Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Does 2012 Mean To You?

 Oh, 2012 has been a bad year. I’m not sorry to see it go. Maybe I’m not being fair—a lot of new things happened to me in 2012, lots of great book business, got to meet lots of wonderful people. I also went back to having a day job at a great place getting to continue working in my chosen field, and that’s a blessing. But it was all overshadowed at the end with a really bad thing that happened that I can’t talk about publicly (sorry, legal issues and all) so if I’ve seemed on Twitter or Facebook that I’ve been in a melancholy mood, that’s why. Sh*t happens and we deal with it and, hopefully, move on.

I wanted to do a timeline of the highlights of 2012 using a nifty tool but time constraints force me to improvise: memory, my 2012 datebook and a Word document. I encourage you (challenge you?) to do the same thing and give 2012 a good summing up before sending it into the history books. Hey, we survived the Mayan apocalypse, so it couldn’t be all bad.
  • I did 29 book events in 2012, starting with meeting a DC book club in someone’s living room on January 10th up to appearing at Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC on December 3rd. Looking back over all those events, I have to say each one was special so even if I don’t call them out by name here, thanks to all the organizers for having me (Southern Kentucky, where I got to hang out with JT Ellison, Will Lavender, and Silas House! Hampton Roads, where I got to meet so many fine writers and catch up with Rick Mofina!)
  • I did my first RT Booklovers Convention in 2012! I liked it so much I’ll be back in 2013 (and you can join me. Read all about it here.) I also presented at Thrillerfest, after attending the International Thriller Writer’s annual conference many times as an unpublished writer. It was quite a, er, thrill.
  • I also attended my first RWA annual conference. As Kristina McMorris promised me, it was really quite an experience! Thanks to Rebecca Coleman for presenting with me, and to my publisher Gallery for providing copies of The Taker in all the goody bags!!
  • In February, I went to Milan for the launch of The Taker in Italy! That was an experience never to be duplicated. Three days of interviews with the Italian press, photographers, TV, radio, wow. A dream come true. Thank you, Longanesi, my Italian publishers.
  • In April, I signed at Nora RobertsTurn The Page bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland and I got a glimpse at what it was like to be a really big-name author as Nora was publishing her 200th book. Thanks to Nora and everyone at TTP for letting me be a part of that amazing time. And I met the amazing Alethea Kontis here—bonus—and Leigh Duncan, who might be one of the nicest people I’ve met yet in publishing.
  • My second book, The Reckoning, was published on June 19th. It would go on to be nominated for the Reviewer’s Choice award at RT Book Reviews for best paranormal romance and was a semifinalist at Goodreads for best paranormal fantasy in 2012.
  • In November I got to attend my first private writer’s retreat and hang out with a dozen wonderful women who happen to be amazing writers. I think part of the deal is that we’re not supposed to name everyone who was there, but I think I can say thanks to Melissa Marr for bringing me into this secret society and for introducing me to the amazing Holly Black. If you follow me on Twitter, you already know that I have declared that I have a girl crush on her.

I couldn’t do anything of this without the help of good friends, writers like Rebecca, Allison Leotta, Ellen Crosby and all the DC area writers (we are a supportive group); Washington Romance Writers, MWA Mid-Atlantic chapter, Sisters in Crime Chesapeake chapter, the Historical Novel Society DC area chapter and all the local writing groups; and of course thanks to Eileen, Terry, Katie, Lelia and everyone at One More Page bookstore in Arlington, Virginia who are a blessing not only to me but to every writer in Northern Virginia.

I guess I have more to be happy and thankful for than I remembered! Enough about me: what about you? What happened to you in 2012? What will you never forget, what do you hope to never remember? Before time swallows all these memories, what would you like to declare to the universe?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Horrible Truth About Book Tours

One of the things about being an intelligence analyst is that you get sort of hard-wired to tell the truth, which I’m finding out (now that I’m living more in the real world) is a huge disadvantage. Because most people lie. They lie big, they tell white lies, they fudge, they embellish, they lie a little around the edges but the bottom line is, very few people will tell you the absolute truth. Especially in the book business.

