Using Scrivener for mystery writing

You can find tons of tips and tricks for how different writers use Scrivener in different ways. The best thing about this application is that it’s so darn versatile. I have no idea how Keith Blount made it so damn powerful. Yes, there is a learning curve. It is completely worth it, however.

One of the things I’ve found incredibly valuable are the Labels and Statuses. Lots of people have lots of theories on how to use these, and to be fair, you can use them for anything, in just about any way.

Here’s how they come in the basic Scrivener project set up. The Labels menu entries have colors and tell you what type of document this is:

Labels menu

The Status menu tells you where you are with this document (To Do, First Draft, Done, whatever):

Status menu

In the Scrivener template I’ve created, I’ve changed these. The Labels menu has colors, and for me colors indicate what stage something is at: beginning, middle, finished, or CRISIS!!!, so my Labels menu looks like this:

My Labels menu

Everything usually gets set to First Draft until I finish a first pass through the novel and discover that half of the scenes I’ve written are missing some incredibly important information or whatever. Then I mark those scenes as To Do. I go through everything again and try to get them to Revised, at which point it goes off to the Editor.

One way to use the colorful edge of the Labels menu is by setting “Use label color in Binder”:

Use label color in

Which then allows me to see how every file in my document is doing:

Binder with labels

I can immediately see what documents are RED (meaning, probably not even coherent) or ORANGE (I did one pass, need to take another look) or GREEN (nearly perfect…or at least you can skip dealing with this for now). Sadly, I’m not even close to Green in my current draft. Sniff.

I can also (with just about any meta-data Scrivener lets you set up) create a Binder Collection of all the documents marked “To Do,” so I can just look at those. But Binder Collections are beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Since I moved the current state of the document into the Labels menu, I freed up the Status menu to really help me arrange things.

My Status menu

Because I have to know what day various things take place on. I continually check the Outliner mode to see that everything is happening on the day it’s supposed to:


In Everybody Takes The Money, one important scene had to take place on a Sunday. So I started figuring backwards to see what events happened on which days and whether I was bunching too much stuff up on any one particular day. (In one draft of ETTM, Drusilla drove to the San Fernando Valley three times in one day, which…no. That got changed.) Seeing the time laid out like this makes me ask: Has enough time gone by for such-and-so to have happened?

Even if I never mention what day of the week it is in the story, I am very aware of what day it’s supposed to be.

One time editor pointed out to me that something happened on a Monday and the effects were already felt by the next day, which she felt was impossible. I actually was aware of that exact story compression because of the Outliner and told her the reasoning behind it. Which made me put a few things in the story to hammer home WHY it was strange but not impossible for these events to have followed upon one another so fast.

I don’t know how other writers use their Label/Status menus, but this is how I use mine for mysteries!

The treadmill desk

My regular cardio routine fell apart in December, for a variety of reasons (the weather, illness, holidays, etc, etc.). This was: unacceptable. Not just because of the cardio benefits (although those are important too), but exercise has improved my life in so many ways that my quality of life actually goes noticeably down if I go too long without it.

I can’t believe I’m the kind of person who would write that sentence either, but it’s completely the truth.

I was reading the Writers Cafe at the KBoards (as I am wont to do), and there was a discussion about treadmill desks. Which I’d heard of before but always sounded kind of wacky. This time, however, it sounded like a great idea. Many people had pre-made desks, and some were do-it-yourselfers who took treadmill A and added desk unit B and made themselves a treadmill desk.

I am not crafty. I bought the LifeSpan 1200RT

Mind you, I didn’t have the room in my office (I had to shove a whole bunch of boxes out — they’re all over the guest room now) and I had to rearrange the furniture that was in there. But I made the room and installed the desk.


 I bought a stand for my MacBook Air to sit on and I brought one of Darin’s old iMacs out of storage to use as an external monitor.

