In Honor of National Book Lovers Day: Humphrey Bogart, Movie Star & Avid Reader

Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for Petrified Forest (image is in public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in the 1934 film trailer for Petrified Forest (image is in public domain)

Bogie And Books

Did you know Humphrey Bogart loved to read? Although he was a poor student, and was eventually expelled from the prestigious Phillips Academy, he had a lifelong love of reading, and could quote Plato, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Shakespeare.

Some of his best friends were screenwriters, such as Nunnally Johnson and John Huston. I've always admired Huston for his directing, even his acting, but did you know he also wrote over 20 screenplays, including the adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for Casablanca (image is in the public domain)

Humphrey Bogart in movie trailer for Casablanca (image is in the public domain)

By the way, here's a wonderful write-up about John Huston and his writing and directing of the The Maltese Falcon (via Word&Film): John Huston and the Making of the Maltese Falcon.

Book Giveaway

To enter for a chance to win a copy of How Do Private Eyes Do That?, click on the link below - good luck!

Book Giveaway: How Do Private Eyes Do That?

A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.
— Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

Book Giveaway! HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT?

Curious how real-life PIs dig for dirt, chase cheaters, roll on surveillance? Here's your chance to learn that and more! I'm giving away 15 copies of HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? To enter for a chance to win, click on the below link. Contest ends August 23, 2016. Good luck! https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/f7362a34c546de01

Curious how real-life PIs dig for dirt, chase cheaters, roll on surveillance? Here's your chance to learn that and more!

I'm giving away 15 copies of HOW DO PRIVATE EYES DO THAT? To enter for a chance to win, click on the below link. Contest ends August 23, 2016. Good luck!

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/f7362a34c546de01

A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.
— Lori Wilde, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author

Self-Publishing: Tips, Resources, and Recommendations

Woman writing on laptop (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Woman writing on laptop (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

By Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved

Since 1996, I have sold over two dozen novels to traditional publishers who handled the editing, proofreading, formatting, packaging, distribution, and at times some promotion, too. Since 2011, I have also self-published seven books in the romantic-mystery and nonfiction genres, which means I handled, or retained services for, all those same tasks.

In this article I share lessons I learned (some the hard way) in self-publishing, as well as my recommendations for publishing services. (Obviously my personal recommendations are not meant to be all-inclusive—they are simply a handful of talented people and companies I've had the privilege of working with, and whose results have been outstanding.) 

Recommendations in General

Before you hand over your hard-earned money to any publishing service, ask ahead of time for three or four recommendations from writer-friends or check qualified resources, such as Preditors and Editors.  Also, publishing attorney Susan Spann (@SusanSpann) offers insightful publishing tips and warnings on Twitter.

Let’s start with a look at the editing process.

Developmental Editors, Copyeditors, and Proofreaders

Side-stepping copyediting & proofreading invites frustrated readers (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Side-stepping copyediting & proofreading invites frustrated readers (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

In general, a developmental editor helps shape a story; a copyeditor fine-tunes the story by correcting grammar, smoothing out syntax and so on; and a proofreader reads through the book to catch any errors before it goes into production.

Lessons Learned

With my first indie novel I skipped the proofreader step, figuring my background as a technical editor meant I could edit my own writing. Ha! After readers contacted me with typos they found, I humbly corrected them and forwarded my book to a professional proofreader.

Recommendations

The Blood-Red Pencil Check the Meet the Blogging Team page for more information about editing services.

Judicious Revisions, LLC Proofreading services for indie authors, specializing in romance genre. (Also, one of the nicest, most diligent proofreaders I've ever worked with).

Moonshell Books, Inc. Award-winning author Shelley Bates offers copyediting services to independent authors. The “Other editors and resources” page lists additional developmental editors and copyeditors.

Book Covers

As the old saying goes, first impressions count! Invest in potential readers’ first impressions of your book by hiring a professional graphic designer.

Lessons Learned

For my first nonfiction book, How Do Private Eyes Do That?, I decided to save money and create my own cover. Let’s just say some people have design talents, but not yours truly. Recently, I hired talented graphic designer Kim Killion to create a new and vastly improved cover for the second edition, to be released August 2016. Before and after thumbnail versions, below (mine on left, Killion’s in middle).

