Sunday, August 28, 2011

Calm Before the Storm

Business first: My first appearance for The TAKER will be at the Decatur (Georgia) Book Festival on 4 September at 3:45 with Tananarive Due (awesome). For more information, click here.

Business second: The other awesome thing to happen is that I was included in this article at on what writers read this summer. I cannot believe that I appeared in this article and since it will never happen again, I am going to shamelessly point it out to people now.

Okay, here's the blog post: It's about a week to go to publication day. Is this what it feels like a week before the baby is due? I feel simultaneously impatient for the big adventure to begin and worried that I haven't prepared enough. I see/hear what other debut authors are doing and fret that I'm missing something.

I'm very lucky in that my publisher is giving The TAKER a lot of promotional and marketing support. Nonetheless, there are things the author must do for herself, and I thought that since some of the folks who read this blog are writers themselves, it might be interesting for me to list some of the little surprises I've encountered recently. Besides, I need to keep occupied.

1.  Factor in some time in the weeks before publication to respond to Q&A requests from bloggers and others. You'll want to be able to come up with fresh responses and not be tempted to steal from something you've already written for someone else because you're pressed for time.

2.  Buy some nice thank you cards. Send a handwritten card to everyone who has invited you to speak on a panel or at a conference, and to all the bookstore owners.

3.  For debut authors: think about giving away a store gift card to someone in the audience at your independent bookstore appearances. This makes it a win-win for everyone: it's a thank you for the bookstore for hosting the event (debut authors are often a hard sell), and to the audience for taking the time to come out and see you. You can get raffle tickets at party supply shops. (I didn't come up with this one; I think I found in on the SIBA or NEIBA site.)

4.  Get over your squeamishness and take pictures at your events. They don't have to be of you; you can take pictures of your audience and fellow presenters. But take pictures to commemorate the event: you'll never have the opportunity again.

What about you? What's your advice for authors who are expecting (a book)?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Do You Read for Discovery or Comfort?

Now that a number of readers have posted reviews on The Taker, I've noticed something--let's call it a trend--that I thought I'd throw out for your reactions. And please bear with my tendency to analyze everything. That's what happens when you've been an analyst as long as I had been. I can't help myself; I will try to make sense of any accumulation of facts (data) the same as a border collie will try to herd any sheep that cross his path.

I'm starting to think there are two kinds of readers: those who like a book to follow a well-worn path, and those who want to be taken somewhere new.

The first group could be called Comfort Readers. Like people who prefer comfort foods, they like to go back to the familiar. It reminds them of things they loved once and they want to relive that experience, only perhaps with a few changes in the story, as long as the familiar elements are there.

The latter group I think of as readers who like to have a new experience when they pick up a book. (I've called them Discovery Readers, but that's a completely dissatisfying term, I think you'll agree.) They want a book to tell them a story they haven't heard before, to amaze and surprise them. They will read, but ultimately be disappointed with a story that is too redolent of other books they've read.

(Now I've come to the part of my theory that's going to piss some people off. You might want to stop reading right here.)

I think people who read genre tend to be comfort readers. Genres tend to have their own conventions and readers don't seem to like it when writers stray outside those conventions. They read within the genre because there are certain things they want to see in books and they expect to see in their books.
Whereas Discovery Readers probably tend to read outside of genres, because their preferences and expectations are different.

It reminds me a bit of modern movies. I don't go to the movies much because to me, they're all the same, just the names of the main characters changed but the character arcs remain identical. Other people love to find that same familiarity carried over from movie to movie; they find it reaffirming to see justice triumph over evil, they take comfort in knowing the good character will win and the evil character will fail (because, let's face it, this rarely happens in real life.)

It's not to say one is better than the other; it's just a matter of taste. And I'm not saying ALL genre readers are Comfort Readers; it's probably more of a sliding scale, where at one end there are people who like to see the rules bent or even broken, and on the other end, people who would just as soon see those same authors killed.

Having gotten a little roughed up recently in some reviews, I would like to warn readers up front that The Taker is not a genre novel. I don't want readers to be disappointed or, worse, hostile. I feel that if you like books like Interview With the Vampire or The Historian, you will find similar elements to like in The Taker. However, if you ONLY like vampire novels, for instance, then you may not like The Taker because it's not that type of book.

To put it another way, let's go back to the food analogy. You could call me a Comfort Eater. Not that I eat for comfort, but I tend to eat foods I already enjoy. I'm not an adventurous eater. Why waste mealtime on something I might not like, is the way I look at it. But a long time ago, when I was at my most timid as a eater, I went with friends to an Indian restaurant and discovered that I loved Indian food. It's now among my favorite things to eat. It just goes to show that sometimes it can pay to go outside your comfort zone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You Tell Me: Best Book Promotions

We live in the Freeium era, as documented by Chris Anderson in his book Free. I'm all for giving something in the hopes of gaining a new reader, a new convert, a new fan, and engaging my readership in general, but the practice poses some challenges for writers. Such ask knowing what--out of the sea of options available today--works best.

With The Taker set to launch in less than three weeks, I've been thinking about how to promote the book. Gallery, the publishers, have this well covered. For instance, folks who purchases ecopies will get a bonus: a chapter from The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy. They've designed widgets and all kinds of neat online stuff to attract and entertain readers.

What I'm talking about here are things to supplement their efforts, and I could use is your help in understanding which bonuses and swag and enticements readers prefer:

1. Electronic content: Lots of options here. In addition to putting a "teaser" chapter from The Reckoning online (though probably down the road) we're thinking of putting up short stories that provide some insight into key characters' backstory, or little spin-off tales. What are your favorite ways authors have used the online space to extend your experience/enjoyment of a book?

