Cornering the market

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My editor — a self-proclaimed “techno-dope” — recently attended a workshop in editing for the web, and is now fired with enthusiasm for such things as search engine optimisation (SEO) and rankings. One of tricks she learned is that the following three elements can increase a site’s ranking: frequency of updates, links to reputable sites, and links from reputable sites.

That led to the following e-mail exchange:

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Editor: So do you have links from your novel pages, e.g., Ship to Shore to those Scottish islands’ tourist sites, etc.?

Me: No. Presumably you ask because such links would increase my ranking?

Interesting idea — but all of this is predicated on the assumption that someone already knows that Elizabeth Krall exists and has written novels.

I seriously doubt that adding such links is going to capture the thousands of would-be readers who do NOT know that Elizabeth Krall exists yet who currently go to Google and type in “romance novel bagpipes Scotland sailing Hebrides” but who alas do not stumble across my book. ;(

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Google search results for "romance novel bagpipes Scotland sailing Hebrides" And that piqued my curiosity: just where does Ship to Shore appear in the rankings if one does enter those search terms in Google?

So I did.

Result!

The first return is for Ship to Shore on Amazon, and the second is for Ship to Shore on Smashwords. Then a couple of completely unrelated sites pop up, followed by Ship to Shore on Goodreads.

So I could proudly inform my editor that the “romance novel bagpipes Scotland sailing Hebrides” market, albeit a niche one, is all mine!

Sweet as chocolate …

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FREE DOWNLOAD

For a limited time only, my Easter short story ‘The Perfect Chocolate Martini’ is available as a free download for Kindle and other e-book readers. 
The Perfect Chocolate MartiniThe Perfect Chocolate Martini
Every weekday, Gordon buys one perfect, handcrafted chocolate. Alice laughs off the suggestion that he is more interested in the woman who makes the chocolates than in the chocolates themselves, but she is secretly pleased by the idea. Two days before Easter, Alice discovers that Gordon is also Leadfoot, the noisy neighbor in the apartment above hers. Will it be war between them, or love?

Click here to download your FREE copy.

My first brush with fame, sort of

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gold-stars-275

I had a very interesting experience today.

I took my latest royalty cheque from Amazon to the bank.  (I don’t live in the US, and I don’t have a US dollar bank account, so it’s back to the bad old days of paper cheques – or checks, if you are reading this and you’re an American.) The teller noticed that the cheque was from Amazon and commented that it must be a refund for goods I had bought and returned.

I explained that it was actually a royalty cheque, i.e., payment for my books sold.

The teller’s eyes grew large and she gazed up at me as if the very incarnation of celebrity had walked into her bank.

“Are you a writer?” she squealed. “I’ve never met a real author!”

I felt uncomfortably like a fraudster at this moment, given that my total sales have hardly catapulted me into the ranks of best-selling authors, and I’m in no position to give up the day job. On the other hand, I was depositing payment for books that I had written and complete strangers had purchased, so yes, I guess I am a real author.

“What sort of books do you write?” she asked, my cheque lying neglected on the counter beside her.

I hesitated, and then admitted that the first two are romance novels. (The third, which I’m working on now, is a psychological thriller.)

Her eyes, if possible, grew even larger. “I love romance novels! I just read Eat Pray Love!”

I didn’t have the heart to admit that I have neither read the book nor seen the film, and settled for smiling in an encouraging way.

She finally turned her attention to my cheque, but after a moment she interrupted her work to push a slip of paper and a pen towards me.

“Write down your books’ names,” she urged.

So I did. And then I had to tell her that I wrote the books under the pen name of “Elizabeth Krall”. If she had searched Amazon for books written by the name on the cheque she would indeed have found one, but it’s not a romance novel!

Will this woman go home tonight and buy either of my novels? I don’t know.

I’ve never had an encounter like that before, with someone who thinks that writing books is a marvellous thing and that people who write books are special. Perhaps because I spent many years as an editor in publishing, I am much more jaded about books.

But even if she doesn’t buy a book, that bank teller made my day.

Wise Words 10: “A good novel tells us the truth …”

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“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero;
but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

–G.K. Chesterton


There are two reasons for today’s post.

The first is that I like the quote!