I probably walk for five to six miles a day while at my desk and the best thing about it is, I don’t even think about it. This is exercise I’m getting on top of my running routine and weights at the gym. The key is not to walk fast or try to get exercise (I don’t even know what the top speed on my treadmill is; I’ve never set it over 2.0 miles an hour), but use a nice strolling speed, like you might use walking around town, and use your computer. Like you’re gonna be doing anyhow. 

This is one of the best investments I have ever made in my entire life.

Not only do I get more exercise throughout the day, but I feel better now after a couple of hours at the computer than I did after sitting for a long time. I have terrible posture when sitting and I stand up straight when walking. Also, sitting too much reportedly might lead to an earlier death. Plus, I’ve been sleeping a whole hell of a lot better.

I write, I surf, I chat with friends, I watch videos (check out the headphones in that picture). I have a little fan on my old, sadly neglected desk to keep me cool, even on the coldest days, because walking for a long time makes you sweaty. I’ve had phone conversations while walking.

The key thing to remember is to start slow. It is weird to type and walk, at first. Pick a low speed and work up to whatever feels comfortable. I’ve read a few blog entries where people report walking at 1.0 miles an hour — I can’t do that, much too slow — or working at 2.5 miles an hour (I’d fall over). I do everything at 1.7-2.0 mph. 

If you’re trying to figure out how many calories you’ve burned, the rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile. Of course, this isn’t exactly right: it’s 110 calories per mile for guys, 90 calories per mile for women. (Yup, it’s everywhere, girls.) So when Jonathan Fields reports burning 600 calories over 4 hours of walking while going 1mph…well, that’s not what my math says. But he’s definitely getting more exercise than if he were just sitting there.

Why do I still run if I’m doing several miles a day on my desk? Again, I’m not working hard while on this thing, I’m just strolling. Couldn’t you stroll around a shopping center for hours and hours? I doubt my heart rate ever gets over 120 while using it. It’s just that I’m just doing it for hours. Running is still my intensive cardio, to boost my heart rate, to really work the muscles, and to get that lactic acid going. Also, to get some fresh air and maybe some Vitamin D. 

More exercise >> less, every time.

Honestly, if you’re thinking about doing it and you can swing it, DO IT. The only downside is now I want to spend too much time in my office.

Some people are crafty do-it-yourselfers. They either repurpose the clothes storage unit they bought a few years ago or buy one cheap on Craigslist and made a desk out of it using something like an add-on or their own homemade plywood contraption. The only warning I’ve heard against this is that heavy-duty treadmills built for running have more powerful motors that aren’t built to run for hours at a time at low speeds, and therefore might be more prone to burn out than a treadmill especially designed for daily walking. On the other hand, you weren’t using that thing to begin with, now were you?

The only downside of doing this is that you become a cult member, trying to convince the rest of the planet that they’re missing out. Which they are. And let’s face it, with all of these extra endorphins in my bloodstream, all I can think about is happiness now. Don’t you want in on that?

(Wait. There is one more downside: I want to spend way too much time in my office now. Though, given how much writing I’ve been getting done, maybe that’s not so bad. I kinda wish I had one of these things in the living room to use while watching TV, though.)

A favorite Scrivener feature

Since everyone’s been posting stories about how they use Scrivener (the world’s most awesome writing software), I figured I would join in the fun and post one thing about one of its best features.

So there I am, writing along, when I make up a new character on the fly. How on earth am I going to keep track of all of these new characters? I can barely keep track of the ones I know in real life. Well, Scrivener makes it so easy. First, you select the name. 



Then you can use a contextual menu (holding down the control key and clicking, like I did here) or go up to the Edit… menu and select “Append Selection to Document” and then “New”:


You’ll get lots of possibilities to choose from, like Manuscript (which will create a new document in your manuscript) or Place or whatever. I choose “Characters.”


Whereupon Scrivener creates a new Character file for me with that character’s name on it. Of course it’s blank — I have to fill that in.


I continue to write my masterwork and find out lots of amazing things about this Rob Smith fellow, many of which I don’t know until I type them.


And because I’d like to keep track of every bit of description about Rob Smith so I don’t describe him as nine feet tall next time, I add this info to his file.


