Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Glamorous Life of a Novelist: Southern Kentucky Book Festival


 This past week I was back on the road—literally—for the Southern Kentucky Bookfest. I’d been asked to attend this book festival a long time ago, before my first book even went on sale. I met the organize at the Decatur Book Festival last year and after meeting her, felt pretty confident that it would be a good festival for my kind of novel, so I put it on my calendar.

Somewhere along the line I thought it would be a good idea to drive to the event. That way I could stop at bookstores along the way, sign stock and meet booksellers, a time-honored way for a debut novelist to increase her name recognition.

It wasn’t until I got back from RT Con in Chicago, exhausted and with the beginnings of a cold, that I took a good look at the map and realized I had a LONG trip in front of me. Now, I grew up on road trips and I am used to driving up to New England by myself so it wasn’t as though I didn’t know what I was getting into. But the whole point of going to book festivals is to be bright and cheerful and to make sense when you meet all these strangers to tell them about your novel. Which didn’t seem likely if I drove for twelve hours straight with a raging head cold or sinus infection.

I checked Orbitz and found that the only flights to Nashville—from which I’d catch a shuttle to the festival’s location, Bowling Green, Kentucky—were upwards of a thousand dollars and would require two changes of plane, taking nearly the same amount of time as it would to drive. News flash #1: authors usually pay for their own expenses to attend these things, certainly newbie authors. Sometimes your publisher will foot some of the bill if you clear these things in advance. My publisher did when my book debuted back in September 2011, but touring for the release of the trade paperback was entirely my idea—hence, paying for it is up to me.

So I drove. Loaded up my MINI Cooper with snacks for the road, the audiobook of Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER, a box of Kleenex, and off I went. It was a beautiful drive, mostly through thinly populated areas of southern Virginia, West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. I wish I’d been able to take pictures of the fog weaving through the mountain passes of the Allegheny. Somewhere in West Virginia I stocked up on Zicam and throat lozenges. I pulled in to Bowling Green that evening and feel asleep after a dinner of butternut squash soup so sweet it could’ve been dessert.

I am happy to report that I felt better in the morning. My panel with Nancy Jensen (The Sisters) and Jaden Terrell (Racing the Devil) was terrific. SOKY book festival is a little different from others I’ve attended in that they have you sit at a table for the duration of the event so that people can talk to you and get a signed copy of your book(s), which they then take to cash registers at the back of the hall. This gives you an opportunity to meet lots of other authors, particularly those sitting nearby. I was delighted to be seated next to Kentucky author Silas House, who has made the NYT bestsellers list with Clay’s Quilt and other books. He was about as nice as could be—when he was at the table. He was always being pulled off in a dozen directions by his fans and the conference organizers.

I was excited to see, across the aisle, Deanna Raybourn (and really, how gorgeous is this website?), who writes historicals. I’d heard her speak at the 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book and was happy for the chance to meet her. Sitting next to her was Will Lavender, thriller writer, whose books have gotten rave reviews. It was a little funny to finally meet him—and then to get to stare at him for five hours.
 JT and Will in a candid moment
To my left was Molly Shapiro, who writers contemporary women’s fiction. She was super nice and also very busy. To her left was JT Ellison, author of mysteries/thrillers, whom I’d seen previously at the International Thriller Writers’ annual convention. It was great to finally have a chance to chat with her.

The next morning, feeling even better—nearly normal—I optimistically thought I’d stick to the plan and head north, dropping by a few Barnes & Noble stores in Kentucky, Ohio and maybe even Pennsylvania on my way home. It started out on a bad note—the store in Lexington had no copies of my book to sign—but got much better in Cincinnati, where the store I chose not only had both hardcover and trade paperbacks of the Taker, but the staff were very kind. One clerk even gave me his name to use in a future book: Ryan Dubois. I warned him that characters didn’t fare too well in my books, but he was undeterred.

The rest of the trip fell prey to the weather however. By the time I was closing in on Pennsylvania, it started to rain. Driving through the mountain passes in West Virginia and the Maryland panhandle was going to be challenging enough, I knew, that I didn’t need to throw in darkness as well. As it was, the weather added an extra two hours to the trip and I didn’t roll into the garage before 9:30 PM, completely exhausted and a little surprised to have made it in one piece.

