Monday, January 31, 2011

Resolved for 2011: Read More Books

Hi Girlfriends,

So, I'm one of those people who celebrates the new year twice. Once in September -- because as a college professor, my life still revolves around the academic calendar -- and again in January. Somehow September always feels more like a new beginning to me, but January always gets me with that must-write list of resolutions.

This year was no different. However, this January I just didn't have it in me to make a long to-do list of activities that inevitably I'd stop doing around March 15, like exercising every day or making more than the minimum payment on my credit card bill. When I really took stock of what I wanted to do differently this year, what I wanted to do better, what I wanted to spend an entire year working on, it became crystal clear. Write. More specifically, I want to write another novel. A better novel than my first one, Substitute Me.

Don't get me wrong, I love my first novel, but I know it's not perfect. I figure I have about five more books in me before I get to "perfection" (perfection being loosely defined as 'really, really good' and possibly receiving the kind of award that comes with a gold sticker slapped on the cover.). So, I decided that before I dive into writing that next book, what I need to do is read. A lot. Novels to be specific. And I don't mean haphazard pluck a book off the bookshelf because it has a pretty cover reading. I mean reading with purpose. I mean selecting specific authors because they have mastered their craft. Because they make people weep with their eloquent prose. Because they tell rich and compelling stories that leave readers gasping for air when they turn the last page. This will be my year of reading dangerously and courageously. This will be my year to fall passionately in love with the written word all over again. As an adult. As a student. As a writer.

Now, of course this means I need to compile a pretty good list of what to read. Here's what I have so far.

Beloved by Toni Morrison
Room by Emma Donoghue
What is the What by Dave Eggers
If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary (Release date May 2011)

That's five books for the first five months of the year. Needless to say, I need more titles to add to the list. If you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them. Tell me the best book you've ever read or the book that inspired you to be a writer, or even the book you ignored your kids and hid in the bathroom to finish. I have an entire year to keep reading and this year I plan to keep my resolution.

Lori L. Tharps is the author of the novel, Substitute Me. She blogs regularly at My American

32 days of writing

Carleen Brice here. I don't make resolutions, but this year I did participate in a "challenge" for the New Year. Last year, some online writer buddies and I started the 32-day writing challenge, with the idea that we would write every day for the first 32 days of the year. It was based on this essay by Ann Patchett in which she discusses her realizations that she needed to treat writing as a job. The quote that got us started:

"[Patchett's friend] told me that her teacher, a great and wise yogi, believed that whatever a person did with thoughtful consistency for the first 32 days of the year set the course for the entire year."
If it was good enough for yogis and Patchetts, we thought it was good enough for us. I created a Facebook page and we went to work. Even though it was very helpful and got me into the habit of writing every day, I had no intention of doing it again. Because I didn't want another online obligation. I blog. I Facebook. I Tweet. I Litchat (this week I'm guest hosting all week!). I Blacklitchat. That seemed like plenty, but of course my same writer buddies convinced me we should do it again this year. Still had the Facebook page, so why not?

Today is day 31 of the 32-day writing challenge. I confess I did not write every day. HOWEVER, I did write a damn good synopsis for a story and climb back into my novel in a way that I hadn't in a very long time. I got back to the place where I'm totally immersed in the world of my novel and am more concerned about my characters than I am about some of the real people in my life. I think I'm about to make that breakthough of understanding I will need to get me to the end.

I believe that the more we do of a thing, the more we do of it. When we put our energies and our intentions and, to be less woo-woo, when we put our focus on something, we make more of it. Sitting on the couch watching TV = more sitting on the couch watching TV. Healthy eating = more healthy eating. Writing = more writing.

It's never too late to set your intentions for the future. If you want to write every day or most days, start writing today and then do some tomorrow and then some the next day.

Carleen Brice is the author of Orange Mint and Honey and Children of the Waters, which you should totally buy or check out from the library.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Girlfriends Dish on Encounters With Favorite Authors

From Kathryn Stockett to Norah Roberts to Margaret Atwood. Girlfriends give the scoop on their amazing run-ins with famous authors

Predicting a Mega Seller

First, there was Robert Bausch who, at a writer’s conference, read a part of my first novel and liked it so much, he offered to refer me to his agent. Knowing what I know now, I realize how generous his gesture was. Without his encouragement, I would not have any published books, and one day I hope I can inspire another writer the way he inspired me.