The second is that I wanted to test the new move by Getty, one of the world’s great photo libraries, to make 35 million (yup, that’s million) photos free to use on social media sites and blogs. As with embedding a youtube video on a site, you embed the photo with some code; this means you can’t edit it in any way, and Getty adds a photographer credit and link back to its site (as you can see in the photo I’ve used above).

If you’re a blogger or a social media user who likes to add images to your posts, this is an interesting development. More info here.

What’s in a name?

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so Shakespeare tells us.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so Shakespeare tells us.

It’s time to bite the bullet and actually start writing my third novel, rather than just thinking about it. And that, of course, means giving names to my characters.

I’m not convinced that characters need surnames, and none of my mine have had one. However, all my writing so far has been romance-themed, whereas this next one is a thriller. I think the police, at least, will need surnames. “Chief Inspector Bob” lacks a certain gravitas.

But how to choose those all-important first names? I run through all my relatives, friends and colleagues, hoping for a name that encapsulates everything I want to say about a character. Some names I immediately reject simply because I don’t like the name — or the person I associate with the name! Some seem too old fashioned, or too time-specific. Some I like, but readers don’t. I had to change the name of a character in ‘Too Close’ after both my editor and some beta readers told me, unprompted, that they disliked the name. The character’s name was Felicity, known by the nickname ‘Flea’; she ended up being Kylie, with no nickname. But I still think of her as Flea!

So, for the new novel. I’ve decided on Caroline for the heroine, not because I especially like the name but because I want to tie it to the song “Sweet Caroline”. The villain will be called Rhys, at my editor’s suggestion [update: she has asked me to clarify that although the name is her suggestion, giving it to the bad guy is not]. I don’t know anyone named Rhys, but I love the hissing sound you can make when you say it, as when the pantomime bad guy comes on stage. And there’s the shadowy third figure, who may turn out to be a villain or may turn out to be the hero: I wanted him to be Italian, so I turned to Google to find Italian men’s names. Alfonso, Alfredo, Alonzo, Andrea, Benito (ugh, no, I’m not calling my character after a WWII dictator!), Carlo, Dante (inferno, anyone?), Donato . . . I went back to Carlo. I liked it. And then my editor queried the similarity of Carlo and Caroline, so I’m still short one name.

I’ve found inspiration for the names of minor characters in a place I hadn’t considered before: a cemetery. I often walk through Waverley Cemetery and can’t resist reading some of the headstones, and wondering about the stories behind the tragic ones, those names with a tiny span of years, a woman in her 20s, a boy in his teens. One headstone was for Nola. Great name, I thought. So Nola is now the fraternal twin sister of the heroine’s late husband, Neill. Sorted.

Now, all I’ve got to do is knock out 90,000 words, and I’m set.

FREE for Valentine’s Day

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FREE DOWNLOAD
For a limited time only, my Valentine’s Day short story ‘Toast To Go’ is available as a free download for Kindle and other e-book readers. Get it while it’s hot!

'Toast to Go' by Elizabeth KrallToast To Go

One too many heartbreaks has turned Jemma into what her sister calls a jaded cynic. But on the morning before Valentine’s Day, café owner Dave tucks a note in with her toast, and Jemma is reminded of the delights of falling in love. All she has to do now is stop playing it safe, and take a chance.

Click here to download your FREE copy.

Wise Words 9: “You never have to change anything …”

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“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” - Saul Bellow

I laughed when I came across the quote “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write” because it reminded me of the many ideas I got out of bed to scribble down on scraps and notes before I forgot them. Unlike Saul Bellow, however, I frequently did change them!

BTW, the scribble in this photo is the opening lines of a novel I’m playing around with. This one will be a thriller, possibly called In Your Sights.

A serial rapist; a secret lover; a cyber stalker who posts disturbing photographs online. And a woman who must distinguish friend from enemy before she becomes the next victim.

Write what you know

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"Snow on the Roof" free on Amazon for Christmas
The cover for "Snow on the Roof" by Elizabeth Krall.

Although I can’t claim to have first-hand experience of the subject matter of my latest short story – I’m not old enough, if nothing else! – “Snow on the Roof” does draw on what I know. The story was inspired by people I know, all of whose partners have died, all of whom expected to live out their lives alone – and all of whom, often to their own surprise, found love again after the age of 70.