Luckily, my health is improving, which it better, because on Friday, I’m back on the road. I’ll be driving to Boonsboro, Maryland for a mass signing with Nora Roberts at her family’s bookstore, Turn the Page Books. Then Saturday and Sunday I’ll be at the mystery convention in Bethesda, Maryland, Malice Domestic. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you at either event.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Five Simple Things You Can Do To Help Your Favorite Author


All my suggestions have to do with one thing: spreading the word about a great book or writer. Now more than ever, the average person is disconnected from any news about books. Even someone who deals with books ever day—librarians, booksellers—don’t hear about every book that gets published.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in the nine months since publication of my debut novel is that the mainstream book media tends to feature the books that the publishers have put the most money behind. This excludes all but one or two debut novels a year—debut novels don’t get the half-million dollar advertising budgets it takes to attract the press. But once a book fails to meet the publishers’ expectations, the downward spiral begins: fewer of the author’s next books are printed, the author gets less marketing and promotion…until the contract runs out and the author is dropped.

So, if it drives you crazy that your favorite author is still a virtual unknown while the latest flavor-of-the-month book is trending on Amazon, the power is in your hands to change this. Word of mouth is still the one thing that can spur sales. Your author can’t do it alone—she needs your help. It doesn’t take money. It just takes a few extra minutes of your time. Think of it as an investment in your future reading pleasure.

1.    1.   Tell a librarian or local bookseller. With several hundred thousands book published every year, librarians and booksellers can’t read every single one. At best, they’ve seen a sentence or two about your favorite book in a catalog or magazine or maybe seen the ARC lying around in the breakroom. By sharing your enthusiasm with that librarian or bookseller, the name of your favorite book will jump to the front of a very long line of possible recommendations.  

2.     2.  Post a review on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble. Many people check out the reviews on these sites even if they don’t order online. Readers are looking for a smart, spoiler-free review that gives a fuller sense of the story than the jacket copy. Authors need their followers to do this for them—we can’t post reviews about our own books—and we will be forever grateful to you.

3.     3.  Do you subscribe to an author’s enewsletter? Forward it on to five friends who love to read.

4.     4.  Do you follow your favorite author on Facebook? Consider “sharing” posts on your wall, especially when a new book goes on sale or when the author is coming to your town to do a reading. By sharing your author’s posts on your wall, you extend the author’s reach and might persuade some of your friends to follow the author as well.

5.     5.  Remember to tell others about the book. It’s as simple as that.


Monday, April 16, 2012

RT Booklovers Convention 2012, Final Day

RT is over. I'm home in DC now. The giant book signing event with over 400 authors was Saturday morning. The photo, above, is obviously a personal highlight of the convention. I got to meet Anne Rice, who somehow managed to be fresh and charming and gracious after hours of signing. She has a regal presence; in a ballroom full of people, there is no doubt who could've cut through the pandemonium with a single word.

I also got to meet Charlaine Harris (who also is obviously used to crazy fans stumbling up to her and babbling in excitement). Also gracious and charming. She told me a little about her new, post-Sookie series, which will be written in multiple POVs, and how she's looking forward to writing from male POVs. It was thrilling to hear the writerly excitement in her voice.

For the non-superstar authors, it was a long book signing, 11 AM - 2 PM. I sat to Laura Kaye (also absolutely charming), who is with Entangled Publishing, and has several books to her name, including North of Need. As a debut author, I'm always surprised when anyone tells me they've read my book and so it was quite gratifying to have people come up to tell me how much they enjoyed The Taker. At the RT book fair, the convention bookseller sets up a little pile of books at your table for you to sign. People come over either to check you out, and there's a chance to engage with readers and tell them about your book, or perhaps they heard you at a panel and have already decided to get your book. I was very pleasantly surprised to sell out quickly. Of course, as a debut author I only had one pile of books to sell whereas the veteran authors had their last three books.

The second half of the big book fair day consisted of two tracks for readers. The most popular part of the con, it appears, is the Teen Day on Saturday. I grabbed one YA craft panel before heading to the airport. It was completely mobbed, easily 200 adults and teens in attendance to hear Melissa Marr, Kelly Armstrong, Nancy Holder, Veronica Roth, Margaret Stohl, Beth Revis and one other wonderful author whose name I didn't catch talk about their writing process, their inspirations and to give advice to aspiring YA authors. Since Melissa had talked me into thinking about writing YA two days earlier, I now count myself among the "aspiring".
Nancy Holder with her latest YA novel Damned and her beau, Edgar Allan Poe
For aspiring authors, networking with other writers is an essential part of the process and I have to say RT excels in this area. I met so many folks that my head is spinning. I not only met other writers who are published by Simon and Schuster like Molly Harper and Jennifer Estep (see previous blog post), but many whose names I knew from other conferences and book events but whom I'd never had a  chance to see in person. So I can now say from experience that Julie Kramer of the "Stalking Susan" series is as generous as she is gifted, feeding this newbie author advice. I also got to meet mystery writers Rosemary Harris, Rick Mofina, thriller writers F. Paul Wilson, Andrew Peterson, Bob Mayer, and Patrick Lee, and paranormal writers Nancy Holder and Angela James, who are friends of Rebecca York. I got to spend time with Rachel Caine and her assistant Sarah Weiss, and my friend, talented jewelry designer Janet Cadsawan. All in all, a great convention to attend as both a writer and reader.

