Kindle Scout Journal – Week 3: Into the Arena


Noisemakers  favors - Dofby CJ Verburg

August 19: Kindle Scout accepts my new book, Zapped: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery. Hurray!  Omigod! Now I have about 2 weeks until it goes live on the KS website, to be nominated (or not) by readers for a publishing contract. Not much time to launch a full-court marketing press . . .

August 20: Ha! I get a confirmation e-mail from Kindle Scout informing me Zapped will go live at midnight tomorrow. Not 2 weeks–2 days.

PerilsOfPaulineTiedToRailwayTracks4So much for sleep, meals, and house-cleaning. In the middle of the night, at 5 AM, at odd times throughout the day, I make lists. What steps are most important for getting the word out to mystery-lovers likely to give Zapped a thumbs-up? What steps are most urgent, i.e., must be done before midnight tomorrow?

Zapped is well plotted, written, and edited. However, I strongly suspect the Kindle editors base their final decision as much (or more) on the author’s marketing platform than the quality of the book.  Therefore:

August 20-21:  (1) I need my own website. If I’m asking Kindle Press to publish Zapped, I can’t direct them to my author page on Boom-Books’s website for my book details, biography, and blog posts–convenient though that’s been.

8ballI spend a couple hours online (frustrating) and on the phone with GoDaddy (helpful) setting up Key decision: I choose WordPress, because I’ve already used it, and pick a theme that has the best content elements rather than max visual appeal. I’ll have a spotlight for each of my 3 books, a 4th spotlight for news updates, plus clear links to book, author, and other pages, and a clickable bar that will take readers straight to my blog posts (here!) on the Boom-Books site.

(2) I need to find out who’s signed up for the “Friends & Fans of Edward Gorey” newsletter I never got around to sending out, and either start it–belatedly–or cancel it.

Random House first edition (1967) of the Marshall McLuhan classic.Key decision: The newsletter I really want to do (and have a URL for) is E-Pistols: news bulletins about publishing in general and mystery/crime fiction in particular. So I
(a) sign up for the Twitter username EPistols,
(b) go through the mailing list I’ve accumulated, winnow it down to the ten most real-sounding names, and
(c) create a one-time one-page F&FoEG newsletter (thereby learning how to use MailChimp at long last), which I send to those ten people with an explanation of the changeover.

(3) I’ve already booked a trip to Cape Cod in early September–to visit friends, see From Aesop to Updike, this year’s Edward Gorey art show, and check facts for Zapped. Now this is also a promo tour for my Kindle Scout campaign. So I
(a) Set up a reading Sept. 10 at the Edward Gorey House, in Yarmouth Port, the inspiration for the book’s village of Quansett. This is where I launched Croaked, Book 1 in the Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery series.
Parnassus-Books726(b) Call Sarah Romano, who runs Parnassus, the local bookstore–real-life counterpart of the fictional Frigate. She’s pleased to hear of the reading and happy to order books.
Revelation: Sarah says she doesn’t have Croaked in stock, but it always sells. Parnassus is too small to use Ingram or Baker & Taylor; she can’t recall how she got copies last time. Not consignment (my usual M.O. with San Francisco bookstores)–too hard to keep track. I track down my CreateSpace e-store links, discount codes, and other information to e-mail her. Why isn’t this a recurring item on my [infinite] To-Do list? Half an hour of my time yields half a dozen Croaked sales. That’s also half a dozen potential Zapped fans.

Now that I’ve got the ball rolling on those Big Three items–website, mailing list, and Cape Cod trip–my last chore as the hours tick away until midnight is to set up posts on Facebook and Twitter, as well as my new website, to launch my “Vote for Zapped” campaign.



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Kindle Scout Journal – Week 2: On Deck


by CJ Verburg

russianSailboatAugust 13:  Still tossing around cover sketches. ZAPPED is hard for me (as its author) to squeeze into one image, or category for that matter. Everybody from Angelina to Zappa pops up in this book, yet I can only say what it’s not: It’s not a cutesy cozy, not a chiller thriller, not a police procedural or courtroom drama, and definitely not one of the a paranormal-zombie-vampire-fantasy subgenres that dominate Kindle Scout. suit-tie-targetThe ideal cover would say summertime on Cape Cod, suspense, oddball characters, hairpin plot twists, quaint seaside village, murder, and a dash of Edward Gorey.

