Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Been There, Done That: An Indie Author Panel on Writing and Publishing (Part 2)

And we're back! Yesterday my fellow authors and I talked about what goes into our work: the writing, the revising, and the editing. But that's only part of the business, and sometimes less than half. Today we're going to talk about the business side: publishing and marketing.

The Business: Publishing and Marketing

Why indie publishing?

Deb Nam-Krane: As I said yesterday, my characters didn’t neatly fit into the popular categories. To make myself attractive to publishers and before that agents I would have had to have scrapped a lot of my story. On top of that, I had already written a series, and almost every agent’s blog I read said that they wanted standalones.

That, plus the fact that two successful indie authors I knew gave me the lowdown on what the business really looked like both in the indie and traditional worlds. If I could go back, I would have done this much sooner!

Jami Deise: I was unable to publish traditionally. There are two pieces of advice that new writers commonly get: write what you know, and write the book you want to read. In two cases, I wrote what I knew, and I was the only one who wanted to read it!

Caroline Fardig:  Originally, because no one wanted my first series.  Now, because I like the freedom.

Erin Cawood: Because I broke too many rules for traditional romance. But now I love being in control.

Where do you publish and why?

DNK: I don’t think there’s an indie author out there who doesn’t publish on Amazon via the Kindle Direct Publishing program. Having said that, the benefits I got from being exclusive to Amazon didn’t make up for losing out on other potential markets, like iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. On top of that, I’m uncomfortable with how predatory Amazon is with indie authors. They don’t seem to have the capacity to stop blatant scams (like those “Summary of” books that rip off popular nonfiction books), but if a random indie author puts their table of contents in the wrong place or gets carried by a popular newsletter, they can have their book yanked. I don’t want to be completely vulnerable to that kind of company.

JD: I am on Amazon exclusively because frankly I’m too lazy to deal with all the other outlets. My second book went out with a small indie publisher, and I found out that without control over my pricing options, my sales were minimal, which is why I went back to self-publishing for my third book.

CF:  Amazon, of course.  I use Smashwords to get my books out to the other outlets.  They’re very easy to work with, especially lately, so I’m happy having a central place to run books through.

EC: I mainly publish on Amazon.

What do you spend money on when you publish?

DNK: Editing and a well-designed cover. Even if you’re just getting a proof-reading, it’s money well spent. Everyone expects an indie to be an amateur and they will find errors (as they will in traditionally published books these days). Make sure that they’ll find as few as possible.

No matter how much you’ve spent on editing and how brilliant your prose is, if it’s got a lousy cover, no one’s going to want to buy it (and a lot of people are going to cringe). Covers don’t have to cost a lot—there are a lot of companies that sell premade covers, for example—so there’s no excuse not to have something professional when you go to sell.  

JD: For this last book, I spent a lot of money with a book launching company, and that turned out to be a mistake. I did get a professional cover and website design out of it, though.

CF:  Editing, cover art (I can do it myself, but it look SO much better when someone else does it), publicity.

EC: Editing, cover art, marketing.

If you could only spend money on one thing, what would it be?

DNK: A cover. Worse comes to worse, you can usually bargain with someone who can do at least a proofread for you. That is sometimes possible with a cover artist, but not as likely.

JD: I agree. The cover is extremely important.

CF:  Publicity in the form of sales channels like Bookbub, Ereader News Today, Bargain Booksy, etc.  Sometimes that is the only way to get your name out there.

How do you tell people about your book? In other words, how do you market your work?

DNK: My blog and my newsletter. Facebook got to be too expensive for what they were offering, which wasn’t much, and I haven’t heard good things about Amazon Ads.

You don’t have to blog every week, but even if you blog three times a year, you should have a page for each of your books, with the cover, blurb, and links to where the book can be bought. Ideally, you’d also include an excerpt and some reviews, too.

I think this is going to be the year during which we focus on the newsletter subscribers we have and stop trying to get new ones at the same pace.

JD: I spend a lot of time pestering my friends on Facebook. They haven’t blocked me yet.

CF:  I’ve hired a publicity company for my last 2 self-pubs, and it’s worked out very well.  Other than that, I have a newsletter and post on Facebook and Twitter.  I have a blog, but I think people only read my posts when I link from Facebook, so again, Facebook.

EC: Having a schedule of regular releases is important, hence the reason I'm taking a year out of marketing to to concentrate on writing. But I have a newsletter, Facebook and Twitter accounts, a website, and I also advertise.

