Updates from an introvert attending a week-long writing course #MondayBlogs #Swanwick70 #writerslife

I know I said I’d be offline this week while I’m at Swanwick Summer School, but I’m skipping breakfast this morning to quickly write a blog post because I’m an introvert (a loud-mouthed introvert, but an introvert nonetheless) and I could use a break from the other 300 plus delegates. So, I’m hiding in my room and drinking a coffee and eating a meergranen biscuit I brought from home for breakfast. Do I know how to live or what?

Between preparing for summer school and working on the marketing to launch Finders, Not Keepers next week (whose brilliant idea was it to launch a book days after returning from an intensive course, anyway?), I haven’t managed to finish The Goldfinch yet. To be perfectly, painfully honest, I haven’t made much progress at all. I planned to read in the plane on the way over here, but we had a 3 ½ hour delay due to a bird strike. Normally, that’s lots of extra reading time, right? Um, not if you are Dena. Dena heads to the Irish bar and has a pint (or 2… no one’s counting, right?). BUT the book is on my nightstand and I will try to get a few chapters in here and there. I will finish this book eventually. I will.


Actual evidence

In the meantime, a quick update on The Writers’ Summer School. So far, it’s living up to my expectations. I went to two courses yesterday: crime doesn’t pay and sitcom writing. I’m not sure I can use much from the crime doesn’t pay lecture as I don’t get into forensic evidence much with my cozy mysteries, but it did get my creative juices flowing on the next book in the Not So Reluctant Detective Series. Melly is in for some serious trouble on that one. Sitcom writing is not something I’ve considered doing, but I went along to get some tips for writing funny stuff. I do try to write funny stuff, after all. The lecturer was quite good. I must admit I didn’t enjoy the group writing activity. When you’ve only just met someone, it’s awful hard to work together. #NotATeamPlayer

On the agenda today is another lecture in the crime doesn’t pay series and a short course in creating characters. I may even put on my dancing shoes and go to the disco this evening, although after last night’s horrible result in the quiz (resulting in that second ill-advised bottle of wine), I’m unsure.

Signing off …

Off to Summer Writing School @swanwickwriters @writerslife @amwriting

swanwick 2I’ll be offline for the next week as I’m off to the Swanwick Summer Writers’ School. Eek! Nervous and excited all in one.

Although I love working at home and having the freedom to work whenever I want, I do miss having colleagues. When I complained to a fellow writer friend, she suggested taking a course. I’d just come back from the London Book Fair and I was bubbling over with writing and marketing ideas. I’d also made tons of connections with bloggers and other writers. A course sounded like the perfect idea.

I did some research and quickly discovered courses primarily fell into two categories. The first category is a writers’ retreat where the main goal is to get away from the world and write. That didn’t appeal to me. If I want to do that, I’ll book a vacation somewhere I want to go. The other category is writing courses for those who don’t write professionally but who would like to get started. These courses are primarily set in wonderful locations and half of the time is spent going on excursions. Not what I was looking for.

swanwick 1Via Wikipedia (they should really pay me for marketing), I discovered The Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick, a week-long summer school. The agenda is packed full of interesting courses. Some are longer over a few days and some are seminars. Specialist courses such as “Making Crime Pay” and “Secrets of Sitcom” sound right up my alley. There’s also tons of evening entertainment, which kind of freaks me out.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, have a great weekend.


Marketing a Pre-Order ~ Lessons learned ~ Part II #WriterWednesday #BookMarketing #AmWriting

Unlike the pre-orders for Searching for Gertrude, the pre-order numbers for Finders, Not Keepers are actually my highest ever. Excuse me while I do a dance. Okay, I’m back now. To read what went wrong with Searching for Gertrude, read last week’s blog post here. But establishing how I messed up isn’t enough. I need to understand exactly why Finders, Not Keepers is doing better. Here’s what I came up with.

Time. First of all, I have a lot more time to handle marketing and PR than I did last year. I made the somewhat stupid mistake of agreeing to serve on the board of directors of a non-profit for a year. I thought I could handle it. I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a commitment. I thought the president wouldn’t up and leave mid-term, leaving me to serve as vice-president and president. (I wasn’t too smart, was I?)

