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Featured, Marketing, Serial Killer, Suspense, Writing, Writing Style


August 7, 2017

My newest book, Eyes Without A Face, releases in October. Unlike anything I’ve written before, it’s from inside the mind of a psychopath. Here’s a teaser:

No matter what anyone says, I wasn’t born a serial killer. I don’t carry a sociopath gene, a psychopath gene, or even a serial killer gene. No such thing.

You can argue about nurture versus nature. Go ahead. Have at it. Look at the studies about psychopaths. Check me against the list of traits. I didn’t wet my bed, kill small animals, or set fires. My younger brother did those things, but he didn’t kill people―as far as I know. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous. My sister was. She began screwing every boy and some of the men in town as soon as she got breasts.

My father was verbally and physically abusive like half the men in town. So overpowering was the old man’s dominance that my mother retreated into a dark place where no spark emerged. Valium and vodka numbed her into submission.

None of this turned me into a killer. I came to this life through free will.

Back in college, I was never in touch with the lifestyles of my sorority sisters, who were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I knew from the very beginning that would never be satisfying. I needed something more, something different. Once I killed someone, however, I found my true calling in life.

In a way, fate led me to kill people that didn’t deserve to live. Other than one time, I never, ever killed anyone without a damned good reason. Even that time, I felt justified because I was learning my craft, honing my skills, if you will. I came to killing gradually, but once I started, I continued for more than three decades.

Anthology, Featured, Marketing, Mystery, Writing

50 Shades of Cabernet

March 6, 2017

For the longest time, I’ve avoided talking about my books, interviewing authors, writing about what I read. It’s time to weave more of these stories into my personal posts.

I’m starting with an anthology to which I had the honor of contributing a short story. More than a dozen writers got together virtually to write light-hearted mysteries around a wine theme. Called 50 Shades of Cabernet, the story had to have mystery elements, although not necessarily murders, and at least one mention of Cabernet. When I was first invited, I had no idea what I’d write. It had to be original; it had to meet a certain word count; and it had to be funny.

I don’t write humor. My first self-published book, which will come out this year, is about a female serial killer. In first person singular. From her perspective. That’s right–a female serial killer telling her story. The closest she gets to humor as sarcasm and snark.

I found writing a lighter story a great challenge and a welcome relief after spending months inside the head of a psychopath. Or should I say, she spent several years inside my head. Whatever.

Wine, huh? I like wine. I love Cabernet. I love thinking of ways people can get themselves into and out of jams. I sat several times to write, only to run out of ideas after a paragraph or two. I pushed the story aside. One day, when I was driving back from one of my writing groups, the epiphany hit. Why not do a send-up of New Age religions? Why not build one around celebrating wine? Why not layer on a few Neo-Druid trappings? And thus a story was born.

My story is “Midnight In the Church of The Holy Grape” is just such a send-up. Ryan, a member of this non-church church, wants his wife, Lucy, to go with him to the Winter Solstice meeting where he hopes he will be chosen to move up in the non-hierarchy hierarchy. His wife wants nothing to do with it. He persuades her finally, but she’s not a happy camper. Until she actually gets to the Gothic building and into the basement where they meet. Add moody music, elaborately laid tables waiting to groan with food and wine, and a crone sitting at the head. Well, Lucy becomes intrigued.

The layers: gothic setting, odd music in the background, the crone at the head of the table, and a battle between sects.

Oh, where does Cabernet come in? The crone is the Wrong Reverend Ruby Cabernet. Her leadership is challenged.

Did we have fun writing our stories? I sure as heck did. I only wish we could say we sat in a room and written together. We didn’t. In fact, I haven’t met half of the writers in the anthology except virtually. I hope you like the book. As soon as it is available, I’ll have a link to it on my web page and will be offering signed copies. For in-person signings, please check out our Facebook page.

Okay, enough about me. In a later blog, I will offer an interview with an author of my choice.

Featured, Lifestyle, Marketing, Writing, Writing Style

Don’t Swing at a Pitch in the Dirt

January 2, 2017

This blog spawns from a series of discussions I had over the past few months with newbie writers. None had published anything; all had grand dreams of hitting that ball out of the park, a home run the first time out. I can belabor the baseball metaphor endlessly, but let us put it aside. Time to bring baseball and publishing expectations together.

What I mean by not swinging at pitches in the dirt is that the ball is out of play as soon as it gets dirty. Any player who would swing at something hoping for a hit would strike at the ball, but nothing would happen.