What’s been your most effective marketing tool?

DNK: Giving my first book away for free! It’s a good way to stay visible and generate interest in the rest of my series (most of the titles don’t stand alone).

JD: I haven’t been able to get a Bookbub ad, but an ENT ad breaks even.

CF:  For the money, Bookbub.  For getting people information about me, I’d say my personal Facebook page works better than my author page.  But you can’t bombard people--I think a single post when a new book releases is enough.

What threats do indies currently face?

CF:  I think oversaturation of the market is a big problem.  I guess it faces traditionally published authors as well, but with a company behind you, you get more opportunities to get your name out there.  It’s difficult to get noticed in a sea of other authors.

DNK: What Caroline said, plus the fact that Amazon’s terms get tighter now every year. Latest rumor I heard was that authors who aren’t exclusive to Amazon are only going to get 50% in royalties, down from the 70% we’re getting now.

What opportunities do indies have?

CF:  Well, actually getting a book published is the biggest one.  Only ten years ago, being an indie meant having to sink a bunch of money in hundreds of vanity press book copies and trying to sell them out of your garage.  But now that it’s so easy to put your books out online, we have virtually no outlay of cash up front--if you don’t count editing and cover design like we talked about earlier.  For my first series, I used friends as editors and made my own covers, so I had no expense.  Now that I’m generating some income, I’m using part of that to pay for editing and cover design, and I think it helps make a better product overall.  But it can be done frugally if necessary--which is a huge boost to an author just starting out!

DNK: Good point! Being independent means we can be flexible and ride out changing market and industry trends and still be the ultimate decision makers, both for our stories and our marketing.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on publishing, writing, and reading in our modern world. Hit the comments down below, and thanks for reading!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Been There, Done That: An Indie Author Panel on Writing and Publishing (Part 1)

As you may know from reading this blog, I tend to stay away from traditional "writerly" topics because I know most readers don't care. However, a few months ago I attended a post-NaNoWriMo panel discussion and I realized that I did have some things I wanted to say publicly. I also knew that, with a little bit of begging, I could get some of the other indie authors I know to share their thoughts as well.

Today we're going to be discussing what I call the craft side, and tomorrow we'll touch more on the business side. I hope this is of some use to people even if you're not an author; a lot of this is applicable to any small business.

The Panel

Erin Cawood
Erin Cawood is a commercial women's fiction author, with a taste for dramatic storylines and a passion for strong lead characters she really gets behind, cheering on right to the very end of their story. Her specialty is taking romance into the darker, edgier side of contemporary fiction.

Jami Deise
A lifelong resident of Maryland, Jami moved to St. Pete Beach, Florida, in 2012 with her husband Tom, son Alex, and dog Lady. A baseball mom for 15 years, she self-published “Keeping Score,” about a divorced mom whose 9-year-old son starts playing select baseball, in 2013. In 2015, Evernight Publishing released her urban fantasy “The Ties that Bleed,” about a vampire assassin working for the FBI. “House Divided” was released in November 2017, about a Democrat married to a Republican. Jami is an associate reviewer at www.chicklitcentral.com and a freelance developmental and copy editor. She is represented by Rachel Beck at Holloway Literary.

Caroline Fardig
CAROLINE FARDIG is the USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR of over a dozen mystery novels. Fardig’s BAD MEDICINE was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Part 1: Writing, Revising, and Editing

Here's an ice breaker: who is your favorite author?

Deb Nam-Krane: I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction, but I just got hooked on Donna Leon’s 
Commissario Brunetti series. It’s set in Venice and has been going strong for about twenty-five years. It’s a mystery series, but it’s as much about modern Venice as it is finding out whodunit.

Erin Cawood: I'd have to say Amy Andrews. Every one of her books is pure escapism.

Jami Deise: Right now I’d have to say Liane Moriarty. I’ve read everything she’s written and eagerly 
await her next book. Second place goes to Laura Lippman, who writes a PI series and stand-alone 
thrillers, and is also an amazing teacher.

Caroline Fardig:  I love Tami Hoag.  Her mysteries are dark and twisty and at the same time give you all the feels.

And what's a random fun fact about yourself?

DNK: I’m a really good cook!

JD: I’m obsessed with karaoke.

CF:  I love to paint.

EC: I love to get creative with cakes.

Onto business...What typically is your writing process? Does your genre affect it?

