Friday, April 4, 2014

M. Louisa Locke - An Author Interview in the HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Mary Louisa Locke. She is the Author of Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits, bestselling Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Romance

Website: M. Louisa Locke - Author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series
Author's Blog: Come On In
Twitter: @mlouisalocke
E-Mail: mlouisalocke at
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
Google+: Check Out Google+
Facebook: Check Out Facebook

Author Description:
M. Louisa Locke is a retired professor of U.S. and Women's History, who has embarked on a second career as an historical fiction writer. The published books in her series of historical mysteries set in Victorian San Francisco, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, feature Annie Fuller, a boardinghouse owner and clairvoyant, and Nate Dawson, a San Francisco lawyer, who together investigate murders and other crimes.

Her short stories, Dandy Detects and The Miss Moffets Mend a Marriage, give secondary characters from this series a chance to get involved in their own minor mysteries. For those of you who have read her work, Locke would love to hear from you at, and she would really appreciate it if you would spend a few minutes writing a review on

Dr. Locke is an active member in the Alliance of Independent Authors, and a Director of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, and she is currently living in San Diego with her husband and assorted animals and working on the next installment of her series.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Congratulations on your short story: Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong. What do you have on the drawing board next? Can you tell us the timeline for its release and give us a little tease?

I am currently doing research on the fourth book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, which will focus on women’s roles in the printing industry. While I am doing that research, I am writing another short story. The title is Madam Sibyl’s First Client, and it will be a prequel of sorts, coming before Maids of Misfortune, the first book in the series. This short story will give me a chance to expand on the reasons why my protagonist, Annie Fuller, decided to supplement her income by pretending to be a clairvoyant. I hope to get this story done and published within the next 2 months. Those who have read —Maids of Misfortune—will be interested to know that the first client is Matthew Voss.

You have a good following on twitter. Since you started before the social media buzz, what impact has social media relationships had on your current success? How did you build your following in your niche? Did you use forums, newsletters and methods like that? How much has it changed your book launch process?

I confess I am not particularly good at twitter. I have trouble with the short form. Mostly I concentrate on following indie authors and fans and writers of historical and mystery fiction because I think that they are the group who would be most interested in anything I tweet or retweet. I am most active on my facebook author page. That is where I engage most directly with fans. I give progress reports, links to cool photos I find and pin on pinterest, and provide some historical tidbits from time to time. However, since Facebook is making it more difficult to reach people who have joined a page, I am also encouraging people to sign up for my newsletter. And I can see using that more frequently in the future.

You had Maids of Misfortune converted into audio books. What has been the impact on your regular sales? Has the audio books gained a new audience? Do you recommend new authors going this route to get more exposure?

The audio book market is definitely expanding, and Amazon’s ACX program lets an indie author find a narrator and put up an audio book for free if they do a royalty split with the narrator, which is how I did Maids of Misfortune. The main obstacle to sales seems to be that no one has figured out how to promote audio books the way we can promote our ebooks. Audible does do discounts and promotions—but as far as I can tell they are promoting traditionally published audio books (which I assume the traditional publishers pay for). This means that most indie audio books are invisible on the audible site itself. So, rather than the audio books driving sales to my print or ebooks, it is the other way around. When I do a promotion of the ebook edition of Maids of Misfortune (free or discounted), my sales of my audio version go up as well, since the audio version is linked on the Amazon site to the ebook. If ACX and Audible developed some marketing tools for indies the way that KDP did with Select, this could change things a good deal.

You have written several short stories. Can you tell us if they had an impact on the sales of your novels? Are shorty’s one of your styles of writing or are they created to give readers a sample of your work?

I wrote Dandy Detects, which featured characters—including a Boston Terrier—from my first novel, primarily as a way to introduce readers to the series. Making this story free for short periods of time did help do this. Then, free books became much more prevalent (as did 99 cent books) and the free or cheap short story became less attractive. Now I write the shorts for my own benefit and to give fans of the series something to read in between books (I am a slow writer). I find it very satisfying to expand on minor characters (which I do with all 3 short stories). For example, the two elderly seamstresses who live in Annie Fuller’s boarding house have only tiny walk-on parts in the full length novels. But I had created a whole backstory for them. So, in The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage I was able to give them the starring role. In addition, readers had specifically asked me if they would ever see Mr. Wong again (he had a substantial role in the Maids of Misfortune) , so I wrote Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong for them.

I like the idea of bundling a series of novels. You have put together a set of your novels called Victorian San Francisco Mysteries–Books 1-3. What was the impact on your other sales? What was your main objective in bundling your novels?

