Thursday, June 21, 2018

Authors You Can Survive and Thrive After a Bad Review

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

I start by saying, I knew better. I advise authors not to post anything on their social media that could be perceived as controversial. Honestly, I didn’t think my post last Friday morning on Facebook was controversial, but in this current atmosphere of rudeness, some “friends” felt a need and their right to express their opinion and correct my viewpoint. My post didn’t ask for others’ opinions. It was merely a sharing of a news article with my thoughts.  

After deleting the original post I posted this, “Sooo, this morning, I made the mistake of voicing my feelings on a news story and after numerous comments escalating to being called names, I deleted the post and the increasingly attacking comments. Facebook is not a venue to share thoughts without being attacked for voicing one’s opinion. Put a fork
🍴in me, I’m done. What happened to respecting everyone’s opinion?” 

The post I deleted was only up for 48 minutes. The post above garnered over 84 supportive comments. I decided to turn my experience into a lesson for all authors. I sure learned something. 

Hear me again, keep your social media about your writing and your book. Think sales, sales and more sales. 

Fact. We live in a currently rude culture. As an author, you have to expect negative comments on your book. People love hiding behind their computers, giving their unfiltered opinions on the various venues social media provides. I recently had an author ask me if I had left a mediocre rating just because the reviewer’s online name had my first name. I assured the author it wasn’t me. As a staff member of Southern Writers Magazine, we are forbidden to review books. It’s unfortunate the author had suffered angst jumping to the wrong conclusion that I (someone who had been a beta reader of his book) might have left a mediocre Amazon review. Authors we have to know, gone are the days of “don’t say anything, unless you have something nice to say.” 

Reviews are subjective to how a person’s day is going. Sounds simple,- but it’s true. Was someone rude to them and they happened up on your book? Lucky you. Their review has nothing to do with YOU and everything to do with THEM. It makes them feel in control of their day and powerful with no consequences because they are hiding in cyberspace. I’ve often wondered when someone has left a bad review after they hit the send button if there is a rush of endorphins or if they feel any remorse in what they did to another person’s day. As an author taking anything but a glowing review to heart can be debilitating and can take its toll by you not wanting to write again. It hurts your heart and bruises your ego. You can’t let the “trolls” get you down. 

Bible Study teacher, Jennifer Rothschild, blogged Monday about seeing “something good in bad situations you’ve gotta look beyond your circumstance. You’ve gotta look through the 4:8 filter!” She was referring to Biblical scripture of  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Jennifer goes on to say, “We can all spy something “good” or “lovely” or “true” by applying some 4:8 to whatever we face. We may not be able to remove the bad, but when we apply some 4:8, we will renew our minds. Everything changes when we decide to dwell on only what meets the 4:8 standard.”

In Danny Wallace book, F You Very Much, Understanding the Culture of Rudeness-and What We Can Do About It, quotes Dr. Amir Erez an expert in positivity and positive thinking. Erez says, “One of the reasons rudeness is so devastating is that it affects cognition. When people encounter rudeness they can’t think in the same way. We know now that it affects working memory. It’s used in reasoning, in decision making and in determining our behavior. That’s the part of the process where everything is happening. Planning, goal management, memory—pretty much everything is dependent on working memory.”

Authors need to try to ignore and resist lingering over reviews that are less than faltering. Develop a “lovable thick skin.” What do I mean by that? Tune out the voices outside of you. Put your ego, hurt by bad reviews, in the closet under the sweaters you never wear. You know those ugly Christmas sweaters. Bury that ego. Remember for some people it’s hard to find the good when they aren’t looking for it.

The only thing you need to think about is loving the voices that help you write your current writing project or start a new one. Stay on target for your next book and your career as an author. Does your work meet the 4:8 standard? Put things in perspective.  You’re living your dream, writing. 

I’m taking a big chance by asking this question. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Method Writing-Live to Write, Not Write to Live

By Kena Sosa

It’s time to break the mold, writers. In the age of instant gratification, readers are no longer opening a book to only learn a version of events they may not ever experience, but to discover things they may experience one day on their own. We must live more so that our writing is spicy, breathes and grows. We must stop hiding behind that laptop, the spiral notebook and the safety of our own thoughts. Actors use method acting by absorbing, becoming and living their characters. It’s time we did the same.