DNK: It’s hard to say which comes first—character, universe, or story—but once I have a rough idea of those I “spend time” with my characters as much as I can so I can get to know them and figure out how they ended up where the story begins. That invariably means that I end up with a bunch of other characters and then I figure out how their stories fits into the larger story, and how that larger story has been changed by the smaller stories.

JD: I’m an outliner. I have to know where I’m going before I can get started. I even make changes to the outline when I’m making revisions to the book. I like to be able to see the entire story in several pages rather than hundreds.

CF:  The more twisty a plot, the more outlining I do.  I find that I write faster when I’ve outlined everything and have a sense of where each scene is going.  I used to edit what I wrote the previous day, but writing goes a lot faster if I wait and edit (at least most of the work--I haven’t been able to totally break away from that habit) at the end.

EC: I write down as much of my idea as I can before I can forget it. Then I try to plan it by scene. But most of the time I end up getting in deep so I have a very rough first draft. Then I go in deeper and add the interesting stuff, set the scene, build the emotional journey and the conflict, getting a really good feel for my characters and their current world before I destroy and rebuild it.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

DNK: I don’t like to start creating the story until I know as much as I can about my characters and their world, but I still find that as I write the characters will reveal more details to me. Channeling those details is pretty cool!

JD: That eureka moment when I’ve come up with a great idea for a new book, or for the revision.

CF:  Same as Jami—the moment when I get an idea and can’t wait to get it down on paper.  A close second is my own first edit, when I get to look at what I’ve written for the first time in its entirety.

EC: That moment when the characters come alive. You'll be bobbing along and suddenly your character will say something or do something that makes you go ‘Oh you so did not just do/say that!” from that moment on the story becomes theirs and you're just the vessel they use to tell it.

How do deadlines (e.g., writing for a publisher, participating in NaNoWriMo) affect your writing?

DNK: It’s all about preparation: if I know the characters, the universe, and the basic plot outline, then it’s work, but it’s not torture. But when I only have a vague idea of the plot, that will kill me sooner rather than later.

CF:  It depends on whether or not I really like what I’m writing as to whether it’s adrenaline fuel or sheer torture.  Knowing I have a deadline keeps me from putting things off, but it can also cripple my creativity and cause me to have to work extra hours.  Last year I had a lot of tight deadlines.  I’m hoping this year it isn’t the case.

EC: I hate deadlines. They seriously mess with my mojo. So I don’t have any. As an indie author I have that flexibility to set (or not) my schedule.

How long does it take you to write a first draft?

DNK: The first manuscript I wrote took about four and a half months, and the next three books took less time. By the time I was on the fourth installment, I could finish in two weeks. The sixth full-length took me about three weeks, but the fifth and seventh books took more like three months. Again, it’s about knowing what you want to say before you get there.

JD: That’s a hard question to answer, because I usually end up revising it before I’ve finished a complete actual first draft. I’ll get halfway done and then realize I need to make a major change. Since I’m an outliner, these things shouldn’t happen, but they do.

CF:  Actual writing, I can do around 2000-3000 words a day, five days a week (barring distractions).  So depending on the length, I’d say around two months to just write the thing.

EC: Barring distractions, I can write a first draft in a few weeks.

How long do you let a first draft sit before you touch it again?

DNK: Since I write for the most part in series, ideally I don’t touch the first draft of the first installment until after I’m done with the last installment. That’s a big help as far as continuity, and it also gives me the distance I need. Having said that, I need time to walk away from that universe altogether. Ideally, at least two weeks.

JD: Depending on what else I’ve got going on, anywhere from a week to a few months.

CF: I used to let them sit for a couple of weeks, but I don’t have that kind of time these days.  Lately, it’s been only overnight.

EC: My editor recommends a minimum of 6 weeks. If I’m working to schedule, then I write draft one, write the draft of a second book, then go back to the first.

What’s the first thing you do when you go back to your draft?

DNK: I end up reading the first chapter or few pages and see if it sounds right. I don’t just mean whether the POV has a strong voice, but also if the words have the right rhythm for the kind of story I’m trying to tell.

JD: I read it as quickly as possible, the entire book, just as if I were reading a published work. I use the comments function to make notes about what I need to change, but I don’t start making actual changes until I’m done with the read.

CF:  Re-read the last couple of pages, or more if needed.  Like Deb said, I need to get back into the rhythm of the narrator’s voice.

