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I want to thank Mayra for having me at The Dark Phantom  today as part of Pump Up Your Book’s 5th Anniversary!  Today I’d like to talk about virtual book tours, or blog tours, as a vehicle to sell your book. 

It seems to be the million dollar question and that’s why I chose this topic today to talk about.  I am here to settle this question once and for all and explain just what blog tours can do for your book. 

Most authors when they sign up with us are aware of blog tours.  They’re everywhere.  Some authors are setting up their own tours and some authors who aren’t Internet or promotion savvy come to us.  They are the ones who I feel need blog tours more than anyone else. 

A blog tour is a vehicle really not to sell your book exclusively, but is mainly to sell YOU.  A blog tour will get your book into the eyes of thousands.  Whether they buy or not depends on a few things. 

Is this your first book?  Debut authors have it the hardest.  It’s usually not until the 2nd or 3rd that their career really takes off.  That’s not to say you can’t be a one book wonder, but it just seems the authors with more books under their belt do better. 

Have you already established your author platform before your book comes out?  Most authors who already have an established email list and have been writing articles about their book’s subject are the ones who will see a difference in sales. 

Are you in the social networks to sell your book or are you in there to help or to get help?  People can pick you out in a second if your book is your main reason you are there. 

Selling your book can be infuriating, exhausting and downright crazy but a blog tour can give you focus.  Even though it is a lot of work, building up your presence in the search engines and getting your book into the public’s eye should be your main focus.  If you watch your sales  constantly and there are no sales, you start to wonder what in the heck you are doing wrong and why you went through so much trouble. 

The key here is exposure and whether you think that doesn’t amount to diddly squat as opposed to seeing those book sales, that’s where you’re wrong. 

After my romance anthology, Romancing the Soul, came out, I established myself as a relationship expert.  I had no real credentials other than the fact relationship help was dear to my heart and I felt I was darn good at it.  To this day, I still have people emailing me with their problems.  

I set up a professional website and started building my contact list.  I began writing articles to make my author platform more solid.  They say blog tours are exhausting, that’s nothing compared to the work I put in establishing myself in the search engines for my key search words. 

I gave my advice away for free, too.  Anyone with problems concerning relationships got my answer right away.  Where there were other relationship experts charging for the same thing I was doing, I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to give freely for I knew this was only strengthening my whole author platform and you can’t put a dollar amount on that.  

I wrote articles until my fingers fell off.  I was interviewed by blog owners plus radio.  But the one thing I did which I felt helped my author platform more than anything else was the key word positioning. It was then that the editor of the supermarket tabloid, OK! Magazine, found me in the search engines, called me up and asked me a few questions about the Jennifer Aniston and whoever-she-was-dating-at-the-time relationship.  Whammo bammo, my quote appeared in that week’s issue and I owe it to building up my author platform and positioning my key search words in the search engines. 

So now we come back to the million dollar question: do blog tours sell books?  If you reread what I just wrote, what I did was very similar to a blog tour.  The only difference was that it wasn’t on a set schedule.  But, to this day, people are still finding out about me.  If I walked away from relationship help, it would follow me wherever I went  because I had positioned my key search words permanently in the search engines.  My old website I was using?  It’s sitting there.  I’m not updating it or anything so these people are finding me somehow and I have every reason to believe they are putting certain search words into the search engines and that’s how they find me. 

With a blog tour, you are building up your author platform, no ifs ands or buts.  People say the only thing that influences readers to buy books are reviews and that the interviews and guest posts aren’t making people buy their book.  After all, it’s supposed to be all about the book, right? 

Yes and no.  If the author continues to write books similar in theme to their first book, it can be all about the book.  If the author is trying to sell a debut book, then I would fully recommend building up that author platform.  They may not get a book sale based on this or they could sell by the truckload.  It just depends on how much time the author invests in their career. 

Back to blog tours again.   If the author is not Internet savvy and if the author does not have a good presence in the  search engines, a blog tour will definitely do the trick.  Will the author’s main goal be to sell books or does the author understand how using blog tours to build up their author platform can sell books down the road or lead them to other great things? 

You can’t go into a blog tour thinking you’re going to sell books by the truckload.  You can go into a blog tour counting on the fact that your book is presented to thousands of prospective readers, buyers, publishers, agents, movie producers, and yes even editors of supermarket tabloids. 

I hope this cleared up any misconceptions you have about blog tours.  If you are an author who has the time and the know how to set up a tour for your own book, that is definitely the way to go.  You save money that way.  

If you are an author who needs help setting up a tour, knows their way around the Internet, is social network savvy and has the contacts with the bloggers that have been carefully screened, then you enlist the help of a blog tour service such as us. 

To celebrate five years of publicizing books online, Pump Up Your Book will be stopping off at wonderful blogs throughout the month of April so that you can hear more of what we do and our viewpoints on Internet promotions and blog tours.  There are prizes along the way so be  sure to check out http://www.pumpupyourbook.com/2012/04/01/pump-up-your-book-5th-year-anniversary-celebration/ to find out how you can win.  

Now the good news is that we are giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card here at The Dark Phantom!  Give us the best book promotion tip you can think of and leave it in the comment section.  If you are a book blogger and not an author, tell us the best way you know to get traffic to your site.  You must leave your email address with your comment or there’s no way for us to get in touch with you.  This contest will end on April 27 and the winner will be announced on our tour page (link above) on April 30.  This is an international contest and good luck! 