Also, once at a book festival where Scott Turow was the keynote speaker, I was complaining because the organizers wanted authors to sit for six hours straight signing books. I was buzzed on red wine and I said saying, “Do you think Scott Turrow is going to be signing books for six hours?” As soon as I said it, I noticed he was standing right next to me and surely overheard. Incidentally, he was in the trenches with the rest of us, signing for six hours, although naturally his line was longer than everyone else’s.

Two years ago, I’d read The Help by Kathryn Stockett and knew it was destined for great things. I ran into her in book festival and asked her to sign my first edition book. At the time she was at number 22 on the Times List and I remember saying to her, “You’re at 22 now but soon you’ll reach number one and my guess is you’ll stay on the list for a very long time.” I’ve never made that kind of prediction about a book before, but I was so certain about it.

Karin Gillespie

Hunting down a Blurb

Six years ago, stuck on the first draft of My Jane Austen Summer, I emailed Karen Joy Fowler to gush about how she had influenced me and ask if she would read my book and offer feedback. (Clueless newbies, sheesh!). Karen Joy Fowler responded six months later. She was busy. Two years after that, I attended the Squaw Valley Writers Conference where Karen Joy Fowler was a special guest. As she was signing her book for me, I revealed myself as the clueless newbie who'd asked her to read my Austen-inspired book. (She remembered me).

Three years later, with a publishing contract in hand, I asked once again if she would consider reading my book and offering a blurb. She said she was still busy. But to send the book, just in case she had an opening. I sent a Kinkos edition and gave her a year to read it. Several months later she emailed the four words an author wants to hear: I loved your book. Two weeks later she provided the blurb that graces the front cover of my book. I'm still basking in the glow of that praise.

Cindy Jones

Cold Calls

I have yet to meet my favorite author Sol Stein, but I did call his home from my dorm room in the early 70s and though he was not pleased to have his Sunday afternoon NFL football game interupted by a starry-eyed college student, he was at least gracious and commended my courage for calling twenty Sol Steins in New York until I found him (this was long, long before Google let alone computers). The reason I called was that I had just finished reading THE MAGICIAN and LIVING ROOM and was so taken by his stories, it made me wonder if I could ever be a novelist too...Now fast forward to a few years ago when my fourth novel, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD was published. It occurred to me that Sol might still be alive and that I would love to connect with him again to tell him, yes, I did follow my dream. This time thanks to technology, I found him on the Internet and reintroduced myself. He wrote me right back and I was thrilled! I also sent him my latest novel and though I don't know if he ever read it, I felt great that he got the message- you never know when a random phone call will inspire a young writer. Meanwhile, in our only chat, I asked his advice about using a pseudonym for my next novel. Industry experts were telling me that I should but he was adamant that I not listen. "You have a beautiful name. A memorable name. I don't want to hear another word about it." Done and done!

Saralee Rosenberg

Katherine Who?

The funniest encounter I had with another author was when I attended the SIBA convention in Mobile, AL, a few years back. Hubby and I had a really chatty cab driver to the convention hotel, and I ended up telling him why I was there and about my books. I gave him a bookmark before I left as he said, "My wife and girls would probably want to read those!" The next day, I was on the convention floor with Ed, and I ran into the wonderful Katherine Neville (whom I'd first met years ago when I was putting together mystery/suspense panels for the RT Conventions and who is about as nice a person as it gets). Katherine came up to me, grinning, and said (I'm paraphrasing), "I have to tell you about my ride from the airport. I got the chattiest cab driver who kept talking about having 'the famous author Susan McBride' in his cab. Of course, I told him that I knew 'the famous author Susan McBride' personally, and he was so impressed." Ed and I both cracked up because Katherine's an international best-seller, and I', not. I still wonder if that cab driver realized he had a world famous author in his car when he was blathering on about a not-famous one!

--Susan McBride

Rubbing Elbows With Norah

You mean aside from the frequent conversations I have with the Jane Austen of my imagination? *grin* Oh, well, in that case, it would probably be at my very first RWA National Conference when I got to be an author assistant during the Literacy Signing and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb was one of the authors I was assigned to help. I brought her glasses of water as she autographed books for hours (her line of fans was enormously long). She was unwaveringly polite to every single person who stopped by -- and to me, too. As an unpublished newbie at the time, I was so impressed by her down-to-earth manner and kindness and -- years later -- I still turn into a bit of a fan girl when I'm around her.
~Marilyn Brant

