Blogs R Us, Day 105: A Talk with Rebecca Dahlke

January 13th, 2011

Nothing is easier than downloading a book onto your Kindle.  Choosing it is another matter.

One of the great things about e-books is that they make it possible for anyone to offer his or her novel to a global audience without going through a publisher or paying thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars to self-publish.

That’s also one of the problems.  As writers rush their books into print, the pool of titles gets bigger and bigger, and the whole market is so new that few effective sifting mechanisms have been established.  For writers (me, for example), that means that our books can languish on a peg with literally a million others.

Rebecca Dahlke is a mystery writer who took a hiatus after a personal tragedy and then, when she returned, discovered a new world.  Her way in, she decided, was to help people sort through the glut, while at the same time raising awareness of her name.  I really like ingenuity, and I also like the newsletter Rebecca started to solve her problems, so I asked her some questions.  I thought the answers might interest you.

What is All-Mystery e-newsletter, and why did you start it?

I stopped writing for exactly five years from the day of my son’s death and awoke to the lightning-fast new world of Internet communication: Blogs! Facebook! Twitter!  I knew that if I was going to re-enter the mystery mainstream, I needed to find a novel way to get readers’ attention — to “brand” my name and my upcoming books with the mystery audience.

Since I had already created an e-newsletter (for an art group), I saw the possibility for a publication that could reach hundreds, and eventually thousands, of readers who buy mystery and suspense.  I soon realized that most authors — newbies as well as at those on the NY Times bestseller list — can use as much publicity as they can get, and free publicity is best.  My goal is to take the All-Mystery e-newsletter into the in-boxes of every mystery and suspense reader in America.

Until recently you restricted mention in the Newsletter to authors who had been traditionally published, but now you’ve opened it to writers who are being published for the first time in e-book form.  Why did you make the distinction in the first place, and why the change of heart?

I wanted to focus on writers who had been published my mainstream publishers or even smaller firms (even if they were now writing e-book originals) because publishing houses of all sizes have a responsibility to vet the submissions and publish the best.

Then I bought on my new Kindle a self-published mystery by a writer who was determined to get her book out to readers without going through yet another rejection.  It was a lovely historical mystery, expertly edited and a joy to read.  So I decided to do one issue that would be all self-published, and invited authors to submit.  We’ve had dozens of submissions.  I hope we’ll be able to do it again.

How would you assess the impact of e-books (a) on writers, and (b) on readers?

E-books have made huge strides in the past few years.  At the end of 2010, Amazon declared more Kindle sales than hardcover, and remember that historical mystery author who bypassed the the mainstream publishers?  In 2010, she sold thousands of her books in the Kindle format! Other writers are letting their publishing contracts lapse, or putting up new books for Kindle — can you say, “Hello, Money”?

Despite its rapid growth, the e-book industry is still in its infancy.  What problems do you see in the way it works now?  Any potential future developments that you hope for or fear?

For all the readers who still like to hold a paperback in their hands, there are thousands more who are just as happy to turn a page with a click of their Kindle or Nook, and that number is growing daily.  What’s not to like?  Oh, book signings where a few people show up — or don’t.  Money and time spent when you could be marketing through the Internet (via All-Mystery e-newsletter, for example) or putting up a Facebook page for your protagonist — another clever way to win over readers.

There will be growing pains; some bookstores will close and publishing houses will have to change the way they do business — more e-books, fewer returns, and perhaps more money for them.  This new way of doing business will ultimately change the world of writing and publishing.  So what’s to fear?  Weren’t we writers the ones who groaned that publishers had a stranglehold on authors?  God knows that this is one industry that needed a tumble with reality.

How can people get the All-Mystery e-newsletter?

I had to put up a website to explain why All-Mystery e-newsletter is not a website, and how it’s free and permission-based.  There are archives of previous issues for those who are interested, a nifty sign-up button, an author submission form, and a year’s worth of colorful book covers that roll over each other. It’s at http://www.allmysteryenewsletter.com/.