EC: I print it out and edit by hand. I get tempted to start rewriting if I'm working on screen.

Typically, how many drafts does it take for you to be finished?

DNK: I don’t even want to count how many I went through for my first book! At least ten, and by the time it was done, I was done too. I had too many competing opinions that I was trying to accommodate, which was a valuable lesson right there.

Since then, I’ve been able to get most of the books done within two or three drafts.

JD: There is no typical. But we’re talking double digits.

CF:  I don’t count drafts.  Mine is a continual work in progress.  But I will say I edit/read through it at least twice before I hand it over to an editor, then do the suggested edits and read/edit at least two more times myself.

EC: No comment. Seriously? Too many.

What is your favorite tool when editing?

DNK: I usually draft in Google Docs and then edit in Microsoft Word. (And right now I’m drafting in a notebook!) One thing that made a big difference for me was using the Outline and Comments features, both for myself and my beta readers. It makes it much easier to find the parts I want to change.

JD: I just use Word.

CF:  Word.

EC: I outline in Scrivener, write and edit in Word. Finely edit with Pro-Writing Aid. Then I use an Android app called Voice Aloud which is a text to speech app, you pick up quite a few things by listening. And proofread by converting to ebook and read on my Kindle or phone.

Beta readers, critique groups, and editors: how do you use these people and when?

DNK: I have never used a critique group, but I’m not opposed if it were the right group of people. I do use beta readers, though, and I lean heavily on Erin and Caroline. They’re good at being honest yet constructive, and they can zoom in really quickly to what isn’t making sense.

I do not give anything to my editor until it’s at least passed muster with those two, and maybe my husband. I like her to take two passes at my manuscripts and she’s great about catching continuity errors and what I call “a logic check”. One of the most fulfilling moments of my life was when she gave me my manuscript back with no comments, even after two checks. Thanks, Caroline and Erin!

JD: I’ve tried critique groups but they tend to fall apart. There are a couple of friends who are able to give me the big-picture notes that I look for. I do hire professional editors and other writers when something isn’t working and I can’t figure out why. And my agent gives notes too.

CF:  I don’t have a critique group, but I’m lucky to have some awesome beta readers!  Deb and Jami have been awesome, and I have a few other friends (authors and non-authors) who have been amazing as well.  Couldn’t do what I do without them.  I always use an editor, whether it’s through my publisher, someone I pay, or my cousin, who’s got a doctorate in English.

EC: I have a couple of beta readers, Deb is one of them. These are the first to read. I then have a developmental editor, copy editor and a proofreader.

How do you find beta readers and editors?

DNK: Before I left social media, I met Erin in an open authors group. Later, Erin introduced me to a Chick Lit writing group. It turned out that many of us weren’t writing straight chick lit but the moderator let us in anyway. That’s where I met Caroline (and Jami!).

I found my current editor through another indie author I know (Diantha Jones). Her stuff is always well-edited, and I finally asked her who her editor was. I’ve been really happy with her (Mia Darien) ever since. (And FYI, I met Diantha on Goodreads.)

JD: Workshops and conferences.

CF:  They’re friends who I’ve met either in real life or along my journey in publishing.  It’s important to find someone you can trust and who knows what they’re doing!

EC: I have met all of my team through social media and recommendations from authors I know.

What is your favorite revision trick?

DNK: Print! Get yourself a CreateSpace account and upload your manuscript into one of the templates. (Don’t worry about the cover for now.) Order a revision copy for yourself, then read it like a novel. You will find so many errors that you wouldn’t have seen on a screen.

And for the love of god, use your word processor’s spelling and grammar checks before you give anything to anyone. Enough said.

CF:  A different twist on Deb’s idea, I email myself a copy of the Word document and let iBooks turn it into a PDF so I can read it on my iPad like an ebook.

EC: As I said above, I print to paper and read aloud, then I listen via a TTS device and then I read on a e-reading device.

What is one piece of writing or editing advice you wish you were given early in your writing career?

DNK: Believe in your story over market trends. I fought with a number of people about changing the age of my main character from 19 to under 18. That was when Young Adult was hot and people didn’t know what to do with characters between the ages of 19 and 26. I did end up sticking to my vision, but I wasted a lot of time trying to make everyone happy.

JD: Don’t get cute with dialogue tags.

CF:  I wish I’d researched as thoroughly for my first book as I do now.  There were a couple of things I’m now stuck with in the series that I wish I’d thought through a little more.