The same thing happens with writers. We all know we have a great book in us. We all know it will be a best seller and that we’ll enjoy fame and fortune while we whisk out our next great opus. If wishes were Porsches, Betsy would drive like a queen.

I was working with several new writers who all wanted to write the next great American novel. I hope one of them will, but it won’t be the stuff dreams are made of. (Sorry, Bogie, couldn’t resist the last line from The Maltese Falcon.) Writing, to quote my friend Brad Parks, is hard flipping work. I asked these writers what their typical writing day was in order to judge the seriousness of their hopes. Only one wrote every day. Some thought about writing every day but never found time to sit and actually write. No matter that I shared they could find twenty minutes daily to put something on paper. No matter that if they wrote 250 words a day they’d have a novel-length draft done in a year. “A year,” moaned one man. “I can’t wait a year to have a successful novel.”

And you won’t if you don’t et started, but I bit my tongue and didn’t say that. That same man wanted to know what the ROI was on writing a novel. He wanted to know what profit a book could make. If he churned out two books a year, “Could I make a minimum of $70,000?” Maybe, but not likely. Even less likely when you listen closely to “churning” out books. We’re not making butter here.

I gave a workshop with my publisher, John Koehler, at the Virginia Writers Club Symposium on what to expect when you get ready to publish. We covered getting an agent, keeping an agent, finding a publisher, self-publishing, and the dreaded public relations/marketing. We didn’t hold anything back. We tried not to be downers, but we focused on honesty. Not everyone who publishes a novel makes enough money to live on. Would that we could, but most, if not all, of us need a primary source of income while we get started. Or for our entire careers.

Publishing is not for the faint of heart. I always ask newbies what their audience is for their books. If they are honest and say “friends and family” first, then they should self-publish and promote their books accordingly. If they think their book might have commercial appeal, then they have other options. It all comes down to numbers, and these have nothing to do with royalty streams.

Before you decide whether you want to go the traditional route and seek an agent or self publish, you might try this.

  1. Take your age and add three to five years to it to learn your craft and get a decent manuscript ready.
  2. Add two or three years to find an agent.
  3. Add two or three years for your agent to sell the book.
  4. Add another one to two years once the book is sold before it is published, longer if you are seeking a print contract. In that case, add another year or two.

That’s 8 to 10 years before you have your book in print, maybe longer. AND THEN YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO MUCH OF THE MARKETING AND PROMOTING YOURSELF. Sorry to shout, but this is the kicker most writers hate. Publishers don’t spend much on promoting debut authors. If you don’t hit a home run immediately, they lose interest and there goes your next deal.

Even with this, writers continue to take chances and write because they can’t stop writing. More power to you. Knowing that the on deck circle is the only place you can dream of that game-winning homer, you go back to your keyboard and try again. I’m proud of you for sticking to your dream.

I hope I haven’t punctured your dream too much. Know what will be expected of you. Know what to expect of yourself. And put that butt in your chair, fingers on your keyboard, and get out of the way of your story. Who knows, you may be the next National Book Award winner in fiction. Go for the dream. Just don’t swing at pitches in the dirt.

Book Fairs, Book Promotion, Book Publishing, Book Reading, Book Signing, Featured, Marketing, Self-Publishing, Writing

Thoughts on Buying Books

September 19, 2016

If you are not a writer or an aspirating writer, this post will likely bore you. It’s about buying books for signing events It’s targeted to indie and self-published writers, primarily, who travel to book festivals, who stand in the heat and cold, who talk to current and prospective readers for hours on end.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of where to buy your books, I need to ask you why you wrote and published your them. Did you focus on your friends and family? Will they be your likely readership? Did you write a book with a broad sweep where your reach is beyond a limited circle? Did you write something geographically focused where you will find most of your initial readership in one area of the country?

These questions are important because they should be used to inform your choice of where to buy books in bulk for those important speaking engagements and festivals. If your focus is mostly on friends and family, your best place to buy books at discount will be your publisher. Many indie publishers offer large discounts, sometimes at cost or at 40-50% off list price. The writer makes more money per book sold; the publisher gets his money up front and does a good deed for authors who have very few books in them. The writer can’t return unsold copies, because she didn’t go through one of the wholesalers like Ingram or Baker and Taylor. Once the books are in the author’s possession, it is her responsibility to sell them or hide them under spare beds.

