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Free Stuff

Did this photo grab your attention?

Giving away free stuff is a psychological warfare tactic, I mean marketing tactic. I am reminded of this every time Victoria's Secret coupons arrive in the mail. My daughter immediately wants to rush to the store to pick up free panties, even if she does not need new panties. They're free! This often leads to the purchase of additional overpriced items she also does not need and can harpoon her limited budget in a heartbeat. Freebies have the opposite effect on me. Unless it is something I am in dire need of, the ad doesn't even ping on my radar. Unsolicited marketing materials go into the trash bin on arrival.

Writers are advised to market their own product. There is much confusion over how. What marketing tactics should you spend money on? Should you purchase bookmarks or swag with your book's title on it to give away? Should you give print or e-books away? Should you develop free short stories to promote the book?

Do any of these tactics work? It depends on the audience.

Category 1 Consumers love free stuff just because it is free. They take it home to their hoarder cave and never look at it again.

Category 2 Consumers see the ad and look closer to discern whether it is something they would be interested in. If so, they check it out. If not, they shrug and move on.

Category 3 Consumers see the ad and investigate further. They take home the freebie, and if you are lucky, they purchase an additional item.

Category 4 Consumers aren't in the market for your book and ignore the ad entirely.

Let's look at the pros and cons of marketing materials based on this understanding of consumer buying habits.


If you give your book away, there is no incentive for a reader to buy it, unless it is part of a series or you have other titles. Giving away a one-off book is a negative sum game. Oh, sure, someone occasionally downloads a free e-book, reads a snippet, and decides to buy the print version. This is rare.

Thousands of Category 1 buyers download the book and never read it. Category 2 buyers download it only if they are interested in your genre and/or premise. This tactic could help you gain name recognition if you have a second book of a similar type coming out at the same time. Unless your story is so amazing it makes a permanent impression, they will forget you in a few weeks or months.

If I come across a writer that blows my socks off, I friend them on Facebook so I get news of their new releases. If you use this tactic, make yourself available to be followed on social media to keep your name on your new fan's radar. Post stuff and interact, otherwise you drop off their news feed.

A note about Facebook, if you do an author page instead of a profile, people cannot tag you when they rave about your book on their own page. You are not "friends." You are an advertiser. Fans will get notices from you, but you are not interacting with them. It's the difference between a megahorn and a conversation.


Related short stories may or may not entice people to buy the book. I don't download companion short stories or novellas. They don't interest me. Other readers love them. Offer them after the book is available for purchase, or the reader might forget to look for the book when it is released. Short stories are rarely as intriguing as the book, so make sure they are well-written and cleanly edited.


Free chapters and Amazon's Look Inside feature are the best marketing tools available. Whether the buyer is perusing an online store or an actual bricks and mortar store, the description of your story and the first chapter are usually the deciding factors. A clever cover catches the eye as well. When you offer a free chapter on a site other than Amazon, Nook or Smashwords, make sure there is a link at the end of the chapter so the reader can go straight to the online store to purchase it. If you are making a public appearance, you could print out the first chapter and attach a business card or bookmark featuring the cover of the book and ordering information.


Free bling and giveaways may or may not mean anything to the individual consumer. Category 1 and 3 consumers love giveaways and trinkets. They are excited in the moment, but not likely to become long-term fans. Contests intrigue some and bore others. Category 1 consumers sign up for anything and everything. They may never buy your book or read it. Marketing materials are a multi-billion dollar industry largely because they have convinced the gullible public that they need them. However, giveaways often become throwaways. They can't help you sell a book no one wants to read.


Hoarders stuff them in a dark drawer somewhere and forget them. A few readers collect them like baseballs cards. Authors can sign bookmarks when a person buys an e-book version. Readers rarely turn down a bookmark. If they are like me, they have a fantastic collection of clever bookmarks but end up using a torn scrap of paper instead. Paper bookmarks given away at book sales or writing conferences often end up in the trash bin.