You may have noticed that I have the tendency to tell the truth. It’s not a good practice in the book business, I warn you. You’re bound to hurt someone’s feelings or put your publisher’s nose out of joint. But—since I can’t help myself—I’m back with another installment of truth, this time having to do with book tours. There are some new things happening in regard to book tours. Interesting virtual book event tools are popping up because—in case you haven’t heard this yet—live book events are dying.

I don’t mean to hurt my bookseller friends but they already know this is happening. Whether it’s because people are too busy, have too many options in their lives, or because traffic sucks and people are tired of fighting traffic, it’s really hard to get a decent turnout at a book event unless you’re Stephen King or the latest overhyped media star.

That’s not to say an in-store event never works. Some stores put a huge effort into their live events (though, even so, it’s very hard to get people to turn out for an unknown author). Authors are pressed to ruthlessly work their networks to get family, friends and coworkers to support them. But after the first one or two events, it’s hard to get even the stalwarts out to see you for the third or fourth time.

For authors, book tours aren’t about making a profit by selling books at an event. Oh, maybe that was the case for a big-name author where you could count on selling at least a hundred copies. For the average author—especially the debut author—the in-store event was about name recognition. It was about getting your name out there. There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year, and clerks in bookstores as well as the reading public only learn about a handful of them. So getting to speak at a store meant the owners and employees were a little more likely to recognize your name. Your name might show up in newspaper event calendars. It might be on a poster in the store, seen by people who had no intention of coming back for the event itself. Suffering through a poorly attended event was worth it, if only for the exposure.

Some bookstores hate putting on a poorly attended event, of course. A poorly attended event looks bad, it costs them money because effort = time = money.  I don’t blame them, I completely see it from their point of view and god bless the stores who continue to do it anyway. Other stores continue to want authors to come in because with an event there’s still the possibility of bringing in more customers, or new ones.

But increasingly, book stores are not interested in in-store events—unless it’s for a ginormously famous author, or offers something new, a twist (I’ll get to that—how to hold a different kind of event—in a future post).

Some people are trying to look for alternatives to the tradition book tour, events that will help get your name and new book’s title in front of people who haven’t heard of you yet.

There are blog tours, but they’re really a different kettle of fish, something like half-review, half-live event (and, if they interview you, half-Q&A, but that makes three halves.) No, here I’m talking alternatives to the live reading with Q&A period.

One of these new platforms is Shindig. It’s kind of a live event, only done with your web camera over the Internet. Think of an auditorium where you can see the speaker at the podium, and the speaker can see the heads of the people in the audience (if they choose to enable their webcam).  It’s being used for all kinds of events, not just book-related ones.

Author Guild has just launched BookTalkNation. It’s a live event hosted in a store in which an author is interviewed—usually by another author—and viewers can watch from the comfort of their own home, with the option to phone in questions if they wish. It just launched, with events running through early December. You can check it out here.

Of course, you can arrange your own interview, tape it, and put it up on YouTube, and send the link to your fans (via your mailing list, or on your Facebook page, via Twitter, etc.) The trick here is getting it seen outside the circle of people who already follow you.

Okay, I’m going to leave you with a couple links on this subject:

Some tips from uber-publicist Lauren Cerand on making an event less sucky.

Shane James give the low-down on what it’s like to be on book tour when you’re not a famous author.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Adult?

Have you heard about this new category in fiction called “New Adult”? Apparently it’s not exactly new: St. Martin’s tried to create it in 2009 through a contest, but from what I’ve read it never launched a specific line. There’s been discussion and interest even since, though. The books are supposed to be aimed at a slightly older audience than for YA (the broadest range I’ve seen is 14-35) and show the main character making the transition from child to adult, usually with an emphasis on relationships. Some other articles, should you wish to explore this phenomenon a bit more, are here. To give you an idea of what we're talking about Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster is often touted as New Adult, as is Slammed by Colleen Hoover.

It came to my attention recently when I saw fans in various forums saying The Taker was New Adult. At the time I was confused because I considered my books to be adult, end of discussion. Since then, a few things have happened to make me reconsider my position. First, I was at a book festival earlier this year that had a separate teen day and the festival bookseller told me that The Taker sold well with the YA audience. Secondly, friends have told me that they’ve seen the book shelved in the YA section in bookshelves. And thirdly, the book is being marketed to YA audiences in Brazil and is doing well. All this is making me wonder if I should reconsider, if there’s an audience out there that I’m not reaching. Though to be clear, I don’t think my books are suitable for younger teens.