Be a D.I.Y. enthusiast and do it yourself. If there is something you want to write about, do it first. If you are writing about a police officer, sign up for a free Citizen’s Police Academy. If you are writing about a scuba diver, sign up for a course. If your character is a paleontologist, sign up for a dig. Observe everyone and feel their reality. Live the life you want to write about.

People watch. Study people that influence your characters, not to copy them but to see how they work, how do those similar to your characters interact with others? What do they say and do? Interview people about their characteristics and jobs to get an insider’s perspective. You’ll need to assure them you are not writing about them, but are using the information only to build a more realistic character. If your interviewee is willing, try having an impromptu conversation with them about part of your plot or an event you’d like to write about. If you have mapped out some dialogue, ask them to do a read through like actors with a script. Get their perspective on the events and speech used. What would they say or do in that situation? If they aren’t up for it, have the conversation with your imaginary friend, yourself! Everyone talks to themselves in the car, so why not make it productive?

Method act like actors do. Leave your house and pretend to be your character. What places would they visit? What would they do? Be that character for a day and see how people react to you. If need be, conduct a social experiment. If you said you were lost, which people would stop to help you? Learn about others outside of your social circle through real interaction and observation.

If possible, find ways to travel on the cheap to the settings of your stories. Not all of your stories can be about the same place, can they? When you travel, settle down and try to identify with the locals.

Leave that comfort zone behind. I’m living it up developing my next story, not suffering writer’s block. Before you know it, all that stimulation, those new and invigorating wild thoughts, secrets, skills and passions will be ready to pour from your lips to the paper.
School librarian by day and writer by night, Kena Sosa adores words. She also loves playing the drums. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University and her master’s degree in bilingual education from Southern Methodist University. Her first children’s book, Rey Antonio and Rey Feo, was born of the celebration of her childhood in San Antonio. Her second book, Kindertransport: A Child’s Journey, is about the escape of children on the Kindertransport train just before the outbreak of World War II. Kena Sosa has lived in Japan and Mexico, but sharing stories with her two sons and other eager readers has been her favorite adventure yet!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

8 Things Writers Can Learn from Mary Poppins

By Gary Fearon

Richard M. Sherman and his brother Robert B. Sherman may not be household names, but the story songs they wrote are beloved worldwide via Walt Disney films and parks, including what they considered their crowning glory, Mary Poppins. Along with their Oscar-winning score, the Shermans were key players in developing the story structure.

Last Tuesday, June 12th, was Richard M. Sherman's 90th birthday. In his honor, here are eight things all writers can learn from the prolific songwriting team Walt himself affectionately referred to as "the boys".

There are eight books in the Mary Poppins series. Scenes and concepts from different books were brought together to create a storyline for the classic 1964 screenplay. Are there any ideas you've  put aside that could find a new home in your latest work?

The magical English nanny had many colorful adventures, but Richard & Robert determined that these episodes had no character arcs and weren't enough to carry a story. They convinced Disney that Mary's employers should be distracted parents who rediscover the joy of childhood along with their children. Once a moral was chosen, the adventures took on a common purpose.

For Mary's signature song, the Shermans wanted to give her a clever proverb, like "An apple a day..." or "A stitch in time..."  The end result ("A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down") was inspired by Robert's young son, whose school had administered a polio vaccine placed on sugar cubes for easier consumption. You never know what phrase you write could become an instant classic.

In the books, Bert was only a minor character, a street artist known as The Match Man. He has much more prominence in the film, and his role as a chimney sweep was borrowed from a different character in the P.L. Travers series. Bert was given a presence and personality strong enough to be a companion for Mary Poppins. His equally charismatic signature song, "Chim Chim Chiree", won the 1965 Oscar for Best Original Song.

The Shermans moved the story from the depression-era 1930s to the more hopeful turn of the century. Setting the story in 1910 London also allowed them to develop one character into a suffragette. Speaking of whom...

Actress Glynnis Johns thought she had been cast to get the title role of Mary Poppins, only to learn that Julie Andrews had already been enlisted to play the title role. Walt appeased her by assuring her that the Shermans had written an especially great song just for her to sing. In truth, it wasn't even a thought up to that point. But Richard and Robert picked up the gauntlet and delivered a big and brassy number to give her lesser character a chance to shine.

The Shermans wrote 32 songs for possible inclusion in Mary Poppins, but only 14 were used when Walt declared the rest "unnecessary" for the story. Some were repurposed in later Disney features including Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Jungle Book.