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Many authors ask themselves what it means to be truly successful. Many of them believe that success comes with fame. Others think that success comes with money. Others long for a bestseller status. What does success mean to you?

Yes, fame is cool and royalty checks are something no author complains about (the more the merrier). However, if you are an independent author or are supported by a small publisher, the road to glory and wealth is long and full of thorns. And today not even a big publisher can guarantee that your book will be the next hit. It doesn’t mean that becoming a successful author in terms of recognition and royalties is impossible. It’s just important to understand that being an author is a journey and that writing a book is the easy part. Promoting yourself and your book requires hard work, strong will, faith and a certain amount of stubbornness that doesn’t let you give up. According to statistics, 95% of newly published authors give up pursuing their writing career during the first twelve month simply because once they begin to understand how the book business works, they lose hope and abandon their dream.

Of course, every author dreams of having his or her name on the bestseller list. Did you know that New York Times bestsellers are not really bestsellers? Many of the books don’t even sell that well before they appear on the list. And even if your book sells like hot cakes it doesn’t guarantee a spot on the “dream list”. Amazon bestsellers are a different story. Any book can become an Amazon bestseller if the author has enough money (anything between 15 and 60 thousand dollars) for a bestselling campaign. Big publishing houses pay for Amazon bestselling campaigns all the time. These campaigns are quite controversial in the eyes of many but I don’t condemn them. Personally, I consider them just another marketing strategy that is highly effective and usually works if planned and supervised by a real marketing professional with enough experience.

I am a successful author. I haven’t appeared in New York Times (yet), I haven’t become an Amazon bestselling author (yet), I haven’t sold millions of books (yet). But yes, I am successful. I’m proud of myself. And if you’re an author, you should be too. Being a successful author means writing a good book that finds its way to readers. Receiving positive reviews. Hearing words of praise from those who love your book. Seeing that your book changes people’s lives and makes their days a little bit nicer. Realizing that you’re making a difference in this world. And it also means not giving up when things get tough, not abandoning your book and fighting for its place in the sun. This is what makes a successful author.

I write for my readers and for myself. I write for the joy of writing. I write because it makes me happy. And I suggest you do the same. Only then you can call yourself a successful author.

Barbora Knobova is a writer, love coach and expert in Delicious Life. A world traveler, she is one of those rare world citizens who live everywhere and nowhere. Barbora is a firm believer in female friendship, loyalty and bonding. She writes hilarious, sharp-witted, caustically apt, ironic, moving, true books for strong, independent, smart, fearless women. Barbora has also written several self-improvement books and teaches women about the importance of self-love in relationships and life in general. Barbora speaks eight languages and has found her home away from home in New York, London and Milan. She is always on the move, accompanied by her beagle Brinkley, the nasty dog from her new book Tales for Delicious Girls.
Visit her website at http://www.barboraknobova.com

Barbara Knobova is on a Virtual Book Tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion.

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A few weeks ago, my laptop winked at me. And I thought, how cool! My laptop and I have such a rapport that she actually winks at me! Who says magic doesn’t exist in today’s world? After all, she and I have clocked thousands of miles across the globe. Together we’ve written about—

And then she winked again. And blinked. Gagged. And died.

Oh.

But even as I slapped her (when was the last time I backed up my work?), attempted CPR, and gave her the “you will not die today, soldier!” speech, it occurred to me just how far we really had come, and not just in mileage.

In the beginning, I used my laptop only when I was traveling. I much preferred the desktop computer for everyday raw, mean, sit-down-and-crack-yer-knuckles writing. It had the ergonomic keyboard and the big wide screen. Most importantly, it sat squarely in the middle of my writing sanctuary, my bubble of silence.

When I was writing American Quest, I remember talking to a friend who liked to take her laptop to the local Starbucks when she had work to do. She enjoyed the buzz of the people around her.

“Oh, I could never do that,” I’d said. “I need absolute silence when I work. It’s hard enough as it is just to keep the family at bay.”

And she’d eyed me and said, “That must be tough, always having to have perfect conditions. Imagine how productive you’d be if that weren’t the case.”

This rankled me. And it got me thinking.

As it was, my ability to write was sorely diminished when I had company over or when I was traveling for writer conferences, even though there was so much downtime in airports. So I decided to join my friend at the Starbucks the next day, laptop in hand, for one hour. Worse come to worse, I figured I would spend an hour fidgeting around and get nothing done. And that’s pretty much what happened. Except I did squeeze one tiny paragraph out of it; nothing that could earn a Pulitzer but definitely useful—and worth trying again. I realized if I could tune out the hustle and bustle enough to manage one paragraph, I probably had it in me to do more.

And so, for a couple of days a week, I lugged my laptop to coffee shops, park benches, diners, or whatever other public places struck my fancy so I could do some writing. I found the more I kept it up, the more I was able to produce, and the more noise I could tolerate without losing momentum. I finally got to the point where I was just as productive outside my sanctuary as in it. Sometimes even more so. I never liked connecting to the public wireless Internet services because it seemed wasteful if you had to pay for it and virus-ridden if you didn’t. So when I wrote outside my sanctuary, I did so off-line. This meant I had to set aside any Internet research until after I was finished. And, guess what? This one accidental habit has probably been the single greatest productivity boost of my entire writing career.