On the other hand, I’m not sure this New Adult genre is a perfect fit for my books. And it isn’t without controversy: some folks point out that a lot of the books that fall into this category seem to glamorize abusive relationships. I should stress here that I haven’t read any of these books and am just going on hearsay, but from what I’m told they’re often about young women who get involved with a man with great force of will (the kind of personality some people might call “controlling”).  I also want to point out what I think is a key point difference between these books and The Taker: the controlling behavior leads to tragic consequences in The Taker. The main character suffers for the bad choices she makes. Her punishment is to wander the earth for 200 years without Jonathan, and then to completely relinquish any hope of reuniting with him by releasing him from this mortal coil.

Another, perhaps less important reason that I question the fit is because it seems New Adult is almost exclusively contemporary. No fantasies or historicals. Or am I wrong?

What do you think? Do you think The Taker and The Reckoning are appropriate for YA audiences? Would you consider it New Adult?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Goodreads Semifinalist!

I'm having a Sally Fields moment. Funny how you tell yourself that these silly awards don't mean anything . . . they're just popularity contests . . . until you're nominated for one, and then you realize with a little pang in your heart that you really would like to win.

The Reckoning has been nominated for a Goodreads Readers Choice award in the Paranormal Fantasy category, which has come as a tremendous surprise to me. I mean, look at the other nominees. Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Deborah Harkness, to name a few. This really is one of those instances where you're flattered just to be nominated. (And interestingly, this is the second "best paranormal fantasy" nomination for the book, which is also a finalist in Reviewer's Choice over at RT Magazine.)

So--even though we're definitely the dark horse--if you would like to defy convention and vote for my little book, I would be ever so grateful. You can do so here. Voting in this round runs through November 18th.

And to make this a bit more interesting, if The Reckoning makes it to the Final Round, I'll put up a new Taker short story on the website as a thank you to readers. Deal?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Promotion basics: Building A Mailing List

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the importance for authors of building a mailing list. Yes, even in the age of social media you need a mailing list because with social media, you have no guarantee that all your Twitter followers or Facebook friends will see your messages. That’s determined by an algorithm (in the case of Facebook) and vagrancies of the platform (Twitter).  There’s no guarantee that everyone who receives your newsletter will open it either, but you’ll probably see higher positive returns.

Building a mailing list seems to make some people nervous, perhaps because it’s about accumulating numbers, a lot like acquiring Facebook friends or Twitter followers. All I can say is that it helps to have a zen-like attitude about it. Expect it to be slow and steady. You may have the occasional windfall but expect to build a mailing list the way you build your reading your audience: one person at a time.

Of course, there is a shortcut to building a mailing list: namely, you can buy mailing lists from commercial companies. I don’t know any author who has done this (or would fess up to doing this) but the consensus seems to be that it’s not worth the cost, since most people on a bought list would probably have no interest in your books and would just unsubscribe immediately.

So, what other ways are there to build your list?

In my experience, contests seem to work best.  For a while, it seemed really popular to give the hot gadget of the day, whether it was the latest Kindle or even an iPad. That fad seems to have waned, perhaps because it is hard to get enough entries to make it worth your while. I gave away a NOOK tablet in conjunction with the release of my second book, THE RECKONING, and it did well for me but primarily because a couple Facebook-based reading groups ran posts on the contests and sent over a lot of entries.

Whether the prize is big or small, don’t forget to state in the rules and wherever you advertise it that by entering the drawing, entrants are giving permission to be put on your mailing list.

Some book websites and conferences offer promotions to help build your mailing list. You can run a contest on Fresh Fiction, for example, and you’ll get email addresses of everyone who entered. I recently ran my first contest on Fresh Fiction and found it worth the money, but bear in mind that my type of book was probably a good fit for this site’s audience.

Use every opportunity to add names to your mailing list. Doing a talk at the library? Put out a sign-up sheet. Presenting at a bookstore? Have a drawing for a small prize—a store gift card, or an item bought from the store—and ask participants to write their email address on the entry slip (and don’t forget to tell them that by entering, they consent to be added to the mailing list. Give them the chance to opt out.)