A Little Help From Al Franken

It's tough to pick but probably the most unusual one was in June 2003. I was at BEA to sign copies of my debut novel, The Thin Pink Line. The first day there, I signed about 200 copies in the publisher's booth and I was really feeling like hot stuff. I was too green for it to occur to me yet that of course 200 people would be willing to wait for me to sign books...for free. The next day was a different story. I was scheduled to sign in the main area where a lot of the signers are bestsellers, celebrities or big debuts. There, I had about 50 people in my line. Still respectable for an unknown author, I told myself. Then halfway through my signing, Al Franken - now a U.S. senator - sat down at the table next to mine to sign copies of his latest political-humor book. His line stretched clear across the convention hall. If signing lines were penises and I was a guy, you could say this made me feel inadequate. So once I was done with my respectable 50, rather than sit there twiddling my thumbs, I reached across the aisle and tapped Mr. Franken on the shoulder."Hey, Al," I said, "could you help a girl out here?"He looked a little stunned at the request, but then he grabbed a copy of my book and shouted at his waiting line, "When you're done here, go there and get" - pause while he checked for the book's title - "The Thin Pink Line."The lady who was in line next to have Mr. Franken sign a book looked at him with adoring eyes as she gushed, "Oh, Al, is The Thin Pink Line really that good?"Mr. Franken looked at her as though she might be nuts. "How the hell should I know?" he said.Not the greatest endorsement ever, I'll grant you, but that lady and several of the other people in Mr. Franken's line did come over to my table so I was not alone for my second half hour. And when my time was up? I regally offered my hand to Mr. Franken as though our positions in the world were reversed, and said, "Good luck. I hope this whole writing thing works out for you."

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Antics With Margaret Atwood

When I was in graduate school, Margaret Atwood came to visit our department for a week. She's a major reason I became a writer so I was very excited to spend time with her and even more thrilled when the department put me in charge of her. From the second I picked her up at the airport she was full of questions. ("What are those trees? Why does your seatbelt do that? Why are there so many personalized license plates?) My roommates and I hosted a dinner party for her at our house. Half the department came over to help us cook.

When she arrived that night she said she'd already eaten, and spit an onion tart out into a napkin in front of the person who made it, claiming she thought it was a cheese tart. I tried to bond over being Canadian but she didn't seem to care. When she asked what my sign was and I said Virgo her face contorted into a sour grimace, "Uch," she said. "My ex-husband is a Virgo." I defended my sign, saying perhaps female Virgos were different than male Virgos, and while she was open to the argument, it wasn't the stimulating conversation I'd fantasized about having with her.

Toward the end of the week I was growing weary of her. While crossing the street on campus, a local, celebrated yet quirky poet was walking toward us. Ms. Atwood nudged me away so we wouldn't cross his path and said "Uch, there's that man again." I prayed he didn't hear, though I imagine he did. When the week was through, when I was done driving her places, escorting her to classes, and dining with her, I handed her my tattered-from-reading copy of "Dancing Girls," her short story collection which started me on my own writing path. As she signed it I imagined something like, THANKS FOR DRIVING ME EVERYWHERE or NICE TO MEET A FELLOW CANOOK or even GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR WRITING. Instead, I simply got MARGARET ATWOOD.

I still love her work. I even follow her on Twitter. And despite our nonbonding, Margaret Atwood gave me the gift of a story, and for that this Virgo is grateful!

Melissa Clark

A Goddess Among Writers

In 1985, I attended my first Romance Writers of America national conference. Writing under the pen name Ariel Berk, I had sold a few books, but I was insecure and overwhelmed by the conference. One afternoon, as I stood in the lobby of the hotel, I heard a gorgeous, Southern-accented voice boom through the air: "Ariel Berk! I love your books!" The voice belonged to Dixie Browning, whom I considered--and still consider--a goddess among writers. I had been devouring her books, hoping to learn something about how to write a fabulous romance novel from her. And there she was, telling me she loved *my* books! We later became good friends (and remained mutual fans.) However, that first meeting meant the world to me. Knowing that I could write books that Dixie Browning loved gave me some desperately needed confidence, the reassurance that I truly deserved to play with the big girls in the community of published authors.
Judith Arnold

Grisham, Conroy and the Pulpwood Queen

I'd been taking an Italian class for a while, and we had the same group for the most part for several semesters. The class was held in the upstairs of a local coffee shop, up a couple of flights of loud metal stairs. I'd been having back issues so had taken to sitting at the head of the table because the chair was perfect for my lower back. The class was resuming after a break and the time had been change, so I barely had time to get my kids to school and was going to be ten minutes late to the class no matter what, but I knew the instructor, was friends with the small group of fellow students, so it was no big deal.

So the first day of class I race over to the coffee shop, I trod loudly up the steps and decide I'm going to fling myself in front of the group and announce in loud Italian "I'm late!"