By the time I finished American Quest, my writing momentum was flourishing. I could keep it up all day, anywhere. And I was getting more exercise by getting out there and toting my big, bulky laptop along. And sure enough, when I needed to fly off to Gulf Shores, Alabama for a party (and that’s a whole ‘nuther story), I wrote so much in the airport that waiting for the flight was no biggie at all. Me and my laptop. May she rest in peace.

So am I back to working on the desktop now that the laptop’s gone? Nah. The big computer still has its uses, but the nanosecond I realized my laptop was unsalvageable, I ordered a new one. In fact I am typing on her right now. She’s light and svelte and shamelessly red, built for speed like a race car. A good thing, too, because this new laptop and I, we got places to go.

–Sienna Skyy
Join Sienna Skyy, author of the fantasy and science fiction novel, American Quest (The Story Plant, Sept. ’08), as she virtually tours the blogosphere in October on her first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion!

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The Author:
Karen Harrington is a Texas native who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. Her writing has received honors from the Hemingway Short Story Festival, the Texas Film Institute Screenplay Contest and the Writers’ Digest National Script Contest. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, she has worked as a speechwriter and editor for major corporations and non-profit organizations.

She authored and published There’s a Dog in the Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” My Stuff bags go to children in need who must leave their home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband and two children.

You can visit her website.

The Book:

Tom Nelson is struggling after the death of his son at the hands of his wife Jane. While Jane sits in a Texas mental hospital for her part in the crime, prosecutors turn their focus to Tom. They believe Tom should have known Jane was on the cusp of a breakdown and protected his children from her illness. As a result, he is charged with “failure to protect.” Enter attorney, Dave Frontella, who employs a radical defense strategy – one that lays the blame at the feet of Jane’s nature and nurture. To gather evidence about Jane’s forbears, Frontella hires a woman with the power of retrocognition – the ability to use a person’s belongings to re-create their past. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of Jane’s ancestors, spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman’s life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.

Read the excerpt:

PROLOGUE

I stared at my attorney as he began his defense that I did not share the blame in the murder of my son. That I was not neglectful in leaving my two children in the care of my wife Jane, who drowned my two-and-a-half-year old boy.

Dave strode his six-foot-three frame across the room as he launched into his opening argument.

I had read that you are supposed to make yourself appear larger when threatened by an animal in the wild. Apparently, Dave believed this posture was helpful in the courtroom too because he stretched the expanse of his arms as he began speaking in a low voice, the kind of voice that beckons its listeners to lean forward, lest they miss something. His tone ramped up as he declared my innocence and stared at the prosecution’s table, allowing time for the pregnant pause. He walked a few steps toward me. The jurors’ faces were pinned to him and even the courtroom sketch artist looked up from her pad.

When the silence had passed, I knew he was about to make the suggestion that gave me unease, and with any luck, would give the jurors reasonable doubt. That Jane’s genetic hard wiring might have been the chief culprit in her murderous actions.

“But, fellow taxpayers,” he said. “the prosecution wants you to believe that my client bears partial responsibility for the commission of a crime at which he was not even present. That he should have been paranoid because his wife was depressed after a miscarriage. That he should have assumed her depression would lead to violence. Well, if that is a crime, then this whole courtroom is at risk of being tried. Millions of American parents take antidepressants. Millions seek counseling for any number of reasons. Should we call child protective services right now and rip the children away from those parents?”

Here Dave paused long for effect, and I found myself waiting to breathe. I noticed a young female juror glance at Dave and smile. It probably didn’t hurt my defense that he was so good-looking. It’s not that I am unattractive. I’m tall, fit, green-eyed and still have all my hair. But cast us together in a movie and Dave Frontella is James Bond and I’m Man in elevator #2.

Dave stopped in front of the jury box and rested his hand on the polished wood. “Don’t you think Tom Nelson wishes he had perfect understanding of his wife? That he has spent countless hours reviewing all he knew about the wife he loved in search of some tell-tale sign? Don’t you think he would trade his own life to have his son’s restored? For himself and the sake of his son’s twin sister, now left without a brother and for all intents and purposes, a mother?”

So he was going to use the rhetorical question as a persuasive technique. It would only work, I knew, if the majority of the jurors possessed a sense of irony. And from their stony faces, I could not be sure whether they sized me up as a whiny victim or a simple cad.

“The real tragedy here,” Dave said, “is that Jane grew up in an abusive situation, raised by a parent who grew up in an abusive situation. Her children were in greater jeopardy because of her genetic inheritance than from her husband’s lack of psychic powers. Yet, would you blame her ancestors for the death of Simon Nelson? If it sounds bizarre, that’s because it is.”

His emotional staging complete, I took a drink of water and looked thoughtfully at the jury box, focused on no one in particular. It was enough though. It rendered me able to endure the remainder of the prosecutor’s nonchalant disclosure of what I had come to call the “other” Jane.

*******

Buy from Amazon.
JANEOLOGY VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 began on May 1, 2008 and will continue all month. If you would like to follow Karen’s tour, visit Virtual Book Tours in May. Leave a comment on her blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of her tour!

*******
Karen Harrington’s virtual book tour is brought to you by Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours and choreographed by Dorothy Thompson.

