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Archive for the ‘Promo & Publication’ Category

I know; I was supposed to be back with a post on why I think bad reviews are valuable and worthwhile. It’s about 2/3 drafted, but I keep thinking of new things or changing my mind about existing things, and so I keep tinkering. At the moment I’m thinking of scrapping what I have and starting over.

(Advice to beginning writers: don’t be a tinkerer. Take it from me; it’s a terrible way to write.)

So I’ll jump ahead and talk about a smaller, more manageable subject: street teams.

Yesterday on Twitter, the author Lauren Dane asked what people thought of street teams, and helpfully storified the responses. There were a number that I felt some agreement with, but none that precisely articulated my own position, which goes like this:

I’m all for people feeling evangelical about a book, including any and all of my books. But the street-team model presumes that evangelical response for every book. And that’s just not how reading works. There are people who loved my first book, but didn’t care for my second. There are people who liked the first two, but were disappointed in the third. There are people who loved all three, and probably at some point in the future I’ll write something that lets them down, too.

And I’m sure most authors who use street teams are careful to say “You’re under no obligation to give a good review, or talk up a book you don’t feel enthusiastic about,” but human nature being what it is, I think it must be pretty awkward and difficult for a street-team member to accept the free books or whatever swag comes their way without doing some promo in exchange. I can all-too-easily imagine a street-teamer thinking, “Well, I didn’t love it, but it won’t kill me to talk it up a little.” Or even worrying, outright, that she might be dropped from the team, or might incur the wrath of other team members, if she decides to sit out a particular book’s promo blitz. (The wrath of street-teamers is no joke, as a number of review kerfuffles have now shown us.)

So even in its most benign form, with an author who actively discourages attacking reviewers and who articulates a no-obligation policy, I feel there’s just too much built-in motive for artificial enthusiasm. And that’s not what I want, as an author, as a reader, or as someone who cares about the integrity of our genre and of books in general.

(Steel-trap-memoried readers will recall that I gnashed my teeth some about promotion and integrity last summer, when a number of generous authors offered to promote A Woman Entangled–which at the time of the offer none of them had yet read–for me while I was laid low by my father’s very recent death. The question of how to balance one’s wish for commercial success with one’s concepts of integrity is a kind of rabbit hole down which a writer can spend an awful lot of time, it turns out.)

 

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Here’s what happened.

Two days after my father died, and six days before the release of A Woman Entangled, I had an email from author Anna Cowan. She’d been thinking about me, she said, and thinking about the fact that I had a book coming out and probably no time, energy, or heart to promote it.

Actually she’d been doing more than thinking. She’d reached out to some other authors, and, if it was okay with me, they wanted to shoulder the promo of this book for me. They’d already coordinated, among themselves, a schedule of blog posts and giveaways. But they wouldn’t go ahead with the plan unless I was comfortable with it.

I wasn’t, at first. I couldn’t help feeling like I’d be taking advantage of my father’s death, or at least profiting from it, by accepting this promotion that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It felt unclean.

Besides, at that time none of the authors in question had read A Woman Entangled. And I was uneasy with the idea of them plugging a book that, once they’d read it, they might not even like. I’m a book-buying reader as well as a writer, and when a writer plugs someone else’s book to me, I want it to be because they read and loved that book. Not because they’re friendly with the author, or feel for her on account of the difficult life chapter she’s currently going through, or even because they liked her previous books and think there’s a good chance they’ll like this one too. I want my word to mean something, when I recommend a book, and I want other writers’ words to mean something too.

So I wrote back to Anna, thanked her for her kindness, explained some of my reservations, and said I needed to think about it.

And I thought about it. And one of the things I couldn’t help thinking was that I’m not the only person with a stake in A Woman Entangled‘s launch. A whole team at Random House, from editor to copyeditor to cover designer to marketers to the person who put together the book trailer, had invested time, creativity, and money in making this book a success. Surely they, and their investment, needed to go into the balance scale along with my nice thoughts about principle and integrity.

Maybe more to the point, after I sent the email to Anna, I didn’t feel like a person of principle and integrity. I felt like an ungracious jerk. Here were these authors, all with careers and deadlines and promo of their own to manage, carving out time to help me, stepping up to lessen my burden in what way they could, as humans have done for one another since at least the invention of the funerary casserole. Shouldn’t my answer be, “Yes, thank you so much?” Shouldn’t I trust these people to decide for themselves whether they wanted to plug my book (and to be capable of staging a giveaway that doesn’t come with an outright recommendation, in the event they don’t like the book)?

So I wrote back to Anna and said Yes, thank you very much; you’re absolutely right that I’m in no shape to promote a romance novel right now and I’d welcome your help.

This explains the links in the box at the top right of my blog. These are the authors whose kindness I decided to accept. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to spend time being sad with my family these past couple weeks, without feeling like I’m leaving my publisher altogether in the lurch.

Principle and integrity or no principle and integrity, I’m deeply grateful.

 

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(*I hate it when stories I like turn out to be apocryphal. Legend has it that Winston Churchill, in response to an editor who corrected his ending sentences with a preposition, scrawled on the manuscript:  “That is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”  No documentation exists, though, and it’s a pretty good bet it never happened.)