After I’ve added a number of things to Rob Smith’s character sheet, I can then fill in the rest of the sheet and make sure what I know about him is consistent about what I’ve said about him in the book.

Seriously, this is why writers are so batcrap insane about Scrivener. This stuff is the bomb.




Men need to

(ETA: I have no idea why the template formatting is so screwed up on this entry. Possibly because I had to re-edit the pictures and then re-upload. It’s making me crazy.)

I ran across a fabulous AdWeek story today, about the UN Women campaign using actual results from Google autocomplete searches — which are aggregated from actual Google searches done. 

Unwomen hed 2013

 So I of course said, “Huh. Well, maybe it’s just the same if you do the searches only with ‘men’ instead of ‘women’.” 

Or, not so much:





Yeah, yeah, I know: “Men use the interweebs more, and this is just what they search for.”

Good to know.



Breaking Bad thoughts, on the eve of the finale

I’m going to sign off the Internet tomorrow morning, because I don’t want to risk being spoiled on the finale of “Breaking Bad” before I’ve had a chance to watch it. Yes, me! The Queen of Spoilers doesn’t want to be spoiled before she can finally watch the “Breaking Bad” finale, first thing Monday morning. (I told Darin to rearrange his schedule so that we could watch it before he goes to work, but now I’m so tense I think I want to watch it before the kids get up in the morning.) 

Anyhow, many people have pointed to this NPR essay on “How So Many Rooted For ‘Breaking Bad’s’ Walter White.” And while I think many of the things said in the essay are true, I think the answer is a lot simpler than that.

Here’s why so many viewers have rooted for Walter White: because Vince Gilligan gives us a familiar story that human beings just love: Ordinary person discovers they have superpowers! Who doesn’t secretly believe that somehow, one day, they’re going to have superpowers too? How many times have we seen that story? Harry Potter, Buffy, even Jesus. (Is there a more indelible myth than finding out your father is actually God?)

Everyone wants to believe they’re the smartest guy in the room like Walter White is. If only we had some kind of magical, mystical experience, we too would get superpowers and show everybody how really awesome we are. We will. 

The brilliant thing Gilligan has done with just about every character on this show is to show us that SUPERPOWERS DON’T HELP. In fact, they may be a big detriment to your quality of life. Saul Goodman is, under the sleaze, a really good lawyer — it doesn’t help. Gus Fring is a both a badass kingpin and a badass fast food salesman — and wow, does having those qualities not help him. Hank, for all his bluster and panic attacks and foolishness, is a very good DEA agent — and it REALLY doesn’t help. And let’s not discuss what superdude Walter White has gotten himself into, okay?

Pretty much the only thing Jesse has going for himself as we head into the finale is that he doesn’t have superpowers. He is the Zeppo, and that’s why a lot of us are still rooting for him to survive.

There’s only one person who had better die tomorrow — I know Gilligan is going to zag when we expect him to zig on this story, but I expect complete and total fan service on killing this one guy. Don’t let me down, Vince.

Switching genders

This morning I read Dan Fienberg’s “gut reaction” to the pilot for “The Blacklist,” a new series coming to NBC this fall starring James Spader. He doesn’t call it a review, because pilots can and do change. He just gives his two cents on what he’s already seen. And he points out something about the pilot that tells me this is going to be bad, because the writers have started with some straight-up bullshit.

There’s an adoption storyline that screams “Smash” in the worst way possible — Does anything scream “Smash” in the best way possible? — and if you’re a writer attempting to give a character professional credibility, having that character plan to take a long lunch break for adoption counseling on THEIR FIRST DAY AT THE FBI, you’ve done something very wrong. I get that they’re trying to show that the character is trying to prioritize family, but IT’S HER FIRST DAY AT THE FBI and she’s apologizing for not being able to have an all-important adoption meeting. When I actually write this review, it’s going to be 2000 words about that adoption meeting and the soullessness of attempting to simultaneously maternalize a main character and build tension through an endangered child.