Newsletter. I’ve completely revised my newsletter this year as well. I used to only send out a newsletter when I had a new release coming out. Frankly, these newsletters were just me screaming ‘Look at me! Look at me! Buy my book! Buy my book!’ Not surprisingly, they weren’t very effective. I now do monthly updates. I’m also working hard on getting new followers.

sign up form for website

Newsletter swaps. One of the biggest takeaways from the London Book Fair for me was author collaboration. I decided to try this by joining a newsletter swap service. Each month when I’m drafting my newsletter, I head to the swap site and find books on sale in the same genres I write. When I have a sale, I add my sale to the site. Three authors included the pre-release sale of Finders, Not Keepers in their newsletter. I attribute 10 pre-orders to this.

Aug 8.1

Build Up. As I now have more time, I participate in several memes on Twitter and Instagram that ‘market’ my work in progress such as #1linewed, #ThursdayAesthetic, and #WFFriday. I’m not sure these actually help in selling pre-orders, but they certainly don’t hurt. Even if they don’t help, they have helped me with having graphic material ready for the launch as well as finding quotes for teasers and drafting by-lines for future marketing material.

Tweet 1

Teaser Tuesday. I booked a Teaser Tuesday marketing flash with a blog tour company. My teasers and an excerpt of Finders, Not Keepers was published on around twenty blogs. I attribute approximately 10 pre-orders to Teaser Tuesday.

Genre. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again – switching genres can be a career killer for an author. Searching for Gertrude was a historical fiction novel. I’ve worked hard to build up an audience for my murder mysteries. Many of these readers were uninterested in a novel taking place in wartime Istanbul. *pouts*

Reduced Price. I reduced the price of the pre-order for Finders, Not Keepers to 99 cents. Everyone loves a bargain!

In my humble opinion, the last two items, reduced price and genre, had the greatest effect on increasing the number of pre-orders. How many pre-orders have I got so far? I don’t think the actual number is very helpful (I’m not a bestseller, that’s for sure). But I will say that Finders, Not Keepers has more than three times the number of pre-orders as my previous record holder (the third book in a three-book series.)



Is life too short to read books you don’t like? #MondayBlogs #AmReading

life too shortIt’s Monday, which means I should be writing a book review for one of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction. *Plot twist!* I’m not finished with the next prize winner. I’m currently on the 2014 winner, The Goldfinch. If you haven’t read this novel, let me tell you – it’s long. Over 800 pages long in fact. And it’s not the type of book you flip through quickly. Or at least it’s not the type of book I flip through quickly. In fact, I’ve been struggling to read this book since I picked it up at the Mauritshuis (the museum in The Hague where the painting The Goldfinch is displaying) last September.

the catcher in the ryeAs I struggled to read at least one-hundred pages this weekend, I started thinking about reading books you don’t like. I often read about bloggers who claim – life is too short to read books you don’t like. I’ve always had a problem with this saying. There are just some books that you don’t like, but you should read anyway. I, for one, hated Catcher In The Rye. But I’m glad I read it. It’s a book that is talked about often. If I hadn’t read it, I would feel left out as if I’d missed out on something.

when breathe becomes airThen, there are the books you don’t like because they are depressing. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is a good example. I wouldn’t say I hated this book or didn’t like it, but it was depressing as hell. If life is too short to read books you don’t like, then it’s definitely too short to read books that make you contemplate what the purpose of life is and whether it’s worth living. It took me months to recover from reading this novel!

atlas shruggedAnd finally, there are books you don’t like but read anyway because you can learn from them. Atlas Shrugged from Ayn Rand is a good example of this. Coming in at over one-thousand pages, this is probably one of the longest books I’ve ever forced myself to read. I’ll be totally honest and admit I skimmed a lot towards the end. Long speeches? No, thank you. But I’m glad I read this novel as it describes various philosophical and economical ideals that are important to understand in today’s modern economy.