I did the bundle before Christmas and my thought was that this would be a relatively inexpensive way for fans of the series to give people the whole series as a gift. If you buy all 3 books as separate ebooks, the cost is just under $13, but the ebook bundle is $6.99, so you save nearly $6. Without any particular promotion, I have been averaging about 2-3 sales of this bundle a day, which has pleased me tremendously. I haven’t seen any particular change in my other sales.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in any other type of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

For anyone who is interested in the details, I have written a lot about free as a strategy. For example, I wrote a post several years ago, Why I don’t worry when people read my books for free. My successful use of the KDP Select option of making a book free for up to 5 days over a 3 month period was the main way I was able to keep my books visible in such categories as historical mystery, cozy mystery, and historical romance throughout 2012 and 2013. This visibility meant sales of around 35,000 books a year. However, I believe because of increased competition of discounted books and changes in Amazon’s ranking logarithms, free promotions are not working as well as they did for me. They are still one of the best ways of getting a good number of reviews quickly, and they are still one of the best ways to increase a book’s visibility and begin to spread the word about your book. But currently I am concentrating on using KDP Select’s Kindle Countdown promotional option as my major promotional tool. I will be doing a 99 cent promotion of Maids of Misfortune this April 10-16.

How do you start your book launch process for a new book? Give a brief outline of the steps you go through to get your book to market. What methods were the most successful?

The first time I really did a “launch” was for my most recent book, Bloody Lessons. This was in part because the people at KDP offered to let me put the book up for pre-order so I had a definite day the book would go on sale. In the weeks while it was available for pre-order, I did a number of things. I sent out review copies to 4-5 people (who had read and reviewed the earlier books on their blogs), I announced the pre-order on my blog, facebook page, and twitter. Over 700 people had already pre-ordered Bloody Lessons when it went on sale.

The day the book launched I also made Maids of Misfortune free and Uneasy Spirits 99 cents—to encourage people to buy all three books (and increase visibility of Bloody Lessons.) In the next month, I continued to promote, by doing a cozy mystery book tour, a giveaway of the print edition on GoodReads, and another giveaway on a historical fiction newsletter.

Because a substantial number of fans of the series had pre-ordered the book, I got a good number of positive reviews right away. I think the joint promotions and the reviews had the largest positive impact in selling the book and raising it to a high position on the category lists. The book then seemed to sell itself, remaining in the top 10,000 books on Kindle through the first 5 months without any special promotions.

How do you manage your plots, characters and timelines to keep your stories going? Do you use any software to keep track of your books?

I now use Scrivener, (a word processing tool designed specifically for authors) which makes it much easier to keep the research I have done organized and accessible when I write. Since I am writing mysteries, I figure out who is murdered, and who did it, and who the possible suspects are before I start. I also sketch out the major character plot lines (how the romance will progress or not). I then do a general three-act outline that briefly outlines the major scenes I plan for the book. Next I do a more detailed, day-by-day outline for the first act (taking into consideration what clues I need to weave in, red herrings, character developments). After writing those chapters I do a detailed outline of the next third of the book, and so on.

I also write short biographies of the new characters that are going to be introduced (and recently have chosen photographs—sometimes historical, sometimes contemporary, of people that have similar coloring and look of the characters to help me visualize them.)

I also print out maps and locate the main places where the action will be carried out. I try to visit San Francisco at least once while writing a book and walk between the places to get a feel for the lay of the land. But I also will use Google street view to refresh my memories. It is important to me to know if my characters are walking up or down one of the steep hills of San Francisco!!!

You have a great blog. You do a great job keeping readers informed, marketing your books and providing useful information to other writers. What is your primary goal?

I try, not always as successfully, to address the two different audiences for my blog: 1) those authors who want advice about becoming an indie author and how to market ebooks and 2) readers who are fans of the series. Up until now, most of my blogs (and I think most of my followers) have been other authors. But recently there are so many more people blogging about their experiences as indie authors that I don’t feel that needs to be my focus. Consequently, I hope to find more time to write the historical pieces about San Francisco that will please the fans of the series.

What is your method of getting reviews for your novels? Do you seek professional reviews, use social media or do you rely on your reading audience to supply them?

I have definitely depended on readers to supply the bulk of the reviews. I always solicit 4-5 reviews from professional bloggers, and I also receive a few reviews from other authors who happen to like my series. I certainly appreciate the thoughtful and detailed reviews that come this way. But I am most pleased with the simple and heartfelt reviews from readers (even when they are negative.) My goal has always been to please regular readers who are looking for light entertainment (comfort reading.), not to produce a literary masterpiece that would get the stamp of approval from professionals. The hundreds of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon or GoodReads are therefore precious to me.

Author's Book List
Maids of Misfortune - A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
It's the summer of 1879, and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, is in trouble. Annie's husband squandered her fortune before committing suicide five years earlier, and one of his creditors is now threatening to take the boardinghouse she owns to pay off a debt.

