Thursday, October 30, 2014

Elizabeth S. Craig - An Author Interview in the HBS Author's Spotlight

Today our blog puts the Spotlight on Author Elizabeth S. Craig. She is the author of the Myrtle Clover mysteries, the Memphis Barbeque mysteries (as Riley Adams), and the Southern Quilting mysteries.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Elizabeth Spann Craig
Author's Blog: Elizabeth Spann Craig
Blog: Facebook: Riley Adams Author
Twitter: @elizabethscraig
E-Mail: elizabethspanncraig (at) gmail (dot) com
Goodreads: Check Out Goodreads
Google+: Check Out Google+
Facebook: Check Out Facebook

Author Description:
Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque mystery series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer's Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010--2013.

A lifelong resident of the South, she enjoys finding inspiration for her mysteries in the beautiful states of North and South Carolina.

SPOTLIGHT Questions and Answers with the Author

Congratulations on your book: Shear Trouble. 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'm currently writing "A Body at Bunco," which is a Myrtle Clover mystery. Since the holidays are coming up, I gave myself a little extra time with this one and am saying it will be a spring 2015 release. But it could come out earlier, depending on how much I can get done during a busy time. I've got the back cover copy:

Octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover has never heard of the dice game Bunco. Regardless, she steps in as her daughter-in-law’s sub and reluctantly puts her game face on.

Bunco turns out to be child’s play. But when a body is discovered, Myrtle realizes another game is afoot. Before long, she’s playing cat and mouse with the killer.

Can she track down the murderer before the game is up? Or, with the killer playing hard to get, will it end up being “no dice?”

You have a great following on twitter. How important have your social media relationships been? How did you build your following in your niche? Do you see a carry over to your writing success?

I think most writers find social media a mixed blessing. I do have a large following on Twitter and a good following on both Google + and Facebook....but these are primarily other writers. Since I tend to be a bit shyer around readers, I decided early on to use social media in the way I felt most comfortable. For me, this was sharing information and resources with other writers and networking with them. The benefit to this approach is that 1) I would actually keep up with social media instead of dreading/avoiding it and that 2) I built up a nice platform for my name and my books that has provided more visibility for readers to find me online.

Do you maintain a reader list? What are the methods you use to find your readers and create the list and the relationship? Do you use social media, forums, newsletters and/or support groups to build your list?

I do maintain a reader list but I was very, very slow to get on that bandwagon. In fact, for years I had readers email me requests to get on a non-existent newsletter list. In the last year I started sending out a newsletter, though, and it's been very helpful to me. I only send out when I've got a release, but that's still several times a year. I was amazed at the jump on the charts in sales that the newsletter provided for a newly launched book. The only way I add readers to my list is if they sign up specifically for the newsletter. I'm very passive in gathering names...I have a button on my website. I figure if readers are interested, they'll find it. It's a quiet marketing approach that seems to be working well.

You have great covers. They carry a theme and your brand with them. How does your book cover creation process work? Do you hand over the basic theme or do you have more of a hands-on approach? Do you get your readers involved in its development?

Thanks! I have varying degrees of involvement in these covers. For the Memphis BBQ series (written under the Riley Adams pen name), I have had absolutely no involvement at all. For the Southern Quilting series, my editor asks for suggestions for cover design elements and specific quilts that have been mentioned in the book. For the Myrtle Clover, self-published, series, I'm much more involved. But I'm constantly amazed how I can just suggest a few design elements and the designers do such a great job taking those and creating an appealing cover.

Several of you novels have been 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?

I'm able to explore audio with one of my series--the self-published Myrtle Clover series. With the two Penguin series I, unfortunately, don't own the rights to take that route. But I've been very happy with my audio experiment for the Myrtle Clover series. I have an older reader base and many readers have contacted me saying that audio is the only way that they can enjoy my books with their failing eyesight. Additionally, I've picked up younger readers this way--readers who commute or like to listen to audiobooks when they exercise. I think this is a completely separate platform and may not tie into my regular sales...unless readers decide to try out my other series based on their enjoyment of that one. I don't have any evidence of this potential crossover, unfortunately.

I do recommend this route to new authors simply because it doesn't have to cost you a dime to open up to a potential new market. Although in general I'm wary of royalty-share options, I felt this was the way to go with audio (through ACX). My narrator and I split the royalties evenly, so I paid nothing to her up front. The income I make monthly from the audiobooks is pure profit since I invested nothing.