There's silence for a minute after my grand entrance, as fourteen faces stare at me (a packed class with several newcomers) and only then do I realize who is sitting in my seat but none other than John Grisham.
Oh, yeah, I felt like a real idiot...

My other encounter with an awesome author was at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend, which is a riotous time all to promote reading, literacy and discover some terrific books. Kathy Patrick launched the Pulpwood Queens after opening the world's only hair salon/bookstore--she thought a book club was in order, complete with gals dressing in kitschy wear like stretchy leopard print leggings and lots of hot pink. (Kathy now has a radio program promoting PQ books and authors too--you can find information on the PQ website).

The Girlfriends Weekend is one in which authors and members of the PQ gather and talk about books while raising money for literacy. It commences with a dinner at which the PQ members dine and the authors serve (and some cook). I didn't quite know what I was getting myself into and got in in time to be part of the serving crew for the dinner (which was delicious). We all donned aprons and along with us Pat Conroy, whose books I just devoured when I was younger, was amongst us authors. In between serving he regaled us with tales of his youth and he was so thoughtful and generous and entertaining, and he even insisted on buying copies of books from all of us authors in attendance. I thought that he really epitomized how someone can be a huge success but not forget from whence you come and really take the time to reach out and be kind to others starting out. It left a lasting impression on me.

Jenny Gardiner

Elinor Lipman Envy

I've had a few memorable encounters with authors!

Most recently, I met Elinor Lipman at an author event where she was being interviewed by my amazing friend (and fellow Girlfriends Book Club blogger) Ellen Meister. How I envied Ellen that day! But I, too, got my chance to have some one on one time with Elinor, and she was absolutely lovely! Just as charming and funny as you'd imagine if you've read any of her books. We spoke about how blocked I was with my work in progress and she gave me so much inspiration. I immediately went home and began writing!

Ayelet Waldman is always controversial, and at her reading for the paperback release for Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, she talked about the controversy head on. I thought it was so brave how she was able to be so thoroughly honest about every aspect of her life-- her writing is definitely all the better for it. A few months later, her husband Michael Chabon was speaking at the 92nd Street Y, so my agent and I went to hear him speak. After the presentation (which was funny and brilliant), everyone else was clamoring for a chance to speak with Michael, but my agent and I were the ones looking for Ayelet. She really is adorable and a true delight to be around.

I met Dani Shapiro at her reading for Black and White, a book I adored. She asked me what types of books I wrote and I was so embarrassed to tell her that I wrote chick lit, since I think her books are so literary and beautifully written. She immediately said: "I love chick lit! One of my best friends is a chick lit author, Jane Green." So, of course, I fell in love with her right then and there.

Aren't author crushes the best?!

Brenda Janowitz

Chit Chat with Michael Chabon

About 20 years ago, during the first Gulf War, I went to a sparsely attended reading at Powells. Everyone else was home watching the Scud Stud (a hot reporter talking about Scud missles). The reading was so sparsely attended there were only three of us in the audience: me and a guy accompanied by a woman with a waterfall of black curly hair.

Afterward I went up to tell the author, Louis B. Jones, in a shaky voice that I myself was working on a book. He pointed at the two other attendees and started to say, "Maybe you know..." I thought he thought Portland was so small I would just know random people. But no, it was Michael Chabon, and the four of us chatted for a bit. I went to work the next day feeling so marvelous and literary. Only no one there had heard of Jones and just one person had a vague recollection of having heard of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

This meeting with the future Pulitzer-prize winner looms large in my life and maybe not so large in Chabon's.

April Henry

Favorite Horror Novelist
For my very first book event, I was asked to facilitate a panel with Tananarive Due (my favorite horror novelist of all time) and several other authors. I put hours into making my notes. I read everyone's books, so that I'd be able to throw them plenty of questions. But wires got crossed, and somehow it ended up being just Tananarive Due and me on the panel. We ended up having a fantastic, and very intimate conversation with the audience. And Tananarive turned out to be even nicer and way funnier in real life than I thought she would be. Seriously, she's hilarious. But you'd never know it unless you met her IRL. I love when writers surprise me.

Ernessa T. Carter

Dinner With Doctorow

I love this question! Authors are my rock stars, and every encounter with a literary idol makes me giddy. I have three instances that stand out. I got to interview two of my favorite authors, Elinor Lipman and Alice Hoffman, at important Long Island book events. They were both warm, gracious and engaging. And, much to my astonishment, I also got to rub elbows (almost literally) with E.L. Doctorow, when I had dinner at his home in New York. (If you're curious about how that happened, click here to read my blog entry about it.)

Ellen Meister
Do you have a favorite author encounter. Let's hear it.