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The Blurb:

Amanda Thorne is an embattled clairvoyant, who refuses to believe in God or the afterlife, even when the ghost of her murdered husband confronts her from his grave. More ghosts confront her when she finds herself stranded in a tiny town in Arizona.

Two of them mistake her for a prominent woman who was murdered 79 years ago. One of them wants to avenge him for the murder, and the other wants to kill her all over again. She and her misplaced deputy friend must uncover the truth about the murder before history repeats itself.

The Author:

Deborah Woehr is a writer, artist and problogger who lives in San Jose, California. She is well-known for her blog, The Writers Buzz. Currently, she writes for Syntagma Media’s Paranormal Watch.

The Excerpt:

“You’re dead.”

“I know. You put me here.”

Amanda Thorne gazed at her dead husband, who stood five feet in front of her, his head and face perfectly intact when they shouldn’t have been. She had gone to the funeral home to view his body. He had no business standing here, in front of his grave, accusing her of killing him.

“You’re not going to get away with this!” Joel’s eyes darkened as the familiar rage grew inside of him. “You should be here, not me.”

“I didn’t do this,” Amanda said in a tight whisper. “You did this to yourself!”

He punched her square in the chest, sending her sprawling across the wet grass. “You sent him after me, you lying, sneaking, conniving bitch.”

Joel stood over her. “I’m going to get you,” he promised her.

“Ma’am?”

Amanda stared at the overcast sky, Joel and his punch an instant memory. She pulled herself up, aware of her bare feet and her silk pajamas. A middle–aged police officer stood on the road that separated the section where Joel’s grave lay from another section of the cemetery.

“What are you doing here?” he said, as he appraised her with bloodshot eyes. He had caught her in here at least an hour before the cemetery opened to the public.

“I don’t know,” she said hazily. The last thing she remembered was going to bed, but her house was four miles away. “I don’t know how I got here.”

“You look familiar to me.”

Amanda shrugged her shoulders. She looked past him, and then to her left, towards the cemetery’s entrance.

“What’s your name?”

“Amanda Thorne.”

The officer turned to his side so he could see what she was looking at, and to keep an eye on her.
“What are you looking for?”

“My car. I don’t see it.” She hugged herself against a sudden cold gust of wind. Did I walk all the way out here?

“Where do you live?”

“The Garden Apartments. Do you know where that is?”

“Yeah. How did you get here, if you didn’t drive?” The officer was intrigued.

Amanda cleared her throat. “I think I walked. I woke up in here.”

“Ho! No, shit? That’s a pretty long way to sleepwalk, Mrs. Thorne.” He stared at her as though he were still trying to place her.

She didn’t recognize him, although she had had many interviews with the San Jose Police detectives, both before and after Joel had died. He was just another uniform, as far as she was concerned. “Will you take me to Valley Med? I think I’m having a reaction to my prescription.”

“I don’t think that’s the cause of this.” The cop walked past her and up to Joel’s grave.

Amanda let her gaze wander around the cemetery. Monterey Highway was visible from her vantage point, allowing her to watch the beginning of the morning commute.

“Amanda?”

“What?” She looked over her shoulder at the cop.

“Let’s go.”

“Are you taking me to the hospital or to jail?”

“I’m taking you home.”

Amanda walked with him to the entrance. The chapel sat on the left side of the gate. She couldn’t figure out if it was an English or Dutch style building. The walls were painted an ugly cream color, mottled with dark brown stones.

It had stained–glass windows and a stone chimney. The roof matched the stone insets, but it didn’t look like any roof she had seen in San Jose. It looked like someone had draped a wet, scaly skin over the top of the building, and left it there to dry. The eaves curled inward, giving the impression that she was looking at a fat toadstool.

She knew what it was, a chapel and a mortuary. Joel’s casket had sat inside that chapel. His father and sister were the only family who had attended the funeral. The rest of his family stood by his mother’s “deathbed,” making sure she didn’t OD on martinis and Valium. ‘I just couldn’t bear the thought of burying my Joely,’ she would later tell Amanda.

“You okay?” the cop said, shattering her reverie when he laid his hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry.” Amanda gave him an apologetic smile when she realized that she had stopped to stare at that awful building. The wind was picking up again, carrying the spray of the water fountain with it. She clutched at her pajama top in vain.

“You want my jacket?”

“No, thanks.”

The cruiser sat next to the curb, its yellow lights flashing. Amanda walked alongside the cop, grateful that she wasn’t wearing handcuffs for the world to see. It was bad enough to be walking around in her pajamas and bare feet.

“Do you have anybody you can talk to?” Moreno asked with sincerity.

“Yes,” Amanda lied. Joel had alienated her friends, but his murder had chased them away for good. She had no one but her psychiatrist, who was more interested in doping her up with Paxil than listening to her.

This experience was a fluke, she told herself. It won’t happen again.

Moreno sat her in the front seat of his cruiser as another cruiser pulled up behind him. Amanda turned around in her seat after he closed the door, and watched the two cops meet on the sidewalk. They began talking about her in hushed tones.

A lot of people had talked about her after the murder. Few had approached her with direct questions, or to ask her how she was “holding up.” As far as everyone was concerned, she had killed her husband. Five months later, the police were still watching her and waiting for her to confess to the killing.

Amanda turned away from the officers, who were laughing at some private joke. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed or smiled. It had been a long time.