Createspace offers a different look at bulk purchases. Indie authors who self-publish through Createspace can buy bulk shipments nearly at cost. My local writers’ group, which is literary arm of the local arts council, produced three anthologies. Each book listed for $10. The writers’ group purchased them at $3 per book, leaving a nice profit of $7, which was applied to a scholarship fund.

Amazon owns Createspace. Amazon’s goal here is to put as many books in print (and I’m writing about print copies only) as possible. Bulk orders are not reflected in Amazon rankings. The one who benefits here is the author, who keeps more money per book. No one receives royalties except for books sold through the online outlets.

But what about those writers who have aspirations of reaching a wider audience, of attracting a larger publisher, of rising in the Amazon ranks, and who are published by a small press? I suggest these writers look at distributors who resell at higher rates per book but who report all such sales through Bookscan, the Neilsen organization that tracks all paper book sales. It’s what publishers look at before taking on a newish writer, at least new to them. It’s what gives writers viability in Amazon’s rankings.

I use There are others, but this site puts books on my porch usually within a week of ordering. I pay a percentage based on the number of books I order. Each book ordered is reported in bulk to Bookscan. This is important to me, because I believe my books have a broader reach than family and friends. My publisher picks up book sales from Bookscan, as well as from Amazon, Ingram, and Baker and Taylor when he calculates my royalties. If I bought directly from him, I’d receive no public acknowledge for the sales. I’d receive no royalties, because his discount is in lieu of royalties. I wouldn’t make a dent in my Amazon rankings.

The choice is up to the individual author. If you are more interested in point-of-sale income, go with the least expensive option. If you are interested in public acknowledgement, royalties and Amazon rankings, look into one of the discounters. Check to be sure that all sales are reported to Bookscan.

From the looks of this box, I’d better reorder…

Cats, Featured, Marketing, Uncharted Territory, Writing, Writing Style

Paying Homage to Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Drafts

July 25, 2016

Anne Lamott will forever by memorialized (even though she is very much alive) for coining the phrase, “shitty first draft.”  That’s the draft where you basically puke everything onto the screen, knowing that many of the words might survive ruthless editing but never the entire draft. This is where the writer doesn’t give a damn any more than Rhett Butler did in Gone with the Wind. The goal is to get through the chapters, lay out the story, name characters, figure out a bit of the conflict and hope that you have enough endurance to reach “THE END” the first time.

For me, that shitty first draft is just that:  shitty. Let me give you an example. This is the original opening for Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery:

“To Maxine Davies, our dear friend and fellow life traveler,” Eleanor intoned.

“We will miss you and think of you often,” Grace continued.

“But you understand, dear, we do not associate with. . . ,” Rose added.

“. . . trailer trash!” Raney finished the toast.

Ching, ching, ching. . . . Five well-manicured hands raised crystal glasses and clinked rims.

I laughed and sipped my pomegranate martini.

“How many times do I have to tell you, we aren’t living in trailers? They’re RVs.”

Okay, not too bad. Kinda funny, but doesn’t set up any conflict or identify the tone of the story. This actually reads like the book is more of a comedy about women who drink.

Five drafts later, I produced:

Just after dawn I eased the door open and tiptoed down three metal steps to bare earth. With coffee cup in hand, I turned three hundred sixty degrees to survey my surroundings. A strong front had blown through during the night, sweeping the humidity out to sea and leaving a crystalline sky behind.

The underlying stench of death and decay, however, remained.

Hmm. Good atmosphere. A hint that the narrator is in an unfamiliar location. Hints that the book will have dark elements, that there is danger, that all is not rosy. So not the opening of the first draft, which survived as the second chapter, if you must know. With very few edits, this second example made it into the book. A comment a reader sent me via email said, “I read the first chapter and got chills. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Mad Max.” Who could ask for any better comment?

What about you fellow writer peeps? Want to share one of your shitty first drafts?

Casting, Esai Morales, Featured, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marketing, Mary Steenburgen

Casting Call for Mad Max Continues

June 20, 2016

I indulged in a fantasy when I cast Mad Max’s character. I chose Jamie Lee Curtis or Mary Steenburgen for Max. There may be other actresses who will appear in this blog, because my readers are weighing in with their choices.

It’s now time to cast Johnny Medina, the love of Max’s life and her best friend. Johnny is a Latino from New Mexico. He’s the fourth generation living in the United States. In fact, his brother still runs the family ranch between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a ranch that his great-grandfather founded back in the 1800s. Johnny is medium-tall and barrel-chested, with a childhood knife scar slashing across his face.