1) The blog has been silent for quite a while, I know. I’ve been in head-down writing mode. I’d always sort of shaken my head and pursed my lips when I heard writers talk about being too busy to read, but I’m off that high horse now. I have not read a full-length book for over a month. I wish, wish, wish I were able to write faster. I don’t believe prolific-ness (prolificity?) is necessarily a good measure of success, and I do think there’s such a thing as oversaturating the market with your stuff, but I’m still slower than what I’d like to be.

2) I went to Paris in September. It was a wonderful Trip of a Lifetime thing, starring my mom, who’d never been off the North American continent before, and co-starring my sister, my brother, and me. Mom is artsy beyond any of our ability to keep up, so we divided up the museum shifts, and she and I spent an excellent, not-long-enough day in the Louvre.

I did some writing in Paris, so now I can say I’ve been to Paris and written there. Mostly I wrote in a minuscule office in the flat we rented, but one day I walked up to the oldest library in Paris, the Bibliotheque Mazarine, and wrote for a little while there.

Exterior of the Bibliotheque Mazarine

Bibliotheque Mazarine. You have to stop at the office to get a visitor’s pass, for which you leave your driver’s license or other ID.

You’re not allowed to take pictures in the reading room, but here’s a picture on a Wikipedia page.

Okay, stuff coming up:

1) This weekend I’ll be at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference, which is the annual conference put on by the Seattle chapter of RWA, in cosmopolitan Bellevue, Washington. In fact I should be packing right now instead of writing this, as the first workshop starts in just over an hour.

If you happen to be at the conference, there are two formal chances to encounter me:

  • Saturday I’ll be signing at the Book Fair, 4:30 – 6:00 on the 3rd floor of the Bellevue Westin Hotel. Actually this is open to the public, so even if you’re not attending the conference, if you happen to be near Bellevue then stop by! Lots of more-famous-than-I authors will be there, too. Oh, and I’ll have candy.
  • Sunday morning I’ll be on the annual “Chapter members who became published authors in 2012” panel, AKA “How Did They Do That?” It’s at 8:00 a.m., so I’m expecting kind of a sparse turnout, but we’ll do our best to make it worth your while. I’ll give away books, and try to have edifying advice.

Also, if you’re at the conference and just see me around, please say hi.

2) Author Susanna Fraser is going to be stopping by the blog on November 20 to talk about her upcoming release, An Infamous Marriage and to give away a copy. If you’re a fan of trad-flavored Regencies with a military emphasis, authored by someone who really knows her stuff, then you should be reading Fraser. And if, like me, you’re a fan of love stories that get off to the worst possible start, then you definitely need to read An Infamous Marriage.

Okay, I’m going to pack now. Will try to send updates from the conference!

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I’m at the Romance at Random blog today, talking about how a person who grows up without reading romance novels can wind up writing them.

There may be some mention of Shakespeare.

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I won’t lie: the Literary Lions gala was every bit as draining as I expected it to be. I was the only romance author there (there were a couple of formerly-romance-now-women’s-fiction authors, but I was the lone representative of straight-up R), and it was not a big romance-reading crowd.

However this just made it all the sweeter when people did buy my book. Which some people did, thank goodness. There were a few who bought it for a friend or relative who reads romance, and some who said, “I don’t usually read romance, but I think it’s great that you’re being included, so I’m going to buy your book.” And then there was Sarah, bless her soul, who had commented on my earlier, dreading-this-whole-event post to say she was going to be there, she loved romance, and she was buying my book.

(Seriously, that was the high point of the night for me. Meeting a romance reader in a sea of non-romance-readers felt like meeting someone from your hometown in a foreign land where nobody speaks your language.)

I met Lee Child, who just oozes charm and graciousness, and who gave a particularly resonant keynote speech. (He, too, came to writing late in life, but grew up as a voracious reader. He told a funny story about his family’s library addiction: their local branch had a limit on how many books you could have out at one time, so whenever they had a houseguest they’d make that person go get a library card; then they’d keep the card so they could check out extra books under the houseguest’s identity.)

At the signing I sat by Elizabeth George (author of the Inspector Lynley books); at the dinner I sat by Kristin Hannah, who used to write romance for Random House before switching to women’s fic. I was slightly starstruck but hopefully didn’t babble too much.

I also saw some gorgeous book covers that made me a little sad about the sameness of romance covers. I mean, obviously there are built-in limits because you want the book to be immediately identifiable as a romance, but when you see, for example, the diversity of what appears on nonfiction covers, it really sort of pounds home the nondiversity of the covers in our genre.

For instance, on the non-Elizabeth-George side of me was garden blogger/radio commentator/debut author Willi Galloway, whose book looks like this:

Book cover: Grow Cook Eat, by Willi Galloway

And down the table from me was a guy who’d written a natural history/cultural history of feathers(! I’m always impressed by the things nonfiction writers think of writing about), and his book looks like this:

Book cover: Feathers, by Thor Hanson

Here’s what’s even cooler about this: what you’re looking at is the spine + front cover. See that fine line that cuts through the “FEATHERS” letters? That’s actually the fold between spine & front. So the front cover, alone, looks like this:

"Feathers," front cover alone

Isn’t that just so striking and awesome? You know, I was thrilled when I got the cover for A Lady Awakened, but I bet *Thor Hanson was turning cartwheels the first time he saw this.

