Monday, November 16, 2015

FEATURED AUTHOR: ELLEN MANSOOR COLLIER



ABOUT THE JAZZ AGE MYSTERY SERIES 

Boardwalk Empire meets Downton Abbey in this soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery series, inspired by actual events. Real-life rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas — the “Sin City of the Southwest.” The series features Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, who feels caught between two clashing cultures: her brother’s seedy speakeasy underworld and the snooty social circles she covers in the Galveston Gazette.

Jazz longs to cover hard news and wants to be taken seriously by the good-old-boy staff, but the editors only assign her fluffy puff pieces. Still she manages to show up at most crime scenes, butting heads with seasoned male reporters, determined to make her mark.
As turf wars escalate between rival gangs, Jazz tries to protect her black-sheep big brother from violent gangsters, as well as threats from her not-so-secret admirer, Prohibition Agent James Burton.

Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play (2012)
Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets (2013)
Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns (2014)
Vamps, Villains and Vaudeville (2015)


TWO Q'S WITH ELLEN MANSOOR COLLIER


Ellen Mansoor Collier is a frequently featured author on A Blue Million Books. See past interviews here and here. She has recently redone all four covers in her mystery series, and I asked her to share some thoughts with us about covers and marketing.

Ellen, I loved your originals covers, but I love the new ones too. Why did you decide to redo them? 

Thanks! I like using authentic Art Deco illustrations for my covers — all the covers except for Bathing Beauties are by French artist George Barbier. c. 1920s. Then a year after my first novel in my Jazz Age series, Flappers, Flasks, and Foul Play, came out I was perusing Pinterest and I found this photo of a flapper in a fancy frock with fur cuffs and huge buttons sitting in front of  a typewriter, holding a candlestick phone and I thought, “That’s Jazz!” Who else but a 1920s society reporter would dress that way to work? I imagined her rushing to her desk after an exciting social event and pounding out the story on her old typewriter, perhaps calling a source for  more information or a juicy quote.
I just updated and colorized the cover with a new background, a postcard showing Murdoch’s Bathhouse and the Galveston Seawall. Though the original Murdoch’s was destroyed during the hurricanes, it’s still standing after all these years — a tribute to the tenacity of the Galveston locals.

Later, I  came across a colorized photo of real-life bathing beauties in a variety of wacky outfits, and thought it was perfect for my sequel, Bathing Beauties, Booze, and Bullets.  BBB is based on the actual Miss Universe Pageant founded in Galveston in 1920 to compete with Atlantic City’s Miss America Contest — with a couple of twists. After that, I wanted to update all of my covers using vintage photographs so that readers who preferred “realism” could have a choice of illustrated or photographic sets. Also, I tend to be a bit matchy-matchy, if possible . . . it’s a Southern thing. Quite a few people buy a whole set as gifts or to keep.
 
What are some creative ways that you market your books? Do you have any marketing advice for indie authors?

I actually used to work in PR as well as advertising/marketing and sales, so I’ve come up with a variety of ideas — but executing them is difficult. Since I don’t blog or tweet (yet), I’ve had to create alternative ways to sell trade copies of my books. I’ve found out the hard way that it can be really depressing and demoralizing (not to mention frustrating) to market your own novels, especially if you’re an indie author.

At first, I was really ballsy and brave and even approached my local Barnes and Noble — the manager seemed quite interested until he found out I was an indie. As a journalist, I’ve been writing for and editing newspapers and magazines since high school, but no one seemed willing to read the actual story once they found out I was self-published.

Still, I persevered and realized that I had to think outside of the big-box bookstores, literally. Who can compete with thousands of books, besides best-selling authors with huge displays if no one has ever heard of you?

The local bookshop sold dozens of my titles and held book signings for me, but I had to place my books on consignment. So I began approaching gift/souvenir shops in Galveston that also sold books. I even dropped my books off at major luxury Galveston hotels who expressed interest but wanted too high of a percentage. At one hotel, I met the retail manager who told me I needed to contact their Houston headquarters — so I left my first two novels along with my contact info, but was too chicken to follow up.

Over a year later, after I’d written two more novels, I left a message with the merchandising manager — and he called me back the same day! Turns out the hotel retail manager actually read Flappers and enjoyed it so much, that she wanted to start selling it in their gift shops. When I talked to him, he asked about the publishing company, ISBN numbers, etc — and barely hesitated when I told him I was the publisher — then sent me a W-2 form, and placed a large order. I think he became interested later because then I had four novels to sell — so they could turn a decent profit. Finally my persistence paid off!

My advice to indies is: Discover what is unique and special about your novels and target your books to that market. e.g. If your book centers on a candy store or bakery or spice shop, locate shops in your area who might want to sell your books. If your novel involves pets or animals, perhaps a grooming salon or pet shop may want to display your books for sale. Better yet, find a chain who can place your books in several locations so you won’t be running all over town just to sell a handful of books.

Since my books are set in 1920s Galveston, I’ve approached local and regional stores as well as souvenir/gift shops. In addition, I’ve set up at a few antique shows and sold several books per show (usually 10-20). Not only do I make twice as much selling my novels directly, I’ve made new friends who come back for the latest titles. So far at these shows, I’ve been the only author who sells books along with vintage Deco items — and my books seem reasonable in comparison. LOL. A dealer friend who also specializes in 1920s-era items displayed my books at the International Quilt show in Houston — resulting in several sales. (If only my novels were about quilts!) A few dealer friends also display my postcards on their tables during major antique shows.