Without warning, the radio belched out static. Then a female voice uttered some cop code, followed by plain English. A shooting had occurred in the Capitol and Quimby area, which was nothing new. Most likely, it was gang–related. Amanda tuned out the radio and looked at the cops through the side view mirror.

They were still talking.

“Open the glove box.”

Amanda’s eyes widened at the urgent whisper of a male voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a jean–clad leg. Someone was sitting next to her, and it wasn’t Moreno. It was a Mexican gang–banger, with a ragged bullet hole in the side of his neck.

“Come on, bitch! Open the fuckin’ glove box before he comes back! I don’t want him to see me like this.”

Amanda gaped at the kid’s neck. “What?”

Before he could answer, the driver’s side door opened. “You okay in there?” the cop said, hesitant about getting in the front seat with her.

“Could you take me to Valley Med, please? I’m hallucinating.”

*******

PROSPERITY: A GHOST STORY VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 will continue until the end of February. If you would like to follow Deborah’s tour, visit http://www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/. Leave a comment and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of her tour! One lucky winner will be announced on this page on February 29!

Purchase the book from Lulu.

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A Complete Guide to Promoting and Selling Your Self-Published Ebook
by Dorothy Thompson

http://www.pumpupyourbookpromotion.com

With the rise of the internet, electronic book publishing has become extremely popular. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to create an ebook and sell it from a website. The hard part comes afterwards. Once the book is published, how do you promote it? How do you let the people know that it’s available? How do you boost sales?

A Complete Guide to Promoting and Selling Your Self-Published Ebook is full of tips and ideas to help you find your niche audience and sell your book. The internet is full of promotional opportunities, but it can be hard to find these venues and decide what works best. Dorothy Thompson has done the homework already, so following her advice, this book can be used as a primer for your promotional efforts. I also found that this is the type of advice which can be used for promoting all types of books and not necessarily only self-published ebooks.

In Thompson’s own words, this book will teach you:

*Why self-publishing eBooks is one of the most viable
ways of earning added income

*How you can make more money publishing it yourself
than having an e-publisher do it

*How to optimize your web site for full impact and get a
top ten ranking in all the major search engines

*How to set up an eBook selling page that will have
everyone begging to buy

*How to syndicate your own articles with clickable links
that will take you right to the submitting page in most
cases

*How to get FREE exposure on radio talk shows and a
list of talk shows that are looking for authors to
interview

*What directories to list your eBook at no cost to you

*How sending press releases can double your profit
including 41 press release companies that will send out
your press release for FREE

*How to give away eBooks to sell eBooks

*How to develop a guerilla marketing plan geared
toward your eBook’s subject and how to put it in action
for best results

Thompson, a publicist and relationship expert, writes in a light, friendly and straight-forward style that also makes this book enjoyable to read. In sum, this book contains an amalgam of valuable information and resources on book promotion and should be on the virtual shelf of every author who is serious about selling books. More information about this book may be found on the author’s website at http://www.pumpupyourbookpromotion.com.

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Today on the Dark Phantom is Roberta Isleib, author of the psychological mystery PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. Join her as she virtually tours the blogosphere in December on her first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours!

The Author…
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New Jersey born clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib took up writing mysteries to justify too much bad golf. Her Cassie Burdette series featuring a neurotic golfer and a sports psychologist was nominated for an Agatha and two Anthony awards. Her new mystery series debuted in March with DEADLY ADVICE, starring a psychologist/advice columnist. PREACHING TO THE CORPSE will follow in December 2007.

Roberta is the president of National Sisters in Crime, and the former president of the New England Chapter. She has had articles published in Golf for Women, Mystery Scene Magazine, National Golfer, Tee Time Magazine, and the New Haven Register. Her short story “Disturbance in the Field” (published in SEASMOKE by Level Best Books) was nominated for both Agatha and Macavity awards. You can visit Roberta’s website at www.robertaisleib.com.

The Book…

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The holidays have arrived in postcard-perfect Guilford, CT, but someone’s taking the joy out of the season…

Psychologist/advice columnist Dr. Rebecca Butterman gets a call in the middle of night from the minister at her church. He’s in custody after going to a fellow parishioner’s home and finding her dead. The murdered matron was the leader of a search committee charged with finding a new assistant pastor after the previous assistant left in a rush. The minister begs Rebecca to intervene.She learns that the committee was divided–has someone tried to eliminate the competition? Rebecca puts her analytical skills to work to do her own search–for a killer–all while resisting the urge to break the seventh commandment with a very married detective, and praying she’s not the next victim.

Excerpt…

Chapter One

The phone jarred me out of a restless sleep.

“Dr. Butterman?”

I groped for the clock radio. 12:18. It was pitch dark and my mind swirled with dream riffs.

“Rebecca? Are you there? It’s Reverend Wesley Sandifer. Sorry to wake you.” His voice sounded tremulous and strained.

My lizard brain—home of primitive fears and fight-or-flight reactions—kicked in: “Minister plus phone call after midnight equals disaster.” Years of training as a clinical psychologist couldn’t protect me from a rush of nightmarish possibilities and dread.

My sister Janice? My niece Brittany? My dearest girlfriends, Angie or Annabelle? The image of a terrible car wreck, pulsing red flesh and twisted metal, flashed into mind. But why would any of the people I loved most be driving in the middle of the night? And how the hell would Reverend Wesley know? My heart pounded and my hands slicked up so much I almost dropped the phone.