EC: Write for your readers. My first novel, I wrote for the market and what I expected agents and publishers would want. But it affected my creativity. Someone said to me to write for my readers and it revolutionized my writing.

And that's all for today! Please have a think on all of the knowledge my friends threw down and come on back for tomorrow's conclusion.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Orphan Black: Different but Still Good

So far, we've had a twin theme going for this blog hop, thanks to Jami's review of The Parent Trap movies and Morgan's take on the Mario movie (the twin I refer to is Luigi, of course). Honestly, that wasn't what I was thinking when I proposed this hop, but since that's how this has played out, I'm going big, because the clones played by Tatiana Maslany on Orphan Black are almost innumerable.

Everything you've heard about Tatiana Maslany is true: she's an amazing actress, and she deserved that damn Emmy. It breaks my heart to think that she may never get another role again that allows her to show her range, but maybe that should be taken for granted because her range is vast.

The story followed clone Sarah Manning, a troubled young con artist living in Canada after her adoptive mother Siobhan Sadler aka Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) brought her and her adopted brother Felix (Jordan Gavaris) to Canada. The story opens when she happens to see a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide. What Sarah thinks is going to be the easiest con of her life when she decides to impersonate the dead woman (whom she learns from her abandoned wallet is Beth Childs) gets progressively messier when she realizes that 1) Beth is a cop, 2) her boyfriend Paul (Dylan Bruce) has been lying to Beth, and 3) she's under investigation by internal affairs for an accidental shooting. It's just the kind of thing someone like Sarah might be motivated to abandon, but since all this is a play to get back her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler), she's forced to stay and play it out.

Sarah discovers numerous clones along the way, and her journey becomes discovering why they were created in the first place and then freeing all of them from the shadow of the corporation from Hell that's been pulling their strings since before they were born. All of the clones--every single one of them--is imbued with her own distinct personality and story. Watch an episode long enough, and you'll be convinced you're watching multiple actresses, and not just because they look so different. What they all share is that they'll protect their loved ones at any cost (although for some it might take a little longer to open up). The primary clones were:

Just a sample
  • Sarah Manning: Tough, gritty, and vulnerable
  • Helena: Out of her mind and trained as a ruthless assassin from before she was in puberty in Ukraine, and thus has a perfect Ukranian accent
  • Alison Hendrix: The ultimate suburban control freak mom who, not surprisingly, also has a substance abuse problem
  • Cosima Niehaus: Brilliant, compassionate grad student who's trying to figure out the science of what she and her "sisters" are while she also tries to fight off the illness that's been bred into them
  • Rachel Duncan: As ruthless as Helena, as brilliant as Cosima, as controlling as Alison, and as vulnerable as Sarah, this "self-aware" clone was raised by the corporation who created them and desperately wants to take control of her own destiny.
  • Beth Childs: The police detective who puts together that someone has been hunting the clones. The mystery of why she committed suicide is what propels much of the action for the first half of the series.
  • Veera Suominen aka M.K.: the sole survivor of a massacre of clones in Helsinki, she's torn between justice for the sisters she lost and wanting to help the ones who are still alive.
  • Krystal Goderitch: a manicurist who just happens to stumble onto the corporate conspiracy that created them but somehow doesn't believe that the women she meets are her clones.
Confession: Krystal is probably my favorite (how do you not love a character who regularly says things like "So what? My Deep Throat's totally hot. Get over it."?), but they are all amazing and you root for all of them to survive (if not necessarily get what they want...Rachel!). And when they came together, it was magical (seriously, watch this clip of the famous Clone Dance Club and you'll understand).

Sometimes different is amazing.

Thanks so much for reading! Please check out Kerrie's blog tomorrow for her take.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Different But Still Good Blog Hop -- this week!

Yes, we're back--and this week we're going to be exploring projects that have a different interpretation on a related concept and make you appreciate that sometimes differences aren't always bad things. Think...Shakespeare's plays and the many modernized adaptations that followed, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea (and maybe Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte), or Tobey Maguire's version of Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield's. You get the idea.

Watch this space for updates, but please check out Jami's blog on the 19th.  