Annie Fuller also has a secret. She supplements her income by giving domestic and business advice as Madam Sibyl, one of San Francisco's most exclusive clairvoyants, and one of Madam Sibyl's clients, Matthew Voss, has died. The police believe his death was suicide brought upon by bankruptcy, but Annie believes Voss has been murdered and that his assets have been stolen.

Nate Dawson has a problem. As the Voss family lawyer, he would love to believe that Matthew Voss didn't leave his grieving family destitute. But that would mean working with Annie Fuller, a woman who alternatively attracts and infuriates him as she shatters every notion he ever had of proper ladylike behavior.

Sparks fly as Anne and Nate pursue the truth about the murder of Matthew Voss in this light-hearted, cozy historical mystery set in the foggy gas-lit world of Victorian San Francisco.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Uneasy Spirits - A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
In this sequel to Maids of Misfortune, it is the fall of 1879 and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, has a problem. Despite her growing financial success as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl, Annie doesn't believe in the astrology and palmistry her clients think are the basis for her advice.

Kathleen Hennessey, Annie Fuller's young Irish maid, has a plan. When her mistress is asked to expose a fraudulent trance medium, Arabella Frampton, Kathleen is determined to assist in the investigation, just like the Pinkerton detectives she has read about in the dime novels.

Nate Dawson, up-and-coming San Francisco lawyer, has a dilemma. He wants to marry the unconventional Annie Fuller, but he doesn't feel he can reveal his true feelings until he has a way to make enough money to support her.

In Uneasy Spirits, this cozy historical mystery of romantic suspense, Annie delves into the intriguing world of 19th century spiritualism, encountering true believers and naïve dupes, clever frauds and unexplained supernatural phenomena. She will soon find there are as many secrets as there are spirits swirling around the Frampton séance table. Some of those secrets will threaten the foundation of her career as Madam Sibyl and the future of her relationship with Nate Dawson, and, in time, they will threaten her very life itself.

Uneasy Spirits is the second book in M. Louisa Locke's Victorian historical mystery series, followed by Bloody Lessons. There are currently three short stories based on the characters from the novels, Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong.

Order the Book From: Amazon
Bloody Lessons - A Victorian San Francisco Mystery
In Bloody Lessons, it is the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, 1880, and the teachers of San Francisco are under attack: their salaries slashed and their competency and morals questioned in a series of poison pen letters. Annie Fuller, the reluctant clairvoyant, has been called in to investigate by Nate Dawson, her lawyer beau, and the case becomes personal when they discover that Laura, Nate's sister, may be one of the teachers targeted for attack.

In this installment in the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, readers will find the same blend of a cozy mystery and romantic suspense, played out against the historical backdrop of late 19th century San Francisco, that they found in Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. If you are new to this series, you will still enjoy spending time with the lively residents of Annie Fuller's boarding house and visiting San Francisco when Golden Gate Park was filled with horse-drawn carriages, politics were controlled by saloon-keepers, and kisses were stolen under gaslight.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Dandy Detects - A Victorian San Francisco Story
In this short story, it is the fall of 1879 and San Francisco swelters under a heat wave while Barbara Hewitt, a reserved school-teacher, uncovers a mystery with the help of her son's dog, Dandy. This story is set in the gas-lit world created by Locke in her Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, which includes Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, and the short stories, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
The Misses Moffet Mend A Marriage - A Victorian San Francisco Story
This short story, set in 1879 San Francisco, features two elderly dressmakers, Miss Minnie and Miss Millie Moffet, who face a moral dilemma of no small dimensions. They turn for advice to Annie Fuller, a widowed boardinghouse owner who supplements her income as a clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl. For those who have read Locke's full-length Victorian San Francisco mysteries, Maids of Misfortune, Uneasy Spirits, and Bloody Lessons, or her other short stories, Dandy Detects and Mr. Wrong Rights a Wrong, this is an amusing glimpse into the lives of Annie Fuller's two most eccentric boarders. For those unfamiliar with Locke's historical fiction set in the late nineteenth century, this is just a taste of things to come.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong - A Victorian San Francisco Story
Annie Fuller, a young boarding house keeper and reluctant clairvoyant, met the kind, older Chinese servant, Mr. Wong, during her investigations into a mysterious death in Maids of Misfortune, the first book in Locke's Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. In Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong, Annie Fuller once again turns to Mr. Wong for help in solving a puzzle that could have life or death consequences. Like her other short stories, Dandy Detects and The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, this story offers another glimpse into Annie Fuller's world of 1880 San Francisco.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Smashwords
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
Publisher of ebooks, writing industry blogger and the sponsor of the following blogs:
eBook Author’s Corner and
HBS Mystery Reader’s Circle

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