August 18:  Days tick by. My diverse consultants veto one cover design after another, for diverse reasons. Time to fish or cut bait! ZAPPED takes place on Cape Cod in mid-August–if I miss this window of opportunity, I’ll have to postpone the book till next year. All the ancillaries are done: a 45-character tagline, 500-character synopsis, bio, photo, and 3 answers to interview questions. Cover #12 (or so) is declared the winner.

August 19:  3:45 PM: After redoing the cover one more time, I submit everything to Kindle Scout.

4:30 PM: Scout acknowledges receipt and promises to let me know within 1-2 business days whether it’s accepted, and if so, when my campaign will launch. Quicker than I expected! Their website projects 15 days from submission to campaign. So ZAPPED could actually go up for readers’ nominations by the end of August.

August 20:  9 AM:

Scout-approvalYikes! 48 hours to mount a full-court-press marketing campaign!



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Kindle Scout Journal – Week One: Warm-Up


by CJ Verburg

What tipped the scale for me in deciding whether to submit a book to Kindle Scout was its promise of Amazon publicity.

KindleScoutAs an editor for various publishing companies over the years, I handled every aspect of book creation–from concept through editing and design to manufacturing–except for marketing. One of the pleasures of indie publishing is that we get to exploit our strengths and hire help with the rest. Now that I’ve published a five-star Book One in each of two mystery series, and drafted Book Two, who can better expand my sales than Amazon?

If you’re not familiar with how Kindle Scout works, there’s a summary in my post of 2/25/15. Basically, Kindle Press publishes e-books (mostly genre fiction) that are submitted in semi-finished form by their authors and voted on for 30 days apiece by online readers, dubbed Scouts. The decision whether to publish a given book isn’t made by the Scouts but by Kindle Press’s editors. I couldn’t find any actual data, but I suspect the quality of the book weighs about equally with the author’s marketing platform.

KScout-firstwinnersWinning authors grant Kindle exclusive rights to the e- and audiobook for 5 years. In return, they get a $1500 advance against royalties and unspecified Amazon exposure. Every Scout who votes for a winner gets a free prepub copy of the Kindle e-book.

I couldn’t find much detail online about other authors’ experience with Kindle Scout until I hit KindleBoards. One author reported that the day her submission was posted for voting, she got 20 new sign-ups for her newsletter. Several more commenters remarked on the many page views they’ve had. Sounds good to me! I wasn’t so pleased to learn that Kindle Press books automatically enter the Kindle Unlimited subscription pool; but given the exclusive contract, why not?–since they can’t sell elsewhere anyway except in print form.

GlockRearSightTaserAugust 6: Final Zapped manuscript sent to my 2 beta readers for comments.

August 7: Cover design starts. How to convey “witty, threatening, and compellingly readable” in an inch-high image? Duck_Target-pobjie

Kindle Scout wants a complete Word ms., edited but (mercifully) not formatted, with a cover but (mercifully) no front matter. They also want a thumbnail biography, synopsis of the book, one-line zinger description, and answers to three interview questions. They’ll let me know within 15 days of submitting this package whether my book makes the first cut, i.e., will be posted for voting.

russianSailboatSince Zapped takes place on Cape Cod in August, I’m already running a couple months late to catch summer-vacation readers. I decide if I can get it up on Scout before Labor Day, at least I’ll catch them in the voting stage. And the book can be out in time for holiday sales in late fall, Kindle Press or not.

The 45-day lead time–2-week wait for approval, plus a month for voting–is enough time for a review by my expert consultants and a final edit. So, if the beta readers give it a thumbs-up, I’ll go for it.

August 12: First beta reader report very enthusiastic. Only half a dozen minor changes. “Your characters are wonderful . . . Congratulations, and this is fabulous.”

Week One ends with the cover design still bogged down, and beta reader #2 on p. 79.

To be continued . . .

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Just when you thought flying was safe . . . Cormorants in the Crosshairs


This just in from Judy Irving of Pelican Media:

A Seabird Double Bill

August 19th Benefit for Audubon Society of Portland

Double-crested Cormorant“Cormorants in the Crosshairs,” a 10-minute film I just finished, will premiere in Portland Oregon on August 19th at the Hollywood Theater, screening with “Pelican Dreams.” Please help spread the word:

Cormorants are beautiful, athletic, adaptable, intelligent birds who don’t deserve to die because of human-caused habitat destruction and overfishing. Yet that’s what’s happening, and the Audubon Society of Portland filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers to stop it.