Thanks, Rebecca and all good luck.

12 Responses to “Blogs R Us, Day 105: A Talk with Rebecca Dahlke”

  1. EverettK Says:

    I’ve been thinking, ever since I got my e-reader over a year ago, that there will soon be a need for a new breed of reviewers, ones to sort the wheat from the chaff in a BIG way. That’s another leg that’s going to have to be crafted in order to keep the “reading chair” upright and stable as the whole industry adjusts over the next few years.

  2. Philip Coggan Says:

    You’ve convinced me – tomorrow begins today.

    You’ve pointed out a few of the problems – notably that double-edged one, how does the would-be reader find the diamonds amidst the raccoon-poo, and its converse, how does the modern Dickens find his readers?

    Rebecca’s newsletter is one direction. Might I suggest another. People love to write, to express their opinions, and they’ll do it for free. Wiki is the way to go. Wikipedia is the best-known example of a wiki, but it’s only one wiki. Tim, can we set up a mystery-wiki, where people can review books and authors as is done on Wikipedia? I’m serious about this – it’s a sort-of blog-on-steroids, and I honestly believe it would be popular.

    Once upon a time books were produced by means of goose-quills and parchment. Then there came printing. Now there’s the internet. Let’s get with it.

  3. Bonnie Says:

    Philip, it’s funny you should bring this up now, as I have just been looking into setting up an experimental wiki on my own host (different goal: tracking new family law cases) and have also just begun a blog for mystery reviews for a small group of friends. It could be the wiki would be better suited to this type of task. My goal with the blog was to create a bunch of categories to that a reader could do a pretty drilled-down “if you liked this, you’ll like that” kind of search. If Tim is game I will see whether his current host permits a one-click wiki install and we could start to play with it. I need to complete this site’s redesign first, but it could be next on the list.

    For one thing, I’d love to have a place where “fans” if you will could talk about Tim’s books in more depth, but the secondary goal of getting opinions from people we’ve learned to know even if in a somewhat superficial way would be great. I’ve been trolling the free-to-$2.99 Kindle market a lot lately, and for every exciting find (Tim himself, Leighton Gage, Barbara Koch), I’ve found decent enough books that suffered from not enough experience/editing/good ear, so there was too much telling and not enough showing, or individual voices were not always distinguishable/credible. I don’t consider even those books to be a waste of time, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the craft of writing lately with a view to venturing out on my own, but when I really want to be spellbound, I want some kind of guarantee I’ll not be disappointed.

    One e-problem that Ms. Dahlke did not address in Tim’s interview is the unavailability of foreign authors on ebooks. The contractual framework of publishing has not kept pace with the e-revolution, so while I can buy a German print book in moments with One-Click from amazon.de, I cannot (without engaging in a bit of skullduggery) purchase books on Kindle from Australian, New Zealand, or some British authors. My excitement on reading Craig Sisterson’s post on DorothyL about a New Zealand prof’s class on female mystery writers (http://kiwicrime.blogspot.com/2011/01/women-writing-contemporary-crime.html) and learning the names of some highly recommend non-US writers quickly turned to disappointment when I found that, for example, though several Vanda Symon books were available on Kindle, they could not be purchased by U.S. owners.

    Thanks for the interview, Tim.

  4. EverettK Says:

    Philip: Check out this web site for pointers to 5 “book recommendation” web sites:
    Five best book recommendation services

  5. I.J.Parker Says:

    My compliments on a great idea. May it thrive. Some day I hope to be reviewed myself (Still trying to get some things on Kindle).

    Tim Hallinan is a very nice guy and his books are great. Highly recommended!

    The availability of books in foreign countries depends on the contract with the publisher. Some authors have retained foreign rights. If so, they can execute a separate contract directly with Kindle and for the country in question. I have this problem with my American editions. They are not available in the UK. But I have those rights and can deal directly with Amazon UK, I’m told.