Between your book writing, blogging, marketing, family and all the other things that can get in your way, how do you manage your time? Do you have a set schedule or do your sort of play it by ear?

I always start out with a set schedule, yes. But I’ve found that it’s most important to be prepared to be flexible in case something comes up. Between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. is pretty easy to maintain since no one is really awake or trying to email or phone me. After that point, though, anything can happen. If I commit to the writing and expect interruptions while staying committed to the goal, I get a lot more done…even if that means writing in the carpool line at the middle school.

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?

I’ve had a great experience giving my books away for free. To me, it’s almost like advertising…except that, instead of paying for an ad, I’m simply losing money on royalties. I have had many readers to email saying that they found my series because one of the books was free. I’ve also done Goodreads giveaways with ARCs (advance reader copies) of my Penguin books. Those resulted in higher sales when the books launched and more reviews right out of the gate.

Obstacles…sure. Now I put a note on my calendar to remind myself to assess the free book. As sad as it sounds, my memory is such and my life is so busy that I may forget and leave a particular book on perma-free. I’ve found, in my experience, that it’s better to switch up the free book and switch between titles. Additionally, I would carefully consider the cost of postage with the Goodreads giveaways. Are you sure you want to pay international postage? I’d suggest limiting it to the US, unless you’re specifically trying to target a wider audience. Make sure you save those postage receipts for your taxes the next year.

You are published under two different names (Riley Adams also). Does changing hats create any problems? Any tricks you can share with us? Doing more than one project at a time create any problems?

I’d caution everyone to carefully consider whether they want to have a pen name since it can be a tremendous time suck. I was required by my publisher to have one for the Memphis Barbeque series, but I went the wrong direction initially with my promo and opened up social media accounts in that name. If I had it to do over again, I’d just keep everything on my Elizabeth Craig page and link to the series that way. I was too confident in thinking that I could handle social media for more than one name.

Writing more than one series at once can be tricky! Once an editor wrote me and said, “Elizabeth, I don’t know who this character is.” I’d actually written in a character from another series into that book—sort of an accidental guest appearance. Now I outline the next book in that book’s series immediately following completion of a story before jumping into a different series. That also is a great time-saving trick since it means your head is still in that story’s world when you’re outlining.

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? And where in the world do you find the time to create great novels, take care of the social media and maintain your blog?

Thanks! I have several goals with my blog. One is sharing resources and information with other writers and having them share back in the comments. Another is connecting with other writers, since writing can be an isolating business. A third would be, frankly, channeling traffic to my blog, which is hosted on my website. Since my website benefits from the traffic, I gain more visibility on Google and other search engines, making my content and books easier for readers to find.

I’m sort of nerdy when it comes to managing time—I time everything. I discovered a while back that if you Google “set timer for…. minutes,” you can have Google give you an alarm after the set amount of time. So I’ll set a timer for 15 minutes and look for writing links, set one for 20 minutes and write a blog post, set a timer for 20 minutes to write…you get the idea. It helps me stay focused during those short spurts of time.

Also…I don’t sleep much. :)

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?

With my self-published books, I’ve done nothing to get reviews on the books, actually, except for run sales. The reviews followed the sales spurts.

With my Penguin books, I’ve tried Goodreads giveaways and also tried connecting with Amazon’s top reviewers in my genre and offering them free books. These methods have worked fairly well.

Penguin sometimes sends my books for professional reviews in magazines, Kirkus, etc. Honestly…I don’t really think those reviews make a bit of difference to readers. I think we can get more mileage and visibility from a book blogger, although I haven’t approached any bloggers for a long while. Mainly I think the trick is to write appealing books for a specific, targeted genre audience, focus on series writing, and then wait for the reviews.

Author's Book List
Death Pays a Visit - Myrtle Clover Mysteries Book 7
When psychic (and hubcap retailer) Wanda Alewine pays a late-night visit to Myrtle Clover, she urges the octogenarian sleuth to head straight to Greener Pastures Retirement Home. But Wanda doesn't want Myrtle to consider the Home's dubious amenities--she wants Myrtle to prevent a murder seen in a vision.

Reluctant Myrtle investigates with sidekick Miles, who seems a lot more interested in Greener Pastures than she is. As the duo digs, they uncover more than just Sudoku and Scrabble—they discover a sinister undercurrent… with murder as its outcome.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Shear Trouble - A Southern Quilting Mystery
As the leaves begin to fall in idyllic Dappled Hills, someone puts too fine a point on a local ladies’ man. Fortunately, the detective skills of quilter Beatrice Coleman are a cut above the rest....