The above does not mean I believe you should continue to read every single book you don’t like. I’m often asked by authors to read and review their novel. At first, I absolutely refused to DNF any book I’d agreed to review. (DNF = Did Not Finish) I wanted to respect the work and effort of these authors. I’ve since learned that while life may not be too short to read books you don’t like, it’s definitely too short to read books you don’t like that are poorly written, have plot holes the size of the moon, or feature flat characters. I also have no problem not reading a book I’ve downloaded for free via Amazon’s kindle unlimited. An unedited novel is a sure to end up on my DNF list.

Life is not too short to read books you don’t like. Life is too short to read ‘bad’ books you don’t like.


Things writers can do during a heatwave #Summer #AmWriting #WritersLife

Although I’m sitting here at my desk with my balcony doors wide open (which is driving me crazy as it’s SOOO LOUD outside), I’m still sweltering. Although it’s not the triple digits (Fahrenheit) it was last week, it’s still uncomfortably warm for Holland. Spoiler alert: Our houses were not built for this weather. So yeah, it’s hot and I’m sticky with sweat. I probably smell. But, frankly, who cares? It’s summer. We are literally a fifteen-minute bike ride from the beach. And if that’s not your cup of tea, then there’s always a plethora of adult summer-type drinks. Sangria, anyone?

Normally, summer in Holland is … well… not really a summer. It’s rain, rain, rain. This is such a typical phenomenon that there are tons of memes about it:

Aug 3.1

So, what do the Dutch do when instead of the lovely rain we usually have (sarcasm intended), there is a heat wave? They complain. And complain. And complain. It’s not very attractive.

Things to do instead:

1. Go swimming! Whether it’s the beach or an outdoor pool, getting in the water is a sure way to cool you down. And what better way to search for inspiration for that male character in your new book than ogling scrutinizing the men at the beach/pool?

Aug 3.2

Feeling inspired yet?

2. Lay on your bed in as few clothes as possible with the fan pointed at you on high. If you ‘think’ about your current writing project, this even counts as work!

3. If you insist on really working (*rolls eyes*), then head to the local library. As a governmental building, the airco isn’t set as high as the grocery store, but it’s still refreshing. And the brownies at the café are to die for!

4. Take a cold shower or bath. Grab whatever summer read you’ve been neglecting and lay in a cool bath. Don’t you know that reading is technically work for a writer? #amreading

5. Go see a movie! The theaters are air-conditioned. There’s bound to be something you want to see. Mamma Mia is a great feelgood movie that will make you forget the weather. Who knows? Maybe a movie will serve as inspiration for a new story?

6. Hit up a museum. Museums contain priceless art and are therefore temperature controlled. YES! They are also a great source of inspiration. Personally, I’m working on a story which spawned from a painting by a Dutch Master. #WIP #beingmysteriousonpurpose

7. Stick your head in the freezer. Who knows there may be some cookies in there you forgot? #truestory

8. Go to the local grocery store and browse. Yes, browse. It’s airconditioned. Trust me, you’ll be in good company.

9. Search for a complicated sangria recipe. While browsing in the grocery store, buy the ingredients. I guarantee if you make the sangria correctly, you won’t care about the heat wave after two drinks. Maybe three. Bonus: You’ll think you can write like Hemingway.

10. Search for the most popular Italian ice cream café in town and bike there for a cold treat. If there was any time to jump off your diet bandwagon, it’s now!

No, go forth and DON’T COMPLAIN!!!

Happy weekend!





Marketing a Pre-Order ~ Lessons learned #WriterWednesday #BookMarketing #AmWriting

buy 1 get 1 free adBack in December of last year (when I wasn’t suffering from heat exhaustion), I was working on developing new ideas for marketing pre-orders as my novel, Searching for Gertrude, was on pre-order at the time. I came up with – or perhaps stole is the right word – the idea of giving away my previous historical fiction novel, Buried Appearances, to readers who purchased a pre-order of my new release. (To find out more, read the blog post here.) I promised to let everyone know how the idea worked. It’s taken me a while, but here’s my follow up.

