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Writer Resources

Creating a Book Launch Party 101 | Writing Backdoor Dialogue | Writing the Cozy Mystery | Seven Prompts for Writers | Writer's Tips

Creating a Book Launch Party 101

Several months ago I held a book launch party to celebrate the release of my latest novel, Love Finds You in Humble Texas. This was the first time I’d ever hosted one of these events, so I was a little nervous about the cost, the workload, and about getting it right. After much planning and a lot of help, I was greatly relieved when the party turned out to be a success. Here’s how I did it.

My dream of a book launch party

For many years I have participated in book signings at conferences, bookstores, and speaking engagements, but I decided my latest novel needed something special. This time I wanted to have a party, not a sales event. But big parties can be time-consuming and expensive to host, especially if you rent a space. Having sponsors to help with the work and expense seemed ideal. In my novel, Love Finds You in Humble Texas, one of my main characters is a financial advisor and another character is an image coach. Since I had friends in those professions—Pat Durham and Brenda Jackson—I asked them if they would like to help sponsor my book launch party. Amazingly, both of my friends said yes! I would get assistance with the party, and in return, they would have a venue for entertaining their current clients as well as a way to attract new customers.

The overall plan
The three of us had a planning meeting at a local café to work out all the details. We each agreed to pay for a third of the cost of the event and each of us would take on a portion of the workload. One of my jobs was to prepare the invitations; and then later we would send the invitations to our own individual mailing lists. The party was now more affordable, but it was bigger since there were three mailing lists feeding into the event. I saw this as a benefit, not a drawback.

I purchased some simple but elegant invitations at a local party supply store and printed them at home. We invited around 450 people, knowing many of them would not be able to attend. We had about 60 to 70 guests, which was a good number for the size of our space.

In the end the total cost for the party was around $1000, but once again, that cost was divided three ways. One sponsor donated the use of her office suite for the evening, and that helped to keep the overall costs down. It also was a great place for the event, since her suite looked much more like a model home than an office.

Details can make or break an event

  1. Adding an RSVP to the invitation turned out to be very helpful, since we really had no idea what the response would be. We then had a ballpark figure to gauge the purchase of food, beverages, and gifts.
  2. I wanted to give each guest a small gift, but I wanted it to be something that would remind them of the book after the party. So, instead of handing out a fresh rose I gave each female guest a tiny frame that featured a picture of the book cover. (I bought these tiny frames at the dollar store and then wrapped them each in tulle and flowers and ribbons.)
  3. Another way we created a festive atmosphere was to have door prizes. The main gift was a pretty basket, which featured my books as well as a teapot. Also, when people signed up for the drawing we were able to gather their names and email addresses, which we could use later as a more refined customer list, or in my case, women who might be interested in signing up for a newsletter.
  4. My daughter, who is a talented guitarist, was hired for the evening to play soft acoustic music. This added a nice ambiance to the evening, which the guests really enjoyed.
  5. We set out an array of gourmet sandwiches, a fruit platter, a selection of cheeses, desserts, punch, wine, champagne, and chocolate truffles. All of the food and drink was a big hit.
  6. One of the office supply houses created a huge color blow-up of my book, which they glued to a foam board. This giant hardback poster made a lovely centerpiece around the books. To coordinate with the yellow and blue colors of the cover, we set out yellow candles in hurricane lamps as well as chiffon table runners, bouquets of fresh yellow roses, and blue and yellow silk petals, which were strewn across the tables like fallen leaves. All of this enhanced the presentation of the book.
  7. I wanted to make my novel easy to purchase, so I lowered the publisher’s price from $12.99 to $10. Also, I asked a friend from church to take care of the book sales. Looking back, it would have been hard for me to autograph books, visit with people, and also make change, so that extra help with sales was necessary and greatly appreciated.

What were the benefits of my launch party?