So anyway, the dinner was good (though I made the mistake of sitting down at one of the places with the yellow dessert instead of the chocolate dessert), I got to see a lot of people in fancy clothes, and it was just an all-around honor to have been included. And I hope it will be many months before I put on heels again :)

*FYI in case you ever meet him, the first name is pronounced “Tor.”

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Woke up just before 5:00 this morning and lay awake, thinking “Why did I agree to this? Why?” I’m hoping hard that at least one other Literary Lion is roiled with similar apprehension.

In black-tie clothing news, I discovered my black top/black skirt combo wasn’t going to work (I had envisioned it looking chic and hip, but instead it looked like I didn’t understand the dress code), so I returned the top and bought a dress. It’s purple and fancy-ish (there’s a clutch of rhinestone-type things at the waist) despite being knee-length, but my eyebrow technician (oh, you’d better believe I went to the eyebrow technician), who is apparently an old hand at black-tie-optional affairs, assures me knee-length is acceptable.

Also, I needed a clutch-style purse. I found a just-okay one at Ross Dress for Less; then found a better one at the Salvation Army.

In Documenting the Event news, I discovered I can’t do Twitter on my phone. Will see whether I can do it on my e-reader; then will think about whether it’s appropriate to carry an e-reader into a black-tie-optional event.

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To my surprise, persistent incredulity, and general befuddlement, I was invited to participate in this Notable Local Writers Fundraiser Gala Thing, put on by my county library system in conjunction with a local independent bookstore.

Literary Lions Gala: A Grand Affair, it’s called. It’s next week. Lee Child (is he local to the Pacific Northwest? I didn’t know that) will be the keynote speaker. The rest of us will sign books (or perhaps sit at our lonely tables watching other, more popular writers sign books), schmooze with the foundation’s benefactors, and eventually eat a fancy dinner while listening to Lee Child’s speech. Then maybe more schmoozing. I am frankly terrified by the prospect of this whole thing.

I seriously considered declining the invitation when it came. I’m one of those people for whom social situations, particularly with strangers, are incredibly taxing. I think of something worthwhile to add to a conversation, generally, about six hours after the conversation has taken place. Also, a function with writers of all genres, as opposed to just romance writers, raises the possibility of encountering people who will either dismiss me as Not a Real Writer, or will perhaps make jokes about Fabio, or “researching” love scenes, or the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. It could be painful in about six dozen different ways.

But. The invitation actually disclosed the name of the selection-committee member who suggested me for inclusion, and the name of that person is:

Nancy Pearl.

(Everybody knows who that is, right? Author of the Book Lust series? Model for the Librarian Action Figure? Regular NPR guest?)

I have no idea whether she’s read my book. She might’ve just heard some buzz. I know she’s a fan of Georgette Heyer, and also of the proven-Romance-gateway Betsy-Tacy series, and a friend of mine who knows her assures me she’s not unacquainted with “bodice-rippers,” so maybe she frequents the big blogs and saw a good review or two. I don’t know. All I know is that no writer in her right mind says no to Nancy Pearl. And so I emailed back and said, sure, I will do this Literary Lions thing.

And then I sort of stuck my head in the sand about it. Dreading the sense of exposure that would result from seeing my name on the list of participating authors (I’m borderline pathological about that: the day the Paramore fans found me, my first reaction was not, “Whoa! I’m going to have my best day ever in blog stats by far!” but rather “Gaaaah! People are looking at me! People I don’t know!”), I didn’t actually look at said list until today.

I think I’m going to be the only romance writer there. I looked at the list, freaked out at the sight of my name (also of my bio, which for some reason says I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, which is the opposite of the truth), freaked out more at the impression that mine was the only romance-novel cover in the selection of covers, and closed the page without going back to make sure. My survival strategy for the event had depended in large part on sticking close to the other romance writers, but now I have to come up with a new survival strategy.

This strategy may involve cocktails. It may involve live-tweeting my social angst, if I can figure out how to do Twitter on my phone.

Oh. Also. The event is “black tie optional.” I had to google to find out what that meant. Then I had to go shopping, because I don’t own anything near fancy enough. So now I have this nice black sleeveless top, which I will wear with a black skirt, and hope that this can pass for the “little black dress” that is apparently acceptable, in lieu of red-carpet gowns, at a “black tie optional” affair. (I considered looking for something over-the-top pink and frilly, perhaps with a Barbara-Cartland-style feather boa, but couldn’t bring myself to spend what that would have cost. The nice black top was on sale.)

Anyway, I’m hoping hard that I’ll get there and find out that all the authors are socially awkward and worried about not having worn the right thing. That seems like a reasonable possibility, right?

So, blog readers: have any of you ever been to a scary social event? How did you psych yourself up/talk yourself down for it? Should I be visualizing the best possible outcome, in order to make it happen, or imagining every possible disaster, so I won’t be taken by surprise?

 

 

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