Why not ask your friends and contacts about various markets/shops that might be interested in featuring your books? They may even be willing to set up a book-signing or talk . . . I’ve donated my books to the Houston Vintage show, the Galveston Art League fund-raiser silent auction, and Miss Houston Vintage contest (held at the 1940 Hobby Airport) — not only is it a great way to make gain new readers and contacts, your books receive wonderful publicity and exposure. Once you find that unique niche, you may hit just the right target market for your novels. Good luck — and think outside of the big box shops!

The Jazz Age Mystery Series


Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play

Rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston: the "Sin City of the Southwest." Jazz Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, suspects foul play when a bank VP collapses at her half-brother Sammy's speakeasy. Was it an accident or a mob hit?

Soon handsome young Prohibition Agent James Burton raids the Oasis, threatening to shut it down if Sammy doesn't talk. Suspicious, he pursues Jazz, but despite her attraction she refuses to rat on Sammy. As turf wars escalate between two real-life rival gangs, Sammy is accused of murder. To find the killer, Jazz must risk her life and career, exposing the dark side of Galveston's glittering society.

Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets

It’s 1927 in Galveston, Texas—the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross is an ambitious 21-year-old society reporter for the Galveston Gazette who tries to be taken seriously by the good-old-boy staff, but the editors only assign her fluffy puff pieces, like writing profiles of bathing beauties. The last thing Jazz wants to do is compare make-up tips with ditzy dames competing in the Miss Universe contest, known as the “International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue.”

She’d rather help solve the murders of young prostitutes who turn up all over town, but city officials insist on burying the stories during Splash Day festivities. After Jazz gets to know the bathing beauties, she realizes there’s a lot more to them than just pretty faces and figures. Jazz becomes suspicious when she finds out the contest is also sponsored by the Maceos, aspiring Beach Gang leaders and co-owners of the Hollywood Dinner Club, where the girls will perform before the parade and pageant.

Worse, her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis, a speakeasy on a rival gang’s turf, asks her to call in a favor from handsome Prohibition Agent James Burton—an impossible request that could compromise both of their jobs and budding romance. While Agent Burton gives her the cold shoulder, she fends off advances from Colin Ferris, an attractive but dangerous gangster who threatens Sammy as well as Burton. In the end, she must risk it all to save her friends from a violent killer hell-bent on revenge. Inspired by actual events.

Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns

During Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, the Island was called the "Free State of Galveston" due to its lax laws and laissez faire attitude toward gambling, girls and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she's stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.

After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton’s life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he’s framed for murder, he and Jazz must work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames Jasmine’s half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.

When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against a common enemy.

Vamps, Villains and Vaudeville

In 1920s Galveston, society reporter Jazz Cross is in for a surprise when she attends a traveling vaudeville show with her beau, Prohibition Agent James Burton, and discovers that an old flame acts in the production. That night, they find a stabbing victim behind the Oasis — her half-brother Sammy’s speakeasy — who’s identified as an actor in the troupe. When the victim disappears and later turns up dead, Jazz must help prove that Sammy wasn’t the killer. After a second vaudeville actor is found dead, Jazz discovers that the events behind the scenes are much more interesting than the outdated acts onstage.

To make matters worse, Sammy’s old nemesis demands that he settles a score and forces him into yet another illegal scheme involving the troupe’s money-making ventures. Can Jazz help solve the murders and prove her brother’s innocence—so he can escape the Downtown Gang for good?

A historical Jazz Age mystery inspired by real-life Galveston gangs and local landmarks.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles, essays, and short stories have been published in a variety of national magazines. In the 1990s, she reviewed mysteries for The Houston Chronicle, which was like a crash course in writing novels. During college summers, she interned as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and once served as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.

A flapper at heart, she's worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising/marketing and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and was an editor and writer on UTmost, the college magazine. During her senior year, she served as the president of WICI (Women in Communications, Inc).

Flappers, Flasks, and Foul Play is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, Bathing Beauties, Booze, and Bullets, in 2013. Gold Diggers, came out in 2014, and last but not least, Vamps was released in 2015.

Collier loves to travel with her chemical engineer husband Gary and visits Galveston whenever possible.

"When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s."


Connect with Ellen
Website   |  etsy  |  Amazon author page

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6 comments:

  1. Wow--thanks for the great write-up, Amy! I just want to encourage indies to seek out fresh and new outlets for their novels, besides big-box bookstores. Hope it helps! E

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    1. Absolutely! Thanks for being here again! You're always welcome.

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    2. Thanks, Amy! I think all authors want to stand out from the crowded bookshelves, and indies especially need creative target marketing to get noticed. Yes, it's a challenge but worth the time and trouble when you see your novels for sale in shops and markets.

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  2. Thank you, Ellen, for your thoughtful commentary on covers and marketing. I loved the tips for print marketing. I had never thought of how books get placed in local shops. That is excellent insight. Keep up the good, hard fight of being an indie author!

    Thank you, Amy, for bringing Ellen's thoughts to us. I enjoyed this.

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    1. Dan—thanks for the nice comment! Glad I could help—writers are creative people so we need to be creative marketers too. I wish you all the best! E

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