Cormorants have traditionally been used for fishing in Asia, like hawks for hunting in Europe.

In 2009 Mark and I camped and filmed on East Sand Island in the Columbia River for “Pelican Dreams,” so I was familiar with the cormorant colony where the killing has begun (at night, with rifles, while the birds sleep on their nests). We’ll both be at the August 19th premiere in Portland.

Marie Travers, a wildlife rehabilitator who helped raise five young cormorants at International Bird Rescue, became my film collaborator, and many others donated video, still photos, sound effects, and film services to this pro bono project. The 10-minute movie is Pelican Media’s gift to Portland Audubon, in gratitude for their work and in support of their lawsuit. It will be up on vimeo after the premiere.


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Death, Life, Love, and Mass Incarceration


by CJ Verburg

gawande-smithBook of the Week: surgeon/author Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Have you read it? or heard of it? This is the only book I’ve ever seen with a 5-star rating at 3,000+ Amazon reviews (along with the slightly creepy distinction of #1 Best Seller in Death & Grief). 

being mortal coverAs a doctor who’s treated dozens, maybe hundreds of patients, Gawande was struck by their take on mortality. Like the old joke: I know everybody has to die; I just didn’t think that applied to me. People would come into his office who’d just been diagnosed with cancer, or some other terminal disease, & they were in shock: How can this happen to me? What they wanted Dr. Gawande to do was make it go away. Give me back my life. Whatever it takes–surgery, radiation, chemo–I want my life back.

Two realizations disturbed him. First, although most of his patients said they wouldn’t want to go on if they stopped being themselves, if they wound up helpless in a hospital or a nursing home, that was in fact how most of their lives Second, doctors collaborated in this outcome: “Medicine exists to fight death & disease. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually it wins.”

In Being Mortal, we follow Gawande as he explores the options for aging, the pros and cons of the many turning-point choices along life’s home stretch, and the urgency of recognizing and confronting those choices. Mortality is implausible, yet it is universal. This book is a helpful step out of the mindset I grew up with–“Hope I die before I get old!”–toward ending life with the most possible dignity and comfort.

ADSmith-capDignity and comfort are not options in many of the lives depicted by Anna Deveare Smith in her new theater piece Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. It’s brilliant, and it’s playing at Berkeley Repertory Theatre through August 2, with live music by local jazz virtuoso Marcus Shelby.

Unlike most young actresses studying Shakespeare, Smith homed in on Hamlet’s observation that theater holds a mirror up to nature.  Her subject is violent, headline-grabbing social conflicts in the United States; her technique is to interview diverse participants and observers and weave their testimony into a play. ADSmith-vestThe first clash she investigated was the so-called Crown Heights incident in 1991, sparked by a New York rabbi’s entourage running over an African-American child. Smith talked to outraged people on both sides and depicted each of them verbatim–not just their words but their accents and body language–in Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Other Identities.

Anna Deveare Smith has transformed what theater can do by transforming herself into the people she interviews. ADSmith-hatShe levels the playing field: we can’t make our usual (often unconscious) snap judgments about each speaker based on gender, race, age, and appearance, because they all look like Anna Deveare Smith. Instead we’re obliged to watch and listen. I’ve had the good fortune to see every piece she’s done, from Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, about the Rodney King fracas, up through her current investigation of the school-to-prison pipeline that dooms way too many American children.

ADSmith-tieNotes from the Field struck me as gentler, as well as more participatory, than Smith’s previous pieces. With so much anger in the media and the streets over discrimination at every level of the justice system against people (especially males) of color, Smith offers us some exceptionally articulate, insightful, and heartbreaking angles on a subject which–like mortality–we ignore at our peril.


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Update: “Special Deal” to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet


by CJ Verburg

Hamlet-trio2As previously posted (July 18), I was thrilled to get the very last $20 ticket to the National Theatre’s NT Live broadcast of Hamlet at San Francisco’s Sundance Kabuki Theatre in November. Who could resist this all-time all-star cast? — with Benedict Cumberbatch as the prince, Anastasia Hille as Gertrude, and Ciaran Hinds as Claudius. (And who knew that both Hinds and Hille have played Lady Macbeth?)