With all due respect to hundreds of terrific actors, I had only one in mind when Johnny made his presence known in the first book. I had his picture on my desk to continue giving me guidance into his character development. Because Johnny is in his mid-fifties, I needed a Latino with a few miles on him.

My husband asked if an Italian would work. He was thinking Joe Mantegna. He would work. So would Jimmy Smits, who is Latino. But Esai Morales is my first and only choice. His roles have been of solid characters you can depend and lean on. He is handsome, has a solid body, looks like he could play an intellectual construction engineer with a sensitive side.

I met him during his first interactions with Max. He is a partner in her son-in-law’s construction firm, so she’s known him for many years. Her grandkids call him Uncle Johnny. He’s a part of the extended family, yet he keeps arm’s length from Max. As they work together to solve a murder, Johnny admits that Max always scared the hell out of him because of her wealth and Manhattan attitude. When they grow closer, he realizes they are closer in spirit than he thought.

I can see Esai paired up with Molly Steenburgen in several of the scenes when they are planning how to get Max’s son-in-law out of jail. I can see Esai paired up with Jamie Lee Curtis in any number of scenes from serious to silly.

For those of you who have read the Mad Max series, who do you think should play Johnny Medina? I’d love to hear your ideas.

My next casting call will be for Whip, Max’s son-in-law, and her grandkids, Emilie and Alex. Go on IMDB and figure out who should play these three characters.


Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  I’m really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

Book Promotion, Brand management, Featured, Marketing, Uncategorized, Writing Life


May 23, 2016

Many readers of this blog are also writers. And like my fellow writers, friends recommend books on how I can be a better writer, how I can write [fill in genre here], how to publish and how to sell books. You can imagine my skepticism when a respected friend recommended How To Sell A Crapload of Books. Yeah, I thought. I know how to sell a crapload of books. Write a book and give it a title of How To Sell A Crapload of Books.

To be polite, I accepted the book. I expected to scan the table of contents, skim a couple of chapters and thank my friend for his thoughtfulness. Instead I found a well-written book that, while not offering many new revelations on book selling/promotion/author branding, made cogent arguments for building an author brand, leveraging connections you didn’t know you had and creating an executable promotional plan.

Vandehey and Aryal use humor to lay down some principles: “the PR you can afford is probably useless.” Rather than name everything a debut writer can’t possibly do, they offer things that worked for other writers whose careers is where ours are. If you write mysteries, consider a book launch that is a scavenger hunt, especially if you can launch your book where the action takes place. Leverage where you live, because more people know you where you live than across the country in huge cities. They advise not getting your heart set about book reviews by the New York Times in favor of concentrating on wooing your local newspapers. The louder the local buzz, the more likely you can extend outward in concentric circles to broaden your audience.

Because so much of life takes place online today, Vandehey and Aryal demand a writer learn how to use social media. That means more than a Facebook page where you do nothing except flog your books. Hint: This doesn’t work and pisses off potential book buyers. Learn what each platform can do for you. Twitter is great for reaching more potential buyers than most other outlets. Facebook is great for building your brand. Know the difference. Don’t waste time on social media networks or social media applications if your readership doesn’t hang out there. I know most of my readers have no clue what Instagram or Snapchat do. I don’t hang out there, but I know I’ll engage in great conversations on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and LinkedIn. Yes, even LinkedIn.

The authors share ten secrets for building an author platform. Rather like a 12-step program. the secrets walk a writer through suggestions they have tested and know work.

Regardless of whether you read this book, or one of the countless other books in print about book selling/promotion/author branding, first decide what your goals for writing and publishing your book really are. If you are a “friends and family” writer (i.e., most of your sales will be to friends and family and not to strangers), set you expectations accordingly. That decision will drive how much effort you want to put into building an author platform. If you want to rise beyond the friends and family level, determine how much time and effort you can devote to building that platform. Once the decision is in the bag, begin executing it. Consistently. Daily. Diligently.

What have your learned about bookselling that you can share with other writers?


 Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Please follow me on my website, on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.
Blogs, Brand management, Facebook, Marketing, Twitter, Web Sites, YouTube

Tweets, Blogs and Videos

May 3, 2010

I’ve been reading a lot lately about using social media to create brand awareness. As writers, we are the brand. And so are our books.