2/19: Jami
2/20: Morgan
2/21: Deb
2/22: Kerrie
2/27: Caroline

Fair is foul

And foul is fair

And! I was able to bamboozle Caroline, Jami, and Erin Cawood to talk about the business of writing and publishing. I rarely do things like this because I know most people couldn't care less about "my process", but I hope new and aspiring indie authors will get something out of our virtual panel discussion. Watch for that on the 26th!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

My month of reading dangerously

I did it--I kept my resolution for the month of January and avoided the television as well as internet- and radio news. I also wrote an average of at least 500 words a day, and the total was something like 17,000. Honestly, given all the reading I did, this was the easy part.

Here's what my completed reading list for the month:

Orientalism by Edward Said This book was, in so many ways, everything. About 350 pages long, but the longest 350 pages I have read in years. I will call Said's writing style "erudite", but I'm glad I made it through. What you need to know: "the Orient" is a stand in for "the Other", and the history of what we believe and tell ourselves about others is not pretty. The fact that some of what he wrote about 40 years ago is still pertinent today is just disturbing.

The Road Not Taken by Max Boot At 600+ pages, I had thought this was my going to be the most challenging tome on my list, but no. Boot is an excellent author of military histories. This wasn't simply a biography of the controversial Edward Lansdale or an exploration of the events leading up to American escalation in Vietnam; this work helps readers not only understand counterinsurgency ("COIN") but also why it's more important than how many troops or materiel we throw at any one place.

Japan in Asia by Akihiko Tanaka I consider myself well-versed in modern Northeast Asia, but I still learned a lot from this history of Japanese foreign policy in Post-Cold War Asia. My reaction to breathless news about North Korean nuclear threats and Chinese trade policy is a yawn, but I admit to being easily scandalized by the hardliners in Japan and Abe's provocative and at times unhelpful statements. Reading this gives a more accurate picture of internal Japanese politics, and not least because the full statements are reported, not the cherry-picked soundbites. Ah, books!

No Logo by Naomi Klein This is almost twenty years old, but if anything the interconnected problems with branding, production, labor, and culture have gotten more pernicious, not less. And while everything she writes about Nike, McDonald's, Shell, and their superbrand cohort is horrifying, the worst part is when she explains how these trends played out in the Bush and Obama presidencies (and yes, it's only gotten worse under our current administration). In other news, this book might have something to do with my borrowing a lot of books on sewing and knitting.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden I couldn't put this down and finished it a day. While this isn't quite as perfect as Naomi Novik's Uprooted, Arden described a world I didn't want to leave. I am anxiously waiting to get my hands on the next books in her trilogy.

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Carpenter Hmm...this started out well. In fact, the first half was fantastic. But after that point it took a turn I didn't think worked, and from there on it got weirder. That could be forgiven if the ending wasn't completely out of left field. I have, sadly, no desire to read the sequel.

City of Lies by Victoria Thompson The story about a con woman in DC and New York had potential, but the writing style was a little more jocular than I thought it should be. And why this was in the Mystery section, I have no idea.

Uniform Justice, Death and Justice, Dressed for Death, and Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon I am unapologetic about the fact that I have developed an obsession with this mystery series set in Venice and featuring the earnest-in-spite-of-himself Commissario Brunetti. The usual satisfaction readers usually feel when they get to the end of a mystery is a luxury you aren't granted when you're visiting a world where justice, answers, and the law almost never work together. And in spite of the darkness, I can't put this down, but I'll admit the comic relief provided by Brunetti's boss Vice Questore Patta and the resourceful secretary Signorina Elettra Zorzi helped.

The first week or so of January was hard, and it didn't get easier until I loaded up on fiction. Read into that (no pun intended) what you will. After that, though, I didn't miss television or the sounds of talk radio (a discovery I made: I really like classical ballet scores, but I can't get into opera). I'm actually dreading watching some of the shows my husband has been stockpiling (although I can't wait for the new Jessica Jones season).

In other news, after discovering that Amazon removed 200 or so of my reviews without saying anything, I am in the process of removing all of my reviews from Amazon as well. Most are at my local library website, but a about twenty indie titles which aren't available through my library will be moved to Goodreads. This isn't just a fit of pique; I've been contemplating this for about six or seven years. If I thought that doing so was hurting anyone, I wouldn't do it. However, 1) the value of reviews (on Amazon, at least) has noticeably diminished in the last year, and 2) since I have no idea what their criteria was for removing my other reviews in the first place, I can't say that they would have been "safe" there anyway. Bittersweet going through sixteen or seventeen years of my own reviews and deciding what to keep, but as I've gotten older, I'm less in love with my own words and happy to let some of them go.

How was your January? And what have you been reading?