Friday, April 13, 2012

RT Booklovers Convention 2012: Days Two and Three

See--I'm behind already. Here it is, the close of day three and I didn't get a post up yesterday about day two. Well, I did but not on my blog: I managed to get a few quick words up at Pocket After Dark.

One thing specific to RT Con is that most of the authors manage themselves by genre. There's a captain for each genre who assigns authors to panels. Most of the genre groups host some kind of party for participants, and for the mystery writers it's a breakfast mixer. They are goodie bags for each attendee, food, and a chance to win a special goodie from each of the participating authors. The mystery group included quite a diverse group of authors, though all write suspense in one form or another: Carole Snyder Douglas, the captain; Rick Mofina, Julie Kramer, Andrew Peterson (also the thriller captain), Lori Armstrong, Laura Caldwell, F. Paul Wilson (pictured with Liz Berry, Executive Director of ITW and myself, above), Bob Mayer, Rosemary Harris and Sarah Zettel. We estimated there were about 350 people at the mixer and it was nice to get to chat a while with Kim Adams (SOS Aloha) and some members from Washington Romance Writers in the audience.

Today started off with a panel on writing dark stories, with Rick Mofina and Lori Armstrong. Both Rick and Lori had fascinating takes on where they find inspiration for writing dark stories, how they craft their protagonists, and how to determine how much dark is too dark. I sat in on the thriller panel in the afternoon, where some of the abovementioned authors were joined by Heather Graham for a rollicking talk about how they come up with fresh ways to scare readers.

The day closed with the RT awards ceremony and Heather Graham's big party is going on downstairs as I type. Tomorrow is the giant book signing event, where 400 authors are available in one spot to sign their books. Big name authors like Ann Rice, Charlaine Harris and others will around--I will try to get pictures.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

RT Booklovers Convention 2012, Day One

I'm at RT Booklovers Convention, taking place this week in Chicago. Yesterday the first day and already I'm overwhelmed. It is HUGE. But I can tell already it's a good one. Everyone here is a fan of reading and books. The excitement in the air is palpable (pardon the cliche but it's apt). In addition to tons of readers, booksellers and librarians, there are authors everywhere.

In addition to getting settled in and trying to get my bearings, I was able to sit in on a few panels. The photo above is of the "Ain't Yo Momma's Vampires--How to Reinvent What's Been Overdone." Angela Knight moderated the panel, which included Rebecca York, Molly Harper, Darynda Jones and Virna dePaul. Some of you know that Rebecca York is a friend (and mentor) and she shared a lot of solid writing advice, as always, along with the other panelists. Really, every one of the panelists had great advice and each had different approaches to how they write and how they think of storytelling. I am going to give a particular shout-out to Molly Harper, who is whip-smart and funny. Funny, funny. See this woman speak live if you get the chance.

The second panel I got to see was on marketing, with book reviewers and hosts of popular websites telling authors the rules of the road. I missed the name of the first woman on the panel (but I will track it down and post it later!) but l-r it's: the mystery woman, Joyce Lamb from USA Today's Happily-Ever-After column; Sara Reyes, publisher of Fresh Fiction; Natalie Luhrs and Kathe Robin from RT; and Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Joyce wrote about The Taker recently and so I was thrilled to have the chance to meet her in person (she is wonderful, btw). A lot of smarts on one panel, there and they thoroughly explained the review process at each of their operations.

I was so wiped out after dinner with Rebecca and her friends, Angela Knight and Nancy Holder, that I skipped the parties and crawled into bed early. No Ellora's Cave party for me!

Okay, it's 7 AM and I need to get ready for my group's, the Mystery Chix, fan breakfast. I will try to remember to take a few pictures to let you know what it's like. Check back for a post of today's excitement.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tag, you're it! Seven lines from The Reckoning


I've been tagged. There's a meme going around among authors: if you're tagged, you must post seven lines from page 77 of your latest book or manuscript you're working on, starting after the seventh sentence.

Katiebabs, also known as KT Grant, tagged me at her blog, Babbling About Books. (Katiebabs, if you don't know her yet, writes romance and erotica and is one naughty, naughty lady.) You can read her seven lines here.