Business cards with the cover on one side and ordering information and short synopsis on the other are well worth the investment. You should carry a few with you at all times. You never know when you'll you strike up a conversation with someone who is interested in what you write. This practice has resulted in multiple sales to people I met while traveling.

You should have a stack of book information cards or bookmarks next to your stack of actual books at a personal appearance or conference. A consumer may not buy the book right then, but may refer to the card later. They may prefer the e-book version to the print version.

When I find out about a title that intrigues me, I keep the card or write down the title and look it up the next time I am online. If I Look Inside and like what I see, it goes on my Amazon wishlist or straight to the shopping cart. I still love visiting a physical bookstore and consult my wishlist before I go. I also share this wishlist with my loved ones when they are looking for gift ideas for me.

The most important marketing tool is a book that a reader can't put down and won't forget. They will happily spread the word to their friends, who will read it and report to their friends, and so on. If giving a few copies away sparks word of mouth publicity, it could be worth the investment. Now, go write that book!

And to reward you for reading to the end, I offer a few free story tools on my website:

Dissecting Christie Part 6

This week, we complete the analysis of Agatha Christie's The Crooked House.

Chapter 14:  Sleuth interviews Nannie, Suspect 6, and Suspect 10. Critical piece of evidence is introduced but overlooked. Suspects 1, 4, and 5 are dismissed. Finger points to Suspects 1 and 7. 

Sleuth meets Nannie who hints that Josephine is always listening at doors and writing in a book – another hint that there is a diary to be found. No one  thinks to look at it. But it is the damning piece of evidence at the end.

The Sleuth asks Suspect 6 Sophia who knew about the drops. The Victim told everyone assembled that if his wife mistook his eyedrops for his insulin he’d die. He provided the method. The Sleuth deducts that this actually dismisses Suspect 1 Brenda, because she would have been clever enough to destroy the vial with eserine in it. The police tested the vial because they thought he might have been dispensed the wrong drug or wrong dosage. If she had replaced the vial with a normal vial of insulin, she would have gotten away with it. The poison left no signs.

The family meets to discuss the business problem. They resolve to wait until the will is found.

Sleuth interviews Suspect 5 Clemency. She is relieved the victim is dead because they are finally free of the family home and the business. Dismisses Suspect 4 Roger. He worshiped the victim and he was actually relieved the business failed. Dismisses herself: She would never have killed anyone for money because she doesn’t care about money. She points the finger back to Suspects 1 and 7 Brenda and Laurence as the main suspects.

Sleuth interviews Suspect 10 Edith. She states she loves them all dearly, hinting as to why she withholds the critical evidence at the end and her reason for the final tragic act.

Chapter 15: Sleuth interviews Suspects 3 and 6. Hints at motive for Suspects 8 and 10.

Sophia states she thinks Suspect 8 Eustace hates them all. She also states that her mother Suspect 3 Magda loves drama and gets bored and likes to stir things up.

Suspect 3 Magda joins them and repeats Suspect 10 Edith would do anything for the family and that she had been in love with the victim before he married her sister. She disapproved and was jealous of Suspect 1 Brenda. Also repeats that Suspect 9 Josephine must go away to school. Sleuth incorrectly deducts that she is worried for Josephine’s safety.

Chapter 16: Sleuth recaps what he has learned. Finger points to Suspect 2. False attempt on Suspect 9's life is set up. Critical piece of evidence is planted and misunderstood.

Sleuth considers Suspect 2 Philip, his fiancee’s father is the only one who has avoided him. Considers his motive: he was cold, reserved, a jealous second son. Could he have wanted his brother to fail enough to kill their father to incriminate the brother? The whole family wanted it to be Suspects 1 and 7, Brenda and Laurence, but no one seemed to really believe it. He investigates the bathroom where the insulin was kept. Anyone could have had easy access to it.

Interviews Suspect 8 Eustace. Eustace thought it was well past time for the Victim to go.