Blogs and web sites are good starting points, but you cannot stop there. Yes, you have to have a web site when you have a book. Yes, you have to have a blog when you are getting ready to have a book. Once you have the book, you need to look at different ways of getting the message out.

  • Facebook: It’s no longer enough for you to have a presence on Facebook; your book also needs its own fan page. Amazing how many there are out there.
  • YouTube: Book trailers are growing in popularity — and in inanity. (But that’s another posting, perhaps). Book trailers need to be everywhere: a link on your blog, another link on your web site, a Facebook link, etc. They need to go viral to be effective.
  • Twitter: Not the Twitter of “I got so drunk last night I puked. Oh, here’s a photo of me and the toilet.” The Twitter of sharing waaaay too much information is also a brand management tool. Attract a group of followers by being a follower. Post a tweet about something you are doing — like speaking or book signing. Ask your followers to re-tweet. Doesn’t take long for tweets to go viral too.

    Ah, I hear the cries of “This is way too much work.” It is a lot of work, but if you want to be successful as a writer, you need to consider every possible angle. More and more of the big publishing houses are limiting the amount of marketing they will do for a new writer. Maybe 6 weeks of hype, then you are on your own.

    Might as well practice now while there is still time.

  • Adverbs, Faster Pastor, Marketing, My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk, Sharyn McCrumb

    A literary week and then some

    March 8, 2010

    Last week was dominated — happily (yes, I know it’s a adverb!) — by things literary.

    The first event of the week was a fantastic presentation by Sharyn McCrumb and Adam Edwards, authors of Faster Pastor, Sharyn’s third NASCAR book and the first one written with a co-author. I had the pleasure and honor of reading an advanced reader copy of the book and reviewed it for Valley Business Front earlier this year. If you want to laugh out loud, this is a good book to read.

    Sharyn and Adam were very generous with their time, talking to a crowd of around 75 who braved sloppy, snowy roads, answering questions and signing books. The event was a fund-raiser for the Westlake Library, the newest community center at Smith Mountain Lake.

    The second event was private. A few friends gathered over lunch to talk about marketing for writers, both self-published and commercially published. We have been working on a marketing plan for new writers. We challenged each other, asked questions, brought in outside ideas, and I captured everything in an organic document. We want to test this with some of our friends who have books in print. We also think this would be a good resource for writers who have yet to publish, but who are getting close. We all determined it was never too early to think about how to promote your works. We also decided that it was hard work, but worth the effort in the end.

    And finally, the weekend concluded with me finishing My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. This literary novel is worth the investment in time. It is beautiful. I wish I could read the original Turkish, but if the English translation is faithful, I don’t need to. The novel breaks all the “rules” for what agents say they want. It has so many different narrators that you have to refer to the bottom of the page to see who is speaking. The narrators do not have different voices. There are descriptive passages, adverbs, and other contemporary taboos. Perhaps because it is historical fiction, set in sixteenth-century Istanbul, that Pamuk broke all the rules and still found an agent. I’m glad he did.

    And now back to removing words ending in “ly” from my manuscript. (This caused no small amount of concern when I searched for “ly” and found over 1,000 of the bad critters. Then I remembered that a main character is “Emily.” Solved that problem. For now, she is “Emilie.” Can always change it back. . . .)

    Have a productive week and to all my writer friends, keep cranking out pages.

    Book Promotion, Marketing, Rachelle Gardner

    Promoting Your Book

    November 24, 2009

    I was multitasking this morning — reading my favorite blogs and listening to the Today show with half an ear.

    The Today show announced that Al Roker had written a novel. A mystery novel. So, okay, I thought. Then I listened to the story. Talk about promoting a debut novelist. The entire Today show team acted out the start of the mystery. It helps to have at least 60 seconds of air time, Matt, Meredith, Ann and the rest hamming it up and giving Roker a huge send up for his novel. Alas, all it takes is money, a big name, access to top morning show personalities, air time, etc. What the rest of us poor writers lack.

    I turned back to my blog reading. Rachelle Gardner noted a brilliant trick one author uses at her book signings.

    “Novelist Wanda Dyson puts yellow crime tape around her table when she does books signings. Do you think that attracts more readers than tables that have nothing interesting to draw a reader’s attention?”

    I sent the idea to Sally Roseveare for her next signing. If she coupled crime scene tape with her large black lab (stuffed), everyone would stop to see what was going on.

    Whaddya think, huh? Crime scene tape for those of us who write mysteries and who don’t have the access that Al Roker has?

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