The Sherman brothers avoided distractions like the plague. When it was time to write, they shut out the world around them to concentrate on the project at hand. 

In everything they wrote, Richard and Robert believed that story always comes first. By adopting that same focus, we can give our writing a little extra magic that is practically perfect in every way.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Creating a Bestseller with Amazon AMS Ads

By  Jerry Dawson

I finally have success! After watching my novels languish in the Amazon jungle near the 1.5 million mark, I finally have a bestseller on my hands. How did I accomplish that? With Amazon’s AMS ads.

The reviews for my earlier books were all great, averaging 4.4 stars, but they never sold well. I had experimented with giveaways and advertising on Facebook and Amazon with varying success but nothing that brought me consistent sales at any level.

I released my new book, Meteor, with a good cover, a compelling tag line, and a determination to work with AMS ads until I figured them out.

Alien meets Jurassic Park in this fast-paced science fiction thriller. “Scary as hell.” “Bone-chillingly frightening.” That headline beside my book cover showing a meteor about to crash into the Earth has proven to attract clicks very well when I can get Amazon to put it in front of readers.

I took me six months of experimenting to break the code. To fully understand AMS ads is a lofty and ever-evolving goal, but working with one subset is easily within anyone’s capabilities.
Sponsored Product ads require only a daily budget, a list of keywords, and a bid amount for each keyword.

I recommend starting conservatively until your book cover and ad copy prove themselves. Set your daily budget around $10. My experience has been that Amazon won’t even spend one dollar of it. It’s only there in case your ad happens to take off, which is very unlikely at first.

For keywords, use book titles, author and character names, and other words that represent your genre. Don’t worry about representing your specific book. Your goal is to attract readers in your genre. A mystery writer’s list might include In Cold Blood, The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler, Sue Grafton, Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes, mystery, crime fiction, suspect, etc. Be sure to include plenty of mid-level authors and titles, because they will provide impressions at lower bids than bestsellers. (An impression is the appearance of your ad on an Amazon viewer’s screen.)

Start your bids at 10 cents for each keyword. Check it daily to see if you get at least 500-1000 impressions per day Give it a week, and if your impressions are still under 500 per day (3500 per week) create a new ad with a bid of 15 or 20 cents for each keyword. Experiment with new ad copy or keywords if you want, but keep your older ads running. Keep raising your bid weekly until you get at least 500 impressions per day on your ad. Depending on your genre, you may have to raise it to as high as 40 cents, but I believe that ads in most genres will have good impressions at 20 to 30 cents.

Now it’s up to your book page on Amazon to close the sale.

Ideally, you should get about one click for every 1000 impressions, and about one sale for every 10 clicks. If your results are not in that range, then you may need to improve your book cover, ad copy, and book description.

Meteor is now ranked under 4000 in the Kindle store, it sits on the bestseller list in four categories, and my sales grow every day. By promoting your book with AMS ads, you should be able to accomplish the same.
Jerry Dawson owes my writing career to a bad back. After decades of dealing with increasing scoliosis and arthritis, my lower back finally collapsed during Christmas week 2016. Surgery has repaired my back, but I am left with physical restrictions that prohibit me from returning to the work that I used to do. So in the tradition of turning lemons into lemonade, I have turned my writing hobby into my profession. My first novel, A Better Way, echoes my discontent to play by the rules, so with that in mind, I am not sticking to novels within only one genre. I am working on adventures, thrillers, sci-fi, and combinations thereof. I have one series, Sam ’n’ Patty’s Adventures, and my other books are stand-alones. Links:

Friday, June 15, 2018

Why Keeping a Book Marketing Log is a Smart Move

By Harriet Hodgson

Some authors are natural sales people. I’m not. In fact, just saying the word marketing sends shivers down my spine. My generation was taught be quiet, not to brag, and book marketing seems like bragging. I shared this thought with my publisher, and her reply was swift. “You’re not bragging,” she declared firmly. “You’re stating facts.”

Publishers’ marketing budgets seem to be shrinking. Most publishers, whether they are traditional, on demand, independent, or hybrid, ask authors to help with marketing. It’s expected. If you are totally self-published, marketing can be a huge hurdle, one too high to vault. What does book marketing involve? How should you go about it?

Despite the shivers, I vowed to give marketing my intense, ongoing attention. I read marketing articles, books, and observed other authors in action. Several months into 2017 I started keeping a marketing log. After the year ended I began a new log. When I read the entries in my old log, the pluses of log-keeping became evident. A book marketing log can also help you. 

