The Publicity Paradox

by Janis Patterson

It’s hard not to feel sorry for a poor writer. While most people think we are almost supernatural creatures living fantastic, fairy-tale lives, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, sometimes the truth is downright depressing.

Rather than reclining on a luxurious chaise longue, looking over some spectacular view, dashing off a couple of thousand words while sipping champagne (if you’re a romance writer) or pounding on an ancient mechanical typewriter in some dimly lit room with wonky venetian blinds and a bottle of hard liquor at your elbow (if you’re a mystery writer) or ensconced in a book-lined library with a fancy fountain pen and a bottle of smelling salts handy in case your own genius overcomes you (if you’re a literary writer), the real poor writer of whatever stripe is usually trying to cram his output into the nooks and crannies of his life.

These days it’s rare that a writer can make a complete living solely by his writing; nearly all of us have distractions such as jobs, children, families, homes, responsibilities, health issues and Heaven only knows what other interferences mortal flesh is heir to. That, plus in this whacky modern world of publishing the writer is mainly responsible for editing and publicity, both in the realms of self-publishing AND traditional publishing.

Champagne? We’re lucky if we get a chance to grab a diet Dr Pepper!

For me, publicity is especially galling. I do what I must to keep my and my family’s life going. I work very hard at writing the best books I can. I will admit I suck at publicity, even though I was well trained in doing it, mainly because I don’t like doing it and because I was raised to believe it is slightly trashy to blow one’s own horn.

In my opinion, the worst part is the current trend to spread out your private life and make friends with all your readers. My question is, Why? The fact that I dislike brussels sprouts and refuse to wear the color orange should have nothing to do with the quality or content of my books. Plus, I already have many, many friends – real friends, whom sadly I do not get enough chance to see because I’m always having to work. To be real a friendship has to grow organically. I don’t need a pseudo-friendship connection with a fan who wants to exchange recipes and chat about what we’re having for dinner or give me suggestions about my next book. What I’m fixing/ordering for dinner is no one’s business except for me and my family.

What should matter is the book – the story. That is what the reader should be interested in, not whether I prefer Veuve Cliquot or Prosecco, or drive a BMW or a Chevrolet, or live in a condo downtown or a two story house in the country. We are writers – spinners of tales, creators of worlds, manufacturers of dreams – not zoo animals on display for the amusement and edification of the intrusive public.

It’s our books which matter, our books which the readers buy – not unlimited access to our home and family and private life. Private life should be exactly that – private. Writers write stories and readers read stories. That’s the basic contract between writer and reader… or it should be.

Got It Covered

Ebooks were a new thing when the rights for the first nine Jeri Howard books reverted to me. I wanted to republish the novels as ebooks myself. That was a time-consuming project, as I had to have them converted into electronic files, which involved having the actual books scanned. I found a service that would do this, but spent the next six months proofreading. All sorts of things affected scans, from the quality of the paper to specks of dust on the page.

I still find mistakes, though not as often now. The quality control gremlins at Amazon do point out those errors. At least now I’ve become quite skilled at correcting those files myself, thanks to Calibre software.

Cover art was an important aspect of republishing the books. Kindred Crimes, first in the series, was published by St. Martin’s Press, while the next eight were published by Fawcett Books. The US covers were all over the map. Some good, some that left me scratching my head.

The British covers? Awful. Really awful. Dreadful, even. The Japanese covers were terrific.

Original Paperback

For Don’t Turn Your Back on the Ocean, which mostly takes place in Monterey, I told my Fawcett editor that it would be nice if the cover had something to do with the contents of the book. I remember being quite pleased at the pelican that appeared on the cover. The new cover has a more brooding look, but still has that all-important ocean.

As for that business about the cover having something to do with what’s in the book, that’s apparently an author thing. People in marketing tell me that it doesn’t matter to the potential reader. After all, said reader is looking to buy a book and often that’s based on what they see in a small thumbnail on a computer screen.

New Ebook Cover

Back to those ebook covers. I really wanted to have a unifying look, something that said: this is a series. I’m now on my third set of covers for those first nine books and I’m please with them. The artwork for each cover is different but you can certainly tell they are all books in the Jeri Howard series.

I also have nine books published by Perseverance Press. The covers for the Jeri Howard books are quite different. Those for the Jill McLeod/California Zephyr series have a unifying look: trains, since they are historical mysteries about a Zephyrette on a long-distance train. Now that Perseverance Press is closing, the rights for those books are reverting back to me. For the Jeri Howard books, I’m working with a cover artist to put new covers on the ebooks, covers that jibe with those on the first nine ebooks.

As for the train books, as I call them, those will get a cover reboot. Back when they first came out, I was hoping to use the old California Zephyr advertisements, which have a distinctive 1950s look. But I couldn’t figure out who had the rights to those images. The train images that we used are great, but this is a cozy series and I’d like to rebrand them as such. The new covers may have illustrations that resemble the old ads.

