related items and stick stuff in there. If you pay bills online, know when credit card bills are due and pay them ahead of time.

 10. Stretch in the morning

Get out of the bed and stretch. Feel the spine crack. Do a few arm circles. Touch the old toes. Get the blood going. See, a small victory already!

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Theme for 2015: Maximize!

Theme for 2015: Maximize!

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

At our family New Year’s Eve dinner, I asked if anyone had made any resolutions. My husband had some fitness goals, while our college kids talked about GPAs, Zumba classes, getting more sleep, and internships.

Later, I realized that no one had asked me if I had made any resolutions. I pouted for a minute, until Kathy Griffin striped Anderson Cooper’s head with hair dye, leaving him look like a startled British rocker, and I forgot about the whole dinner/resolution/hey-you-forgot-mom business.

The truth is, like last year, I’m not doing resolutions in 2015.

Yes, Virginia, it’s okay not to resolve

As we all know, resolutions evaporate fairly quickly unless they stick around long enough to become a habit. (I believe gym memberships are based on this business model.)

Check out The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin on habits.

So instead, I pick a theme for the year.

I can post the word above my desk and be reminded all year of my intention. I can give myself little checks as the weeks fly by, asking if what I’m doing is in keeping with the spirit of the theme.

This year’s theme is: MAXIMIZE

Related post: 2014–Does your year need a theme?

Maximize Me

I’m going to maximize my year in three ways:

  1. Maximize my time

I waste a lot of time on social media. Sad, but true. I’m going to use automation tools for marketing purposes and be more intentional with the personal time I spend on the 3 Deadly Sins: Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

book outline

I will also go back to working from an outline. I tried NaNoWriMo this year with a strong sense of the novel I wanted to write but no outline. Hey, pantsers do it all the time. The result? I wasted a ton of time slack-jawed in front of the screen, trying to figure out the right sequence of events for an extremely complicated mystery plot.notebook and handwriting

I will also spend more time writing longhand. I wrote almost all of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY in notebooks, typing up a few pages at a time. Pen and paper help marshal my thoughts and I find I have less editing work later.

  1. Maximize my creativity

Being an author these days isn’t just about having fiction for sale on Amazon. It is about creating a connection with readers and reaching them wherever they are. To that end, I’m going to do some fun and creative things on new platforms, like Slideshare and maybe even YouTube, with the goal of maintaining the connection via the Mystery Monthly emails.

I’ll also offer a few different reader gifts besides a free copy of THE BEAST. I’ve got some surprising ideas from the work I’ve been doing for bookmarketingtools.com and a lecture I gave about crafting a mystery series. Stay tuned.

  1. Maximize my reach

I have had the good luck to be offered guest post opportunities and interviews on writer blogs and would like to do more. It’s great to extend my reach and I’ve also met some terrific folks. The next step is to look at syndication opportunities for this blog.

Your theme for 2015

It’s all about attitude. In my mind’s eye, I’m drawing in deep breaths, the way an athlete does before a race to maximize lung power.

How about you? What is going to be your theme this year?

How to Make an Informed Reading Choice

How to Make an Informed Reading Choice

With so many books out there, how do you make an informed reading choice? From the author’s point of view, it’s all about “book discoverability.’ But I read more than I write and from the reader’s perspective, it’s all about knowing the book won’t disappoint.

How to choose

There are alot of Goodreads discussons about how readers choose a book. Cover? Synopsis? Word-of-mouth? Book of the month chosen by others?

Here’s a different answer: the book itself.

Sample Size

When the Emilia Cruz short story, The Beast, was featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, sales of the first two Emilia Cruz books, CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE, went through the roof. Readers got to meet Emilia, the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, and see what a fighter she is.

The lesson was the best way to help a reader make an informed choice with an excerpt that sets up a conflict, introduces characters to love, or otherwise intrigues. We want to make sure it won’t disappoint.

Reader Zone

That’s why I’ve created the free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library for readers. It introduces Emilia to readers who might have seen the books on Amazon or on a book review site, but wonder about the tone and quality of the books.

The Starter Library includes a copy of The Beast, just in case you missed it on The Huffington Post last year. Free of charge.

Character Bios

In addition to the Reader Zone, in response to a reader suggestion, I’ve also added bios of the main characters in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. The bios were previously only available on Shelfari.

It is a real look behind the scenes. For example, you can find out what real life union jefe inspired the character of Victor Obregon or what Emilia Cruz and an Olumpic boxer have in common.

Writing for Water

Choose a book that gives back. During 2014 I’m donating $1 to Water.org for every Kindle book sold. Several other authors are joining me and together we’re the Writing for Water team. Each month I tally up how many peope we have been able to give clean water for life through our donations to Water.org.

We met our annual goal in August but we are still working hard. How much more can we do in the last 3 months of the year?  Help us out by buying books from Writing for Water authors.

 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

3 Essential Tips for Safe Travel in Mexico

Are you travelling to Mexico but getting nervous when you read the headlines?