Interviews Suspect 7 Laurence. He believes he is being set up. Denies Suspect 1 Brenda had a motive.

Runs into Suspect 9 Josephine who was in the Cistern room and is covered in cobwebs. Says it is about time for the next murder. She is setting up the false attempt on her life. This is important because the sleuth deducts erroneously that Josephine hid the letters later found in the Cistern room, when in fact she followed Suspect 7 Laurence there and read the letters and left them there.

Chapter 17: Sleuth reports to the police. Red herring is extended and provides a motive for Suspect 6.

An outsider was given a sealed envelope from the Victim which he was to forward to the attorney upon the Victim’s death. It is a will written by hand. The will leaves a bequest to Suspect 1 and the rest to Suspect 6 Sophia, presenting his fiancée with a motive if she had known about it. Victim did not consider his sons fit to take his place.

Chapter 18: False attempt on Suspect 9. Find critical piece of evidence. Finger points to Suspects 1 and 7. Important clue is planted.

Suspect 9 is nearly killed by her own device. Sleuth feels guilty for not protecting her. Everyone knew she played there. Important clue: someone stood on a broken chair with muddy feet and Josephine was the only one short enough to need the chair to plant the object that nearly falls on her head. But this is not considered by the sleuth until the end.

She was always snooping and writing things in a little black book. They decide to look for it. They search her room. It was in disarray as if someone had searched it. Anyone could have done it. Sleuth remembers she was in the cistern room. He goes there and finds a packet of letters from Suspect 1 Brenda to Laurence. Evidence convicts Suspects 1 and 7.

Chapter 19: Suspect 1 is dismissed. Finger lands on Suspect 7.

The attempt on Suspect 9 Josephine suggests the murderer does not like direct violence which is why he or she used poison and a booby trap. They dismiss Suspect 1 Brenda based on the assumption that she could not have rigged the booby trap. It must have been Suspect 7 Laurence.

Chapter 20: Suspect 6's possible motive is revealed.

The inquest is held, the contents of the will are revealed. It divides the family. Josephine was in the hospital, so she missed the drama.

Chapter 21:  Suspects 1 and 7 are arrested. Suspect 6 is called into question.

Suspect 6 Sophia is sending Eustace and Josephine off to school. She is letting Laurence go. Suspects 1 and 7 Brenda and Laurence are arrested. Sophie reveals that she had known about the will.

Chapter 22: Suspect 9 falsely accuses Suspect 7 for the attempt on her life.

Josephine returns. She points the finger at Laurence for the attempt on her life. Said she saw him coming out of the cistern room one day and found the letters he hid in there.

Chapter 23: Recaps the arrest with the police. Victim 2 is murdered.

Letters were damning but the defense will twist it to say they were talking about being together after the Victim died of natural causes. Their instincts still place doubt on their guilt. They review the motives. Sleuth realizes that he thought the child’s room was searched for the letters, but she didn’t have or hide the letters. So someone must have been looking for her little black book. Receives the news that the Nannie has been killed.

Chapter 24: Suspect 9 states her motive but it is disregarded. Suspect 9 is taken away by Suspect 10.

Roger and Clemency are on their way out. They deny that they had motive to kill Josephine or Nannie. Josephine states that she never liked Nannie. Josephine tells the Sleuth that she knows who poisoned her grandfather, set up the booby trap, and put poison in her cocoa.  She refuses to tell. Nannie was killed with the digitalin that Edith takes. Edith takes Josephine to London.

Chapter 25:  Suspects 9 and 10 are killed in a car accident. The truth is revealed.

They get the news that Suspects 10 and 9 Edith and Josephine were found dead in the car that had gone off the road into a quarry. The sleuth remembered that he had seen Edith write letters and left them in the hall. He retrieves them.They realize Edith was protecting Josephine. Her little black book is in the second envelope.

Chapter 26: Crime recapped. Important clues recognized. World returns to new normal.