New Year, New Resolutions by Brenda Janowitz

This cycle, we’re supposed to be talking about our writing resolutions for 2011, which is tough for me, since I’m not very good at keeping resolutions.  I’m great at making them (eat healthier, exercise more), but I’m just not that good at keeping them (I like fried foods, I don’t like to sweat).

But I like the idea of creating a writing resolution.  That seems like the sort of thing I should keep!  And the funny thing is that I’ve never actually made one of those before.  Last year at this time, I was home with a newborn and barely had time to shower, much less write.  Ah, priorities!  This year, I’ve got things a tiny bit more under control (emphasis on ‘tiny’) and have been carving out lots of time for myself to write.  I’m getting close to finishing my third novel (yay!) and while my agent is reviewing it (as we speak!), I’m hard at work on novel #4.

So, I suppose my writing resolution for 2011 is to sell my third novel.  Or, have my agent sell my third novel, to be precise.

Selling a novel is always a thrilling and exciting thing.  A scary one, too.  You don’t know if you’ll get along with your editor, if your publisher will throw any marketing money your way, or if you’ll get co-op space at the big chain bookstores (think front table), which is sort of how books become bestsellers.  You have no control over so many things—in fact, the last time you held your manuscript in your hands was the last time you really had total control over it—so there are just so many different emotions going on when you sell a book.  Ahem, when your agent sells it.

People ask me if I was jumping up and down when my agent sold my first novel in a two book deal.  I am definitely a jump-up-and-down kind of gal when it comes to good news, but I didn’t jump.  Didn’t even bounce.  I was just so shocked by the whole thing.  I really wanted to write a book, so I wrote a book, and then I got an agent and she actually sold the darn thing.  I was too stunned to really react to anything, other than to tell my agent that she should accept the deal.

Now, publishing is a whole different world.  If you read our last cycle of posts, you know that even established authors are having trouble getting book deals these days.  It used to be that if you were represented by an agent, you had a really good chance of getting a book deal.  Not guaranteed, but the odds were in your favor.  Now, it’s tougher than ever to get a book deal.

And this is when I’m trying to get a novel sold.  Great.  But I have total faith in my amazing agent, so I’m sure that if this novel is meant to find a home, she’ll find it.  And who knows?  Maybe this time, I’ll jump up and down.

Brenda Janowitz is the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST.  You can find her at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

High, Low and a Resolution

by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Crazy Beautiful came out in paperback earlier this month. Please go out and buy it! Tell all your friends! But that's not what this is about.

Last summer a good thing happened, something I consider a high point. The phone rang while I was working. It's a testament to how often I'm disrupted by telemarketers that it took a while for it to register on me that the person on the other end of the line was telling me that Crazy Beautiful was a finalist for a state book award. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. With nearly 20 books published, no book of mine has ever been a finalist for any award.

From the beginning, I mostly was just happy to be nominated, as the saying goes. Since the state award lumps YA and all children's books together, and the other four finalists were all books for much younger children, it seemed just as likely that being Odd Girl Out could work against me as it could work for me.

The day of the award ceremony came and I went with my husband and 10-year-old daughter. I had a pretty new dress and my gold high heels on, feeling pretty spiffy. In advance, I explained to my daughter that if I didn't win, it would not be an occasion for sadness. This was just supposed to be a cool day all around.

When my category came up, the presenter used such glowing words about my book, you should have seen the smile on my daughter's face. Our eyes met and for a moment I know we both believed that I had actually won.

Except I hadn't.

Another name got called and another writer got to have a moment in the sun.

But that was OK! This was no low point for me. There was still the reception to go to! There was going to be wine at the reception!

The wine was fine, as were the hors d'oeuvres. I was still a pretty happy camper. Then I ran into an acquaintance, who'd had a relative who was nominated and failed to win in another category, and the acquaintance said, "The losers are all hanging out over here."

That was the beginning of the low point. As I looked at "the losers" and so many other people in the room, as I signed books later on next to a very unhappy poet, it occurred to me how often we writers are disappointed; how rarely we are capable of saying "This is great!" without following it with "But it's not enough."

The truth of the matter is, there's almost no writing or publishing experience for which the joy isn't tempered by disappointment. We dream so big. We fall so hard. And only one person gets to be J.K. Rowling.

The writer who is always disappointed by something - that's not who I want to be, ever. We, all of us who fight the good fight of writing book after book until we are published, are winners. Yesterday, after many years and many books and three agents, a friend of mine sold a book to a Big Cheese Publisher. The years that she didn't sell, the disappointments that may crop up after the fairy dust blows away - none of that negates the tremendous nature of her accomplishment.

