Ever Been to an Author Signing?

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I mentioned in a post earlier this week that I’ve been to a couple of author events. They were for authors T. Jefferson Parker and Steve Hamilton. Now you may not know either of them, but they have both won two Edgars. I’ve written about the Edgars and they are a HUGE deal when it comes to mystery writing. And both of these guys have won an award twice. Not an easy feat.

Let me tell you about the actual events. They were both held in a small indie bookstore by the name of Murder by the Book here in Houston. And let me tell you, ALL of the big mystery authors who go on tour come to this store. There are a couple other indie stores in Houston who have author events, but I’d have to think that this is the most successful. Anyway, the events I attended were pretty much exactly the same. Both times the author spoke for maybe 20 minutes or a half hour and then started signing everyone’s books. The 20 minutes may not seem like much, but if you listen you can learn quite a bit about them. I know I did.

The best part for me was definitely when they signed my books. I think I got four signed by both. I don’t feel like snapping pictures, but trust me that they’re signed. AND another great thing that I learned was that both of these famous authors who have surely sold millions of books are no different from anyone else you might know. T. Jefferson Parker helped me get my hands on a couple of his books that were unavailable from any of the major retailers. And Steve Hamilton snapped a photo! How freaking cool were they?

I have some minimal experience as an author on the other side. Maybe some of you know that I had a signing at my university all the way back in November. It happened just a couple of weeks after my book was released and I had a lot of fun. I sold all but four of the books I’d taken with me. And I’d had classes with a bunch of the guys who were pretty happy to see that I’d written a book literally right out of school. Of course, I never heard anything from any of the 21 people who bought one that day. So who knows what they thought of the actual writing.

The point of this post is to tell you all that I think author events or signings are actually pretty great. I don’t think they necessarily drive many new readers the author’s way, but I’m certain that plenty of his or her regular readers will attend events year after year. And it gives the author the opportunity to interact with readers in a manner that social media or other public appearances just don’t allow.

Two things: Have you ever been to an author event? Or have you ever had one of your own?

This was from my signing. It was CJ Majors Day.

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This is NYT bestselling author Steve Hamilton. Oh my goodness. This was three years ago, I was teeny tiny with braces and just ugh.

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Knowing Your Audience

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Photo Credit: Images USA

How well do you know the target audience for your book(s)? I’m of course not meaning how well do you know individual readers of your work, I’m talking about the demographic that reads books similar to yours over and over again. I’d like to think I know mine fairly well. And honestly, I’m sitting here trying to remember if I’ve written about this before now and I have no idea. So if you’re reading this thinking that you’ve read it before, well you’re not in the Twilight Zone. Or maybe we both are? Yikes.

Let me tell you what some very keen observations have told me about my target audience. Have you ever been to an author signing? Well they’re pretty cool if you’re not among hundreds of people. I’ve been to a few. Both crime writers. Both NYT bestsellers as of today. I met Steve Hamilton and T. Jefferson Parker. I have all but just a couple of their books. But I’m not here to talk about the events or what those two were like, I want to tell you about what I saw there.

This is very unscientific, but you use what you can, right? I would say both events were attended by maybe 50 people. It’s hard to say because the store changed its layout sometime in the months between these two events. Anyway, what I saw was approximately 90% White women. Who were aged 50+. And based on nothing at all, who I thought were college educated. I could probably come up with some other characteristics, but that’s all I focus on.

And I’m thinking that this type of person is a big reader of crime novels across the country. I don’t work in a bookstore or anything like that, but I do read other blogs and I have occasionally had someone buy books from me at work. And they fit the demographic I’ve described exactly.

Now that I claim to know my target audience, now what? Well, the only way I can think that knowing this has influenced my writing is the fact that Andrew Banks is obviously white. But other than that, the whole “write for your audience” thing people say is stupid to me. I write whatever I feel like.

Two things: Do you know your target audience? And how does this affect your writing?

Is There a Proper Chapter Length?

ImagePhoto Credit: The Wicked Writer

This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for some time now because I think the responses I’ll receive will be all over the map. And that’s okay. So, obviously today’s post will be about chapter length.

You’re likely a writer if you’re reading this. Or perhaps you’re a reader? Or maybe you’ve stumbled into an alternate universe and somehow made your way to your new favorite blog? No matter how you made it here, I have treats! Okay, I have no idea why the heck I’m typing these things. Let’s see if the second time around I can actually get down to business, shall we?