  1. Invitations were sent to hundreds of people, and even though many were not able to attend, those same people did see my book announcement as well as the cover.
  2. The Chamber of Commerce was there from two difference cities, so I counted that as good publicity.
  3. The local media was invited to the party. They did not attend, but there was some buzz generated in two of the local papers.
  4. I sold over thirty books, and I believe I gained some new readers.
  5. People had a great time, and they were so generous. I was given flowers, a book, and a large framed portrait, which was created by a local artist. I was flabbergasted at the generosity of the guests who attended!
  6. And then there were the not so tangible benefits of the book launch party. I don’t think you can put a price on sharing the celebration of one’s artistic endeavors with people who are excited about what you’re doing and want to cheer you on. It was a wonderfully memorable evening for me.

Would I do it all over again?

Even with the generous sponsorship and all the help, the book launch party was still a lot of work. It turned out so well, though, and everyone had so much fun, I’m seriously considering another party for the next book.

It’s a wrap

If you do choose to have an event like this one, just remember to start the planning early, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and then relax and enjoy the ride. People have parties for every kind of life event imaginable, so it’s only natural that authors would want to include a book launch party in that list. Also, don’t forget that this kind of event can be scaled back to a less expensive and more intimate soirée.

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Writing Backdoor Dialogue

My family loves snappy movie dialogue, so we weave bits of it into our conversations. The more inventive we are at making it fit into our banter, the bigger the smiles all around. The snippets we choose are always poignant, witty, sardonic, or dazzlingly clever. Rarely do we take the time to memorize dialogue that's ordinary. In other words, it's never the mundane, repetitious things we say at home or the tedious yak I might produce when eating lunch with a friend. Readers want realistic dialogue, yes, but only to a point. Readers also want to be swept out of the droning, utilitarian chatter of everyday life, and given the opportunity to partake in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers kind of word-dance that leaves us a little breathless.

After writing a rough draft, checking dialogue for its effervescent levels is part of my editing phase. I always want to ask these questions. "Has the scene gone flat because the dialogue is boring? Is there a more interesting way for my characters to say this?" I call ho-hum writing, "front door writing" because it just walks right up, knocks on the door, and does exactly what we expect it to do—walk in the front door. But a more unexpected approach, one that sneaks up on us a bit, I call "backdoor writing." And of course, it relates to dialogue as well as writing in general. Here is an example of dialogue from my cozy mystery, Another Hour to Kill. This is the way the scene ended up in the book, and I'm hoping it shows a bit of "backdoor writing."

I looked outside. The Mexican feather grass near my porch dipped and swayed in the gusts like strands of hair. "As I'm sure you know, Houston isn't a very windy place. . .unless there's a storm coming."

"I like a good storm. They're heady and unpredictable." Vlad gazed at me. " ‘O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being, Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.' Shelley."

So, he was one of those guys who loved to quote famous dead poets. I fidgeted with my rose, starting to feel uncomfortable and wondering how many women he'd schmoozed into a senseless stupor over the years with his smooth hair and silvery tongue. Probably more than he could keep track of. That was the way with well-designed men. They were like Italian suits in a denim world.

Okay, that is a bit of conversation as well as inner dialogue. Hereare some of my reasons for writing it that way.

  1. The heroine, Bailey, mentions the storm, because she senses that something ominous is coming—something beyond mere atmospheric conditions. It makes for a moment of foreshadowing.
  2. Vlad speaks of loving storms and their unpredictability. This statement reveals some of the wildness and impulsiveness in his nature.
  3. I thought having Vlad quote the poet, Shelley, might be a more interesting way for him to comment on the approaching storm. I could have had Vlad say, "The wind sure is picking up outside. Gee, you're right. . .there's a storm coming." First of all, this approach wouldn't have worked since Vlad has a more formal way of speaking, but secondly, it wouldn't have been as interesting or as revealing as the poetry.
  4. Also, the Shelley quote gives us more to chew on. It tells us that Vlad is a man who is either putting on airs or is cultured and likes sharing his love for poetry with others. The reader must decide who Vlad really is. And the quote gives us a bit of subtext dialogue, to reinforce the idea that a tempest is coming—one that may have nothing to do with the weather. In addition, the Shelley quote speaks of mystical elements such as ghosts and an enchanter. These are bits of Vlad's personality, so it not only keeps the scene within a gothic framework, but it holds some revelation for the reader concerning Vlad.