The cover on the right, Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas, was created by another of my favorite graphic designers, Dave Fymbo of Limelight Book Covers.

(Book cover images copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Recommendations

The Killion Group, Inc.: http://thekilliongroupinc.com

Limelight Book Covers: http://www.limelightbookcovers.com

Formatting

I used to pay for third-party formatting services, but for the past three years I've been spoiled by using Vellum, available for Mac OS X 10.9 or newer. The creators of Vellum are former Pixar film software gurus who bring their knowledge, expertise, and creativity to Vellum. The product is intuitive to use, with real-time previews of how the book will look in a variety of formats (such as Kindle, Nook, and others). Being former Pixar guys, they know how to make graphics look amazing, too.

I've also saved a heap of money using Vellum—for example, one third-party formatting company (recommended by Amazon) charged me $450.00 to format a nonfiction book, claiming the sticker-shock price was due to the number of graphics and links I had in the book. Having been a technical editor for years, I can certainly understand how much time it takes to double-check links & graphics, but the book didn't have that many links and graphics, which was around 45,000 words (novella-sized).

Below is a screen shot of a page in Vellum, pre-generated ebook.

Vellum page from my book A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms (co-written with Shaun Kaufman; image is copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

Vellum page from my book A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms (co-written with Shaun Kaufman; image is copyrighted by Colleen Collins)

When I switched to Vellum, I re-formatted that same book in less than a day for $10.00, minus my time. Even adding my time, the cost was way less than what that third-party formatting company had charged.

Last time I spoke to one of the Vellum creators, the company doesn't have plans to make a PC version. If you're a PC user, once again I suggest asking other writer-friends for their recommendations.

Promotion

Self-publishing inevitably includes book promotion. I recently read a wonderful self-published murder-mystery that a friend loaned me. When I looked up the book on Amazon, it had only 3 reviews! Excellent reviews, but I was surprised there were so few. The ranking of the book was 1,427,618, which is very low. What a shame the author didn't invest more time and money into promoting her book because she wrote a very entertaining, well-written story, which unfortunately isn't getting the attention it deserves.

Lessons Learned

For my first indie novel, I paid $200 for a book blog tour that never materialized. I count myself lucky as some writers have lost much more money to bogus/ineffectual promotion services. How did I lose $200? I didn't get 3 or 4 recommendations ahead of time; instead, I selected the first service I found. I tried to use common sense—the business owner was a multi-published author so I figured that person had the right background; the website was appealing...but I should have done my homework and asked for more recommendations.

Recommendations

Tasty Book Tours specializes in the romance genre (which includes the subgenres romantic suspense, romantic mystery, and so forth). Self-Publishing Review named it one of the top 10 book tours. Lisa Filipe, the owner, is one of my favorite people in "the book biz." When I sign up for one of her promo tours, I know the book is in excellent hands. 

BookBub isn’t cheap, but book promotions reach a vast audience. It's not always easy to get your book accepted, but when it is, you'll enjoy the benefits. My romantic-mystery The Zen Man, which I gave away for free via BookBub, got thousands of downloads...and over 100 reviews on Amazon. 

Kindle Nation Daily offers pay-for services similar to BookBub, but the options are in general less costly. Just like BookBub, Kindle Nation Daily submissions pass an editorial review for appropriateness, but their guidelines for acceptance aren't as stringent as BookBub, plus you meet the people behind the scene at Kindle Nation Daily (BookBub is more mysterious in that way). My personal experience has been that I usually get 25% (at least) more downloads at BookBub vs. Kindle Nation Daily, but the latter is friendlier, nicer, even easier to work with.

Writer-Director Billy Wilder's headstone "I'm a writer, but then nobody's perfect" (image is in the public domain)

Writer-Director Billy Wilder's headstone "I'm a writer, but then nobody's perfect" (image is in the public domain)

Colleen Collins is a private investigator and award-winning, multi-published author in the romance, mystery, and nonfiction genres. Her next release is How Do Private Eyes Do That? (Second Edition), August 2016.