Have a sign-up form featured prominently on your website. I have them on multiple pages. (See an example here.)

Consider asking author friends to mention your website and mailing list in their newsletters. And, of course, you’ll do the same for them in return.

Mention your mailing list on your promotional materials (bookmarks, postcards, even your business cards.)

Next: now that you’ve got a mailing list, we’ll talk about what to send out.

You may be interested in: Mailing List Basics

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Life Abroad: The Taker in Hungary

HALHATATLAN (The Taker) published in Hungary yesterday. I was thrilled to make the sale in Hungary but a little nervous, too, as there's a section that's set in medieval Hungary and when you don't speak the language, it's awfully easy to make a mistake with the history. I'm a bit of a fanboy for Hungary, having spent a little time there. I love the people, the culture, the architecture, the art, the music, the melancholy, the black humor, the romanticism. In honor of pub day, here's the English-language version of the interview I did with Hungarian newspaper Metropol:

The Taker is a story about unrequited love written in dark tone with a woeful mood. Why did you find the idea interesting to write it? Nowadays it seems that readers are much more into shiny happy endings.

I can’t say that I consciously avoided a happy ending, which does seem to be expected these days. I wrote the story that came to me: the tale of a woman who lets herself be morally corrupted as she tries to hold on to the man she loves, and is punished for it. Some readers have compared the heroine to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, too (not that I’m comparing my book to any of those classics!) Perhaps because I’m older than most debut novelists, I feel comfortable writing a book that’s more in line with those tragic stories. Readers tell me that one of the things they like the most about The Taker is that isn’t not like every other book that’s out there.

These days love and romance tend to disappear from these kind of fantasy/paranormal/urban books while erotic or pornographic content is settling in. What is your opinion about it? Has it got any ruining effect on the quality of the books?

There certainly are a lot of paranormal romances published these days. In the US at least, these books are part of the romance genre and many are geared toward readers who like more explicit content. That’s the interesting thing about book publishing: there are books to serve every taste, if the reader is diligent about tracking them down. It goes back to what we were talking about, above: you find the majority of books being published right now fit into the mold of whatever’s popular—like happy endings no matter how plausible—and these are good for the reader who is looking for a comfortable, familiar read. But this kind of story doesn’t have a profound impact on readers. If you’re looking for something different, that will really sweep you away, you have to dare to go beyond the familiar. Hopefully, readers who are looking for something different will give The Taker a try.

The story takes place in the 19th century Puritan era in the US and today’s world. What do you think it is like to live here and now and to live back then? Did love mean a different thing 200 years ago?

I think that in the past, love didn’t hold the same central place in the scheme of things as it does now, at least in societies with which I’m familiar. Individualism was not as important as finding a place for oneself in society because survival was harder outside of a family. These days, the most important thing for many people seems to be self-fulfillment—personal happiness—and love is a big part of that.

That being said, I think through the ages, people have always wanted to have someone special in their lives: to be in love, and to have the satisfaction of being loved. This need will never go away, but the ways open to us to meet that need have changed through time. In The Taker, Lanore dares to want to marry the man she loves even though society tells her this will never happen. Her love is strong enough to overcome all obstacles—except that in going to this extreme, she defies nature, and you can never win against nature. She is punished for defying nature by losing her love and her humanity. She’s no longer like other men and women, and is left wondering what she has become, if she’s a monster like Adair.   

The novel noticeably avoids vampires and any other supernatural creatures (e.g.: werewolves etc.) with the concept of alchemy resulting a more mature atmosphere. Is this on purpose?

Yes! I think readers are so familiar with vampires and werewolves that they don’t pay attention to the story and are distracted as they look for characters to fall into stock roles. Which boy is going to be the vampire? Does he act like a “real” vampire? There’s no room to tell a story that’s different or new. In The Taker, I want readers to be surprised and to lose themselves in the story, which you can’t do if you already know what to expect and how it’s likely to end.

Who were your role models for Adair and where did the concept of immortality come from?

I didn’t have any conscious role models for Adair, but I suppose there’s a little of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights—and a lot of Mephistopheles—in him. Truly, he is the Alpha male of a thousand stories, the headstrong and domineering man who can only be tamed through love. He is the Beast from Beauty and the Beast.