“What’s wrong?” I whispered fiercely. “What happened?”

“I’m sorry to bother you at this hour,” he said again, his voice growing shrill. “It’s not what you’re thinking. I need your help.”

I logged a reassuring observation: Besides the comforting words, he hadn’t cloaked himself in the sorry-to-have-to-tell-you-this tone that preceded breaking bad news.

“We have a situation.” He cleared his throat and paused.

“Could you be a little more specific?” I asked, feeling the adrenalin sluicing through my veins shift to annoyance at being woken up and frightened out of my gourd.

“I’m going to put Detective Meigs on, if that’s okay.” I heard rustling and mumbling then Meigs’s voice.

“Dr. Butterman? I’m with the Reverend Wesley Sandifer at the emergency facility on Exit 59.”

I hadn’t expected to hear Detective Meigs’s deep rumble any time soon—not ever, really. Midnight observation number two: He and I were back to formal salutations.

We’d made an unexpected connection after I stumbled into one of his cases last fall. But I’m single and he isn’t. End of drama, curtain falls, as my practical friend Annabelle would say. Only it wasn’t really the end, if you counted flashbacks and dreams in which the sighing damsel (me) was rescued over and over by the muscular though well-padded redheaded cop (him). It was enough to make any card-carrying feminist cringe.

The partial fog in my mind began to lift. “Is Reverend Wesley hurt?”

“Not exactly,” said Meigs, sighing heavily. “You’re a member of the Shoreline Congregational Church?”

He was looking for religion at midnight? I was too tired to answer anything but “yes.”

“There’s been a suspicious death,” Meigs said. “We’d like to get this sorted out before the news hits the coffee shops in the morning. Can you possibly come down? The reverend insists he won’t talk to anyone but you,” he continued, his exasperation plain. Clearly he thought this utter crapola. I had to agree. I’m a psychologist, not a detective. Or a lawyer—if that’s what he needed.

My brain shifted one gear higher, trying to put the pieces together. “Good God! Was Wesley involved in the death?”

“He called it in,” said Meigs, not saying what everyone knows from TV: whoever finds the body is a damn good suspect.

“Trust me, Reverend Wesley wouldn’t kill anyone.” Another shock wave of fear rocketed through me. “Who died?”

“Lacy Bailes.”

I felt the air whoosh out of my lungs, as if I’d been socked in the gut. Maybe he had it wrong; maybe it wasn’t her at all. I was just getting to know Lacy—a big woman with a forbidding exterior, but all heart underneath. My mouth watered with budding nausea.

“When can you get here?” Meigs asked. “Should I send a patrol car?”

I didn’t want to get involved with another tragedy; I’d barely recovered from the stress of my next-door neighbor’s death in September. “What am I supposed to do once I’m there?”

Meigs was silent for a moment. “Reverend Wesley says he’ll talk to me if you’re here. Look, he hasn’t been arrested. Yet. You might make a big difference with that.”

“I’ll be down in half an hour.”

I pulled on my warmest sweats, heavy gray fleece pants and a hoodie whose princess seams could not disguise the seven pounds of winter padding I’d packed on earlier in the season. Being held at gunpoint by a lunatic back in September had had the effect of increasing my appetite and decreasing my self-control.

I glanced in the mirror, then stripped the sweats back off, exchanging the Michelin Man look for jeans and a holiday sweater, refusing to think about why I would spend more than one minute dressing for our minister and the local ER. Refusing to think about what could have happened to Lucy Bailes. Grabbing my purse and a small notebook, I headed out to the garage.

A plume of exhaust drifted under the Honda as I backed into the street. Babette Finster’s white Christmas lights glowed softly on the large holly bushes on either side of her front walk. I could feel the hairs in my nose freeze up before the heater kicked in. It was unusually cold for December and clear enough to see a picture-book display of stars. We’d had six inches of snow in the last week and not one flake had melted.

I turned the radio up, looking for company. An all night station was playing a run of sappy Christmas tunes. I suffered through “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” then Paul McCartney crooning about having a wonderful Christmas time. He was a Beatle for God’s sake, an icon of rock and roll. Couldn’t his manager—or his wife—have saved him before he sank to the lowest common denominator of holiday schlock?

McCartney’s faux cheeriness couldn’t push back the worried possibilities that waited to surge forward if I gave them any room. Reverend Wesley a murderer? It didn’t seem possible that he would hurt anyone, certainly not Lacy. They were always cordial in my presence. In fact he’d handpicked her to head the search committee currently working to find a new assistant minister. This was one of Wesley’s strong points—persuading lay people to take up the heavy yoke of church business in return for no pay and lots of second-guessing from the rest of the congregation.

I felt a little twinge of small-minded dismay. What did he want from me? Enough! I ordered. You’ll find out when you get there. My mind glided seamlessly to Detective Meigs. What was the status of his wife’s illness? STOP! STOP!

I turned off Route One, drove under I-95, and pulled into the Shoreline Emergency Clinic’s driveway. Quite a few cars were parked in the front visitors’ lot, even though most people in our little Connecticut town are fast asleep at this hour.