So you’ve decided that writing a book is your calling, that this is something you MUST do. You’ve decided on the genre. You’ve come up with what you think is the basic premise of the next New York Times bestseller. You open your Word document and type the words “Chapter 1” and start in on your future masterpiece. But wait, how long are your chapters supposed to be? Quick! Google!

This person who claims to be a bestselling author himself says a good length for chapters is 3,000-5,000 words. But this person says 5,000-7,500. But THIS person says anywhere from 3,000-10,000. Oh look, a cat climbing up a wall. Focus! And now we have a guy who says chapter length is irrelevant. WHO’S RIGHT?!

Relax. Let me tell you a little about my own chapter lengths and then about what I’ve read in actual books and not in internet forums. My first book, if you can even call it that, came in at just over 55,000 words and 21 chapters. Some simple math puts the average chapter length at roughly 2,600 words. I think it’s actually just a tad higher because the book may have been closer to 55,400 words, but let’s just go with the nice round number of 2,600 for the purpose of this post. That would put the average chapter at about 10 pages in my book. Note that my book averaged about 250 words per page. The typical books I read average between 250-350. But the number of pages is irrelevant. It’s all about word count if you ask me.

But the average is not necessarily representative of the norm when it comes to my book. The shortest chapter I wrote was a mere 900 words. I didn’t much like it, but ended up leaving it in because it seemed to somewhat fit in the story. It was the second chapter I ever wrote. I honestly had no idea what the heck I was doing at the time. Still don’t, to be quite honest. Anyway, The differences don’t end there when it comes to chapter lengths in my short book. The first 10 chapters of my book roughly averaged 2,300 words each. The last 11 averaged 2,800. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it definitely is. One more final note before I get into what I’ve read about chapter lengths. The longest chapter I wrote for my first book came in just under 3,700 words, which I think was 18 or 19 pages in the book. So my range was 900-3,700 words per chapter for the whole of the work. Now let’s see what others have to say about it.

I definitely did the whole Google thing to find out the proper chapter length for my genre before I started writing, and it pretty much played out how I described above. There are simply too many voices out there telling you this or telling you that that it’s impossible to ever know for sure if there is a specific chapter length that you should aim for. For my references to other author’s works I’ll have to use page counts because I don’t know the exact word counts for any of their books. Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels tend to stay within 5-7 page chapters. Steve Hamilton’s are in the 12-15 page range. Michael Connelly writes in the 10-15 page range. But then Kevin O’Brien and Karin Slaughter, both New York Times bestselling authors, rarely write chapters less than 25 pages! WHAT? And then you have James Patterson on the opposite end of the spectrum writing 2-4 page chapters. What’s your take from this? There is no set chapter length. There isn’t.

But since most of you are writers yourselves, I’d like to know about your personal preferences when it comes to chapter length. I like 2,000 words to be minimum for mine, but I’ve written several below that threshold, including in my second book. But you all are also readers. I’d like to know if there is a certain number of pages per chapter that you feel is simply too many. In my opinion, once I get over 20 pages in a single chapter I’m hoping the next turn of the page is a new one. But that’s just me, tell me about you!


I wrote this post by referencing earlier posts from last year when I was still working on my first book. I was sitting here crying because you can feel the excitement in each post growing as I neared what I knew would be the end. I don’t know if one’s earlier self can inspire one’s later self, but I’m thinking it’s possible. I want to get back to that point in my writing again. I’m a baby, I know.

Here are three posts I think you might enjoy reading. You’ve never seen any of these, they’re from August of last year.

And Then There was One

The End is Near

Done! Acabado! Fertig!

The Lack of Diversity in my Reading

Photo Credit: Valparaiso, IN

Before I continue with this post, I’d like to let you know that I’ll be talking about the lack of racial diversity in my reading. But I know that some people see anything Race related and automatically turn away, which is why I left it out of the title. The topic of racial diversity in publishing will NOT be discussed. This time. We’re strictly talking about my reading. Let’s begin.

One more point that I need to make before moving on is that in no way am I saying that these books, authors, or series are any less worthy of reading. We’re talking about me.