  6. Bonnie Says:

    Everett, I’m kind of underwhelmed by those choices. If Goodreads is the most popular and Amazon the 2nd, that’s not a hearty recommendation in my view. A project I dreamed about but never even tried to tackle was to update the Mystery Lover’s Companion (http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Lovers-Companion-Art-Bourgeau/dp/5551596214/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295036560&sr=1-2-spell). You could quibble with some of his categorizations or opinions, but the structure of the book was pretty good and I found a lot of good and not-so-well-known authors through it (I think that’s where I learned about James McClure, an outstanding author of South African police procedurals). Goodreads has the limitation that you can only see your own friends’ reviews, and Amazon errs in the other direction…any idiot can post there and they often do. Stopyourekillingme is probably most comprehensive but there’s only been a shallow attempt to implement an “if you like this…” feature. In all fairness, that would be a lot of work in addition to all the other stuff Stan and Lucinda do.

    I.J.: I hope that the complexities of international epublication will be ironed out sometime soon, along with a more rational use of DRM. We can only wait and see.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, all —

    Looks like Rebecca is addressing an issue a lot of people are thinking about.

    Everett, dot’s da problem. We need a whole mechanism of reviews to help us sort through the sludge to find the diamonds. (Okay, okay, forget that I said sludge.) I think the Wiki idea is really interesting, but I’d like one more level of ratings, and that’s ratings for reviewers. Somehow eliminating writers who are just steaming at a review and want revenge. Maybe impossible.

    Philip, the Wiki idea is brilliant. The biggest problem is luring people to contribute. Some sort of freebie, maybe (e-books?). Once there’s a critical mass of reviews – 200-300 — I think people would check it compulsively, especially if it were on a free subscription basis, where those who want them can get weekly e-mail updates with a link to the site. Great idea. Who wants to do it? I’ll participate creatively (already have a bunch of ideas) but this will eat alive whoever rides point on it.

    Bonnie, great minds, etc. I do think this is a colossal idea. We need about 20 people to get started, just funneling us reviews of e-books. And I think we’d want to avoid using “Kindle” in the title because Amazon has been sort of taking those over. I also HATE Yahoo groups, with their assy rules. A subscription website, free and open to all — that’s the deal, I think.

    Bonnie, I have no idea whether WordPress is open to Wikis, nor am I especially in love with WordPress. But I’m game, and rather than discussing my books, maybe we could begin with discussions of 8-10 writers, some known, some less so. Maybe we could think in terms of having a writer guest once a week or something.

    And I share your sense that Goodreads isn’t an ideal forum — for one thing, it’s dominated by lit-fic folks who look down their long, well-bred noses at us mystery grunts. This should be genre-specific. The new Sisters-in-Crime study of mystery fans absolutely PROVES that you talk to them as a group and attract them as a group.

    Hi, IJ — For those of you who haven’t read her, IJ Parker is a powerhouse writer with (I think) eight medieval Japanese mysteries starrying Sugawara Akitada, an honest investigator and court official. I’ve read all but the 2010 book, and it’s on my TBR pile. Try one of her books; they’re marvelous. And she’s right, the problem of foreign rights is a tangled web that one can only assume will be simplified now that one Kindle or Nook edition is (at least theoretically) globally available.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    Tim: we can install a wiki on your website no problem. Or you might want to start it as an independent entity, maybe some of us could get together and form a consortium. I think the problem of screening/rating reviewers can be addressed. Part of the point of a wiki is that people can edit, change, argue about points of view, etc. You should see the history of the discussion of Richard III as a murderer on Wikipedia (says the die-hard Daughter of Time fan).

    Let’s talk about this some more when the updates to your website are done. I plan to get most if not all completed tomorrow afternoon. Will be deploying my new Teavana tea strainer.

    I am excited to learn about I.J. Parker, as I’m getting a bit weary of Laura Joh Rowland, whom I enjoyed so much at the beginning! Will be checking these out!