I picked my way across the blacktop, boots crunching on small pyramids of compacted snow—and slipped on a patch of ice. Arms flailing, I crashed onto my butt. A sharp pain radiated from my buttock and down my right thigh. I lay on the pavement, moaning, and assessed the damage: bruised hip and pride. I rolled to my knees and staggered up.

Meigs was waiting at the front door, the smile on his lips not quite reaching his worried eyes.

“You all right?”

Was he interested in the sequelae of my awkward landing or the deeper psychological ramifications of this past fall’s events? I chose to grunt out “fine.” Meigs looked more tired than when I’d seen him several months ago: cheeks a little more chiseled, circles under his eyes a darker hue. His close-cropped curls glinted gold-red with a spritz of silver under the bright lights of the front portico.

Forget it, Rebecca, I scolded myself. “What happened?” I asked curtly. “Why am I really here?”

“Your reverend seems to be flipping out,” Meigs said. He strode ahead of me through the waiting area, detouring around a woman vomiting into a trash can and an older man with his head wrapped in a bloody towel. We pushed through two sets of glass doors and walked down the hallway toward the back of the clinic. “He called 911 and reported an emergency. He says he stopped into Lacy Bailes’s condominium and found her very sick.”

“So she isn’t dead!” I exclaimed, weak with relief.

“She’s definitely dead. They worked on her for almost two hours before they gave up. We haven’t been able to get a sensible word out of Reverend Wesley since, and he insisted on speaking to you. The doc on call has been too busy to formally evaluate him.” He glanced back at me and grimaced. “We had three choices: Put him in jail, take him to the Yale emergency room, or give him a half a Valium and call you.” He shrugged. “We’re trying you first.”

I stopped still. “But if Lacy was ill, why would you even consider putting Wesley in jail?”

Meigs turned to face me, lowering his voice. “She had all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. But the doc got suspicious about poison and called me in. We can’t be certain until the autopsy results come back. That could be days—we need permission from next of kin, and nothing happens on a damn weekend. Obviously, I’m exaggerating about an arrest tonight, but it’s imperative that your reverend tell us everything he knows.”

We rounded the corner and passed through another set of double doors, these painted deep purple. Reverend Wesley was slumped in a blue plastic chair in a mini-waiting area, his white shirt rumpled and marked with rings of sweat. His eyes were closed and he held a dog-eared copy of People magazine on his lap.

“Wesley?”

As the minister popped up to hold out his hand, the magazine dropped to the floor, open to an article about celebrity cheating. “The Ultimate Betrayal!” the headline brayed.

“Thank goodness you’re here.”

I squeezed his fingers gently. “What happened? Are you all right?” With most people in this situation, I would have rushed forward to offer a hug. Reverend Wesley’s body language didn’t welcome that kind of consolation.

“Let’s find a room where we can talk more comfortably,” said Meigs. He strode down the hall, poked his head into one of the doors, then waved us down. “Can I get you some coffee? Water?”

I almost smiled. Flight attendant Meigs: who’d have guessed? Wesley and I shook our heads as we settled into more plastic chairs on either side of an examining table. Wesley’s gaze shifted to the metal stirrups and quickly back to the floor. Meigs perched on a rolling stool near the medicine cabinet. I reached diagonally across the white paper-covered table to shorten the distance between Wesley’s hand and mine.

Meigs pulled out his Palm pilot and cleared his throat. “Start from the beginning please, Reverend, and take us through what happened tonight.”

Wesley patted his lips and combed through his hair with his fingers. His nails, ordinarily as fastidious as a hand model’s, were filthy.

“I had an appointment to talk with Lacy at eight.” His eyes filled and he snuffled into the back of his hand. I rummaged through my purse, extracted a tissue, and handed it over.

“You had an appointment to talk about what?” Meigs prompted.

“The search committee, of course,” said Reverend Wesley. He closed his eyes, clenched his hands on the examining table, and lowered his forehead to his fists.

“Lacy was chairing the committee charged with locating an assistant pastor to serve under Reverend Wesley,” I said to Meigs. “Our former assistant found a new job and left rather precipitously. But nothing moves quickly in a church bureaucracy. And we have a large congregation. It’s been quite a stretch, hasn’t it, trying to meet everyone’s needs?” I patted the white paper on the table. “We do have an intern,” I added inanely.

Wesley lifted his head and stared at me, his pupils dilated. Valium or shock? I wondered.

“Will you take over as chair?”

I sucked in a deep breath, noticing the sharp tang of his body odor and a waft of disinfectant. “Wesley, listen to me. The search committee is the least of your problems.” I glanced quickly at Meigs. Leaning closer, I squeezed the minister’s wrist and whispered: “You could be arrested for murder here.”

“No!” he said, shaking me off, a glazed look in his eyes. “Of course I didn’t kill her! She was barely conscious when I got there. She was having trouble breathing. That’s why I called the clinic.”

“How did you get into the house, Reverend?” Meigs asked. “It doesn’t sound like she was in any condition to answer her door.”

Wesley’s cheeks flushed pink. “She was expecting me. When she didn’t answer my knocking, I went in. I had a feeling something was wrong.”

“So you arrived at eight, discovered her on the couch a few minutes later, and called 911 right after that?”