Yes, there are security issues in Mexico, many of which I write about in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, but more than likely you aren’t planning to travel to the real hotspots. Rest assured, safe travel in Mexico is possible. Mexico is a beautiful, intriguing, and expansive country with a rich culture to  enjoy. With dozens of fantastic destinations, from beach resorts to art hubs to big city museums, it is virtually impossible to be bored there.

The trick to enjoying Mexico is to be prepared with good security habits. As a mystery novel author whose main character is Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz, I spend a lot of time immersed in these security issues and know that a little common sense can go a long way.

Check out three tips for avoiding problems and having a great time in Mexico.

1. Passport to Paradise

Protect your passport; it’s your most valuable commodity. Don’t take it to the beach or the market. Keep a copy of the photo page of your passport with you. The original can stay in a room safe (along with copies of credit cards and contact numbers for the issuing companies.) Along with the copy of your passport, keep handy the phone number and business hours of your embassy in Mexico and the phone number and address of your hotel.

Related post: From Beach to Book: 3 Favorite Hotels in Mexico

2. No New Conversations

Getting into and out of a vehicle can be a particularly vulnerable time. A parking area is full of hiding places for would-be thieves and it is very easy to be distracted from your surroundings by the process of loading and unloading people, packages, strollers, etc. When we lived in Mexico our family rule was no new conversations getting in or out of the car. This meant fewer distractions for parents, faster loading/unloading, and zero scary incidents.

3. Expect the Unexpected

Once upon a time I was a student in Paris and travelling through Italy during Christmas break. While on a local train somewhere near Brindisi a group of boys got on shouting and throwing firecrackers, disorienting everybody in the carriage. The boys swarmed over our luggage, kept up the ruckus for the 10 minutes it took to get to the next town, and left, having taken everything out of my friend’s unattended purse.

Be prepared to encounter similar disruptions in Mexico. Getting accidentally squirted with water/mustard/liquid soap while strolling a market, being accosted by kids trying to give or sell you something, and other unexpected encounters can be a prelude to being pickpocketed or getting a purse stolen by those making the disruption or their accomplices.

Reduce your risk by being alert, not wearing ostentatious jewelry in obvious tourist areas, and keeping your bag closed, preferably with a zipper. Consider trading a backpack (worn on your back where you can’t see if someone is opening a pocket) for a messenger bag.

Related post: How to Find Love in Mexico City’s Markets

Was this helpful? Do you have a story about safe travel in Mexico?

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

The Lure of the Open Notebook

The Lure of the Open Notebook

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Maybe it’s a sickness.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning out my den (also known as the writer’s cave, Mom’s office, and a total mess) I found a COMPLETELY VIRGIN hardcover spiral notebook from Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. The rush of excitement was intense.

Paper Snob

I love the notebooks from Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, a Spanish designer whose paper products I first found in Greece. The notebooks have bright colors and the pages have color coded edges. But the important thing is that both front and back are hard laminated cardboard, which makes it very easy to scribble notes.

But why was I so excited?

Because a blank Agatha is an open invitation to write another book.

notebook mystery series 001

A scribbled scene from DIABLO NIGHTS between Emilia and her cousin Alvaro, since deleted from the final manuscript

The rush of ideas

I write many scenes, as well as my outline, longhand. At least one notebook is dedicated to every book. When I wrote THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY I used a dozen before the manuscript was completed, labeling them and taping peso coins to the covers for good luck. Don’t ask me why.

So I stood there, in the den/office/cave/mess clutching my Agatha, knowing that I suddenly had the tool needed to start the next book, even before DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd Emilia Cruz novel set in Acapulco, was out the door. When I finished DIABLO NIGHTS several weeks ago, I felt wrung out. To some extent it had been hard going.

The latest Emilia Cruz mystery deals with some heavy issues–religion and martyrdom, drug smuggling, Mexico’s vigilante problem, and being honest to your significant other. Emilia contends with the first 3 but suffers from the last.

Notebook Carmen AmatoMy reaction caught me by surprise. It said “I’m ready.”

Yes, the next book will be the 4th Emilia Cruz mystery. Several scenarios are already circling around, each biting at my imagination like a shark.

First things first

A few things need to happen before that new notebook gets used, however. DIABLO NIGHTS, the 3rd Emilia Cruz mystery novel, will be hitting the shelves soon–my subscribers will be the first to know the exact release date, so sign up if you haven’t yet.

Second, I’d better clean the den. Gotta find a pen.

Book Review: Homicide Chart by V.S. Kemanis

The second Dana Hargrove legal thriller is a well paced, polished, and highly enjoyable read. I liked the first Dana Hargrove book, THURSDAY’S LIST, but Kemanis has hit her stride with HOMICIDE CHART.