So that's my resolution for 2011: I will not be defined by my disappointments - although I will do my best to learn from them! - and I will be defined by my triumphs, which for the most part involves writing one word after the other until the book is done.

Now it's your turn: What are your resolutions for 2011?

Be well. Don't forget to write.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Steering the Course

By Roberta Isleib and Lucy Burdette

Our trusted blog leader suggested that one of the themes this session might be a chronicle of last year's highs and lows. For some reason, that brings nautical analogies to mind--maybe because my new character lives on a houseboat?

I once imagined that the life of a published writer might feel like sailing on the forward deck of an ocean liner--sun shining, glassy seas, a tropical drink beside my lounge chair to toast the newest book. But it didn't take long to learn that a sail on the publishing ocean is anything but calm. One minute my vessel is perched high on the peak of the wave, the next moment she falls with a dizzying drop deep into a trough. This past year was no exception! I'll show you...

TROUGH: After two years of diligent writing, agent suggests the book I finished last year may best be suited for a drawer at the bottom of my desk. Okay, maybe she didn't say it exactly like
this, but I swear the words "reputation" "mine" and "yours" were all used in the same paragraph.

PEAK: Same agent pitched my proposal for the Key West Food Critic mystery series to an editor at NAL. The series is accepted and A TASTE FOR MURDER, written by me as Lucy Burdette, will be published in January 2012.

TROUGH: Trusted writing friend says about my short story drafted for a Mystery
Writers of America competition: "I have to be honest, I don't love it."

PEAK: Same trusted friend offers excellent suggestions for revision. After
rewriting, this same short story "The Itinerary" is chosen for inclusion in THE RICH AND THE DEAD, an anthology edited by Nelson Demille to be published by Grand Central in April.
TROUGH: Editor suggests the name I was born with and have clung to through two marriages must be peeled away.

PEAK: I will be reincarnated as my wonderful, artistic grandmother who died too young: Lucy Burdette.

TROUGH: Every other day it seems we get more bad news about publishing--Borders is in bankruptcy, Barnes and Noble has fired all its buyers, writers are getting new contracts that don't specify there will ever be a "physical book."

PEAK: Writers are writing and readers seem to be reading more, rather than less, whether it's on e-readers or whether it's paper copies.

Personally, I think we're in for some big swells in this business for a while. I keep reminding myself that the only thing I can control is my writing. My plan for 2011? Trim my sails, find true north, hang on to that wheel and let Lucy go.

Roberta Isleib is the author of eight mysteries. Her books and stories have been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Lucy Burdette's first mystery will be published in 2012.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On New Resolutions, Old Habits, and Ugly Bathrooms

A dear friend of mine missed seeing her psychiatrist last week because of a blizzard. She called him and said, “Don’t even think about going in today. I want want you to get hurt.” He said “If you were as nice to yourself as you were to others, your depression would be cured.”

I believe it’s the wisest thing he has ever said and she didn’t have to even drive in snow to hear it.

This relates to my New Year’s resolution, which relates to my writing resolution. I told my husband, “I’m going to try to stop beating myself up all the time.”

I lied.

Knowing something would be good for you is not the same as changing the habit of a lifetime. Much as I try to be as gentle with myself, it’s almost a reflex at this point to be self-critical. It starts with “Why aren’t you writing faster?” and ends with every revision suggested by every editor and any complaints from readers, including the one that says, “Would you please write another book because I’m tired of waiting?”

I’m a quick study, but tend to remember the bad and forget the good, turning even left-handed compliments into complaints. Lately, I’ve been so afraid of repeating my mistakes that I freeze.

As of today, I’ve written several hundred pages on my work-in-progress. Unfortunately, they aren’t one book but several I’ve begun anew, trying to get at that ping I held in my head but couldn’t seem to find on the page. Still, I keep trying, knocking my head against the wall until I finally throw up my hands and decide to start over.

In the meantime, I’ve been stuck in the purgatory of perfectionism, otherwise known as procrastination. My latest obsession?

My master bathroom, which, I hope you will agree from the pictures above, was horrid. (As are my blogging skills since I've spent hours trying to move the before and after pictures down here but cannot seem to do. Apparently, guessing by the HELP forum, I'm not alone. Since I'm writing about accepting imperfections, I'll leave the ugliness be, and leave it to you to figure out which picture is the before and which is the after. I have no certainty when this goes live what the order will be.)

Anyway, back to last month, when I would vascillate between fantasies of renovation and pondering my newest ailment, ADHD.