Turns out I was luckier than I realized.

1251-1407490231-hamlet-sq_002Today’s online London Theatre News (#991) contains a SPECIAL OFFER:

Only £289 – pre-theatre two course dinner at Gaucho Smithfield and a £250 ticket to Hamlet

Valid Evening performances until 31 August 2015

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The Telegraph reported that this is “the most in-demand theatre production of all time” — and that was a YEAR before Shakespeare’s masterpiece opens at London’s Barbican Theatre on August 5 [2015]:

“Hamlet tickets went on sale at 10am on August 11 [2014] and within minutes fans were expressing frustration at finding themselves more than 20,000 places back in the queue.”

With 2 weeks to go until opening night, there are no reviews yet, but that hardly matters since the entire run of the play was sold out months ago. Here’s the terse listing in London Theatre Guide:

As a country arms itself for war, a family tears itself apart. Forced to revenge his father’s death but paralysed by the task ahead, Hamlet rages against the impossibility of his predicament, threatening both his sanity and the security of the state.

If I were director Lyndsey Turner I’d be quaking right now. All the way to the bank.

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Who’s Anthony Horowitz Tackling after Foyle & Sherlock? Saddam & Bond, James Bond


by CJ Verburg

Hamlet-trio2OK, gotta go to London in September.

I thought I’d dodged the bullet when I seized the very last ticket to the National Theatre Live’s November San Francisco broadcast of Hamlet–an all-time all-star cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the prince, Anastasia Hille as Gertrude, and Ciaran Hinds as Claudius. (Who knew both Hinds and Hille have played Lady Macbeth?)

Now here comes Anthony Horowitz over the horizon with both barrels loaded.

dinnerwithsaddamw176h240London’s Menier Chocolate Factory will debut his new play Dinner with Saddam on Sept. 10:

“Saddam, fearful of assassination attempts, was known to move regularly from private home to private home. Even before the war, he declined to spend nights in one of his palaces.” USA Today, 20th April 2003

So what happens when Saddam Hussein turns up on your doorstep and announces he is staying for dinner?


And if that’s not enough, Horowitz has incorporated material by Ian Fleming into a new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, due out Sept. 5.  We’re promised “a thrilling tour de force” which “recreates the golden age of Bond, packed with speed, danger, strong women and fiendish villains.”

Rumor has it Pussy Galore (Goldfinger) will make a reappearance. That’s a relief. I just noticed a closed accordion gate yesterday on her sister’s jewelry shop in Chinatown, Jade Galore.

How soon can we expect the movie? Dare we hope for a cameo by Honor Blackman?–maybe sipping a poolside drink with Sean Connery?

Another pair who’d make a terrific Gertrude and Claudius.


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A Few Remarkable Artists, Here and Gone


by CJ Verburg

Hughes-WonderWanderBook of the Week: writer Langston Hughes’s second autobiography, I Wonder as I Wander, recalling his depression-era travels from California to Cuba to China.

MIL-rampersadI had the good luck to be part of a packed house last week when San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library hosted a conversation between Hughes’s biographer, Arnold Rampersad, and author Elaine Elinson.

Rampersad talked a little about his most recent addition to the oeuvre, The Collected Letters of Langston Hughes, and a lot about the poet himself. I wanted to read about the life of this maverick American writer from his own point of view, and wound up happily immersed for a couple of evenings in I Wonder as I Wander–a fascinating chronicle of adventures in a bygone world, and an irresistible title to anyone whose church choir ever heralded Christmas with the eponymous folk hymn.

BAK-AlmostHeavenA few days later, another of my favorite authors hit town: Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles, whose wide-ranging nonfiction includes Almost Heaven: Women on the Frontiers of Space. With the New Horizons spacecraft hurtling toward its brief encounter with ex-planet Pluto, the two of us explored George Lucas’s little park in the Presidio. We walked across Doyle Drive (closed and empty) to the still-magnificent Palace of Fine Arts, last great relic of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition one hundred years ago.FineArtsCaryatids


At the nearby pond it was Heron Day: adult and juvenile black-crowned night herons sorting themselves by camouflage.