Related post: Book Review: Thursday’s List by V.S. Kemanis

Dana is still with the New York District Attorney’s office, but time has moved forward by several years and she’s now married to Evan, a private sector attorney. They have a toddler, Travis. The couple lives in Manhattan and employs a Dutch au pair, Annecke. With two busy careers, the couple depends on the girl, but they don’t know the heavy secret she carries.

Neither does the reader at first and Kemanis meters out the suspense in compelling fashion. There are three major plot elements all going on at the same time—Dana’s criminal murder case involving a notorious street gang, Evan’s defamation case for a looney romance author, and Annecke’s increasingly disturbing behavior. Points of view move between characters as the action takes us from courtroom to boardroom to the nanny’s woes. Each time the narration switches, the reader is left hungry for more from that plot element, making for great reading all the way through.

Each of the three threads is absorbing in its own right, and incorporates a different legal issue. I wondered if they would converge in a climax, or if one would eventually take center stage. The pieces fall into place (no spoilers!) in a highly satisfying way and justice is served in each instance.

HOMICIDE CHART is highly recommended, especially if you like the legal thriller genre.

If You Went Missing, Who Would Know?

If You Went Missing, Who Would Know?

Donde estan? The question amid all the shoes in the picture is Where are they? This is the cry of those who search for and mourn the missing who are the casualties of Mexico’s drug war.

But calculating just how many are missing is a bureaucratic–and political–war of its own. The Emilia Cruz mystery series captures it in fiction. But it’s a fact.

missing in Mexico shoes of the lost

The numbers game

Many reports claim that as many as 80,000 people have gone missing over the last 10 years in Mexico, victims of drug cartel violence and corrupt officials. In 2012, CNN reported, in an article subtitled “Bodies for Billions” that just since 2007, 48,000 people had died dead and another 5,000 were missing, even while admitting that it was hard to be firm on the numbers as mass graves kept being found.

BBC reported in October 2012 that “According to figures released earlier this year by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 16,000 bodies remain unidentified and a total of 24,000 people are missing.”

If you were missing: Posters of the missing. Picture courtesy of CBS news.

Posters of the missing. Picture courtesy of CBS news.

In early 2013, CBS news reported that shortly after President Pena Nieto moved into Los Pinos, a new list was created with data from local prosecutors across Mexico, including information about people reported missing for any reason during the previous administration. The new list proclaimed that slightly over 26,000 people were missing. The controversial list didn’t include information collected after November 2012.

Most recently, AP and ABC News reported that “Mexico has recalculated the number of people who have gone missing since the start of the country’s drug war in 2006, saying a total of 8,000 are unaccounted for.” Wow, what a big change. If the government spokesperson is to be believed, 14,700 of the missing from the previous administration have been found alive and about 750 have been confirmed dead. The big discrepancy between this year and last is that “people who had filed missing persons reports didn’t update them when their relative re-appeared.”

If you went missing: Pictures of missing outside a mortuary in Acapulco. Picture courtesy of BBC.

Pictures of missing outside a mortuary in Acapulco. Picture courtesy of BBC.

Las Perdidas

In the Emilia Cruz series, the issue of those missing in Mexico is kept alive in Emilia’s binder of women who have gone missing in the Acapulco area. It’s a small way of shedding light on the issue.

In the mystery series, Emilia’s log of the missing is a binder of information on the missing women she calls Las Perdidas. (The Lost Ones) There are more than 40 names in the binder and one name represents all of them: Lila Jimenez Lata. Lila is a teen who ran away from home. Her trail will alternate between hot and cold throughout the series as Emilia hunts for her.

If you went missing: Pictures of the missing on the side of a bus. Picture courtesy of Reuters.

Pictures of the missing on the side of a bus. Picture courtesy of Reuters.

Who else is looking

Last year I wrote about a new agency created to look for the missing  by Mexico’s Attorney General.  The weight of the issue called for some action–in 40 percent of the disappearance cases tracked by Amnesty International, Mexican law enforcement officials failed to open a criminal inquiry, according to Amnesty International

But the private sector is bringing the most attention to the plight of the missing. Rallies, posters, press attention, websites–these are the tools available to grieving families. Will websites such as http://missingfrommexico.com/ help? With enough attention and participation, anything is possible.

If you went missing: tortilla wrapper

Tortilla wrapper featuring image of missing persons. Picture courtesy of BBC News bbc.co.uk

In other news

2019 Update: The first picture in this blog post inspired the story “The Artist” which has been released as the dual language English and Spanish volume THE ARTIST/EL ARTISTA, edited by Karen Leclair-Ayestas and available on Amazon.. 

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity

Bookstores of the Future: A Case Study of Retail Creativity

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Are bookstores facing a “survival of the fittest” era? If so, what can make a bookstore “fit?”

In the case study letter below, the key is creativity and willing to do something wholly different.

Last week I wrapped up my Bookstores of the Future project, in which I asked 800+ people to give me their thoughts on how bookstores could survive and prosper in the era of ebooks and ecommerce. Dick McLeester had responded to me as a store owner but I did not use his comment because I could not tell if his was an online or bricks-and-mortar store and the series was about the latter.