The last part of this passage from Another Hour to Kill is merely the internal thoughts of the heroine. Hopefully, I set up the dialogue well enough that it would allow me to make Bailey's head-talk more engaging, enlightening, and possibly amusing.

Novels have the potential to magically sweep us away from everyday life. Encountering this kind of enchanting word-dance in dialogue is something I long for whether I'm at the computer writing a novel or curled up in my den reading one.

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Writing the Cozy Mystery

Ten Killer Tips

1. How better to acquaint oneself with the cozy mystery genre than to read a pile of Agatha Christie novels? She sold over two billion books, after all! They are a fun read and will also teach you the basic formula of writing a cozy. Two of the books in my pile were And Then There Were None and Black Coffee. Be aware, though, that publishers will have their own guidelines for you to follow, but a Christie marathon is a great start. Once you've immersed yourself in the genre then brainstorm some ideas of your own. A good book for general plotting is The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman.

2. What if you still have no idea how to start? Make a list of things you're interested in. What are your particular strengths? Do you have a talent for playing the flute, or are you a boat person? Perhaps you have a degree in business, or a background in floral design, or a fascination with natural phenomena. Use what you know, what you have a passion for, and even use your personality quirks. You know, the ones that irritate your spouse. What about Obsessive Compulsive Behavior? Apparently someone thought it would be a great character trait for the hero in a mystery series, since the disorder is being used brilliantly and humorously in the television show, Monk.

3. Find a unique angle. My mystery series has a gothic tone with a chick-lit flair. Since there were very few Ann Radcliffe style gothic novels in the Christian marketplace, I thought that would give a fresh feel to the standard whodunit. Then my heroine, Bailey Walker, adds her own witty inner thought life to the work, which gives the series a chick-lit feel.

4. Write the kind of mysteries you'd love to read. That passion will infuse and energize your work. Readers will take notice. They always know the difference between an author who is just fulfilling a word count to make a deadline versus a writer who is in love with her story.

5. Find a couple of critique partners you trust and respect. They are invaluable. You can find these wonderful people at writers' conferences, online writers' groups, and writers' organizations.

6. Cozy mysteries do not have to be about murder. But a crime must be committed. I have three mysteries coming out in The Volstead Manor Series, and they each highlight a different crime. The first mystery, Another Stab at Life, will deal with burglary as well as a potpourri of other crimes. Another Hour to Kill will lead the readers through a maze of clues which surround a murder, and the last one in the series, Another Grave Matter, will be a whodunit centering on arson.

7. As you're writing, you may find a need to have a book on police procedures to answer your questions about law enforcement, or you might be lucky enough to know an expert who would be happy to share his knowledge with you. My neighbor is a former police officer and detective. He has been a great resource when it comes to the functional details of law enforcement. People love to visit about their professions. They feel honored when you ask their opinion. But do remember, cozy mysteries should deal mostly with the amateur sleuth, not the seasoned pro on the streets. That's another whole genre. But the amateur sleuth may receive help from any number of sources. My sleuth, Bailey, reads a lot of mystery novels, and so some of her ideas and know-how comes directly from her favorite mysteries.

8. Make sure you have enough suspects, but not so many you confuse the reader. Also, mystery writers still use red herrings, which are misleading clues to take the reader off in the wrong direction. Always play fair with your readers, though, by setting out enough clues to give the reader a chance to figure out the culprit. By withholding vital information, you cheat your readers out of one of the reasons they buy whodunits—so they can piece together a puzzle. At the end of your book, you want your readers to say one of two things. "Ahhaa. I knew it was the accountant!" Or you want them to say, "How clever. I wouldn't have guessed the accountant, but that makes perfect sense now!"