Free: Fun, Funky Professional Images and Curated Color Palettes

Designer, artist, and photographer Ryan McGuire creates fun, free, and sometimes downright funky photographs, as well as an array of color palettes based on art masterpieces. I like to use his photos on my website, in articles, and on social media posts, and I'll dip into those color palettes, broken down into hex codes, for websites I manage. Cool stuff. 

Below is a look at some of his photos and color palettes.

Gratisography: Photos by Ryan McGuire

From serious to funky, here's a sampling of Ryan McGuire's photos. As he has graciously put them in the public domain, they are yours to steal (as a courtesy to the artist, please credit Ryan McGuire for any images you use.)

Color Lisa: Color Palettes Based on Art Masterpieces

Color Lisa is a curated list of color palettes based on masterpieces of the world's greatest artists. Each palette has been painstakingly created by color-obsessed designers, artists, museum curators, and masters of color theory. Below are a few to feed your eyes (they're larger and easier to view on the Color Lisa website). 

Left to Right: The Kiss by Gustav Klimt; A Basket of Clams by Winslow Homer; Black King Catch Scorpio by Jean-Michel Basquiat; and Pink Panther by Jeff Koons

Ryan McGuire's free photos: Gratisography

Color Palettes: Color Lisa

Real-Life Nicks & Noras: What It's Like to Be Married Sleuths

My article about being a real-world Nora Charles (the wife-sleuth in Nick & Nora) is live at mystery writer Marilyn Meredith's blog.

Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article at the end. At the end of the article, I offer additional resources about real-life married PI teams, as well as a link to Pursuit Magazine, a free online magazine for professional private investigators that is managed by a real-life husband-and-wife team—handy info for writers crafting sleuth tales and characters!

Nicks & Noras in the Real World: The Thin and the Thick of It

by Colleen Collins

Shaun and Colleen: Husband-and-Wife PI Team (image is copyrighted)

Most of you know about Nick and Nora Charles, the husband and wife private detective team in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. William Powell and Myrna Loy played Nick and Nora in the 1934 movie of the same name, the first in the popular six-film series. While wise-cracking, canoodling, and imbibing martinis, they also managed to solve a murder or two.

1934 The Thin Man poster (in public domain)

1934 The Thin Man poster (in public domain)

Before my husband returned to being a criminal lawyer, we worked together for over a decade as a real-life private eye team. Even today we sometimes still work cases together for his law practice.

As much as I like to think we held our own in the Nick-and-Nora wise-cracking department, only one of us drank martinis, and we never solved a murder, although we investigated and solved a few attempted murder cases. However, just as Nick and Nora had their terrier Asta, we worked cases with our Rottweiler Aretha, who has sat on innumerable surveillances, helped serve legal papers, and once climbed part way up a mountain where we investigated the scene of a “ski” crime.

HOLLYWOOD VS. REAL-LIFE: GLITZ VS. GRUNGE

Hollywood movies often show the sparkling highlights of a case, whereas the day-to-day digging for evidence can be a grind, sometimes with no viable clues surfacing for weeks at a time. And the film version of surveillances is fiction at its finest—it’s rare that a sleuth-mobile can follow a subject’s vehicle for hours on end. Yours truly has been a PI since 2003, and only once did I successfully follow a subject’s vehicle for hours...and I credit that singular success to the subject not being the brightest mental-bulb on the planet.

Pros and Cons of Being a Married PI Team

For the most part, both my husband and I found sleuthing together to be fun. We had our tense moments, but we enjoy each other’s company and like to make each other laugh, plus there’s nothing like the thrill of cracking a case.

DIFFERING WORK STYLES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE ARE YOU CRAZY?

My husband and I fit the “opposites who attract” category. He’s a big-picture person, I focus on the details. He can wing it on little data, I like to be overly prepared. Our strengths can work amazingly well together; other times, we can drive each other more than a little nuts.

Here’s one example of how our traits mesh well...

Click here to read entire article

 

This article is copyrighted by Colleen Collins—if you wish to re-post or use elsewhere, please contact the author. Also, do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images in the public domain are free to use.