Bookseller as retail innovator

When I let him know, Dick responded with this insightful letter, which he agreed to let me post here. For anyone thinking of going into the book business, Dick’s views are a must-read. Dick doesn’t yet have a blog to share his experiences, but you can check out his website: www.changingworld.com to see how he combines online and pop-up sales, as well as the line of products he sells to augment book sales.

Carmen,

Thanks for writing. Your articles were interesting.

I realize that people call them “brick & mortar” stores to distinguish them from online booksellers, but I think there is a danger in that term, which is to define the Successful Bookseller of the Future just too narrowly.

In 1976, I launched a bookstore called Food For Thought Books with a total investment of $25.00. I was the founder and co-manager there for 10 years, before leaving to start my current business. (You can check, Food For Thought Books is in Amherst, Massachusetts, now a proud brick & mortar bookstore. But struggling to find their way to a  successful future. And probably because they are struggling to find their way, they would probably not be able to speak with much clarity to your questions.)

I was able to start Food For Thought with little capital because of a strong vision of the possibilities and because we were able to bring  books to people who were hungry for them. For the first two years we paid no rent or salary, and grew very fast. We became experts at  setting up instant bookstores at event, conferences, festivals and meetings. We did this in a way that very few booksellers today know how to do, because they start with a retail shop where they need to pay rent and get people to come there.

When I left Food For Thought to start VisionWorks, it was because I had a larger vision of what was needed for booksellers to be successful into the future. I realized that today, ideas and information are carried not just in books, but often on other vehicles, such as postcards, bumperstickers, calendars, magnets or buttons. In most bookstores these are seen as valuable sidelines or gift items, but someone who runs a shop usually cannot devote much energy to having a really good selection because it is such alot of  work to order from all these little companies, including overseas suppliers. So VisionWorks is set up as a wholesale distributor, making it easy for any retailer (bookseller or otherwise) to get a great selection from hundreds of suppliers by placing one order. For us, we sell way more cards, stickers and calendars than we do books.  But books are still really important to us, and we sell large quantities of some books.

How? We sell at select Conferences, where we bring the books to people who are looking for certain ideas & information. 4 events per  year. We get huge book sales in a short time. We sell more books retail at those events than we do in our brick & mortar store. More than we sell wholesale. More than we sell online. At these events,  it is primarily books that sell, and the cards, stickers and calendars are an important, high-margin sideline. But it is really the Cards, Stickers & Calendars that we sell wholesale to retailers across the country that keeps us in business, that makes it all work. And now we also publish postcards, so we have a hand in making sure our selection is really educational, informative and connected to the ideas in books we offer.

My point is that anyone who wants to have a successful bookstore into the future, needs to be flexible and creative. They need to look at whatever will work for them, and then work that angle, even if it looks very different than how a traditional bookstore has looked. If this means taking the books to the events where hungry minds gather, they need to get really good at that. If they think that cards and stickers are something that can really work for them, they need to really work it, to be the best. And if that means those things become  75% off their sales and books only 20%, then go with that. What used  to be thought of as a sideline, may become the main thing. But we  need to pay attention to that.

I think there will always be an important role for good booksellers, but right now they need to be creative, flexible and willing to take risks, to think differently. That’s my perspective. One day soon, I  think I need to get working on a blog and put some of this out that way. I am especially curious to see how others will respond, esp.  those who are running some of the more traditional bookshops, indie shops, brick & mortar.

Thanks for starting the conversations. Best, Dick “I am a bookseller, really” McLeester 

VisionWorks website:  www.changingworld.com

Thank you, Dick, for agreeing to share your views and showing us that book retailers who think outside the cover will succeed!

Read all of the Bookstores of the Future posts in the #noticed category

Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Bookstores of the Future: 5 Lessons About Survival of the Fittest

Will bookstores survive? Must they innovate in order to stay relevant and solvent in the era of ebooks and ecommerce?

Simply out of curiosity, I began posing this question to authors, book bloggers, publishers, and store owners.

This led to a series of articles on this blog, including 25 Influential Authors Weigh In, 12 Influential Bloggers Debate, and 13 Divergent Views from Publishing Insiders. The series included some memorable virtual encounters such as with veteran thriller writer Dale Brown, blogger and author extraordinaire C. M. Mayo, Lebanon-based publisher Carole Corm, and #LitChat host Carolyn Burns Bass.

The result is some personal conclusions, which likely run counter to traditional publishing’s preferences. I make no excuses; these conclusions are based only on my experience asking questions. I’m a mystery author and claim no expertise or management experience in the publishing field. Which might be a good thing. But I digress.

After 7 months and over 800 emails, here are my conclusions.