Daily tracking is the most obvious benefit. As the months passed, my log became a marketing motivator. When I noticed the entries were becoming shorter, I increased my efforts, and set a goal of one marketing step per day. I’ve been a freelance writer for 38 years, so I have a strong author platform. However, if you’re new to writing, a log may help you begin or beef up an author platform.

Log entries may reveal gaps that need to be filled. For example, my entries showed daily posts on Twitter and Facebook, but few on other social media. I remedied this quickly. A book marketing log may also serve as proof of your efforts. Best of all, the log helps you build name recognition—or branding. Entries very, yet some themes emerge:

·       Names to remember (publishing company owner, content editor, copy editor, etc.)
·       Contact information for these people
·       Running total of Twitter followers
·       Twitter readers in different countries
·       Growing number of readers
·       Plans you have set in motion
·       The actions you took on these plans
·       Follow-up comments on these plans
·       Comments you’ve posted on Internet articles
·       Submissions for book awards
·       Marketing expenses

Like a diary, a log is a daily record, but that’s where the similarity ends. Book marketing log entries are short, words and phrases, not sentences of paragraphs. Long entries are better suited for journaling. Write just enough so you understand your entry months later. Although you may list some fees, don’t turn your log into a budget or tax document. These should be separate files.

A January entry in my 2018 log says I had a one-hour conference with my publisher. Later entries show I followed her marketing tips. Another January entry says I appeared on a radio talk show. A February entry says I was asked to write an article for a prestigious medical clinic. Later entries say I ordered two book trailers and was featured in a magazine.

Two April entries made me smile. One says I arranged a book launch at the local senior center for my 36th book, So, You’re Raising Your Grandkids! The other says I have more than 4,000 Twitter followers, an accomplishment for a marketing klutz like me. Reaching this number has taken months, yet I reached it, and the number is shooting up.

I’m not a marketing klutz anymore. Thanks in part to my log, I’m smarter, faster, and more confident about book marketing. Keeping a log may do the same for you and I hope you’ll consider the idea. 

Yes, entries take time, but only a couple of minutes. Keeping a book marketing log can boost self-esteem and become a way of cheering for yourself. So cheer away and start your log today!
Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. In addition to writing for print media, she writes for three websites. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, bereavement, and caregiving conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. Hodgson lives in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband John. Visit for more information about this busy wife, grandmother, caregiver, and author. Social Media:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Appreciation of Marketing – by Rob Eagar

Shared by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

Rob Eagar has been a friend of Southern Writers Magazine since our early days. I felt the information here was so important that I asked Rob if he would allow me to share it with our readers on this post.

"Hi Doyne, Yes, please encourage all of your writers to visit my website, join my e-newsletter, and download the 3 free e-books that I’m giving away at:  Best, Rob Eagar Wildfire Marketing, Learn How Books Become Bestsellers
The Appreciation of Marketing
One of the secrets to great marketing is the power of appreciation. I don't mean the idea of giving thanks. Instead, I mean the power of creating appreciating assets that increase in value over time.

In everyday life, your house may be an appreciating asset. It's worth more today than last year. If your retirement account grows in value, it's an appreciating asset. You may also own a piece of land or a collectible item that becomes more valuable over time. Investing in appreciating assets is essential because they increase your financial strength for the future.

In marketing, it's also essential to build appreciating assets. However, you have to make sure you understand the difference between appreciating and depreciating assets. For example, Facebook is a depreciating asset because it costs more do business on their platform than it did two years ago. Your advertising budget is also a depreciating asset, because you have to keep buying new ads on a constant basis. Getting interviewed on Good Morning America is a great marketing appearance, but the value of being on TV depreciates over time.

In contrast, there are specific marketing assets you should always build, because they consistently appreciate in value when used correctly. My top recommendations include:

Examples of Appreciating Marketing Assets
·        Email list: A constantly growing email list puts you in a position of strength to reach more people and grow sales than you did last year.
·        Website: An effective website helps close more sales with less effort as people around the world visit you online.
·        Joint venture partners: Individuals who help promote your products to their audience are invaluable appreciating assets, because they expand your reach and credibility for free.
·        Notable endorsements: Getting testimonials from famous people can deliver lasting authority and word of mouth
·        Published books: Publishing a book can be an appreciating asset that remains in the marketplace for decades, increasing your credibility, exposure, and income.