Even I recognized the irony as as I recently picked up my daughter from school. “How was your writing day?” she asked, knowing how frustrated I’ve been. I explained that I’d spent the morning downloading and reading the book Delivered from Distraction.

“Which you then used to distract yourself,” she said.

True. But what I loved about the Hallowell book, which I highly recommend to all artists, is how he makes an argument that instead of seeing ADHD as a disability, we might think of it as a collection of traits that allow for great creativity and ingenuity, and just plain having fun. The point is to try to cherish those traits and allow ourselves to blossom while acknowledging there are things we can do to try to maintain focus. Structure is important, for example. So is exercise and meditation/prayer and even fish oil tablets.

Can I say in my defense that I tried them all, but the fish oil tabs brought me front-and-center to thinking about those awful brown shells in my grotty grotto of a double shower? Can I also say that I realized my redecorating up until then had always been trying to work with the colors in the room, which I didn’t care for, rather then reverting to those things I loved. I was worried about resale, about neutrality, about matching. Mostly, I was afraid I’d screw things up.

Having had trouble feeling a sense of agency about my work, I decided impulsively, since my husband was going away for a long weekend, to just throw myself into a quick redo. Did I mention impulsivity is one of the hallmarks of ADHD?

The difference between my mindset with this creative venture was my determination to proceed without worrying that I’d make a mistake. Indeed, mistakes are the only way we learn, another tidbit from my recent voyage into self-help-ville. If I screwed things up, I couldn’t really hate it any more than I already did. There was something liberating about how ugly it was to begin with.

Which leads me back for one moment to writing: Anne Lamott’s wonderful guide to writing, Bird by Bird, captures it all when she encourages the reader to just go ahead and write, however awful they think it is. The heading of that chapter: "Shitty First Drafts."

Which segues neatly back to the bathroom remodel. While I was laying the stick-on tiles and lining up Tile Tatoos over brown shells, I had a lot of free time to think. I remembered hearing that intellectual progress requires, oddly enough, relaxation. The NPR scientists explaining this paradox gave an example of a series of puzzles they asked people to solve. By chance, one of the research subjects was a monk, who tried his best but was floundering. Because he was a champ at meditation, he decided to force his brain to relax. Moral? He solved the puzzle in record time.

All of this connects to the resolution I made on January 1st to stop beating myself up. I realized that my tendancy to recall every criticism I’d heard was a form of self-flagellation. The desire for perfectionism, as the movie Black Swan so brilliantly illustrates, is closely tied to self-destructive behaviors like eating disorders, cutting, and so forth. You cannot create with your teeth clenched and your nose to the grindstone. There must be some abandonment and whim.

I have to say, I adore my new bathroom, despite its problems, which include a major mishap of epic proportions. I spilled (or my dog did) the bright blue/purple paint on my bedroom rug, an error I tried to redress with a patch that doesn’t quite match. (I have a great photo but I will not risk inserting it only to find it's taken over this post and eaten it alive. Suffice it to say, my craftsmanship is highly noticable.)

The new bathroom is lurid, I know. But I tell myself I’m in Paris and suggest to my husband that he pretend he’s in a French brothel. The colors make me happy, and send me to a place I’d love to go.

Much like fiction should, at least in my opinion. Having just finished a Man-Booker prize winner that was perfectly done and bored me to tears, I’m going to ‘play on the page’ and try not to worry about the paint I’ll spill along the way. I’m going to allow myself to be messy and mismatched and write the American version of my faux Paris brothel bathroom. It might not be somewhere you'd be proud to be caught, but no one would say it wasn't entertaining.

Sheila Curran is the author of Diana Lively is Falling Down and Everyone She Loved

New Resolutions, Old Habits, Ugly Bathrooms

A dear friend of mine missed seeing her psychiatrist last week because of a blizzard. She called him and said, “Don’t even think about going in today. I want want you to get hurt.” He said “If you were as nice to yourself as you were to others, your depression would be cured.”

I believe it’s the wisest thing he has ever said and she didn’t have to even drive in snow to hear it.

This relates to my New Year’s resolution, which relates to my writing resolution. I told my husband, “I’m going to try to stop beating myself up all the time.”

I lied. Knowing something would be good for you is not the same as changing the habit of a lifetime. Much as I try to be as gentle with myself, it’s almost a reflex at this point to be self-critical. It starts with “Why aren’t you writing faster?” and ends with every revision suggested by every editor and any complaints from readers, including the one that says, “Would you please write another book because I’m tired of waiting?” I’m a quick study, but tend to remember the bad and forget the good, turning even left-handed compliments into complaints. Lately, I’ve been so afraid of repeating my mistakes that I freeze.