The reason months have passed since the release of Searching for Gertrude and my writing this blog post follow-up is that I simply wasn’t sure what went wrong. Now that I’m busy marketing the pre-order of my new novel, Finders, Not Keepers, I have a much better idea of how I screwed up. Yes, screwed up. The pre-order numbers for Searching for Gertrude were abysmal. I was extremely disappointed as I spent a lot of time researching this novel. I am obnoxiously proud of this book. Personally, I think it’s my best writing. So, what went wrong?

  • Different genre: There is a reason marketing gurus urge writers to stick with one genre. Genre hopping is extremely difficult. If you’ve built up any type of readership, readers will expect your novels to be in the same genre. I thought – stupidly, it turns out – that since I wrote mysteries and romantic comedies, this didn’t apply to me. Wrong. Just wrong.


  • Fewer reviews: Unfortunately, many of my reviewers were uninterested in reviewing Searching for Gertrude as it wasn’t a mystery novel. This left me with a lot less reviews and everyone knows what that means – less sales.


  • Less time to market: If I’m completely honest with myself, I just didn’t have the time to put into marketing the novel. I made the somewhat stupid mistake of agreeing to serve on the board of directors of a non-profit for a year. I thought I could handle it. I thought it wouldn’t be that big of a commitment. I thought the president wouldn’t up and leave mid-term, leaving me to serve as vice-president and president. Turns out I am not superwoman (major bummer) and I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to. Marketing took last place on my to-do list and we all know you never get to the items on the bottom of your to-do list.

to do list


As you can see from above, I don’t criticize the actual marketing idea of giving away a novel to get readers to pre-order Searching for Gertrude. That’s because I think it’s obvious that the issues with getting more pre-orders and sales of the novel have little to do with the marketing technique and more to do with the above reasons.

Next week I’ll talk about pre-orders for my upcoming novel Finders, Not Keepers and how successful (or not!) marketing for the pre-order has been with my latest novel.


My review of All The Light We Cannot See, the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction #MondayBlogs #PulitzerPrize #PulitzerPrizeChallenge #AmReading #BookReview

All the light we cannot see 2I’m back on track this week with my Pulitzer Prize Challenge. I’ve just finished the 2015 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, All The Light We Cannot See from Anthony Doerr. This book absolutely destroyed me – in a good way. I loved this book. Loved! Loved! Loved! I’m obsessed with WWII on the European Front, so it’s not such a surprise I would enjoy Doerr’s novel, which takes place in France and Germany in the years leading up to the war and the war itself. But this novel is so much more than a novel about the war. It is an epic story that explores the very depths of human nature.

When people ruminate about the great American novel, this is the type of book to which they are referring. Doerr doesn’t just describe Europe before and during the war. He opens the door for us to view that world through the eyes of Marie-Laure and Werner. He transports the reader to the streets of Paris and Saint Malo. You can almost taste the salt water from the sea in the air as you read. Then, he jumps to Germany and the coal mines where I could practically feel Werner’s desperate desire to find an escape from the mines awaiting him.


(c) Antoine DECLERCK

After we fall in love with Marie-Laure and Werner (and I dare you to say you didn’t fall in love with these two), he slowly builds suspense as the war machine that was Nazi Germany revs its engines. My heart was in my throat as Marie-Laure fled Paris with her father. Werner’s journey was no less perilous. His exceptional skills with radios have allowed him to escape the mines, but what other horrors await him? Doerr jumps back and forth through time building and building suspense until a reader is forced to pull up a chair and turn the pages until the final culmination of the Battle for Brest and the occupation of Saint Malo.

Doerr connects the stories of the various characters in ways a reader would never suspect, but with the result that the story is interwoven in such a way as to remind us that humanity is not only made up of different tribes and cultures, but at its base we are all the same – We are all just human beings trying to survive in a sometimes extremely harsh world.

Everyone should read this novel. If nothing else to remind us of the damage caused to civilians during war.


Coming up: I’m now reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I’ve been working on this book for months! The likelihood of finishing before next week is therefore low. Not to worry! Living just minutes from the actual painting, I can share some stories about it with you.