How many of these five assets do you own? Examine your marketing in the same way you judge your financial holdings. Are you building appreciating or depreciating assets?

Cars are known to rapidly depreciate and lose value over time. Investing in speculative real estate or Ponzi schemes can wipe out your entire fortune. Don't make a similar mistake by investing too much in marketing assets that decrease in value.

Put most of your time and resources into developing marketing assets that compound over time. When you read my newsletter this time next year, you'll be in an even better position than you are today.

Thanks to Rob for allowing us to share with you.

I hope each of you will take advantage of Rob’s excellent information and valuable free offer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


By Rae Bittle, Managing Editor WATERmark Studio & Publishing

CONGRATULATIONS! You have accomplished your goal — to complete your manuscript. But wait . . . not so fast!

If your goal is to get your manuscript book-ready, represented by an agent, and published — keep reading.

Bittle/ Novel Approach  At this point, your document is NOT ready for a professional edit until you are certain you can present the best possible version of it to an agent. Let it breathe — exhale — for several weeks. Understand your manuscript has become as close and familiar to you as your nose is to your eyes. Now, read it again, take notes and flag what now becomes glaring to your fresh set of eyes. REWRITE the manuscript at least once, maybe twice. Now, the editorial process begins — a necessity to turn your document into a manuscript ready for an agent’s eyes and publication. Only when you have taken it as far as you can, will you get the most for your money in hiring a freelance editor. Professional editors are NOT all things to all authors or their work.

Understanding the editorial process and services, which includes three customary editorial phases, will take you a long way in this journey. Before you meet with and hire an editor, you need to know what kind of help you need.
· Manuscript or copy editing and proofreading are about fixing errors. Copy editing and proofreading are separate line items.
· Are you looking for developmental editing — “big-picture” feedback about structure, style, pacing and voice?
· Line edits point out specific things, which do not fit or work, from a reader’s perspective. Going a step further . . . 

Bittle/Novel Approach  At WaterMark Studio & Publishing, we use an enhanced editing stage, which can preempt or add another editing step, depending on the storyline complexity. This technique leaves no stone unturned — “Beginning with the End in Mind.” Our approach starts with reading the last chapter first, undressing the table of contents, and a thorough read of the manuscript. This focus slants on traveling the TOC route to ensure you transport me — your first, unbiased reader — to the promised story ending. This approach facilitates the editing review and furthers content development toward producing a complete, final manuscript. Collaborating with an editor sheds new light on your work — making it possible for you to see it from angles you have never imagined, capitalize on your manuscript’s strengths and root out problems that might earn you a rejection letter from your dream agent. Hiring a freelance editor is a significant financial investment — one that can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand, depending upon the kinds of editing you require, the editor’s rate and the number of revisions/rounds of editing. As your editor, I want you to get the most out of your money. I want to leave you feeling enlightened, empowered and excited to be putting your book out into the world. I love writing, and I love writers. I am also a writer. Nevertheless, some of what you need to know to best utilize any professional editor can be difficult to hear. I have been there, too. So, before you hire someone like me, it is only right that you know the following:
 1. Prepare for feedback, criticism and direction.
 2. Revision takes time.

Bittle/ Novel Approach It is a waste of time and money to hire someone to copy edit your book before you have addressed developmental and line edits. I get you. I can relate to your passion as a writer, nurturing your work, your aspiration, and yes, your fear of birthing and letting go of the “baby” you have carried for so long. Your writing is, after all, the sum of your energy, time, work and heart. You come to editors with enthusiasm and passion—qualities you indeed need in order to survive and persevere in this profession—and we [editors] worry unloading too many difficult truths at once may dampen your enthusiasm or intimidate you.

Question, “Do you only want to publish this book, or do you also want to learn how to write better?” There is a difference between the two. Let’s answer this question together.
In 2000, Rae Bittle founded WATERmark Studio and Publishing, a full-service marketing communications firm operating from Houston, Texas with a global reach. Today, the company’s reach spans national and global industries and markets. In addition to owner and management responsibilities, she serves as Managing Editor, directing creative and editorial projects and business development. Rae studied Journalism and Public Relations at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, and later advanced to manage communication roles in Fortune 500 companies, various industry segments and government. Devoted to her passion for writing and editing, Rae continues to work with many authors as editor, publisher and editorial consultant. Online portfolio is available at . “I love writing, and I love writers. I am also a writer. I enjoy movies, home staging and interior design, reading and photography . . . living life like its golden keeps me alive.” For more information, and to discuss your editorial needs, please contact Rae Bittle at

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Classic Author

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

The classic writers all have one thing in common. There books are still being read today. They have long passed from this life, yet their words are here. It’s their legacy to each of us who are readers and writers. In each one of their books, we find them waiting for us.