PalaceFA-srHeronThis week also marked the loss of a great friend and exceptional theater artist.PalaceFA-jrHerons1

American Impressionist painter Lois Griffel has sent the sad news that her husband, actor Hal (Harlan J.) Streib, died on July 13.

Hal is one of those rare people who never demanded recognition for his uncommon talent, but gave it generously, onstage and off. I first knew him as a pillar of the Provincetown Theatre Company in the 1980s-90s. Bold and ferocious enough for Mamet and Shepard, reflective enough for O’Neill and Williams, his performances breathed vitality into a wide variety of plays. Perhaps even more valuable was his creative energy in the Playwrights’ Workshop (now Lab, and still going strong), which blew many an embryonic script off the page onto its feet. Hal inspired me to push myself as a playwright, and as a company member. 44-48-pearl-street-provincetown-2006-01He pitched in wherever a hand was needed, from framing Lois’s wonderful paintings and remodeling her Cape Cod School of Art, to reading any part a budding playwright or director asked him to tackle, to consoling us at the Governor Bradford bar after a long day’s night. When I moved to San Francisco, and Hal and Lois to Arizona, I always hoped and assumed I would see him again–maybe even collaborate again on a play. I’m deeply sorry that’s no longer possible; I’m grateful to have known him, to have profited from his theatrical ability and been enriched by his friendship.





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Check Out Mystery Author Kim Cox’s New 5-Star Review of Silent Night Violent Night


XmasBall-wpThanks to author and blogger Kim Cox for showcasing CJ Verburg’s five-star noir cozy SILENT NIGHT VIOLENT NIGHT: a Cory Goodwin Mystery in her blog post of Thursday, July 9!

KimCoxKim is an author of Romantic Suspense, Mystery, Suspense, and Paranormal fiction. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her chainsaw-artist husband, their West Highland White Terriers, Scooter and Harley, and a Yorkie mix, Candi. A mother and grandmother, Kim has published novels, short stories, and articles. To sign up for her newsletter and receive exclusive information, new releases, contests, giveaways, and free books, click here.

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The Writing Life: John McPhee on Drafts, Dictionaries, and the Mot Juste


McPhee So much current advice to authors takes the form of “Ten Ways to Ruin Your Book Launch” or “How to Blog Your Way to Discoverability” that we were pleased to rediscover these practical yet profound observations by a writer who’s achieved success because of, not in spite of, his high artistic standards.

from “Draft No. 4: Replacing the words in boxes,” by John McPhee, The New Yorker, April 29, 2013

“First drafts are slow blood_pen_ForbesIndia_280x210and develop clumsily, because every sentence affects not only those before it but also those that follow. . . . The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something–anything–out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something–anything–as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then, as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again–top to bottom. . . . All that takes time. . . .

slushpile2“It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky, when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away. The feeling is more than welcome, yes, but it is hardly euphoria. It’s just a new lease on life, a sense that I’m going to survive until the middle of next month. After reading the second draft aloud, and going through the piece for the third time (removing the tin horns and radio static that I heard while reading), I enclose things in boxes for Draft No. 4. If I enjoy anything in this process it is Draft No. 4. I go searching for replacements for the words in the boxes. The final adjustments may be small-scale, but they are large to me, and I love addressing them. . . .

RedPenEditing-300x194“You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present an opportunity. While the word inside the box may be perfectly O.K., there is likely to be an even better word for this situation, a word right smack on the button, and why don’t you try to find such a word? . . . If there’s a box around ‘sensitive,’ because it seems pretentious in the context, try ‘susceptible.’ With dictionaries, I spend a great deal more time looking up words I know than words I have never heard of–at least ninety-nine to one. The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you out than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus. flaubert-1If you use the dictionary after the thesaurus, the thesaurus will not hurt you. So draw a box around ‘wad.’ Webster: ‘The cotton or silk obtained from the Syrian swallowwort, formerly cultivated in Egypt and imported to Europe.’ Oh. But read on: ‘A little mass, tuft, or bundle . . . a small, compact heap.’ Stet that one. I call this ‘the search for the mot juste,’ because when I was in the eighth grade Miss Bartholomew told us that Gustave Flaubert walked around in his garden for days on end searching in his head for le mot juste. Who could forget that? Flaubert seemed heroic. Certain kids considered him weird.”


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