I felt the characters had to become immortal to heighten the sense of what was at stake. Lanore knows that she’s making a “deal with the devil” to get what she wants, and like most people who make such bargains, she thinks it won’t be so bad or that she’ll be able to get out of it. It’s not until she realizes that her situation is every bit as bad as she feared and that it’s for all of eternity—not even death will free her—that she understands that she is in a terrible mess. The other reason is that immortality is believable to most people because, to us, our lives seem like eternity. We can read about what came before us and we can imagine that it will go on after we’re gone, but while we’re alive it seems like all there is. I imagine that doesn’t change until we’re at the moment of death and we truly realize that life will go on without us.

Into what directions will you take the sequel? We can imagine how the story continues in the second book, and we already know that there is a third book coming next year. What can we expect in that?

In The Taker, we see that Lanore is a woman who sacrifices everything to be wholly and completely loved. Her dilemma is that the man who will give her a love this great and transcendent is not Jonathan, the man she desires, but Adair, a horrible monster. Is it possible to love such a man? What kind of woman falls in love with a monster? Is the power of love strong enough to rehabilitate someone as bad as Adair? The Taker Trilogy is truly an exploration of love, of its glories and depths.

How many books do you plan?

I don’t plan to continue the series past the third book, The Descent, but who knows? I may miss the characters and want to come back to them someday—if readers are still interested. I’m working on a book that’s a spin-off: it has none of the same characters but builds on a little story that comes up in the second book, The Reckoning. It, too, has magic and love, alchemy and immortality, and could become it’s own series.

Do you plan to explore or unfold the in-between years of the main characters? For example the early 20th century or the Victorian era must be interesting.

The Reckoning and The Descent explore some of the other periods in the characters’ lives. We follow Lanore as she runs guns in Afghanistan during The Great Game, and find her and Jonathan being drawn into Lord Byron’s circle in Italy. We get to find out more about Adair’s complex, twisted story, and of his origins. And that’s just in The Reckoning—there are some truly mind-bending things planned for The Descent.

We know from your biography that you worked for the CIA and the NSA before you start writing novels. Do you think these places have had any effect on your work? Like collecting data and researching for the storyline?

I didn’t think that my work in intelligence had any effect on my stories. After all, they’re all about magic and love, and half the time are made purely of imagination. But an editor pointed out that all the characters are manipulative and deceptive, that no one is quite what they seem and she wondered if that had something to do with my former line of work. After thinking about it, I had to say she was right! I’ve spent three decades in a culture of secrecy, with true masters of deception, and I guess it’s seeped into my writing and in my plots.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Resources for Writers: Great Podcasts

Looking for inspiration? Need something awesome on your ipod for the next session at the gym? I love to load up on great writing podcasts to listen to on the treadmill, the commuter bus and on car trips. Here are some of my favorites:

She did a series of podcasts on her writing philosophies, and how she writes about everything from sex scenes to ghosts to historical content. If you listen to all of them, her voice will be tattooed into your brain.

I just found out about these: scifi, fantasy and horror writers and artists Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells talk about the craft of writing, not always from a genre perspective. I cannot wait to dive in.

Rather zany but smart podcast of mostly British bookish types. Usually 3 or 4 speakers at a time discussing topics like piracy, the ebook revolution, and other interesting topics of the day.

Listen to host Cindy Wolfe Boynton as she talks to authors from New England, who write about New England or are passing through New England in this weekly podcast.

Mostly reviews of new releases but the two hosts, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, also have interesting theme episodes and explore the literary zeitgeist. The hosts are sales reps for Random House, which gives them an interesting insider’s view into the publishing business.

Jeff Rutherford’s Reading and Writing Podcast:
Jeff’s podcasts also feature one author, ranging from Jeff Deaver and Lee Child to debut authors such as myself.

I met Dana at the Decatur Book Festival last year, standing between Holly LeCraw and Tom Perrotta. A dazzling way to meet someone, let me tell you. I was even more dazzled (and amazed) when she asked me to be a guest on her podcast. Mostly big name authors, like Sue Grafton and Eloisa James, but you’ll also find some great unknowns.