Just, for a moment, try to imagine that plot on a TV show…only the FBI agent is a male character.  

That idea wouldn’t get proposed, let alone written, let alone filmed. No one would take that seriously for a minute. 

What year is it, again?


You may have heard about The Bechdel Test. If a movie passes the Bechdel test, it has three things: 

  1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man

If you follow that link above, you find out how many movies fail the Bechdel test and fail it quite spectacularly. (The Bechdel test page, by the way, has limited itself to female characters who have names, which was not in the original. And a female character having a name is more rare than you might think.)

The only reflections women get in modern culture — if they get them at all, which women over 35 basically do not, trust me — is that they must be hot, they must be available sexually any time and anywhere, they are there for the man’s pleasure, and they take care of the home. They have no desires, dreams, wants, or lives of their own. Women are the support staff in someone else’s story.

Simply having a female character in a movie is a problem already. Linda Holmes (“Monkey See” at NPR) wrote a terrific piece: “At the movies, the women are gone.” 

In most of today’s movies, men do things, and women stand around and wait to react to whatever the man does. There’s even a term for the female character whose sole job it is to make the man’s life better: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She’s wacky! She’s sexy! She doesn’t exist outside the need of the male character to have her there!

Imagine a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, wacky and loving and ready to retreat whenever the main character is ready to go out on her own, fully actualized. Yeah, I giggled. 

Let’s look at one of the biggest characters in YA culture right now — Katniss Everdeen. She’s supposed to be responsible for bringing down an entire society, and the biggest question for her is Team Peeta or Team Gale?

No wonder girls still feel like they can’t do anything.


This cultural setup — men do stuff, and women are charming companions — is pretty much why I think a Wonder Woman movie is Dead On Arrival. We can’t have women saving men — viewers (primarily young males) won’t accept it. And imagine a movie where Diana Prince walks away from Steve Trevor, because saving the world is kind of incompatible with knitting by the fire, waiting for him to get home. 

(I read the recap of the script to David Kelley’s pilot for a Wonder Woman TV series. And sure, it got turned down a lot of places, but it didn’t get turned down enough. Wonder Woman, sitting home and eating ice cream and mooning over Steve Trevor? Um, wut? Imagine a Wonder Woman who had zero time for a guy who wasn’t going to keep up with her…and you’re looking at the end of Western Civilization, I swear.)


At USC, one thing that always bothered me in one of my writing classes was that the writer got to pick who read what, and in this particular class only women read the women’s parts, and only men would read the men’s parts. 

Here were the main problems with this:

  • The male writers often only wrote male roles.
  • When they wrote female roles, the females had nothing to say or do. Even on paper, they were placeholders, and the place they were holding was a spot marked “The lead is heterosexual; here is the proof.” 

I wish I had said something then. I wish I had yelled and said, “You know, you don’t have to do this yet, wait for the studio to make you do it.” I wish I had said, “Can we reread this scene, only Jane and I will read the male characters and Bob will read the female character, and you can hear how fucking ridiculous it is to have someone standing there saying, ‘Um,’ ‘Okay,’ ‘Whatever you want’?”

Change your characters from male to female or vice-versa: how does that change how things play out? 

Or: Change the sex object from a woman to a man — how does that shake up the dynamic? 

I do bring that up more, a little bit, now, at my playwriting groups. It’s not always a male/female thing — sometimes the writer just falls in love with one character, who then gets all the moves, all the good lines, all the showy stuff. But it’s often a male/female problem.

I am not an idiot: I’m well aware that men and women behave differently, given different circumstances. But it’s useful to know when a character is breaking a stereotype and when he or she is being a stereotype. It’s also really useful to make sure you have made an actual character. One who stands around and says, “Whatever you want, honey,” isn’t a person, that’s a blowup doll. 