Book Cover How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins (image is copyrighted)

Book Cover How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins (image is copyrighted)

June 2016 release: How Do Private Eyes Do That? (2nd edition)

"If you're looking for the lowdown on private investigations, this is it."

~Bill Crider, author of the Truman Smith mystery series


Six Research Tips for Writing a Private Detective Character

Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Online resources, books & conferences can aid a writer's understanding of real-life P.I.s (image licensed by Colleen Collins)

I recently wrote a series of romantic-mysteries—The Next Right Thing, Sleepless in Las Vegas, and Hearts in Vegaswhich featured private eye heroes and heroines. Because I am also a private investigator in real life, I didn’t have to research their investigative careers all that much. But even if I weren't a P.I. there are ways I could have learned some basic techniques and tools of the trade to help me write a realistic private eye or sleuth character. (I originally wrote this article in September 2014, and updated with new resources & links on March 31, 2016.)

Six Research Tips For Learning about PIs

Tip #1: Read books on investigations. There are hundreds of books on topics, from background investigations to identity theft to personal injury investigations. One resource for investigative books is PIstore.com.  My husband and I, when we ran a private investigations agency for a decade, also wrote a nonfiction book for writers, How to Write a Dick: A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths, which includes presentations we gave at writers' conferences, Q&As with writers, a gumshoe glossary and much more.

Tip #2: Review online magazines. There are free, online magazines that outline investigative techniques, resources and tools, such as Pursuit Magazine (my personal favorite), IQ Magazine (specializes in corporate fraud and white-color crime)and Evidence Technology Magazine.

Tip #3: Research investigation websites and blogs. Numerous private detectives write about investigative practices and case studies on their websites and blogs. For example, my private investigator-attorney husband and I co-author Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes, which has articles geared to writers as well as researchers and investigators. Other PI blogs include PI BuzzPrivate Eye Confidential, and Diligentia Group. Also, check out The Art of Manliness site interview with a P.I. as part of its ongoing series "So You Want My Job" -- read it here: "So You Want My Job: Private Investigator"


Tip #4: Attend a PI conference. Some professional PI organizations sponsor conferences that are open to the public. Here you can network with other PIs, attend seminars, visit vendor booths that sell surveillance and other types of investigative equipment as well as manuals (I still use a telephone-book-thick manual on investigating personal injury cases that cost me $125.00 and is worth every penny -- other manuals are typically much less). PI Magazine lists upcoming conferences on its online site.

Tip #5: Register for a PI course. There are numerous online classes and local workshops geared to those interested in becoming private investigators. These classes are typically open to the public and cover such topics as basic investigative tools and techniques, how to research public records, and the legalities of the profession. For example, Colorado private investigator Rick Johnson teaches a classroom course at The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies. Topics include interview techniques, process services, as well as field exercises in surveillance. Pursuit Institute also offers a course, How to Become a Private Investigator, taught by experienced PIs. Contact your state professional private investigator association for additional recommendations to courses that offer training in private investigations (PI Magazine lists all U.S. organizations by state.)


Tip #6: Take a PI to Lunch. Many private investigators would be happy to answer a few questions about your private eye character or story over the phone, but if you’d like a longer question-and-answer session, consider inviting a P.I. to lunch. In the past, I've sometimes invited an expert, such as a fire fighter or a bailbonds person, to lunch to pick his/her brain on a specialization that I needed for a story. It’s a pleasant way to conduct an interview, it gives you an hour or more to ask questions, plus who doesn’t like a free lunch? If you need a referral to a local PI, contact your local state professional private investigator association.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy, distribute, or otherwise use any images that are noted as copyright-protected or licensed.

A LAWYER'S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: The Steps Of A Trial - Part II

One of the best resource books I’ve found for writers.
— Lynn Chandler Willis, Winner 2013 Minotaur Books-Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel

Last week, I started sharing sections of the chapter "The Steps of a Trial, From Jury Selection to Verdict" from A Lawyer's Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, a nonfiction book I co-wrote with Shaun Kaufman, my husband and criminal defense lawyer. This chapter provides a high-level overview of the steps of a trial.