Earlier this year I published The Sacrificial Daughter, the first in the Kay Dexter series, which features a geriatric care manager in a fictional Northern California town. The series is more cozy than hard-boiled. I wanted a great cover, but I resisted the impulse to add a cat. I tried designing a cover myself and quickly discovered that’s not really my skill set.

I turned to a cover designer who read the book and came up with several designs based on suggestions I gave her. None of them worked. Some came close, but… Then the cover designer came up with something on her own, an image we hadn’t even discussed.

Yep, that was the one. It clicked. It was just right.

And that is what’s on the cover of the book.

Guest Blogger ~ Ben Wiener

“A well-designed thriller that I didnt want to put down! “ — Nicolas Colin, author of Hedge

This is a real book! You wrote this?” – My daughter

Here’s a very short mystery for you: How does a male venture capitalist find himself penning a guest post for a blog named “Ladies of Mystery?”

Murder at First Principles, my debut novel, is a Silicon Valley murder mystery told from the first-person point of view of a young woman, Addie Morita. Addie is a frustrated junior staffer at the Northern California Computer Crime Task Force, questioning her decision to enter public service rather than the lavish startup industry that has swept up her friends and former classmates from a prestigious local college, when her life takes a sudden turn. One by one, former classmates show up in body bags, and soon Addie receives anonymous, taunting messages with hints about the crimes. Addie must match wits with both the mysterious killer, potential suspects and a stubborn, famed Special Agent, Hope Pearson, as she pursues her “big break” and tries to break the case.

Female readers have been the biggest fans of Murder at First Principles so far. While my stated purpose in writing the novel was to enlighten and entertain, with startup business strategies woven into the plot, the story is engaging and electrifying for any mystery lover.

I decided to make the two main characters female to break the stereotypical “detective drama” format and make the two characters’ contrasts and tensions poignant and dramatic. Like most people in the real world, Addie, Hope and the rest of the diverse cast of characters have things to hide, cloudy motivations and challenges to overcome.

Ironically, as a male writer, writing from the POV of a woman drove me to greater clarity. I have found in other contexts, as I write male characters, that I am prone to take certain traits, motivations or thought processes for granted. Writing Addie’s story forced me to get to know her first. The process of figuring her out, as opposed to starting to write assuming I was, or knew, the main character myself, made the writing a joyful and enriching experience, and produced a superior product.

Murder at First Principles is not just about women, it benefits women. Proceeds from my books support FemForward, a nonprofit with which I’m affiliated that promotes young women in tech.

Seth Godin says “Art is generosity.” Murder at First Principles is my mischievous, rollicking, topsy-turvy gift to mystery lovers. It will keep you turning pages and guessing, up to the very end.

Murder at First Principles

Addie Morita, a frustrated young crime researcher, finally gets her big career break when a serial killer targets her successful former classmates from an elite San Francisco Bay Area college. Addie must match wits with both the taunting killer and the intimidating Special Agent assigned to the case, racing to decipher key clues buried in a famous startup strategy book — before it’s too late.

Murder at First Principles is the debut Startup Fiction novel by successful venture capitalist Ben Wiener. Written as a murder mystery, the plot is designed to enlighten and entertain, introducing readers to Hamilton Helmer’s iconic work, 7 Powers, and its seven market-proven strategies for sustained competitive advantage. Every suspect in this story is hiding something — strap yourself in and try to uncover their secrets while discovering the secret “powers” innovative businesses harness to create persistent differential returns.


Ben Wiener is a venture capitalist and author. He founded and manages Jumpspeed Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund, and he has authored two full-length novels, Murder at First Principles and the forthcoming Fever Pitch. His motivation for writing is to “enlighten and entertain.” In addition to his novels he has published a number of short stories and humor essays.

Ben grew up in Allentown, PA and graduated (with honors) from Columbia Law School. He clerked on Israel’s Supreme Court and practiced corporate law in New York City and Tel Aviv. He moved permanently to Israel with his young family and co-founded his first software startup in 1999. Ben worked for a variety of startups and larger companies before founding Jumpspeed Ventures in 2014.


Twitter: @beninJLM

Getting The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom Off and Running by Heather Haven

For about fifteen minutes after I finished the 8th book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, I breathed a sigh of relief and took a break. Then I got back to work. First, I sent off the manuscript to my content editor, a master at letting a writer know what should be expanded, condensed, moved, clarified, or eliminated. That done, I conferred with the cover artist on the new cover. Then I conferred or rather listened to my publicists on marketing strategies i.e., the blurb, keywords, categories, stuff like that. Then began to implement them.

Once the cover and strategies were decided upon, and waiting for the return of the manuscript from the content editor, I went to Amazon Direct Publishing. I filled in the necessary information and uploaded what I could in order to get a URL for the new book. Once I had a URL, I set up the preorder and posted news of the new book wherever I could. Then I created and sent out my newsletter to my readers with all the information. I went online to Bowkers Identifier Services for new ISBN numbers. I registered the book with US Copywrite service. That took half a day, at least, but you gotta do all the legal stuff.

