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June 18, 2015

Working Between Novels: Short Stories Keep the Brain Fresh

by Toni Leland

Writing "The End" to a 90,000-word novel is more than relief and celebration — there is a let-down too. After living with the characters and their dilemmas for anywhere from eight months to a year, an author can't help but find it hard to let go. Sure, once the story is done and published, the exhilaration lasts for several weeks. But then what?

Personally, I find it hard to plunge into another major project, even in a series. I need time to think about other things, but I also need to continue to write. The answer is short stories and freelance articles. These are short-term projects that keep the brain working like a finely-tuned machine and, interestingly enough, while the gray cells are focusing on the job at hand, they are also churning out deeper ideas for the next "big one."

A few years ago, I wrote several short stories for inclusion in women's magazines. One, in particular, was contracted immediately by a new romance publication; sadly, before the third issue could go to press, the magazine folded (underfunded and undersubscribed) and my story rights reverted back to me. I put it aside to await another opportunity. And forgot about it.

Cleaning up old files on the computer recently, I came across it. Read it. Still liked it. Did some fine-tuning and, as they say, the rest is history.

Second Chances debuted on Kindle this week and the process of setting the story free has recharged my batteries. I'm ready to begin work on the fifth book in my Kovak & Quaid series. Sometimes we authors just need a little break.

April 5, 2015

RISKY BUSINESS – the Kovak & Quaid Mystery Series Continues

I'm always thrilled to announce that I've finished a book, but I'm particularly happy with the release of RISKY BUSINESS. Why? Because writing a series is not for the faint of heart!

I never dreamed when I started that something that seemed so simple could be so challenging. I mean, how hard is it to write stories in the same setting with the same people? I discovered that keeping everything straight for myself and my readers, as well as keeping my readers engaged with the characters for the long-term was not that easy.

So, I offer you Book 4 of the series and hope that you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Kovak & Quaid thank you!

~ Toni Leland

Risky Business releases April 20, 2015

October 6, 2014

Authors, Readers, and Book Reviews, Oh My!

by Toni Leland

All the experts tell me that I should blog frequently, tell the world what I know or think, or at least stay on the radar screen.

Frankly, I believe that if someone else can say it better, I'd rather share than try to reinvent the wheel!

So, my latest excitement is Anne R. Allen's blog post about the value of reviews and how they affect authors. Her insights are valuable and should be absorbed by anyone who writes for the public.

Additionally, the "review of the future" will be as it always has been: discoverability through word-of-mouth. I plan to keep this image where I can see it frequently, to remind me to share the wealth of wonderful reading I've experienced. Feel free to do the same for yourself. 

September 15, 2014

What Happens to a Book When an Author Dies?

by Toni Leland

Death and taxes – inevitable, but how many authors think about what will happen to their work after they’re gone? 

As authors, we control our characters’ lives: when they grow, when they fail, when they fall in love, or when they die. But most of us need a reminder that the future will come, whether we like it or not, sooner or later (hopefully, later).

Estate Planning for Authors provides just the guidebook we need to prepare for and face up to those inevitabilities. Written by attorney and author Gin Jones, I found this book to be just what I needed to help me make decisions about things like my copyrights, what to do with unfinished work when I pass, and how and when to consult with a professional. 

The book contains more than simple advice to seek an attorney and draw up a will – Jones discusses the ramifications of dying without a will, and includes examples that are, quite frankly, frightening. She interviews and quotes well-known authors, and cites actual cases where an author’s will didn’t measure up when the time came to disperse assets.

I strongly recommend that ANY writer read Estate Planning for Authors and make a plan accordingly. We work too hard on our stories and articles and poetry and research to have those vestiges of ourselves discarded, or worse – abused.

April 17, 2014

The Value of Book Reviews and Dealing with the Trolls

by Toni Leland

Recently, a successful writing colleague of mine commented that she’d received a truly nasty Amazon review of her newest release. I really sympathized with her—been there, felt that. And as I’ve wondered so many times in the past, my thought was: why do readers feel the need to vent their opinions so viciously? Or at all? If they didn’t like the book, is it necessary to say hurtful things to someone they don’t even know? Have they ever tried to write a book? Do they have any clue to what goes into crafting a story? Never mind getting it published!

I visited the title in question and, sure enough, amid several excellent reviews was a one-liner: the book was garbage, don’t waste your money, don’t read this author’s work. As I’ve done in the past with a couple of less-than-stellar Amazon reviews of my own books, I clicked through to see this reader’s “other reviews.” There were none. Perhaps this person is a beginning reader. Sometimes, the “reviewer” will have their own agenda, be involved personally with another title or author, or simply have nothing better to do with their time. We’ll never know the real story. But be assured that these nay-sayers wouldn't trash a book if they came face-to-face with the authors; the anonymity of the Internet gives some people the courage to be unkind.


Don’t confuse a reader’s “opinion” with a book review. Comments like the one above belong in a forum where bashing is the norm. Book reviews are a whole different breed.
A “real” book review is comprised of many parts:

  • Why or how the book relates to the reader’s interest;
  • The reader’s perception of how well the author used his or her craft, vis a vis language, characters, plot, etc.;
  • What audience would enjoy the book;
  • A brief description of the plot, without giving away key points (spoilers) or the ending;
  • Why the reader did or did not enjoy the book.

Where's the Value?

On Amazon, one poor opinion in the midst of many good ones tells us that someone might just be marching to a different drummer (such as an avid horror fan trying to “review” a romance). But many bad opinions that echo each other tell us that perhaps the book really is a stinker. But a poor review is not always a bad thing, if it was given in the spirit of constructive criticism. We can learn from our readers’ honest comments just as much as we can glow from the praise. If there are dozens of 1's and 2's, look at the recurring theme of the comments. There is a valuable message there, a clue to what might make the book a better read.

Look at the overall average of the reviews; ideally, there should be a balance between the five-stars and the 3- and 4-stars. As with poor reviews, there will be a similarity of comment that can give an author insight into what he or she could change in future work. I recently struggled with a New York Times "best seller", wading through the first third of the book before giving up. I could not get into the story and felt disappointed. Later, on reading the reviews of this title, I heaved a sigh of relief; dozens of readers had voiced their disappointment with the lack-lustre characters, the slow pace of the book, and the fact that they "couldn't get into the story." A valuable message for the author.

Reviews and Sales

Do reviewer comments affect the sales of our books? I believe that today’s average reader has the ability to make a decision based on the synopsis and description of the book, the author’s track record, and the positive comments left by others.

So, authors—keeping working on developing lizard skin. Difficult, but our mental health and creative juices depend on it. Try not to let negative reviews sidetrack your love of the craft and determination to make each story a better one.