Today I’m hosting the marvelous Jean Rabe on her THE DEAD OF SUMMER blog tour. I asked her about how do you know when you’ve finished writing the mystery. After all, most genres are mysteries and one that isn’t finished makes the readers hang on the cliff, and then fall out of ever buying a book from that author again. I also asked her a bit about what she does for PR. So, thank you Jean!

Jean Rabe:

Finished with The Dead of Summer, I’m going to the county fair to celebrate. I’ve tickets for the country concert Friday night, good seats, and I’m going to sway to the goat-roping music and drink a Lemon Shakeup.

When I finish a book, I take a day—preferably two—away from the keyboard. Sure, I have other projects to tackle, but I need to refresh, unwind, and so I force myself not to work. Odd, eh? Force myself NOT to work. I’m a bit of a workaholic. Or maybe writeaholic is a better term. I’m either writing or thinking about it. There are soooooooooo many stories I want to tell. But if I take a day or two away, I’m better for it. My mind unmuddles. Finishing a book is a great excuse to unmuddle my normally muddled mind.

My third Piper Blackwell book starts off at her county fair, and she drinks Lemon Shakeups, dines on corn dogs, and sways to country music. Sound familiar? Piper is nothing like me, but we share a few things that we enjoy. She also likes Michael Connelly Harry Bosch books.

Her fair is in Spencer County, Indiana. But in her book I’ve based it on my local county fair, which I’ve been to several times. When I go, I spend the day. I check out the animals, the 4-H entries, the photography and cooking competitions, and I find a picnic table in the shade where I can drink something cold—usually a Lemon Shakeup, pull out my notebook, and write descriptions of the interesting people walking by. I even jot down bits of their conversations for flavor. My husband joins me when he gets off work, then we go to the concert. Sometimes I linger, find that picnic table again, and watch the colorful ride lights against the black sky.

It’s a little summer ritual, my fair trip, and it usually coincides with finishing a novel. Other times I’ve finished a book I’ve taken jaunts to Nashville, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Once I visited Spencer County, took lots of pictures, and decided to set a mystery series there—my Piper books.

How do I know when a book is finished?

Good question.

I have writer friends who tell me they instinctively know when their tale is done, that it basically ends itself. Instinct never worked for me. I decide during the outline stage how long I want the book to run, usually 80,000 to 90,000 words, and I set up my chapters accordingly. Long years past I attended a writing workshop by SF author Michael Stackpole, who said that chapters shouldn’t be longer than 3,000 words. He’d read some study that claimed people were more likely to finish reading a novel if the chapters were short, if they could get through one chapter a night before nodding off. When they stopped in the middle of a chapter, they were less likely to finish the book. Interesting. Up until that point, my chapters ran from 5,000 to 7,000 words. I started writing shorter chapters, usually set a 2,500 word benchmark. I’ll never know if that has caused more people to finish my novels. But I know it resulted in fewer—if any—rewrites of my manuscripts. The shorter chapters made me focus tighter and build in cliffhangers. My outlines often carry three dozen chapters. 33 x 2,500 = 82,500. 36 x 2,500 = 90,000 words. I know a book is complete when I come to the end of the last chapter I’ve outlined. Naturally, I take another pass through it all, retool and tinker. But I know it is done when I hit the last point in my outline. Hmmm, that makes it sound like a mechanical rather than an organic process. But I want a book of a certain length, and my formula accounts for that. An outline ensures that I know where the story will lead—though I can deviate here and there; that I know who the murderer is; and whether my heroes will bring the perp to justice.

What’s my favorite form of book PR?

Urgh. I’m awful at PR. If I was better at it, I’d probably sell more books. I like to promote my books on Facebook; that’s easy to do. Sometimes I use Twitter if it cooperates with me. I have a blog, but I don’t often use it to promote my books … I just write about stuff: dogs, other people’s books, games, summer. I rely heavily on Let’s Talk Promotions because Mindy is a great organizer who sets up blog tours. She’s savvy, and I keep hoping some of that will rub off on me.

Some PR, like these blog tours, is enjoyable. I get to reach out to new readers, and I get to write feature columns about my characters’ backgrounds and what inspired certain scenes. Sometimes they give me ideas for more books.

Too, I have a newsletter. Author newsletters are supposed to promote their books, right? Mine does to an extent. But I usually end up offering writing advice, chatting about my dogs, tossing in a recipe or two, and listing bizarre facts I’ve come across while working on books. I want my newsletter to be fun; maybe that’s PR. If people enjoy my ramblings, they might like me and my books.

Jean Rabe has written 40 novels and more than 100 short stories, has made the USA Today Bestseller list a few times, and lives in Central Illinois surrounded by cornfields and railroad tracks. When she’s not writing, she plays with her dogs, fuses glass jewelry, reads, and visits museums.

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Thank you Jean! I hope your book, and the wonderful Piper Blackwell series, finds its way into all mystery reader’s home libraries!

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