They read the little black book and recognize the signs they missed. The sleuth and Sophia decide to marry despite the madness of her sister.


When I first imagined writing a mystery, the scope of it felt overwhelming. Not only would I have to come up with multiple suspects, I would have to come up with multiple motives. Dissecting Christie's work has given me a better handle on how to plant and payoff evidence and motives. I hope it helps you too.

Dame Agatha is one of the longest lasting, highest selling mystery writers of all time. It's always a good idea to learn from the best.

Dissecting Christie Part 5

The Crooked House by Agatha Christie is a manor house mystery. All of the suspects reside in the house. The amateur sleuth has connections with the police, but is not a professional investigator. His goal is to solve the murder so he can marry his fiancée Sophia.

All of the suspects had access to the victim (the wealthy patriarch), and the method (eye drops substituted for insulin). Everyone had a potential motive. The actual killer was never seriously considered until the very end, though clues were planted if you knew where to look.

*** Warning: Spoilers Ahead ***

Suspects included:
Suspect 1: Brenda, the victim’s much younger widow.
Suspect 2: Victim's son Phillip (Sophia's father).
Suspect 3: Phillip's wife Magda, an actress (Sophia's mother).
Suspect 4: Victim's son Roger.
Suspect 5: Roger's wife Clemency.
Suspect 6: Sophia, the victim’s granddaughter and sleuth's fiancée
Suspect 7: Laurence, the children’s tutor.
Suspect 8: The grandchild Eustace, 16.
Suspect 9: The grandchild Josephine, 12.
Suspect 10: Victim's sister-in-law Edith.

Chapter 1: Introduce Sleuth.

We meet the amateur sleuth and find out he wants to marry the victim's granddaughter.

Chapter 2: The inciting incident.

The victim is murdered and the sleuth is made aware of it.

Chapter 3: Suspects are lined up. Challenge is stated.

Amateur sleuth talks to his father, of Scotland Yard, about the case. They agree he is in a unique position to find out who had the most compelling motive. All suspects had access to the method and opportunity. It is a question of who had the greatest motive. The victim was killed when his insulin was replaced with eye drops and he received the wrong injection by his wife. She is the most likely candidate.

Chapter 4: Suspect 6 is discounted.

Sleuth arrives at the scene. His story goal is repeated: to find out who murdered the victim so he can marry his fiancée. Sophia had no apparent motive, so she is ruled out.

Chapter 5: Finger points to Suspect 1.

The sons were already financially cared for but would inherit more money. The young widow would be free to remarry.

Chapter 6: Sleuth interviews Suspect 2.

Sleuth interviews Suspect 2 Phillip, who insists he had no motive.

Chapter 7: Sleuth interviews Suspects 3, 4, and 5. The finger points to Suspects 1 and 7.

Magda is overly dramatic but had no apparent motive other than the victim refused to fund one of her plays.

Suspects 4 Roger and 5 Clemency point the finger at Suspect 1 Brenda who they believe was having an affair with Suspect 7 Laurence. Brenda administered the injection and had the strongest motive.

Chapter 8: Sleuth interviews Suspects 1 and 7 who deny their guilt.

Brenda insists she didn’t notice anything odd about the insulin and gave him the shot as scheduled. She denies having an affair with Suspect 7 Laurence. She felt safe with the Victim, why would she ruin that?
Sleuth interviews Suspect 7 Laurence who denies the affair. Both are lying. It could be the prime motive.

Chapter 9: Sleuth interviews Suspect 1 again. Important clue 1 is planted.

First hint that Suspect 9 Josephine is the killer. Brenda mentions that Josephine isn’t quite right.

Chapter 10: Sleuth interviews Suspect 9. Important clue 2 is planted. Finger points at Suspects 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7. Red herring is planted.