In Part I, we discussed some history of trials and provided a glossary of common trial terms. This week we continue with jury selection and opening arguments. Other chapters in A Lawyer's Primer for Writers go into more depth about topics such as jury experts, the players in the courtroom, trial preparation, criminal charges, the courtroom setting, and more.

Chapter 15: The Steps Of A Trial - Selecting a Jury and Opening Arguments

All Rights Reserved. Copyright Colleen Collins

1. Selecting a jury

Jury box, Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, Ohio by Carol Highsmith (image is in the public domain)

Jury box, Howard M. Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, Cleveland, Ohio by Carol Highsmith (image is in the public domain)

The voir dire, or jury selection process, requires input from attorneys for both sides, as well as the judge.

The judge and attorneys, after being given limited information about each potential juror, ask the potential jurors questions, the goal being to eliminate those who might be biased toward one side or the other during the trial.

After questioning is over, the attorneys and judge meet privately to pick the jury for the trial. Some of the jurors are removed for cause, which means a juror has something in his/her past experience that may not allow them to be fair and impartial to both parties. Example of cause include if a juror personally knows one of the lawyers, or has been a victim of a crime similar to one being tried, or has a personal interest in the outcome of the case. Each side has an unlimited number of removals for cause.

Other potential jurors may be removed by peremptory strike, meaning each side can remove a certain number of jurors from the pool without giving a reason, although they cannot be eliminated based on race or gender. The number of preemptory strikes depends on the jurisdiction and type of crime. 

As an example, the following defines the number of strikes in federal trials:

  • Federal civil trial: Each side is allowed 3 peremptory strikes.
  • Federal criminal trial: The government’s prosecuting attorney gets 6 strikes and the defense attorney gets 10 strikes. In capital cases where the death penalty is considered, both sides get 20 strikes.
  • Federal misdemeanor trial (a minor crime punishable by a fine or less than a year in prison): Each side gets 3 strikes.

After all potential jurors have been removed via cause and preemptory strikes, the jury is selected, which is often referred to as the jury being empaneled. After the courtroom deputy clerk swears in the jurors, and the judge gives them initial instructions, the trial can begin.

There might also be one or more alternate jurors, who are selected in the same manner as regular jurors, and hear the evidence in a case along with the regular jurors, but they do not participate with the regular jurors when they decide the case unless called upon to replace a regular juror.

Note: Jury research has become more common, especially in high-profile trials, as attorneys retain professional jury experts to aid assessment of appropriate jurors. Chapter 14, Jury Experts, provides more information on this subject.

2. The lawyers present opening arguments

"The Jury" by John Morgan, 1861 (image is in the public domain)

"The Jury" by John Morgan, 1861 (image is in the public domain)

During opening arguments, each side tells the jurors about the case they will be hearing. Opening statements must be confined to facts that will be proven by evidence and cannot be argumentative.

Whichever party brought the case to court — the government in a criminal prosecution or the plaintiff in a civil case — is the first to give its opening statement. Either lawyer may choose not to present an opening statement, or may reserve to give it during the defense’s presentation of evidence.

In a criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the government, which must prove beyond a reasonable doubt — meaning, the jurors must be solidly convinced, or have a moral certainty — that the defendant is guilty. 

In a civil trial, the plaintiff has the burden of proof, and in general must prove liability and damages by a preponderance, or a greater weight, of the evidence — meaning, there is evidence that is convincing in its probable truth or accuracy. The degree of proof required in a civil case is far less stringent than in a criminal case. 

Tip for Writers: An opening statement is supposed to only contain a preview of what the lawyers think the evidence will be. However, a clever lawyer might push the envelope to make his or her opening statement as dramatic and compelling as a closing argument. The most powerful opening statements are those that employ common human themes and fables — think tropes in storytelling — which provide a framework within which the evidence will be arranged. 


This ends Part II. The next post covers witnesses and evidence, closing arguments, the verdict, and additional online resources.

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Any use of the content, including images owned by Colleen Collins, requires specific, written authority. Please do not copy or distribute any images noted as licensed; any images noted as being in the public domain are yours to use.

Click on book cover to go to Amazon page