So here goes, from The Reckoning. The set up is that Adair is back, escaped from his prison of two hundred years and staying with Jude while he acclimates to the 21st century. He's trying to make the elixir of life again and running into difficulties in the modern age:

"Take it easy," Jude said soothingly. "In this day and age, there's got to be some piece of equipment that runs on electricity that can do this kind of work. I'll look into it. . . Oh--and I've got a lead on someone we can sell it [the elixir of life] to. He's one of those high-tech gazillionaires and he's on death's door. He's always been a really ruthless bastard--scares the shit out of everybody--but now that his cancer has metastaszied, he's not so tough. The only problem is that it's hard to get an appointment to see him."

Thanks, Katie! That was fun--plus you've given me a chance to run the NEW cover for The Reckoning.

Okay, the seven authors I've picked are:

Ann Hite
Rebecca Coleman
Allison Leotta
Suzanne Johnson
Alan Orloff
Nichole Bernier
Kristina McMorris

Check them out!

Monday, April 9, 2012

PW: The New (Para) Normal

PW, for those of you with a normal life and who don't recognize the acronym, stands for Publishers Weekly, one of the bibles of the book industry. So it's understandable that I'm more than a little excited that The Taker got mentioned in an article in this week's issue, "The New (Para) Normal".

The article is in the print/subscription-only edition so I can't link to it, but please let me share with you the lovely paragraph on our little book:

"While [Sherrilynn] Kenyon is clearly in a league of her own, there are plenty of authors in the field who continue to present fresh takes on familiar themes. Alma Katsu’s impressive debut, The Taker (Gallery, Sept. 2011), for example, is a variation on the old gothic horror theme of the alchemist who discovers an elixir of immortality. The story is rich in historical detail, and Katsu’s prose is romantic in the old-fashioned sense, vividly evoking the time and place that her characters inhabit. Whereas many writers of paranormal horror try to humanize their supernatural characters, making vampires, werewolves, et al. appear no different or differently motivated than human beings, Katsu takes the opposite tack: Count Adair, the alchemist, and the retinue of acolytes he has created are somewhat less than human because of their supernatural endowments. Their long lives have made them decadent, uncompassionate, ruthless toward humans, and totally indifferent to the suffering they cause. It makes perfect sense that they would act this way, and that makes Katsu’s story all the more chilling. Gallery will publish the sequel, The Reckoning, in June."

Zoinks! Thank you, Lenny Picker (author of the article) and PW!

Okay, stay tuned, because in a few days I head to Chicago for RT Booklovers Con, one of the bigger all-book conventions, and a pretty wild time I've been told. I'll try to keep up with posts from the convention floor, including pictures of the costumes and (ahem) male cover models.

Friday, April 6, 2012

IMMORTAL the first book featured at IKEA Italy!!

No fooling--IMMORTAL (The Taker's Italian title) was selected for a new feature on books at the IKEA Italy website. The interview was a lot of fun and if you understand Italian, you can read it right here. It was a thrill because I am a huge fan of IKEA. I love modern design but when my husband and I were putting together our first home, there was very little modern design available in the US. You scoured flea markets for mid-century modern pieces or spent a lot of money (which we didn't have) on European furniture. Then IKEA came to the US, with a store practically in our neighborhood (the one in Bel Air, Maryland). We still have lots of IKEA: I drink my morning coffee from an IKEA mug and write everyday at my IKEA desk.

What IKEA pieces do you have in your home?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Links: USA Today, An excerpt from The RECKONING

Elizabeth Miles, me and Steph form Fangs, Wands and Fairy Dust at the Maine Book Festival

It seems there’s no time to even catch my breath lately, things have been going crazy, so I thought a round-up of links would be the best way to capture all the news.

First—I was interviewed in USA Today by Joyce Lamb for the Happily Ever After Column!!! Major excitement. 

We had an exclusive excerpt from The RECKONING, the next book in the trilogy, up at Tor.com, the website of science fiction and fantasy. If you’ve been looking for something to whet your appetite before the book’s June 19th release, here you go.

I also wrote my first post for Tor.com, this one on the implications for fan fiction after the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey.

You know what’s pretty wonderful? I’ve started appearing at book festivals for the release of the trade paperback of The Taker, and some bloggers in attendance have been kind enough to do a write up! Madeline Iva wrote this after the Virginia Festival of the Book, and Steph at Fangs, Wands and Fairy covered my Q&A with Elizabeth Miles, author of FURY, at the Maine Festival of the Book.