Let’s take Elysium, which I saw yesterday: Matt Damon’s character, who’s a lowlife and gets screwed over by a Big Corporation, so he wants to take revenge. He has to tote some massive machinery around, which might be more of a guy thing, except half of this character is the exoskeleton they put on him that makes him a badass, so that could be a woman or a guy. Jodie Foster’s character is the Secretary of Defense, a role normally played by a man, but there’s no reason for it, so why not have it be a woman? (Because women can’t plot to grab power? PLEASE.) Sharlto Copley is a thug who rapes and murders and is a general sociopath…and yeah, guys, you get to have that one, straight up, those are pretty much guy characteristics. (No, not that all men are that way; the vast majority of people who are that way are men, however.) Alice Braga is the Girl In Jeopardy, the least interesting character in the movie.

Let’s imagine that character a guy, a man whose sole function in the movie is to protect his sick son, and who gets batted around by the bad guys for fun. 

Yeah. Me neither.


 Women can actually have a life for two seconds without everything being about who they’re sleeping with or whether they’re going to have a baby. It would be nice to see this reflected in our culture for two seconds. It might also be nice to see more of the other side: men who wonder how they’re going to be able to have careers and be a loving partner and have a family. 

Software writers need

1. Scrivener

You know this. Just go and buy it already.

Lots of writers feel this way about it. If you do a web search on “scrivener is the best”, you get a lot of responses, all of which you can investigate on your own free time.

The short version: Word (or even Pages) is a word processor, most often used as a WYSIWYG layout tool — not as powerful as a dedicated layout application, but what you see on screen affects what comes out when you print. Scrivener is an application for writing: how you lay the text out on screen as you write has nothing to do with what comes out the other end. I just concentrate on the writing. I can have one file for my entire book. Or, I can have each chapter in a separate text file. Or, I can have folders represent each chapter, and multiple text files in each chapter folder. And I can easily navigate the entire book through the binder, which is the main window.

Index cards! Folders for all my research! Click-and-drag to rearrange entire chapters! FULL SCREEN! (Ulysses had this feature first, but Scrivener really did a boss job with it.)

When it comes to publishing books, Scrivener is even more awesome: with a little bit of work on your part, Scrivener can easily (and I do mean easily) generate .epub, .mobi, .pdf — whatever files you need. You don’t need to follow any tricky “nuclear option” formatting solutions. You don’t need to fight with Word’s problems with Kindle, which has led to some books having seriously messed up formatting. Scrivener puts it together for you. Don’t fight the power. Let the power work for you. 

2. Scapple

Well, okay, I’ll be honest: I haven’t used this much. Mindmapping isn’t a thing I’ve managed to make work for me yet. But I’m a total Scrivener fangirl and if it’s software from Scrivener’s developer, that’s good enough for me: shut up and take my money!

3. Aeon Timeline

Holy crap, I am finding this so useful. Aeon Timeline allows you to make a timeline (duh) using our known calendar or a custom calendar format that you set up (like, for a fantasy world). 

How am I using this? Well, I have one document named “Drusilla.” I have the General timeline, that has all of the events of her life, many of which I make up on the spot but then need to keep referring back to. I have the YKWIA timeline, which is a subset of the General timeline and has all of the events of that book written into it. I have the timeline for the new book: what happens when? 

Aeon Timeline figures out how old Drusilla and Stevie are for each of these events. It can calculate how long it’s been between events. I can keep track of locations, names, and length of time. Which characters were where at which time of their lives.

Until such time as I can hire an assistant to do nothing but comb my stuff for continuity, this will have to do.

4. WriteRoom

Distraction-free writing for iOS and Mac. Which means: no bells and whistles. Minimal styles. If I’m on the go somewhere, I can write in there and then use DropBox to transfer to my Mac, where I can pop the text into Scrivener easily. Other writers like iA WriterWriting Kit, or Daedalus (from the guys who brought you Ulysses).  


I have but don’t use Index Card for iOS, mostly because Scrivener has its own index card system. 

Any other software I ought to know about?

Results from the Free Days at Amazon

So, I recently offered my book for free for 5 days at Amazon. And here’s what happened.

But first, a little history lesson.


