Tuesday, April 26, 2011

By the Numbers; Book Expo America; I See People Who Love Dead People

When last we spoke, I said I would report on how the numbers were looking in the UK. The truth is, I don't know and I'm not sure when I'll get any figures from the publisher. Nor do I know if the system for counting book sales is very different from systems in the US which -- like many things, when you take a hard look at them -- is much more complicated than you might guess. This much I can say:

---Amazon UK reported they were almost out of stock of the trade paperback (order now!) by the end of the first day. That was pretty darned amazing. They have managed to remain in stock ever since (hmm).

---Several people have reported that the Book Depository UK is (still) out of stock. It is also informing me that there are only 133 days until the US hardcover is available! And apparently, the second book in the series is supposed to come out in the UK on 5 January 2012. How do they know these things? I didn't even know the second book was due so early.

---In other Amazon UK news, the physical book has fluctuated between #25,000-ish to 8,000-ish and the Kindle edition from 10,000-ish to 2,000-ish, which sounds terrible until you realize that that's out of about a million physical books and a half-million ebooks, and suddenly I don't feel so badly. But I would like those numbers to improve and if anyone has any ideas how to do this, feel free to email me.

---The book trailer is up to 89,000 views. To those of you who like to check out all the videos that go viral, this total probably sounds pitiful. Let me tell you, if you've never tried to get people to look at something you've posted on the internet, this is damned near impossible. Without a cat flushing toilet or brother spitting in little brother's mouth, IMPOSSIBLE I tell you. All the thanks go to Century Books.

In other news, it was announced in Publishers Weekly, a trade industry publication, that The TAKER is a "Big Book" for Book Expo America, the annual trade show for the US publishing industry. Yes, this is a big deal for those of you who are not familiar with the book biz (like I am), but mostly I hope this means someone will wander over for a copy of my ARC during my signing, which is scheduled for 11:00 on 24 May. I am afraid of sitting there pitifully alone with my pile of ARCs and bookmarks.

Popular paranormal site Bitten by Books has been hosting me the past couple days. Look here if you want to see the questions posed to be by wonderful readers and my attempts to be amusing in answering them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nearly A Week

The TAKER went on sale in the UK and India a week ago.  (Rest of the Commonwealth releases: Australia 1 July; New Zealand 3 June; South Africa 1 May.)

My overly romantic writer's heart says that, for me, my life should never be the same, but in truth I'm still trying to make it seem real. I have held copies in my hands and my editor sent this wonderful photo from Waterstone's:
There are other indications that the book is, indeed, being bought and sold and read in the UK. Several wonderful book bloggers have written reviews and interviews, such as the BookbagDaisy Chain Books, I Want to Read That, Falcata Times, Clover Hill Book Reviews, One More Page book reviews, Fiction Fool, From the Shadows and more. Cosmo UK made it a book of the week and gave it a review that's near and dear to my heart:

"It would be lazy to compare this half supernatural / half romance novel to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, but (OK, I admit it – I’m lazy) at least it gives you an idea of what you might let yourself in for. Actually, Alma Katsu’s debut novel is much more grown up than the angsty vamp driven naval gazing of Edward and Bella, as we follow the story of Laney, a woman who would do anything for love – even turning to evil in order to capture her beloved Jonathan’s heart forever. But after 200 years of immortality, Laney has /finally/ grown up and now must atone for her sins to save herself and old Johnny boy. More than a wee bit dark and super sexy, this will impress all Twi-hards who like their heroes to have graduated high school" --- Debbie McQuoi

I've been watching it rise and fall in various rankings like a mother watching the thermometer of a sick child. In the next blog post I'll round up how the week has gone by the numbers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day Before Pub Day

Tomorrow The TAKER goes on sale in the UK, and in English in other countries around the world (except for North America. Rights: they're complicated.) I thought you might be interested in knowing what it's like in the days leading up to publication. The answer is: busy. Even when your book is being published thousands of miles away.

The TAKER has gotten many fabulous reviews in the press (Marie Claire UK!) and from book bloggers Daisy Chain Books, Falcata Times, I Want to Read That; from readers on Goodreads, booksellers and librarians. We're also hearing from authors who have generously offered to provide a blurb for the book, including two (more) NYT bestselling authors. Jamie Ford, whose "Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is a fixture on bestseller lists, had incredibly good words for The TAKER, and if you haven't seen them yet, they're on the homepage of my website.