The Village Quilters of Dappled Hills, North Carolina, are desperate to finish their quilts before an upcoming show. To help, fellow member Posy has opened the back room of her shop, the Patchwork Cottage, for everyone to use. But the ladies are less than thrilled when Phyllis Stitt and Martha Helmsley—members of their rival quilting guild, the Cut-Ups—ask to join them.

Phyllis is hoping to leave the Cut-Ups and join up with the Village Quilters now that Martha’s dating her ex-fiancĂ©, Jason Gore. She’s not pleased when he visits the shop and even more upset when her new shears disappear. After offering to search for them, Beatrice discovers Jason with the shears buried in his unfaithful heart. Now she must sharpen her sleuthing skills to find a killer before someone else’s life is cut short.…

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
A Body at Book Club - Myrtle Clover Mysteries 6
When octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover discovers Naomi Pelter’s dead body during a book club meeting, the other members seem shocked. But Myrtle can read between the lines. Naomi had riled everyone up by flirting with other people’s husbands, arguing with neighbors, and generally making a nuisance of herself. Murdering troublemakers is the oldest trick in the book.

The book club members seem too sweet to be killers, but Myrtle knows better than to judge books by their covers. Myrtle’s investigation into the murder will take a more novel approach than her police chief son’s by-the-book methods. Can Myrtle and her widower sidekick uncover the killer…before he writes them off for good?

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Quilt Trip - A Southern Quilting Mystery
As a quilter, retired folk art curator Beatrice Coleman likes to have all the seams stitched together—but her plans keep getting tangled up in unexpected ways…

Beatrice has never crashed a party but now her fellow quilt guild member, Meadow Downey, is driving them to a Victorian mansion in the mountains beyond Dappled Hills, North Carolina. Muriel Starnes, an elderly eccentric, has organized a meeting of quilters to pick someone to administer a quilting scholarship. The fact that the Village Quilters weren’t invited isn’t enough to keep Meadow from speaking her piece.

But once the quilters arrive at the mansion, it seems they may never leave. An ice storm sends an old tree crashing across the driveway, leaving them stranded for the night. And by the next morning, they are one fewer—for Muriel has been sent to meet her maker. With everyone in the house a suspect, it’s up to Beatrice and the Village Quilters to figure out who has a guilty conscience before someone else gets tied up in knots.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Death at a Drop-In - A Myrtle Clover Mystery Book 5
Cosette Whitlow is a society matron…if tiny Bradley, North Carolina, has one. She kindly volunteers for all the town's charities, but isn’t nearly as kind to her own family, neighbors, and friends. In fact, Cosette is emphatically disliked by much of the town—including octogenarian Myrtle Clover. And Myrtle knows that dislike in Bradley can quickly turn deadly.

No one seems surprised when Cosette’s body is discovered during a party she’s hosting—she was struck on the head with a croquet mallet. Wanting to restore order to the small town, Myrtle resolves to track down the killer—before the killer strikes again.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble
Knot What It Seams - A Southern Quilting Mystery
When former folk art curator Beatrice Coleman retired to Dappled Hills, North Carolina, for peace and quiet and quilting, she never expected that murder would disturb the peace...

Dwindling membership has the Village Quilters hanging by a thread, and group leader Meadow Downey is desperate to recruit some new folks. With Beatrice’s blessing, she attempts to weave frequent quilt show judge Jo Paxton into their fold. As the town’s irascible mail carrier, Jo delivers trouble wherever she goes. And with all that mail at her fingertips, she knows everyone’s business. Soon Beatrice wonders if they’ve made the right choice.

After a car accident sends Jo to meet her Maker, it’s discovered someone tampered with her brakes. Meadow believes someone’s out to eradicate the Village Quilters, but Beatrice isn’t so sure. Now she and her fellow quilters will have to piece together the clues, or a deadly killer might strike again.…

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
A Body in the Backyard - A Myrtle Clover Mystery Book 4
It’s just an ordinary day for octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover—until her yardman discovers a dead body planted in her backyard. This death isn’t cut and dried—the victim was bashed in the head with one of Myrtle’s garden gnomes.