 

1. Bookstore owners can no longer stay in business simply because they love books

Surprisingly, bookstore owners were the least responsive out of all the groups I queried,  with whopping a 5% response rate. This compares to authors (60%) and book bloggers (72%). Those who did respond, however, had something smart to say:

Emily Stavrou, Schuler Books & Music,  Michigan, www.SchulerBooks.com Schuler Books & Music, Michigan-based, large-format, independent bookstore (established in 1982), has credited its continued success with the ability to evolve quickly as the market changes.  Over the years, Schuler has diversified the bookstores’ inventory to include unique gift merchandise, games and puzzles, home accessories, and more.  Schuler Books has developed a strong Used Books & Media section in each of the stores that continues to be successful.   Over the years, Schuler has added and expanded each location to include a full-service gourmet cafe, and has integrated Chapbook Press,  a publishing arm of the company,  with their recent purchase of the innovative Espresso Book Machine for print-on-demand book publishing. These are just a few ways Schuler Books has continued to remain a vibrant part of an ever-changing market. 

Not to be overlooked, technology has become an ally in innovation for Schuler Books. Utilizing social media to connect and collaborate with community groups & non-profit organizations locally has proven to be a wonderful way to bring business to the bookstore.  Schuler offers a conference room space for hosting monthly meetings, and brings in authors for events pertaining to the organization’s focus.  They also offer fundraising opportunities through many community service efforts.  These partnerships have had a positive effect on business in many ways.  The cafes see additional business through catering revenue; marketing efforts get a broad audience through the benefiting organization’s supporters, and the bookstore is able connect with their community in a meaningful way. 

Karin van Eck, The American Book Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands, http://www.abc.nl/index.php

ABC offers local authors a chance to print and publish and sell their book at ABC. The EBM, or like ABC’s owner Lynn Kaplanian Buller likes to call it: fab lab for books, is situated in both stores. ABC also offers local ( and self published) authors a chance to present their book at Meet My Book events or pitch their book (idea) to a professional publisher once a month. 

The Espresso Book Machine® (EBM), which Time Magazine named an “Invention of the Year,” provides a revolutionary direct-to-consumer distribution model for books. Put simply, the EBM is an automated book-making machine. The operator selects a title to print, and within a few minutes a book emerges: bound and trimmed with a full-color cover.

Pete Mulvihill, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA http://www.greenapplebooks.com/CBD-at-green-apple-books

Green Apple spearheaded the effort to create California Bookstore Day–a statewide celebration of books, authors, and indy bookstores. We took the lead, from convincing the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association to back the idea to getting publishers and authors on board, from launching an IndieGoGo campaign to get it off the ground to finding the perfect candidate to produce the event. Now, thirteen unique books and art pieces will be featured and sold at 93 indy bookstores in CA on one day only–May 3, 2014.

Ed Gillis, Ed’s Books & More, Sydney, Nova Scotia, https://www.facebook.com/edsbooksandmore

To stay competitive, I added more than books to the store. To succeed and remain relevant, I knew that I needed more than readers to enter the store; I needed to reach people who had other interests.

Besides a huge stock of books, we also carry DVDs, CDs, albums, jewelry, and collectables. Due to the variety, we have more opportunity to reach new customers; and once in the door, they discover a world of books.

 

2. The debate over print vs ebook is both emotional and distracting

Asking questions about how bookstores might look in the future, instead of leading to discussions about shared retail space, community partnerships, or clever promotions, in almost every case led to a debate about print vs ebooks. Although publishing insider Doris Heilmann of  SavvyBookWriters.com/blog and author Jane Rosenthal had some actionable ideas, many respondents were less ready to talk about practical solutions than were willing to discuss the impact of ebooks. This view was brought home to me again during a recent #LitChat session on Twitter sponsored by Carolyn Burns Bass’s Litchat.com website. While the moderator’s questions were designed to spark a debate on bookstore innovation, most of the chat was another print vs ebook discussion, with firm views on both sides.

 

3. The elephant in the room is quite comfortable, thank you

Bookstores are being squeezed on two sides, in my view. The first is from the chokehold on distribution by the traditional publishing industry. Major publishers control the distribution funnel with a limited number of select books, store displays, and may even dictate book placement.

The second squeeze is from the growing number of independent author or small press titles that aren’t in the distribution funnel, yet are increasingly popular with readers who find them through book blogs, Amazon, and other online outlets. Authors and small presses bemoan the fact that they cannot get their print books into bookstores, with a few exceptions for local connections. There is no systematic small press or indie author distribution network to stores. Plus, there is no return policy as with traditionally published books, given that most small publishers and independent authors operate on a just-in-time inventory basis.

Author Bob Mayer, who also has his own Cool Gus publishing imprint, commented that “The bottom line is that authors will totally support bookstores when that support is extended the other way.”

The traditional publishers’ return policy is often mentioned as the stopper. After selling the store a chunky quota of books, publishers accept returns of the unsold. As long as enough large stores survive for this model to continue to work, there is little incentive for publishers to shift or take on distribution of books they don’t publish.