I’ve talked quite a bit about my reading habits on here. I mean, I have three different pages that are dedicated to books I’ve already read or want to in the future. And obviously reading is a big part of any discussion about books, so it makes sense to devote a good amount of space on here to my reading. But I realized something earlier today that I honestly hadn’t noticed before. It was something of a shock, actually. A huge percentage of the books I read not only have White protagonists, but they’re written by White authors. I can assure you that this was not done on purpose. That would be me saying that protagonists or authors of another Race are less worthy of reading. Absolutely not. I’m Mexican! Yes, I realize that in itself does not mean much, but I’m a Mexican author too. I want EVERYONE to read my books. And quite honestly, I believe my audience to be middle-aged, educated, White women. This is based off of the author events I’ve attended for writers in my genre. I saw the same person in the audience over and over again. I can tell you for certain that I was the youngest at every event I attended. By decades.

Anyway, let’s get back on topic. Let me tell you about some of the series and authors I read.

Authors

James Patterson – White

Suzanne Collins – White

Lee Child – White

Steve Hamilton – White

Robert B. Parker – White

Robert Crais – White

You get the point. There are more but it is not MOSTLY the same, it is EXACTLY the same. There is one author out of all of my books who is not White. Michele Martinez. I do have all of her books, but she only has four. Now let’s look at the protagonists I read.

Series

Spenser – White

Katniss Everdeen – White

Harry Bosch – White

Elvis Cole – White

Kinsey Millhone – White

Alex McKnight – White

Merci Rayborn – White

There are a whopping two series I read that revolve around non-White protagonists. Alex Cross, who is African-American. And Melanie Vargas. This is disappointing to me. Quite so.

I can guarantee that the Race of the main character is never once mentioned in any of these series, except for Alex Cross and Melanie Vargas. It’s not mentioned because it’s so obvious to the reader that it never needs to be mentioned.

I love all of the authors I’ve listed, all of them. Their books and writing and careers all speak for themselves. But I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I consider myself an avid reader and yet, it would appear that I’m an avid reader of the exact same thing over and over again. I’m sure plenty of readers are the same way, but I don’t want that to be the case with me. I want to be a well-rounded reader because there are plenty of great writers out there who are worthy of reading but may not be well known. It’s time for me to make an effort to read more books that follow a Black protagonist or Mexican or whomever, along with the series I already enjoy.

And the absolute worst part of all this, and I do mean the worst, is that I wrote a protagonist who is me in every aspect…except Race. And I’ll even tell you why. Because I thought him being White would attract more readers than him being Mexican. I sincerely love Andrew and the character I’ve created, but I HATE that I did that. Hate it. I don’t know if this is me conforming to the publishing industry or what, but I need to figure out whether I want to write the stories I want to write or whether I’m writing what I think might get me published one day. They may or may not be the same thing. Which is unfortunate.

I know my posts are typically witty, funny, and informative, but this was a post I needed to write for me.

Thanks for reading.

I ask that you glance over at your bookshelf and see if you find the same problem I did.

Never Ask a Reader About Their Favorite Book

Photo Credit: sodahead.com

It seems like a simple enough question when you ask, but can turn into a whirlwind of things for the person who is trying to come up with an answer. Because any person who has read as few as fifty books will likely struggle for an answer. Here’s what would happen to me if asked about my favorite book.

The first thought to enter my head would be the list I keep of my top/ favorite books read. It’s a list in the ballpark of 150 books. I would think of the top five. The top five includes Michael Connelly, Suzanne Collins, T. Jefferson Parker, Marcus Sakey, and Eric Nylund. Three of these authors are crime novelists and two are not. I would think back to each of the books and decide that it’s near impossible to pick any one over another, no matter how I have them ranked.

Then I’d think of my first book. Could that be my favorite? I’ve read it more times than I’ve read any other book. I wrote it. The protagonist is me. Surely it’s at least in the conversation. But does the book stand up against the others I’m thinking of? And how could I forget The Great Gatsby?

Then my Excel spreadsheet of all of the book authors I own would come to mind. I would think about the fact that a handful of authors make up a huge chunk of my reading. My favorite must be written by one of them. Maybe Robert B. Parker or Steve Hamilton? Maybe Robert Crais or James Patterson?

Then all of the series I read would jump into the equation. Katniss Everdeen is one of my favorite literary characters ever. And Alex Cross. And Spenser. And Elvis Cole. And Karen Vail.

And finally, with my head spinning in circles, I would accept the fact that it’s impossible to pick a single favorite. All while the person asking the question was simply trying to make small talk by asking in the first place.

BUT if you had to pick one favorite book that you’ve read, what would it be?