Within two weeks I received the manuscript back from the content editor and made 99% of the changes she suggested because, as I said, she is a master. When it was clean enough for jazz, I sent the manuscript out to my trusted, tried, and true Beta readers. They are just the best. They are terrific at telling me like it is, finding all kinds of typos, and making suggestions. After they gave me feedback, I sent the cleaner, corrected version –– a combo of content editor and Beta readers suggestions –– to the line editor. Meanwhile, I tweeted, blogged, and Facebooked. I had two months to let the world know (okay, not the world, just some of the people who know me in my small world) that The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom was coming out September 15th

I received the manuscript back from the line editor after about three weeks. She, too, is marvelous. Among the other things she found, did I know howler monkeys (and do not capitalize the name, she said) grow to be quite big? A grown howler monkey cannot sit on a man’s shoulder, as it does in my book, and have the man live to tell about it. Uh-oh! I neglected to put in it was an orphaned baby howler monkey. I set out to make the corrections she caught in the story, plus all the other things, like grammar, punctuation, and inaccuracies. I also collaborated with the woman who was writing the Afterword for the book. Once done with all that, the manuscript went off to the proofreader. He is married to and works with the line editor. They are quite a pair. He hasn’t sent the final version back yet, but I know when he gets done with it, it will be cleaner than I ever thought possible. And possibly as done as I’m ever going to get it.

The time came to set up a blog tour with Your Great Escapes Blog Tour. It goes from September 6th through the 19th. This means, of course, I will have to write character guest posts, Heather guest posts, answer interview questions, and convert the manuscript to MOBI, epub, and PDF files for bloggers and reviewers to read. Meanwhile, I continue to push the preorder button to as many reader as I can as often as I can without becoming totally obnoxious about it. And sometimes I walk a thin line.

I also created the print book cover, based on the cover the CA made for the eBook. Making the spine, back cover, not to mention (but I will) writing a shorter, more curt blurb for the back cover took me several days but it saved me 300 plus dollars. Doing a lot of these things myself saves money, but still getting the book out on the shelf, whether it’s a real shelf or an online one, usually costs a couple of thousand dollars. But when you are competing with the big boys, you gotta have a product that does just that.

September 15th is right around the corner and I’m not done yet. Busy, busy, busy. But right now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to take a nap.

Pandemic Dilemma

Last year about this time I began work on a new novel, making random notes on the main character, the obstacles thrown in her path, snatches of dialogue that came to me while I was out walking, and minor characters who might be interesting. This stage of the process is fun and always interesting. But there was one aspect that I couldn’t decide about. 

We were in the middle of the pandemic. Should I include that fact as part of contemporary life, or write as though there was no pandemic, no masking, no social distancing, no crowding in hospitals, and no arguments over masks. I couldn’t make a decision. If I mentioned the pandemic and all that it entails, would the restrictions of the pandemic play a role in the mystery, or could it remain in the background? (A ludicrous idea, all things considered.) If I didn’t mention it, I’d have to be clear the novel wasn’t set in 2020 or 2021—or even 2022. I waffled for weeks. At last, I went on FB and posed the question there. Should I or shouldn’t I mention the virus? The responses ranged along with the passions of the commentator.

Some writers suggested mentioning some aspects that wouldn’t interfere with the plot. This is honest and pragmatic, but as I watched the pandemic evolve, I wondered how long it would be possible to curate features of the pandemic. Others made a case for maintaining realism, depicting life and circumstances as they are and how they affect individuals in crisis, which is an honest take on a difficult problem, and probably harder to execute in practice than express in theory. And then there were the writers who were adamantly opposed to any mention of Covid-19, mainly because it would date the story and limit its appeal. I’m not sure if I agree with this or not. When I pick up a mystery, I generally know when it was published, and if not I check the date. Unless the writer is clear about the time period being different from the present, I assume the story is contemporaneous with the writer. So, yes, mentioning the pandemic would definitely date the story to a specific period, which we think is going to be a limited period. 

Every story is dated in some way. Cell phones, automobiles, DVDs, 45s stacked on a record player, or Polo coats, pedal pushers (not cropped pants), and jeans with the hems rolled up tell us where we are in time. 

In the end I still had to make a choice. We writers face choices every day even though we may not think of our work that way. We can’t get from one sentence to the next without choosing a series of words to carry a particular idea, which could change in the middle of the predicate. Still, my new novel was taking shape, and I had to decide if that shape would include masks and talk about Covid-19. Would I use the details of this disease and its spread, the restrictions on gatherings and the dangers of the illness, to move the mystery along, or would it stay in the background? Could it remain in the background? That became the key question. 

The issue boiled down to what I wanted to write about. If I included the pandemic and all its attendant issues, I had to make significant changes to the mystery, and in the end I didn’t want to do that. I decided to omit any mention of the pandemic, and I did so believing that this health crisis would pass and life would return to normal. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, but the decision was made and the novel written. It’s now in the hands of my agent. 

But now I’m starting another one, and the question is once again before me. And I still don’t know the answer. But once again, I’m probably not going to include any mention of the pandemic. If you have decided differently, I’d like to hear about your experience.