Can this dynamic last much longer? Either bookstores will be able to innovate enough to stay ahead of the dual squeeze, or enough will fail to significantly erode the traditional distribution model. But here’s the catch–publishers can make up the difference in print returns with ebooks, leaving bookstores that rely on print in the cold.

 

4. The power of the backlist

I was most surprised to receive comments from established–no, let’s be frank, they are famous– authors acknowledging the power of ebooks. Dale Brown and Bernard Cornwell were among them, with Brown saying “It’s so easy and convenient to get a book these days, and with the Internet you don’t need to browse through a bookstore’s shelves to find a new release from a favorite author–Facebook, Twitter, a Web site, or the blogosphere will inform you.” 

Brown, Cornwell, and Mayer are all prolific authors with extensive backlists. They typify the authors who have the most to gain from ebooks, which are always for sale and never out of print. In contrast, bookstores generally don’t have the space to carry all the print titles by very prolific authors. The more titles an author has, it would seem, the less incentive to align with the traditional publishing distribution model.

 

5. The reality of books as part of the highly competitive entertainment industry

Most people associated with books and publishing regard books as something separate from other entertainment options such as music, television, or (gasp) online gaming. But for much of the book world, especially for fiction, that isn’t true. Many entertainment options are available to take up the consumer’s time and books are one of those choices. My own teenagers have shown me that.

Countering the entertainment option, many respondents said the bookstores of the future should be quiet places to browse, with a coffee bar. Basically, a library with a Starbucks attached. That model won’t pay the bills.

What will pay the bills, however, is using bookstore space to create a broader retail experience. Whether it is linking books with food and drink, or a service or an activity like hotel accommodations, an approach that generates more income streams will let bookstores survive. Are there still music stores? Yes, but they sell more than just CD’s or LPs or are part of a larger retail concept. Ernest Tubbs’ in Nashville might be the exception, but heck, they don’t call it Music City for nothing.

I wrote about a few innovating bookstore examples early in the series. Stores in Europe, for example, with the grand new Foyle’s in London, are taking the broad view and building around it.

 

Parting words

Overall, this series was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to justify the resolute business-as-usual attitude of traditional publishers–and reading sneery literary agent Donald Maass’s recent comments about “freight class” authors–didn’t help. Neither did the near-deafening silence from store owners, whose lack of participation was underscored by some truly terrible store websites.

Yet I’m optimistic. Many print books don’t translate well to current ebook technology and are best served up in print. There is a dedicated cadre of print devotees who will spend the extra dollar for a print book and drive the extra distance to find the store. Stores that find the sweet spot between service, community, and creating a retail experience will survive and thrive.

I’ve been asked what would my perfect bookstore look like. I’d call it The Book Bar. The walls would be lined with books to browse, specialty drinks would be named after memorable titles and authors (the Detective Emilia Cruz Hot Pepper Mojito, for example), and it would be an awesome venue for author chats, book clubs, speed dating, and singles nights. Not all at once, of course.

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Writing for Water: We Shot for the Moon in April

Writing for Water: We Shot for the Moon in April

We made a big leap for mankind in April toward the goal of giving 25 people access to safe and clean water for life through donations to Water.org. Led by a surge in sales of CLIFF DIVER, the first novel in my Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, in April we donated nearly enough from our book sales sales to give 8 more people clean water!

This means that after only 4 months, the Writing for Water campaign has given 18 people clean water for life! 

April water graph

I’m amazed, in all honesty. I though that 25 would be a stretch and I’d be thrilled to even get close. But if things keep going as they are–and another few authors join me–maybe we can zoom right past 25 and break the sound barrier.

There is a sound barrier of sorts:

  • Noise surrounding books and authors: it’s hard to capture readers’ attention. Lots of books and lots of marketing going on. Just because $1 from the Kindle sale of my books goes to Water.org doesn’t make them any more discoverable or enticing to read if you don’t like mysteries. But having Writing for Water buddies promote each other helps.
  • Noise surrounding charitable organizations: I read somewhere that many of us have become inured to tragedy. We see too much on television and online. So we forget that our contributions, when spent wisely, really help individuals. I believe that Water.org spends my contributions wisely with the Water Credit program and working with local communities. Help enough individuals and it’s called global impact. 

Long before I even published my first book, I knew I wanted to use my books to make a difference. Now it is actually happening!

If you are an author and would like to help out any month in 2014, drop me a line at carmen@carmenamato.net.