9. In a cozy mystery, think snug neighborhood. I have my three mysteries set in Houston, but the cul-de-sac where my characters live exudes a small town atmosphere. Also, mysteries usually have a quirky character or two. In Another Hour to Kill, two my eccentric characters are Eunice Musgrove and Ozzie Keebly. Yes, they are as odd as their names.

10. Cozy mysteries are about the puzzle, not the gore. A violent act and a dead body may be described, but not with the same grisly details as you might read about in a hardboiled mystery. Avoid the gruesome, but never forget to make your writing so tight and your characters so interesting and your plot so twisting that your readers haven't a moment to catch their breath until the very last word!

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Seven Prompts for Writers

Writer's block is an unwelcomed guest, and one I've never entertained in my twenty years of writing. Well, once I might have considered a chat with him, but when I refocused on the infinite possibilities for stories and book ideas, I simply had no need to be hoodwinked by such a charlatan.

We can indeed be inspired as we live out all the verbs of our lives. While shopping, weeding, driving, singing, crying, celebrating, birthing, cooking, arguing, dreaming, fuming, forgiving, eavesdropping, pretending, or dreaming.

Think of it. The possibilities are staggering. The stimulus is never ending. The potential is enormous.


If you're still staring at an empty page, try a few prompts to give the boot to that blocking brute. Writer's prompts can also be a great tool to improve one's craft or as a warm-up in the morning the way runners limber their muscles before taking on the road.

One excellent resource is The Writer's Idea Book by Jack Heffron, published by Writer's Digest Books. The book is chocked full of writer's prompts (over 400) and is a marvelous tool for developing ideas for fiction and nonfiction works.

Below I've included a week's worth of my own prompts. See how you like them. I hope they help. Then, the next time writer's block competes for your attention, invite your muse over instead. He makes better company, and he carries his own weight!

  1. Think of the most peaceful day you've ever had. Now imagine several events that will turn your perfect day upside down. Write that scene.
  2. What is your most beloved material possession? Now imagine someone you trust trying to either romance or steal that treasure away from you. Write that scene and then read your work out loud.
  3. Write a page of heated dialogue involving betrayal between two sisters who suddenly show up at the same day spa to get their nails done. Now write that same scene adding a humorous overtone. Which scene works better? Why?
  4. Using internal thoughts write about the first time you saw the love of your life. Write your feelings out quickly without editing. Then polish.
  5. Using alteration and the voice of a child, describe a birthday party gone awry.
  6. Summon the worst nightmare you've ever had. Write the scene in first person. Now change the scene to third person. Which scene works better?
  7. If you could create your own utopia, what would it be? Using all the senses take us there in a paragraph or two.

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Writer's Tips

  1. Read. I have discovered that the more I read the better I write.
  2. Follow all leads from networking opportunities, writer's conferences, and tips from writer friends.
  3. Look for "holes" in the marketplace. One way of finding holes is to talk to booksellers and librarians. You might discover that there is a real need for a certain kind of book. Perhaps a number of patrons have asked repeatedly for a particular subject and there are few or no books written on it.
  4. Try brainstorming when you are out of ideas. Then when the ideas do flow, start a file for later use. For example, you could have a file with character profiles, bits of dialogue, fresh book titles, or other items that you could eventually use in a new piece of writing.
  5. Read all your work out loud. It sounds simple but it is a valuable tool.
  6. Titles are very important. Make sure that your title is the very best it can be for your work. If you don't like it, brainstorm until you find a new one, or use a dazzling phrase from your manuscript.
  7. If you feel a burnout approaching, and you're actually thinking about throwing in the towel, put your work aside, read a book for fun--not for analyzing, start a journal, go on a writer's retreat, or take a break by writing something very different from what you are accustomed to writing.
  8. Try making a habit of writing, even when you don't think you're in an inspired mood.
  9. Pray that God will guide you and help you be the best writer you can be.
  10. Many popular authors have known plenty of rejection, so you are not alone if you have received rejection slips (Years ago I collected a file folder full!) The bottom line is -- if it is your calling to write, don't give up.

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