2. Swag: I love swag, but am well aware that one man's treasure is another man's dross. Do you like to receive a tchotchke when you attend a reading or visit an author at a convention? If so, which are the items you keep and which are the ones you toss?

3. Bookplates: It seems the practice of providing signed bookplates is well entrenched at this point--and for the record, I have bookplates available for anyone who'd like their book signed but can't make it to a reading. What's your feeling on bookplates? Have you requested one from an author or is the whole idea bit meh to you? Is there some other signed memento you'd prefer?

4. VIP clubs: Increasingly, authors are setting up opportunities for fans to get exclusive privileges: opportunities to meet with the author when they come to their area or holding private "members only" events at conventions; exclusive econtent or even printed novellas, etc; special merchandise not available to the general public. How do you feel about these? Have you joined one or would you consider joining one, and if so, what kinds of exclusive enticements would interest you?

I look forward to reading your answers in the Comments section, and I'll summarize in a future blog post if I receive a lot of responses. Thank you in advance for your help!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why You Should Go to a Writer's Conference

I was at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers' fiction conference earlier this week, reading in the alumni series. I attended Squaw as a student in 2003 and count it as one of the best experiences of my writing career. Are you a writer? Have you been to a writer's conference, one where they teach craft? If not, put it on your short list of things you must do. Attending conferences is an essential part of the writing life for a number of reasons:

1. IMPROVE YOUR WRITING: This is particularly true of a conference where you'll be workshopping a piece you've written. In workshop, you'll get new readers to cast their eyes over your work, and you'll get feedback from the workshop leader, who should be a writing professional. A plug for Squaw: attendees are divided into workshop groups and the instructors--editors, agents, published writers--rotate through the groups, so you get the views and insights from a number of professionals.

2. MEET FELLOW WRITERS: Writing has its own peculiar stresses, and chances are there's not another writer in your immediate circle of family or friends to talk to when you've had a bad writing day or need to compare experiences. There are online groups or plain old Facebook, but there's nothing like the connection you make meeting people face-to-face, at dinner or at the bar. Yes, this can be stressful for introverts (I'm one, too) but folks are usually super easy to talk to at these events: heck, that's why we're all there.

3. NETWORK: This is your opportunity to meet editors, agents, and both established and debut authors. More and more, it's critical that a writer have a network of other writers who will help get the word out about each other's new releases, contests, awards, blog posts. When you book an appearance in an unfamiliar city, it's great to have a writer who lives in the area (in addition to every family member or friend) who can advise on local networks of readers, press, even to help find a hotel.

4. CHANGE OF SCENERY: Creative people need to be exposed to new things to inject fresh life into their work. It's amazing what a trip to a new location can do for your writing. Another plug for Squaw: they may have the best location in the world at Lake Tahoe. You're surrounded by mountains. The weather is crisp and dry, the sunlight sharp. You can hang out until late in the evening or go back to your group house to write in companionable silence.

Photo: The awesome alumni readers at Squaw Valley this year: (L-R) Sara J. Henry (LEARNING TO SWIM), Alia Yunis (THE NIGHT COUNTER), Michael David Lukas (THE ORACLE OF STAMBOUL), me, Jessica O'Dwyer (MAMALITA)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

WIN TWO copies of The TAKER

I'm celebrating the US release of The TAKER by giving away two copies to one winner: the UK edition, with its black edges and gorgeous artwork NOW, and the gold-spanged US edition when it comes out in September. To enter, sign up on the mailing list here.

Here's what people have said about The TAKER:

"Alma Katsu's debut takes the reader on a spell-binding journey through time. This sensual tale of star-crossed love, betrayal and redemption is a rare and addictive treat. Pleasurable from page one."
     --Danielle Trussoni, NYT bestselling author of "Angelology"

"Alchemy and love prove a volatile mix in Katsu's vividly imagined first novel...The result is a novel full of surprises and a powerful evocation of the dark side of romantic love."
     ---Publishers Weekly

"Enchanting and enthralling! No question--I was taken!"
     ---MJ Rose, internationally bestselling author, "The Hypnotist"

"An imaginative, wholly original debut...readers won't be able to tear their eyes away from Katsu's mesmerizing tale."
     ---Booklist, starred review

Friday, August 5, 2011

You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

There it is: the actual bound copies of The Taker. My publisher sent two early copies so I can bring them with me to the Squaw Valley Conference of Writers next week (one is my agent's copy.) I imagine that holding your book in your hands for the first time is something like holding your newborn. Even though I'm holding it, I can't quite believe it's really here. The copies are sitting on the far end of the table as I type. I keep stealing glances at them. At least I've stopped picking one up every five minutes. They're a blue-green color that I'm partial to, with gold swirls. The title is embossed. The endpapers were originally going to be maps, but they didn't turn out as hoped, so the publisher substituted textured gold papers. The entire package makes the book seem magical and mysterious and slightly dangerous, which is fitting for the story.

The box of author's copies will probably follow in a week or so, which means the book may appear in bookstores around the same time. There's no embargo on it, and these days bookstores seem to stock books as soon as they arrive. I've seen friends' books on shelves three weeks before the official pub date. Ebooks and audiobook downloads generally aren't available until the official pub date, I believe. And my experience with big retailers is that if you ordered online, they don't ship until the official pub date. My apologies to those of you who were kind enough to pre-order but chances are your copies won't arrive until after the 6th.

As mentioned, I'll be at Lake Tahoe early next week for the Squaw Valley writers conference. I was a student there in 2003, and so I've been invited to participate in the alumni reading series. My agent will be there as a faculty member, as is one of his other authors, and I'll get to join up with some authors I've met online who are also alums. If you're a writer looking for a great conference experience, you should apply next year to Squaw Valley. It's a rigorous conference: workshops all day, talks and readings and presentations in the evening. Fun too,  and the amazing scenery. I'll post pictures here and on Twitter.