Thanks to all our readers. You are the ones who are truly turning books into water. All the best, Carmen

P.S.  My partner in the Writing for Water team in April was Jerry Last, who has just come out with his latest Roger and Suzanne Bowman mystery, THE ORIGIN OF MURDER. The book takes place in Quito, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, and Mexico, and uses quotes from Charles Darwin’s the ORIGIN OF SPECIES to foreshadow the action in a very clever way. Think two parts travelogue to one part murder mystery, with a cast that includes a California private detective, a former Seal-turned-nanny, a Mossad spy, and an endangered animal species. Jerry is willing to offer a free review copies to Writing for Water fans in exchange for an Amazon review. If you’d like a copy, please fill out the form below:

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Indicate PDF or Kindle format’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form]

On the Occasion of My Second Anniversary as a Published Author

On the Occasion of My Second Anniversary as a Published Author

In addition to being a famous Mexican holiday, now celebrated around the world for reasons unrelated to the Mexican victory of Puebla over the French in 1962, Cinco de Mayo is also my anniversary of being a published author. My first book, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, officially came out on 5 May 2012.

Second Year Goals

Last year, when I reflected on the momentous occasion of my first anniversary, I was really amazed at how far I’d come in terms of books sales and skills acquired. I also set out some goals for my second year:

  • 5 books listed on amazon
  • Redesigned website with free download of Emilia Cruz mini-anthology
  • Re-release of HIDDEN LIGHT with new cover, lower price, and at least 1 promotion

It was a short list but all the goals were measurable and had a timeline attached to them. But the year ended up being much more than just those three goals.

Learning as I Go

As I headed into Year 2, I was uncertain about book marketing, this blog, the whole face-to-the-world thing. So I took time out from writing to take two online classes: Blog that Converts with Derek Halpern and Instant Bestseller with Tim Grahl.

Blog That Converts was supposed to help me redesign the website. It did that but also opened my eyes to the whole issue of how people respond to online messaging and what makes them connect to a blog/product. Blog That Converts is primarily directed at those who run an online business but I really got a lot out of it.  Derek Halpern’s socialtriggers.com website is full of ideas, not just in regard to the content, but also in regard to how Derek presents information and how the site is designed.

I was one of the beta testers for the Instant Bestseller course, which is based on Tim Grahl’s book, YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES. The book is hands down the most intelligent discussion of how authors must connect with readers in the new publishing age in order to be successful. Tim has a lite course that is free on his website. I hope Tim expands both the course and his website with more resources and case studies; I plan to regard him as the oracle for the foreseeable future.

Website Redesign

Both the classes helped me give this website a major upgrade with catchthemes.com’s Catch Everest pro theme and a monthly author newsletter via the aWeber email service.

Subscribers get a copy of THE BEAST, the first Emilia Cruz story which was previously featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, plus a guide to writing book reviews, my list of top 10 international mystery series, and monthly updates with exclusive excerpts and book release news. Making a newsletter has been another learning curve and I’ve been helped by fellow Instant Bestseller students.

I’ve probably spent too much time this year on web design, Twitter profile design, and Facebook covers. But as a book may be judged by its cover, so is an author judged by the professionalism and quality first impressions. I get a lot of positive feedback on the look of this website, my Twitter background, etc. Presentation makes a difference.

Book List

This anniversary I have 4 books listed on Amazon, not the 5 I’d planned. The 5th book was to be a short memoir based on letters I’d written while a student in France many years ago. I put it on the back burner while taking the courses above and the manuscript stares at me balefully as I type.

HAT DANCE and MADE IN ACAPULCO were released, however. HAT DANCE, the second Emilia Cruz mystery, was on the Top Rated Top 10 for Amazon’s International Mystery category for several months, and might still be in the Top 100. I think CLIFF DIVER still is. (I’ve stopped obsessively checking things like that, which is a major accomplishment on its own.) MADE IN ACAPULCO is a collection of short stories and includes the first two chapters of THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

The black matches-and-smoke anniversary cover of HIDDEN LIGHT turned out great. Bold, eye-catching, yet clean. It might be my favorite cover yet. HIDDEN LIGHT sells more in paperback than any of the other books. Maybe it’s the cover or maybe political thriller readers buy more paperbacks than mystery readers who prefer Kindle?

glasses of waterWriting for Water

Long before the Emilia Cruz series hit Amazon’s algorithm I knew that if I made enough I would donate a portion of my proceeds to Water.org, the charity co-founded by Matt Damon to bring clean water to communities worldwide. So despite the fact that Emilia hasn’t knocked Jo Nesbo off the top of the mystery charts, I decided there was no time like the present.

I started in January 2014, donating $1 from every Kindle book I sold to Water.org. After a bit I wondered if some fellow authors might like to help and Sharon Lee Johnson, Norm Hamilton and Jerry Last all stepped up with donations and promotional support. As I felt the effort gaining traction, I put up the Writing for Water page and set a goal of giving 25 people clean water for life. And it is happening! @Water is retweeting our updates, I got a nice email from the home office, and our numbers are climbing!

Have you ever done something that turns out to be bigger than the sum of its parts? Seen real change because of just a small thing? That is what is happening because of all the wonderful readers and fellow authors who are sharing this journey with me. We are giving clean water and changing lives. It feels amazing.