A few years ago, the term “Self-publishing” meant bad. Self-publishing was the last resort of the author who couldn’t get traction from real publishing houses in New York. It often meant you were dealing with a scam artist outfit like Publish America. (No link. Don’t even do a web search on them. They’re crap.) 

Self-publishing’s bad reputation is why, when my friend Rob read my book years ago and told me to put it up on Amazon, I wouldn’t.

Uh… Oops. 

In 2008 or 2009, the ways of self-publishing changed, due to one entity: Amazon. Amazon introduced the Kindle, and it introduced the Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP. It became easy to publish your book online and actually have a viable career publishing your own work, without going through New York. Not just for the Hugh Howeys and Amanda Hockings, but for lots and lots of writers. If you want to read a great thread by authors talking about how well they’re doing, read this thread started by Hugh Howey and eventually turned into an article he wrote for Salon. There are lots of writers having lots of levels of success out there. 

In December 2011, as part of their bid to become THE place for authors to have their books, Amazon introduced the Kindle Digital Publishing Select program. For 90 days, you agree to make your book exclusively available digitally to Amazon (you can still offer the paperback version elsewhere), and in return Amazon offers you five days when you can offer your book for free, plus entry in the “Kindle Online Lending Library,” or KOLL, which means that people can borrow your book (if they belong to Amazon Prime and if they have a Kindle e-reader). 

In early 2012, KDP Select had some tremendous effects. Authors would offer their books for free, have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of downloads, and then when the book came off of its free days, KDP would interpret the free downloads as buys and that book would pop up on the Paid book list, basically immediately becoming bestsellers. Then lots and lots of people would buy the books (for actual money), and a lot of authors started paying off their mortgages.

In March 2012, KDP changed the algorithm and free sales only counted for a fraction of a paid sale. The change was felt immediately — free books got a boost right out of the gate, but the book probably wouldn’t be as high on the charts as it would have been before the change. 

Lots of authors suspect Amazon has changed the algorithms again recently, to make the transition from Free to Paid even less useful, but Amazon claims that it only changed the formula once, in March. It’s just that there are so many more books that are available for free now, the signal-to-noise ratio has made things harder.

A lot of authors on boards or mailing lists I frequent say they don’t think Select is worth the exclusivity any more — the money they make from KOLL borrows (roughly $2 per book, which is great if your book costs $2.99 or less, but it’s less money than you would get for a sale if your book costs more) doesn’t make up for the money lost on other digital bookstores, such as iTunes/iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble, because those bookstores are increasing in visibility and sales.


When the Free bonanza started and authors started talking about how much money they were making as a result, I thought they were nuts. Here’s why: I like getting ebooks, and getting ebooks for free is even better. When the Great Free Gold Rush was on, I downloaded a crap ton of books, often by authors whose names I recognized. I downloaded a huge number of books, even knowing that I wasn’t particularly interested in them right them. 

I didn’t read them. I didn’t do anything with them. I stored them on my Kindle. Whenever I paid for a book, I immediately read it. The free ones could wait.

When an author made a ton of their books available for free, what I learned was: this author will eventually offer all of their books for free. If I had a lot of free books by that author, I stopped even considering buying something from them. I had a lot of ebooks on my Kindle. I could wait.

Also, a ton of those free books were just as bad as everyone said they were. Wow. I haven’t bothered going through my Kindle to clean it up but…yeah. Not good.

Now, clearly, this was not the universal experience of the authors who were offering their books. Often they found that if they offered one book for free, the sales of all their other books picked up as a result. People were downloading their books, liking what they found, and returning for more, this time with money in hand. In fact, so many authors discovered the power of giving one away for free they found a way around Amazon’s no-free restriction. 

Amazon doesn’t offer the ability to set your book’s price to Free to anyone except members of KDP Select, and that’s only 5 days out of every 90. However, it also says that you can’t offer your book at other vendors for a lower price than you offer it at Amazon, and other vendors (such as iTunes/iBooks) do allow you to offer your book for free. So authors very quickly figured out how to offer their books for permafree: they would set them to a price of zero elsewhere and then get Amazon to price-match. Sometimes Amazon price-matches, sometimes it doesn’t. 