  9. EverettK Says:

    Bonnie: I agree. I was just pointing out what I’d found via Google. Things are obviously moving in the direction of “review sites” (they HAVE to, with the explosion of cheap, easy, e-publication), we just have a LONG way to go. However, when I looked at it, Shelfari and LibaryThing were the first two, and they sound quite interesting.

    To me, the IDEAL site is one that allows you to:
    1) Enter books, authors, series and genres, and rate how WELL you like them (or don’t), and optionally add a review of the book, author or series.
    2) Enter ratings for reviews.

    As Tim mentioned, there’s the ability for people to abuse the review system, but if you can rate the reviews (whether you think the review is fair or not, accurate or not) and each person is limited to a single vote on each review (they can change their vote at any time, just can’t place multiple votes), then the occasional disgruntled author won’t carry much weight against all of the other readers.

    3) Request recommendations for books, authors, series based upon your prior ratings, and optionally filtered by genre.

    I see no need to limit such a site to E-books. Books that are paper-only right now will likely become e-books in the future, and some folks actually do still read paper books as well as e-books. 🙂

    Tim: I disagree that the ‘site’ has to be genre specific. In a sense, I agree that it has to be genre specific. 🙂

    The Big Publishers LOVE genres, because it’s an easy, sure-fire way for them to market books. Unfortunately, it also limits your sales to a select group of readers. I, for example, USED to read almost 100% science fiction and fantasy. But my horizons have spread much wider over the past 15-20 years, and I now read SF&F, Mystery, Thriller, Romance (occasionally), even occasional non-fiction. 🙂 Also witness the replies on the DL list… some folks say, “I’ll NEVER read xxxxx,” while there have been many others who, while being primarily mystery readers, have voiced their love for other genre writers (Lois Bujold in SF&F, several Romance authors).

    If someone else loves many of the same books I do, regardless of genre, I’m much more likely to enjoy other books that they recommend, regardless of genre.

    That’s not to say that the posited review/recommendation site shouldn’t allow one to FILTER for only one particular genre, but I don’t think it should LIMIT you to that.

    I haven’t the time to devote to such a site in any BIG way, but I’d certainly be willing to contribute $ towards registering and hosting of a domain name.

  10. Mike Orenduff Says:

    I think the All-Mystery e-newsletter is a brilliant idea. There are plenty of mystery groups and more mystery blogs than you can shake a dagger at. There are list serves left and write. Oops – make that right. But where is the source for pure info about mystery books? The All-Mystery e-newsletter. A force to be reckoned with.

  11. Rebecca Dahlke Says:

    Hi All, First of all, a BIG thanks for Tim for letting me have a say here on his blog! I’ve posted it in several places that should draw MORE readers…which is something that will work for all of us writers! Like the universe, the internet is expanding and has some dark holes in it. Websites can become black holes unless savvy authors know how to push new readers to them. Good Reads, which is good about virtually pressing a new book into a member’s hand, still requires that you FIND the site. Amazon recommends new reads based on popularity. All Mystery, on the other hand, publishes new books by new authors and is easily forwarded to friends of friends without the worry of spamming. Friends can look at it, sign up or not, but won’t get another issue unless they sign up for more. AND, I have changed the submittal requirements. Any self-published author can now submit. The only thing I ask for is the 1st 3 chapters sent as a PDF for consideration. I can tell, heck, anyone can tell, if in the good story and there’s a mystery or supense in the rest of it.
    I’ll be promoting All Mystery e-newsletter at 2 book fairs in March and then LLC, Santa Fe and then Las Vegas Writers conference…hope to see some of you at one of these events.

  12. Trevel Says:

    I’m suddenly curious if the Stack Exchange structure (e.g., http://stackexchange.com/ ) could be put to book reviews and such, like you’re talking about. It’s designed as a question/answer site, but using the books as “questions” and reviews as answers would seem to fit the pattern, and it has a built in reputation system, editing, and ratings.

    A wiki has a single opinion; books ought to have multitudes of them.

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