I apologize if the news seems all me, me, me. The press to make a book sell well right off the bat is considerable. My efforts are small compared to the hard work being done by my publisher, Century Books/Random House UK, my agent Peter Steinberg, and Nicki, Sam and Katherine, the rights agents at ILA and Gray Tan, who is the rights agent for China. Gearing up for September and the US is the crew at Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster. These are the people who are really responsible for any success The TAKER may enjoy.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reading a book for review vs. reading for pleasure

The first major review for The TAKER came out today. It didn’t say the book is bad, didn’t say it is good. I’m not here to quibble with what the reviewer wrote, but it did start me thinking about this next phase in my booklife, which is the reviewing process.

People in the business will easily guess which source I’m talking about but for everyone else: the review source is somewhat infamous in book publishing. It prints very short reviews that are assigned to freelancers and posted anonymously. People who have worked as freelancers for this source have spoken about how there is no specialization; it’s a bit of a crapshoot. You review whichever book the editor tosses your way. The reviews are designed for librarians and bookstore buyers who want a judgment on whether or not to order the book, and are generally the first reviews to come out.

So… decades ago I worked briefly as a music critic. I wrote columns for a couple smallish newspapers and magazines. Was I qualified to be a music critic? Probably not, though I had years of musical training. Most of my pieces were more topical, not critical, but every once in a while I did bon a fide reviews. Why was I given these gigs? Because I was willing to do the work, accepted the low pay, and had minimal qualifications. However, my pieces were not anonymous: each one carried my byline and I got a few letters that were critical of my opinions.

These intervening decades, I have worked as an analyst. Being an analyst is different from being a critic; an analyst is faced with a problem and figures out how to determine the answer. Typically it means really understanding the nature of the problem at hand. When I decided to get back into writing, I took an analytic approach to learning the craft of writing. All writers must learn to analyze books as they read them, to break down the craft and see how the author used craft to express their ideas. It’s part of the learning experience for writers. The first consideration should be whether the author was successful at what they tried to achieve. Did the story, the way it was told, successfully convey the author’s intent? That is the heart of it: a work must be judged on the author’s intent.

That is what seems to be lacking, I think, in this slapdash reviews. Just as a bad editor is one who must rewrite each piece to reflect how he would’ve written it and obliterate the original author’s unique style in the process, a bad reviewer judges a book against how he would’ve written it – if he had the wherewithal to conceive of such a story in the first place. What is the reviewer trying to say? Whether the book was good or bad? Good or bad is subjective; you need something more concrete and less slippery to aim for. In essence, such a review is nothing more than ‘I liked it/I didn’t like it’ and that’s not a critical review, that’s an opinion.

This review, and other reviews from the same source, remind me of the treatment one gets in a grad writing program critique class. The students quickly get to where they’re just looking to find something ‘wrong,’ something they didn’t like, something to criticize. It’s the opinion of someone who picks up the book with the mindset that they’re not going to enjoy it. They’re not going to try to go along with the author’s intent; if anything, they’re going to try to resist it. They’re going to try to wrestle it into what they’d prefer to read and this book isn’t it, dammit, so woe to this book.

Whereas readers pick up a book with the hope of liking it, the hope of being transported, not with the expectation of being disappointed. So it’s a bit wrong to use reviews like these to try to figure out what books readers might want to buy or check out of the library. In that respect, I prefer reading what book bloggers have to say. These are people who read for pleasure, who know what they like and are only looking for more of it. Luckily, one doesn’t have to go far to find a book blogger with tastes similar to one’s own.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fairy Tale Culture

Fairy tales seems to be undergoing a resurgence right now -- or maybe their popularity never waned. For many of us, fairy tales were the first stories we learned and are firmly imprinted in our memory, if not our psyche. Modern authors reinterpret popular fairy tales themes in ways that make us see these comfortingly familiar stories in new ways. In my novels, I try to weave in some qualities from fairy tales: that the magical is always with us whether we want it to be or not; that it can be dark as well as light; That a whole other world exist right beside us, if we can only find the special portal that will take us there.

Kate Bernheimer is an academic in this field and the force behind the popular literary magazine Fairy Tale Review, through which I've discovered many new writers. Kate is also the editor of "My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,"an anthology of modern interpretations of fairy tales. I loved this collection so much that I gave it away copies this past Christmas. If you loved fairy tales as a child, you will not want to miss reading this collection.

One of my favorite authors in touch with the fairy tale aesthetic is Keith Donohue. His first novel, "The Stolen Child," while indebted to the Yeats' poem, is an exploration of the secret life of fairies.  His second book, "Angels of Destruction," is a beautifully constructed look at how humans persist in magical thinking. His third book, "Centuries of June," which sounds stunning, comes out on May 31st.