In “Snow on the Roof”, Marian and Hal are “winter Texans” who met on the golf course. Hal persuades Marian to go with him to spend Christmas with his daughter’s family in Michigan. There’s conflict, tears, laughs, and trifle, plus of course a penguin, which is an obligatory feature in all my writing. (It keeps my editor happy!)

The only reason I know of the term “winter Texans” is that my own parents are two examples. They’ve spent every winter since 1991 in the same mobile home park in Harlingen, which is the one I used in the story. Their lives there are a social whirlwind that, frankly, exhausts me when I visit them. I’ll be spending Christmas with them and their many friends this year. Wish me luck in surviving the parties!

The photo I used on the cover is another “what you know” aspect of this story. I saw that view almost every day of my life until I left home to go to university: it’s the view from the kitchen window of the house in which I grew up, in Canada. Being a scan of a poor-quality print, it couldn’t be used large enough to fill a cover that meets the dimensions required for a Kindle, so I decided to play on that and present it as a photo in an album.

A colleague at work saw the cover on my computer screen, and marvelled at all the snow (I live now in Sydney; we don’t do snow). She’s in her late 20s, and I wondered if she would recognise the reference to the phrase “there may be snow on the roof, but there’s a fire in the furnace”. She didn’t, so I summarised it as “sexually active seniors”. Her reaction was a horrified “Gross!” I guess I can rule her out as a reader.

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Irish waters

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There’s a great new travel-themed WordPress challenge (Travel Journey of the Week) to which you can contribute in whichever way suits you, such as prose, poems, photos, etc. This week’s theme is Ireland. I’ve been focusing on my photo blog since I started it a few months ago, so figured it was time for some words again. And to be honest, my photos of Ireland are mostly pre-digital – apart from a few related to sailing.

This stamp from Ireland commemorates the visit by 'my' tall ship, Tenacious, to Waterford in 2005.

This stamp from Ireland commemorates the visit by ‘my’ tall ship, Tenacious, to Waterford in 2005.

My first sailing association with Ireland was in 2006. The tall ship I was on, Tenacious, was sailing back to the UK from Canada. After a fairly rough and very fast passage from St John’s, Newfoundland, we made landfall again in Ireland. The captain hoped to take us to Cobh, on the south coast of County Cork, but unfortunately for us all of Cobh’s berths for large ships were full.

So we sailed past Cobh, up the River Lee and into the heart of Cork itself. It was so green! Yes, we all know why Ireland is called the ‘Emerald Isle’, but it seemed unnaturally, glowingly green to us after two weeks of looking at nothing but grey skies and even greyer seas. We hung on the ship’s rail, drinking in the sights of fields and villages on either side, and, I must admit, eagerly planning that night’s visit to a pub.

Welcome to Cork: no bands, no streamers.

Welcome to Cork: no bands, no streamers.

The voyage was just one of many transatlantic crossings for the ship, but it was the first for me! I was bursting with accomplishment and pride, and felt that this epic achievement deserved recognition – bands on the quayside, streamers and balloons, speeches from the local dignitaries. The reality was four of my fellow crewmembers in lifejackets on a grimy, deserted, industrial dock (pictured). Not exactly the reception I had imagined!

But Cork itself, once we all got our ‘land legs’ back and set out to explore, offered pubs and restaurants, friendly people, and easy day trips out of the city. On one such trip to Cobh, I was moved by the stories of the millions of Irish people who left their homes in search of a better life across the ocean, making the reverse of the voyage I had just made, in a not-dissimilar ship, but in vastly more uncomfortable conditions: a holiday for me, an exodus in desperation and hope for them.

My second sailing association with Ireland was in 2009. This time, Tenacious was sailing from Waterford to the Isle of Man. Before sailing, however, I had to get from Waterford airport to Waterford itself, and it was with growing disbelief that I discovered there are no trains, and no buses, from airport to city. Good for taxi drivers, not so good for travellers.

Tenacious in a watery dawn, Waterford.

Tenacious in a watery dawn, Waterford.

Nor was there much to see during that taxi ride, as it rained the whole time. It rained as I trudged along the waterfront and docks to join my ship. It rained all evening and night, as we rotated through harbour watches on deck. It rained the next morning as we cast off mooring lines and wove along the River Suir to open water.

Yet, perhaps as an apology from Mother Nature, a glimmer of sunrise did offer a lovely backdrop to Tenacious in Waterford (pictured). Before, that is, the rain returned.

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