Wesley nodded, the movements of his head a little sloppy. “We were so close to filling the position. We have two interviews scheduled: Paul Cashman on Monday; he’s our intern who’s finishing up at Yale this spring.” He glanced at his watch and pressed his palm to his eyes. “And Ellen Dark’s on her way down from New Hampshire, if she isn’t already here. She’s spending the weekend in Madison. She wants to check out the area. The committee is going to interview her Sunday night.” He spread his delicate but grubby hands wide, a beseeching look on his face. “Both highly qualified, of course. If we put this off any longer, we’ll lose them and have to start from scratch. We simply can’t go on without another minister.”

Meigs was right—Wesley did appear to be losing his mind. “We could always hire someone temporarily—”

“No!” he yelped. “Don’t you understand? We’ve already done the work!”

I patted his arm, cooing softly until he settled down.

“I found her,” he whimpered. “When I got to her house, she was almost—dead.” His hand wandered to his chest, plucking at his wool scarf. His eyes welled with tears. “Will you do it? Join the committee, I mean?” He began to cough, a sharp bark, thick with phlegm. Meigs handed him a small box of tissues from the counter and rolled his stool back a few inches.

“When you arrived, she looked sick?”

“I already told you,” Wesley snapped. He took a ragged breath. “I’m sorry. She was so pale. And her breathing was labored and her skin was clammy.” His eyes bulged as he coughed again. “It looked like a heart attack.”

“Did you try CPR?” I asked.

He stared blankly. “Nothing I could do was going to bring her back. Nothing.” With his hands to his mouth, the last words were mumbled. “So I called 911.” His head wobbled, as if the weight was too much for his neck. “I learned CPR twenty-five years ago—never took a refresher. I was afraid to hurt her.”

“Did you see anyone on the way in or out of her apartment?” Meigs asked.

Wesley shrugged his shoulders. “No. Will you—” he looked at me and hacked helplessly—”join the committee?”

“Of course I’ll help.”

Meigs frowned and tipped his head toward the hall. I excused myself and followed him out.

“I think he’s suffering from a version of post-traumatic shock,” I said to Meigs, who was leaning against the wall. “He’s not thinking straight.”

He raised his eyebrows, one a quarter-inch higher than the other.

“He wants to appoint me to the vacant slot on the search committee. Why would he be so worried about that at a time like this?”

Meigs straightened, spreading his hands. “Spell it out.”

“Lacy Bailes chaired the group that was choosing a new assistant minister.” I bit my lip, organizing my thoughts; he’d want to know everything. “Because we had an intern coming on board, we skipped the interim minister step this time.”

He scratched his head and shrugged. “I’m Catholic,” he said. “By upbringing anyway. We don’t choose our priests; they’re sent from on high. You’ll have to explain the procedure.”

I sighed. “When a minister leaves, the church is supposed to choose an interim pastor. This guy—or woman—helps the congregation mourn the old minister and make an emotional attachment to the new leader.”

Meigs shook his head. “Greek to me.””

“Put it this way, the interim pastor is sort of like a foster parent. Churches that don’t follow the protocol run the risk of ending up with an attachment disorder.” I was beginning to sound like a pamphlet from the church’s central office.

“So let me get this straight,” Meigs said, yawning and pulling on his left ear, “you were supposed to hire someone to help you recover from your previous minister?”

“Not only this particular minister,” I said impatiently. Right now it seemed like a stupid process and impossible to explain. “It’s a specialty—clergy who go from church to church for short periods of transition. We call them interim pastors.”

“Sounds to me like it’s the interim ministers who have attachment disorders,” said Meigs.

I stared at him, then glanced at my watch. “One-thirty in the morning and you’re a comedian. I’d like to know why my pastor went to this woman’s home for a meeting on a Friday night.”

“We’d both like to know that,” Meigs said briskly. “And then an hour later she turns up dead. What can you tell me about Ms. Bailes?”

I sucked in a breath. Funny how you can see someone every Sunday, even talk with them in coffee hour, and still hardly know them at all. But I liked her. My eyes teared up. And I’d given Wesley my only Kleenex.

“She was single. She works—worked—for an insurance company in Hartford.” What if I’d known her better, taken more time? STOP! I wasn’t going down that road with Lacy: it’d brought nothing but agony with my dead neighbor. A tear started down my cheek. “I’m so tired. I can’t really think.”

Meigs frowned. “Fine, we’ll talk in the morning. Meanwhile, do you think the Reverend’s gone bonkers?”

I blotted my face with my sleeve and cracked a small smile. “You won’t find that diagnosis in the DSM –V. But probably not a bad idea to keep him for observation overnight and get an official psychiatric consult.”

“And not a terrible idea to have you sit on that committee,” said Meigs. “Just don’t start thinking you’re on the case. Or the clock.” He pressed on before I could cut him off. “You’re a damn good observer and your minister seems to trust you. And I have a feeling there are going to be gnarly confidentiality issues before we’re through. Think it over. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”

He wheeled back into the exam room. I was dismissed. “Can I say good night to the reverend?” The door clicked shut behind him.

“What do you think happened to Lacy?” I called. My voice echoed in the empty corridor.

Outside, the wind had picked up from merely sharp to biting. I minced back over the icy blacktop to my car, feeling a dull ache in my hip. I drove slowly home, passing the church on the way. Spotlights illuminated green wreaths with red bows on massive wooden doors, and candles gleamed through the wavy window glass, projecting an aura of peace and beauty.

Wouldn’t that be shot to hell by morning?

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