The extra bonus to permafree is: Amazon crosses out the price you’ve set on Amazon and writes $0.00 below it — making it look as though the buyer is getting a particular deal that day. And people like getting deals.


In March 2013, Amazon made a huge change to the ecosystem that has sprung up around selling things on Amazon. I don’t even think all of the effects from this have been completely understood yet.

Amazon Affiliates make money by getting people to buy things at Amazon with the Affiliates’ tag attached to the URL for that thing. The customer buys, the Affiliate gets a cut of the sale for referring the customer. The fun part was, when someone went to Amazon to check out something with the Affiliates’ tag attached, that tag stayed operational for some time afterward. So if a customer went to check out a free book, and then stayed at Amazon to buy a lawnmower, the Affiliate got a cut of the sale of the non-free merchandise.

Lots of people were making bank with this system. They had sites offering links to free books on Amazon, and then customers would buy lots of other stuff that actually cost money, and the Affiliate raked in the proceeds.

Amazon said, “Yeah, enough of that crap,” and tightened the rules, hard.

Starting March 1, 2013, Associates who we determine are promoting primarily free Kindle eBooks and meet both conditions below for a given month will not be eligible for any advertising fees for that month within the Amazon Associates Program. This change will not affect advertising fees earned prior to March 1, 2013.

1. At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks


2. 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links.

Sites that had invested heavily in featuring free books to their customers stopped doing so, cold. Even if they offered links to paid books, if their Affiliates tag was used to download too many free books, the Affiliate would lose all of their Affiliate money. 

Offering your book for free and letting people know about it just became that much harder.


Knowing all of this, why, if I only had one book up in the Amazon bookstore, did I make You Know Who I Am free for 5 days? It wasn’t like I was going to spur anyone on to buying Book 2, which is, as of yet, not available.

Well, it’s true: offering it for free when I had more than one book available would have been a great promotion. But by the time I have multiple books up there, I’m not planning on being in KDP Select. I did it for this first 90 days so that I could learn the system. (For example, it turns out I had to tweak a few things in the ebook and re-upload the book to Amazon a couple of times. On other bookstores — Kobo, for example — you lose your entire sales history if you re-upload. Lots of authors roll their eyes at what a stupid system Kobo has.) 

I know how fast I write: it’s going to take me a bit to get multiple books up on the stores. I’m not staying in Select for that long. 

What do I need even more than money at this point? 

I need people to read the damn thing. And beyond that, I need them to review it.

Before I put my book up, I had zero idea of how important reviews are. Reviews convince other readers someone has read that book. (Or bought that app. Or watched that movie. Whatever.) They’re absolutely necessary to get advertising through the most effective advertisers for books. One place that has phenomenal results for the books it features won’t even talk to you if you have fewer than 10 reviews. They have so many writers trying to advertise with them that they might as well get the biggest bang for their buck and pick the books that their clients are likely to buy, and it’s easiest to tell that via the reviews for the book.

If enough people downloaded my book, I was betting that some percentage of them would read it, and an even smaller percentage of those would review it. The rule of thumb someone mentioned was: 1 review for every 100 purchases. Might be a much greater ratio with free books. 


When I put You Know Who I Am up for free, I advertised the sale through (which sends out your announcement to places still featuring free books, because they make their money in other ways) and I asked people on a mailing list I’m on to tweet about it. I tweeted it a couple of times. 

Results: worldwide, over 5 days, I gave away 14,400 copies of the book. This is nothing compared to the results some authors have reported, but it got me into the Top 100 of Free books, and people look through that list all the time. (If your book gets into the Top Ten Free bestseller list, you’re giving away many tens of thousands of books.)

The first few days of the sale and afterward, I have gotten some of those reviews that I needed, and it was clear that the reviewers had read the book. (Priceless: A review where it’s clear the reviewer has actually read the book. Thank you thank you thank you thank you!)