Josephine brags that she knows things and always wanted to be a detective. She insists she is more intelligent than the police. She knows the name of the poison and how it was administered. She also states that she did not like the Victim. She points the finger at other suspects. Tells the sleuth Suspects 4 Roger and 5 Clemency were packed to leave town. She overheard a conversation between the Victim and Suspect 4 Roger that suggested Roger was guilty of embezzlement.

She points the finger at her own father and mother. Suspect 2 Philip and Suspect 3 Magda are now free to move to London. The Victim refused to fund one of Magda’s plays.

Suspect 9 Josephine also states she has seen love letters between Suspects 1 Brenda and 7 Laurence.

The red herring is planted. The terms of the will are discussed. The Victim asked for a revised will which his attorney sent to him. He left money to everyone. The revised will was discussed with everyone and everyone saw him sign it. However, the signed will was never sent back to the attorney. The Victim stated that he mailed it to his bank. However, they find the revised will provided by the attorney and it is not signed.

Chapter 11: Recap with police. Finger points to Suspects 4 and 5. They have proof they had no motive. Suggests alternative motive for Suspect 2.

Sleuth reveals Suspect 4 Roger’s motive: hide embezzlement from the victim and get money to solve problem. The police confirm that his business was on the rocks. They believe Suspect 4 is too bumbling and it must have been his wife Suspect 5 Clemency.

Sleuth confronts Suspect 4 Roger. He admits that he discussed his business failure with the Victim but produces a letter the Victim wrote instructing his agent to fix the problem. He was going to mail it then the Victim was murdered so it was still in his pocket. He had no motive. If the victim had lived, his problems would be over. He was back to having a problem.

Which leads to a new conjecture: Did someone in the house want Roger to fail? Depends on what happens with the will. If the revised will disappeared, the person most likely to benefit from it is the widow, Suspect 1 Brenda.

Chapter 12: Theme stated. Important clue 3 planted.

Thematic statement is made: murder is an amateur crime. Reinforces second clue that Suspect 9 Josephine is the killer, though the sleuth and the police have not seriously considered her.

"Murderers are vain. They think they are far too clever to be caught and want to talk about it."

Sleuth is encouraged to look for people who give false information. They always slip up. He is also admonished to protect the child, suggesting the child could be in danger from the killer because she is always listening at doors and might know something she shouldn’t.

This is a critical chapter. It lays the foundation for Suspect 9’s guilt and dismisses her as a potential suspect in the same paragraph. The Sleuth is told that children sometimes kill on accident but feel horrible when they realize what they have done. This reinforces that children do not kill intentionally, further removing any possibility in the Sleuth’s mind that the child is guilty of premeditated murder.

Chapter 13: Sleuth interviews Suspect 9. Plants important evidence.

The Sleuth did not tell the police about the love letters. He interviews Suspect 9 Josephine. She states she lied about the love letters. Reinforces that Josephine is a snoop. The letters play a critical role later.

Next week, we finish the analysis of The Crooked House.

Dissecting Christie Part 4

If you read Agatha Christie for pleasure, by all means start at the beginning. If you read Christie for craft, start at the end. Her sleuths always put the puzzle together in the final scenes, revealing the clues you may or may not have picked up on. This week, we will look at the key pieces of evidence Christie planted in The Crooked House.


1) The murderer kept saying how clever she was and how stupid the police were.

2) She was a child. People assume children don’t kill intentionally.

3) The victim told her how to kill him. All she had to do was avoid fingerprints.

4) She faked an attempt on her own life and claimed she was in danger.

5) She made it look like someone had searched her room.

7) She provided motives for others.

8) She made it look like she was a target. She stole the poison and put in her own cup and left it untouched. Victim 2 drank it.

9) She had to be kept at home because she was a danger, not in danger. When her mother decided to send her away to school, it triggered the murderous rampage.

10) A witness found her confession in a diary but kept it hidden.

11) The murderer blatantly threatened to kill Victims 2 and 3.

Next week, we will look at the story skeleton to see when and where she planted the critical clues and false evidence.