Golden Friendships

More than anything else, be it steadily rising book sales, the growth of the Emilia Cruz series, or an improved website, this second year has been made memorable by some wonderful virtual friendships with fellow writers. Norm Hamilton, Sandra Nikolai, Khaled Talib, Andrew Chesnutt, and especially Jane Rosenthal and Jerry Last have shared time, attention, advice, and good cheer. David Bruns from the Instant Bestseller course has helped with website ideas and tips, while Sharon Lee Johnson has been an infectious cheerleader and work ethic champ. Every day, on Twitter and Goodreads, I meet a fellow author with whom it is a pleasure to trade war stories and cheer success.

I’m thrilled to be participating in a group blog with 4 talented writers: Jane Rosenthal, Christopher Irvin, Guillermo Paxton, and John Scherber. The Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel is just getting off the ground but will be a locus for mystery and Mexico fans alike.

The team at Latinas4LatinoLit.com really gave my visibility a boost last summer with a series of 10 blog posts. Likewise, the editor of Mamiverse.com, Lorraine C. Ladish was a guest on my blog and hosted my article on bilingual humor. More opportunities came my way for guest posts, reviews, syndicated posts, etc. 

Time Management

Done properly, social media is not so much of a distraction as great tools for connecting and researching. I use Twitter and Pinterest to find great web design resources, news about Mexico, etc. Facebook is for advice from fellow authors and some great free promotion. I had been using the free version of Buffer, which seems to have gotten the vapors, so HootSuite is likely in my future.

Keeping a blog updated is hard work and it is tempting to turn each post into a nonfiction article about something I find interesting.  My “Future of Bookstores” series has been a huge time investment but I’m not sure it has had any impact on book sales. DIABLO NIGHTS might have been out 2 months earlier, too.

Yet I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing folks I would have  never have encountered otherwise: thriller author Dale Brown, with whom I had a memorable online exchange; Bernard Cornwell, author of the legendary Richard Sharpe series: Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author Publisher, Entrepreneur, and C.M. Mayo, author of a number of literary gems set in Mexico.

Now that I have some experience behind me, however, in the coming year I will keep unrelated blog posts from stealing too much writing time. Maybe I’ll cleverly combine things with a series on time management for authors!

For Next Year

For my third year of being a published author, here are my goals:

  • Meet or surpass goal of providing 25 people with clean water for life via donations to Water.org based on book sales in 2014
  • 2 more books listed on Amazon (DIABLO NIGHTS, the third Emilia Cruz novel is slated for late June release)
  • Publication of at least 1 Emilia Cruz short story in an anthology or ezine
  • Book trailers for all the Emilia Cruz books
  • A core group of 500 readers I connect with monthly via the newsletter
  • 100 subscribers to the Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel

Watch this space to see how it all turns out. While you’re at it, let me know your goals for the coming 12 months!

All the best, Carmen

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CARMEN AMATO

Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.

 

Book Review: By Its Cover by Donna Leon

BY ITS COVER is Donna Leon’s 23rd Commisario Brunetti mystery novel and it follows the series’ tradition of immersing the reader in today’s Venice. The mystery revolves around a crime rooted in Italy’s ancient classics yet the country’s modern problems of corruption and over-bureaucracy are key to the plot.

The director of a privately-funded library full of rare and antique classic volumes discovers that books have been pillaged–drawings have been sliced out, rare illuminations taken. When Brunetti investigates, it appears that some books are missing from the library’s inventory. The culprit appears to be an American professor who has been doing research there for several weeks. Alas, he has disappeared, his bona fides are revealed to be false, and the criminal appears to have gotten away with his crime.

Related post: Book Review: THE GOLDEN EGG by Donna Leon

Yet there are other leads for Brunetti to follow. The library owes much of its livelihood to an important patroness, affording Brunetti the opportunity to have a deep conversation about the value of books. The conversation doesn’t necessarily move the plot forward, but serves as a platform for an issue that Leon obviously feels deeply about.

BY ITS COVER refers to apparently real episodes of book looting and subsequent closure of libraries in Italy.  Literary and national treasures are being lost in this way, and through Brunetti’s conversations, we understand what a huge loss to humanity this is.

While BY ITS COVER isn’t the most gripping Brunetti mystery, it may be the one with the most important message. As Brunetti slowly gropes toward a resolution to the library thefts, the familiar cast of the series’ characters  both help and hinder. Vice Questore Patta plays his usual oversight role and his self-serving attitudes and political concerns remain as deliciously crass as always. Brunetti’s wife Paola and Patta’s secretary Elettra both assist in their own ways, while the faithful Inspector Vianello is still the able sounding board as Brunetti pieces together the elements of the case.

Related post: Book Review: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

Many of the more recent Brunetti mysteries refer to Italy’s political corruption and this one sustains the trend.  Leon’s characters are uncomfortable speaking on the telephone, sure their conversations are being overheard. Nearly everyone has caustic remarks to be said about the inefficiency of government and the dishonesty of politicians. If you’ve read anything about the Berlusconi years, it isn’t surprising. The books only ring with greater authenticity for it.

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