The book has also sold better afterward than it did before (there’s been a rather stark contrast, in fact), although I have zero idea how people are finding it now. I’m really glad people are finding it, of course. And lots of people seem to be enjoying it enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, for which I am profoundly grateful!


One fun moment happened when I made to the top of the Women Sleuths sublist. Me and Uncle James, together again! 

Pattersons small

(Just so we’re clear: to the best of my knowledge, I have no kinship to James Patterson. If I did, I would have done something to announce this relationship, such as “buy France.” I’m just happy he’s blazed the trail for having a 5-letter first name plus Patterson on the front of a book.)


So, am I going to make You Know Who I Am free again, any time soon?


For one thing, I’m going to leave KDP Select in May 2013, to see if (like some, though certainly not all authors) I can make some money and get some visibility on the other bookstores. (The main ones are iTunes/iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble.) While Amazon is still the Big Kahuna for English-language authors, the other ones are coming on strong.

Although, from what I’ve read about iTunes/iBooks even before my book’s available there, I have a laundry list of changes I’d like to see them make. Let’s start with iTunes Producer, the software you need to upload your books to iTunes. I would like to start by burning this software to the ground and salting the earth afterward.

And Kobo, seriously: up the search game on your site. And make it possible for authors to change material in their books without losing their entire sales history. 

If I do get into the permafree game and offer the book for free, that’ll be after I have 3 or 4 books in the Drusilla Thorne series up, and I know how long that’s going to take. That will be a while. 

House of Cards: the review

As long-time readers of this blog know, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Spacey for years

I also have been a fan of the original BBC version of House of Cards for years. I loved it so much that I ordered the original books from whatever Amazon UK was before it was Amazon UK. I couldn’t believe how awesome Francis Urquhart was! He was evil! He was smart! And he played to win! 

When I heard Kevin Spacey was going to be the main character in the new version of House of Cards, I was like, “OMG, this is too much awesome in one place.” And David Fincher was going to produce and direct the first two episodes! And! And!

After having watched the entire thing, I can confidently state: If they bring back this series next year — possibly in some Americanized “To Play The King” — not even Kevin Spacey can bring me back to it. 

House of Cards is the story of an ambitious politician who has grand plans for his political future and shows us exactly what he’s willing to do — blackmail, secret deals, and worse — in order to achieve what he wants. The best thing about the UK House of Cards was how smart it was: tight writing, smart characters, assumed the audience could keep up. And when you have your main character talking to the audience about the horrible things he’s doing, the only smart play is to be funny

How overdone and self-important is the US series? They go to the trouble of renaming the US character “Francis Underwood” and then never make one of the jokes from the original about the media talking about “F.U.” How can you not make the F.U. joke? It’s right there in his name. Name him something else if you’re not going to F.U. him.

The major story problem with the US version is the ending. The ending of the book was one thing, the end of the UK series was something different. The ending of the US version is (so as not to give spoilers) just lame. The ending of a story has to do a couple of things, and one of the main jobs is bring the audience back for Round 2. It’s a tough job. But still: you have a high-profile series, work the ending

And here’s the major casting problem with this version: Kevin Spacey.

Oh, how it pains me to write those words.

The worst thing about Spacey’s performance is the accent. He’s supposed to be from South Carolina, and maybe he just has fond memories of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but he should have just said, “No” to doing an accent for this. His accent is unbelievably awful. They couldn’t have invested in an accent coach? Not only is his accent all over the map, it disappears for scenes at a time. It disappears in the middle of scenes. At one point he’s doing a British accent (I kid you not). Whenever Spacey loses the accent and concentrates on what he’s supposed to be doing, he’s fabulous. Whenever the accent (some version of it) comes back, he clearly loses the plot and he’s spending too much energy just trying to stay in character.

Fabulous find from House of Cards: Corey Stoll as Peter Russo, the deeply flawed Congressman from Philadelphia. I hope he’s parlaying this into lots of roles, because wow, was he good.

Rating: C. I am deeply disappointed by this show.

I love the idea of original programming, Netflix. Now try harder.