Robert Louis Steveson said, "I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in."

Stevenson, was a Scottish novelist, poet, essayist, musician and travel writer. We know him from his most famous works––Treasure Island Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and A Child's Garden of Verses. He ranks as the 26th most translated author in the world.

Today there is a website dedicated to him. It is designed for all such as academics, school children and anyone interested in learning more about him and his work.

We can still learn from those who came before us.

What I found most interesting about him was not what he wrote but that he was a true writer in the sense he recognized the importance of reading (writers read) and
keeping a book (journal) with him to write in. If a thought came to mind he had a little book to write it down in immediately and that thought would not be lost in space.

It is in reading books we see how the writers created the world their story resides in. We can follow along and see what types of descriptions they use––are they too long, not enough or are they confusing and if so why or were they spot on.

What about their characters? How were they treated in the book? Did you get to know them, care for them? Were you able to walk into the book’s story and become mesmerized by the tale?

There are so many ways we can use books we read. Certainly, we like to pick up a good book for enjoyment. But for writers we also need to pick up books to see how others are writing. It’s like going to writing school and having a lab class with the book.

Next time you are reading a book, look at it with a writer’s eye. Look at style, voice, point of view, dialogue, scenes, descriptions, flow, and characters. What did it teach you about writing?

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Dazzle is in the Details

By Sandra Orchard, author of A Fool and His Monet, Another Day Another Dali, and Over Maya Dead Body

Yes, I have as much fun twisting a phrase for a good title as I have twisting what readers think they’ve deduced as they read. The details make the difference. Accurate, illuminating, surprising details.

But how does a writer know what details to use?


Please tell me, you didn’t just groan. Research is fun! You get to learn new things, see new places, and meet interesting people. What’s not to like?

The key is to not settle for what you glean from an Internet search or a book. Talk to people. Talk to people in the various vocations depicted in your novel. And . . . talk to people of varying personalities, backgrounds, and life experiences, to better imagine how different people would react to the scenarios you plan to write.

Whenever possible, also visit the “environments” you wish to depict—whether a specific town or a factory or a farm or a ghetto or a grand palace. Gain a sense of the atmosphere and rhythm of the place. Ask lots of questions. Jot down lots of details—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.

Choosing which details to use and how is an art in itself, but if you don’t know the details, you’ll inevitably fall back on stereotypical descriptions that aren’t nearly as interesting.

My Serena Jones Mysteries are fun adventures, and the research for them proved to be the same. I started, as most writers do, by reading online articles about art crime. From there, I devoured biographies of the best-known art detectives and books on art and forgery. I even took an online course with the University of Glasgow on Art & Antiquities Crime, which proved to be a fabulous way to “meet” several experts in the field.

But the real adventure started after I settled on a location for the series. I wanted to attend a conference in St. Louis, so I decided to make it my heroine’s hometown and contacted the FBI headquarters there to see if I might visit. It turned out they had a straightforward approval process in place. And after I filled out the appropriate online forms, my visit was approved!

A member of the FBI Art Crime Team even called me at home prior to my visit to answer questions. Likewise, art museum staff willingly, albeit a tad nervously, answered my questions about their security. Overall, I’ve found that most professionals are happy to share their expertise with a conscientious writer. But you’ll never know unless you ask.

And sometimes research opportunities just drop into your lap, like that late night visit to the ER, that totally unwarranted traffic stop, or the wonderful new friend you make at a writer’s conference who invites you to visit her home, which happens to be in the perfect location for your next novel—in my case, Over Maya Dead Body, since even FBI agents need a vacation and what better place than Martha’s Vineyard?

In fact, I had to visit twice; just to be sure I got the details exactly right. <wink>
Sandra Orchard is the award-winning author of several books, including A Fool and His Monet; Another Day, Another Dali; and the Port Aster Secrets series. The winner of six Canadian writing Awards and a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, Sandra has also received a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit, a National Readers’ Choice Award, and a Daphne du Maurier Award. She lives in Ontario, Canada. Learn more at WebsiteBlogFacebook,  and