Myrtle’s friend Miles recognizes the body and identifies him as Charles Clayborne… reluctantly admitting he’s a cousin. Charles wasn’t the sort of relative you bragged about—he was a garden variety sleaze, which is very likely why he ended up murdered. As Myrtle starts digging up dirt to nip the killings in the bud, someone’s focused on scaring her off the case. Myrtle vows to find the murderer…before she’s pushing up daisies, herself.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Quilt or Innocence - A Southern Quilting Mystery
Retired folk art curator Beatrice Coleman knows everything there is to know about quilts, except how to make them. But with her recent move to Dapple Hills, North Carolina, she’s learning all sorts of new things—including how to solve a murder…

As the newest member of the Village Quilters Guild, Beatrice has a lot of gossip to catch up on—especially with the Patchwork Cottage quilt shop about to close. It seems that Judith, the landlord everyone loves to hate, wants to raise the rent, despite being a quilter herself…

But when Judith is found dead, the harmless gossip becomes an intricate patchwork of mischievous motives. And it’s up to Beatrice’s expert eye to decipher the pattern and catch the killer, before her life gets sewn up for good.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
A Dyeing Shame - A Myrtle Clover Mystery Book 3
When Beauty Box beautician Tammy Smith is discovered with a pair of hair shears in her back, there are suspects and secrets aplenty in her small Southern town.

Octogenarian Myrtle Clover, bored by bingo and bridge, is intrigued by the crime...and her neighbors' secrets. But discovering, and blabbing, secrets got Tammy killed and Myrtle soon learns her sleuthing isn't just's deadly.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Progressive Dinner Deadly - A Myrtle Clover Mystery Book 2
Retired octogenarian schoolteacher Myrtle Clover is fit to be tied when her book club votes to change to a supper club. Who wants chips and dip when they can have Dickens and Twain?

The first supper club is a progressive dinner...where Myrtle loses interest during the hors d'oeuvres. But when a body is discovered during the main course, the evening quickly gets interesting. Myrtle pits her sleuthing skills against her police chief son's to find the killer....if the killer doesn't find her first.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Pretty is as Pretty Dies - A Myrtle Clover Mystery
No one in Bradley, North Carolina, is exactly crying into their sweet tea over the murder of Parke Stockard. Certainly not retired schoolteacher Myrtle Clover. Upon discovering the corpse, Myrtle is struck-not with grief, but a brilliant idea! Solving the crime would prove to everyone (especially her son Red, the police chief) that this eighty-something-year-old is not ready to be put out to pasture just yet.

The victim, a pretty but pushy town developer, had deep pockets and few friends. Myrtle can't throw one of her gaudy garden gnomes without hitting a potential suspect. Even when another murder takes place, proud Myrtle forges on, armed only with a heavy cane, a venomous tongue, and a widower sidekick.

Order the Book From: Amazon - Barnes and Noble - KOBO
Author Recommended by: HBSystems Publications
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Check out the index of other Spotlight authors. Spotlight Index.


  1. Hi James and Elizabeth ... Elizabeth really does set the rest of us an example and with your questions you've given us a great insight into Elizabeth's skills as a blogger and author ... and how to achieve a great deal - which she does ...

    Cheers and Happy Halloween .. Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary,

      Thanks for coming by and for the kind words! Hope you have a Happy Halloween. :)

  2. Elizabeth is awesome!! Pretty is as Pretty Dies was the first book I bought by an author I 'knew' from social media :) Her tips have helped me enormously over the last few years!

    1. Jemi--Thank you so much! And thanks for all you do to help authors on your blog.

  3. Thanks so much for hosting Elizabeth! Elizabeth, you've really set an example for all of us and I think you've found a great balance between writing, promoting and your own personal time. It's so hard to do 'it all,' isn't it? Thanks for sharing how you manage it all! Looking forward to your next releases

    1. Margot--Thanks! It's pretty impossible to do it all, but we can try our best! Thanks for coming by.

  4. Keeping up with two names is a lot!
    A lot of books. Isn't it wild when we list them all out like that?
    I should've done a newsletter. Still no idea what I would say in it though. Might still do one for the IWSG.

    1. Alex--You could do exactly what you do on the blog--connect with readers over music and film and books. I think it would be great!

  5. I wish Elizabeth could be an example for me to follow, but she's much too capable, efficient, energetic, generous, etc. What she is for lesser beings like me is an inspiration, a source of optimism and kindness for which I am very grateful!

    1. Barry--You're too kind! I appreciate all your support on the blog...thank you!