As of today, I’ve written several hundred pages on my work in progress. Unfortunately, they aren’t one book but several I’ve begun anew, trying to get at that ping I held in my head but couldn’t seem to find on the page. Still, I keep trying, knocking my head against the wall until I finally throw up my hands and decide to start over.

In the meantime, I've been stuck in the purgatory of perfectionism, otherwise known as perfectionism. My latest obsession?

A super-hideous master bath, whose image I've tried to upload five times here but I cannot help but think that GOOGLE must be protecting the viewers. I'll describe it instead. Peach tiles, with interspersed decorative shells in baby-shit brown, beige CARPETING, light boxes constructed from plexiglas and fake redwood trim, and fixtures from a Las Vegas wet dream.

No matter how bad my writing was, the bathroom was an offense from Hell. It must be defeated.

I spent the month of January vascillating between fretting about the bathroom and my newest self-diagnosed ailment, ADHD.

Even I recognized the irony as as I recently picked up my daughter from school.

“How was your writing day?” she asked, knowing how frustrated I’ve been. I explained that I’d spent the morning downloading and reading the book Delivered from Distraction.

“Which you then used to distract yourself,” she said.

True. But what I loved about the Hallowell book, which I highly recommend to all artists, is how he makes an argument that instead of seeing ADHD as a disability, we might think of it as a collection of traits that allow for great creativity and ingenuity, and just plain having fun. The point is to try to cherish those traits and allow ourselves to blossom while acknowledging there are things we can do to try to maintain focus. Structure is important for example. So is exercise and meditation/prayer and even fish oil tablets.

Can I say in my defense that I tried them all, but the fish oil tabs brought me front-and-center to thinking about those awful brown shells in my grotty grotto of a double shower? Can I also say that I realized my redecorating up until then had always been trying to work with the colors in the room, which I didn’t care for, rather then reverting to those things I loved. I was worried about resale, about neutrality, about matching. Mostly, I was afraid I’d screw things up.

Having had trouble feeling a sense of agency about my work, I decided impulsively, since my husband was going away for a long weekend, to just throw myself into a quick redo. Did I mention impulsivity is one of the hallmarks of ADHD?

The difference between my mindset with this creative venture was my determination to proceed without worrying that I’d make a mistake.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Q and A with Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You

At the Girlfriends Book Club, we want our readers to become familiar with all the wonderful books by our contributors, but now and then, we also like to introduce you to some guest authors and their novels. I’m thrilled to present an interview with Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You. The novel has been featured in People and Oprah, and it’s a Costco pick for January.

Caroline Leavitt steers readers into a white-knuckle ride of lost love and longing in "Pictures of You," a novel that never disappoints for a second.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Here’s a brief description

Two women running away from their marriages collide on a foggy highway, killing one of them. The survivor, Isabelle, is left to pick up the pieces, not only of her own life, but of the lives of the devastated husband and fragile son that the other woman, April, has left behind. Together, they try to solve the mystery of where April was running to, and why. As these three lives intersect, the book asks, how well do we really know those we love—and how do we forgive the unforgivable?

 What is the backstory behind PICTURES OF YOU?

Every novel for me starts out with an obsession. For me, it was my phobia about driving. I have my license, but my dirty little secret is I don't drive at all. I'm always anxious that I am going to cause a car crash! So I decided to write about the thing that terrified me the most--car crashes. I wanted to see how the lives of four different people would collide, so I created Isabelle, the photographer fleeing her philandering husband who has gotten his girlfriend pregnant; April, the wife and mother with a terrible secret; April's asthmatic son Sam, who has a secret of his own; and Charlie, April's husband and Sam's father, who spends the novel desperate to understand what his wife and son were doing in a car with a suitcase three hours away from home.

While I was writing, Sam, the asthmatic 9 year old emerged. I had had a traumatic childhood myself. I was sick with asthma (I'm fine now, it's very mild), and I had a great deal of shame and grief around that time. I never wanted to write about it, but Sam kept coming back into the narrative. The interesting thing is that in the four years it took to write the book, I didn't have any asthma at all! Of course it came back when I turned in the book, but in giving so much compassion to Sam, I healed my own grief.

I was also really interested in the question, how much do we really know about the ones we love? And what do we choose to believe about them? I was also really interested in the whole idea of forgiveness. Can we forgive the unforgivable? And should we?

Did you face any special challenges during the writing of it?

I always struggle with a new book. This one, like all of them, made me worry constantly that I would not be able to pull it off, that I was writing over my head, that I had no idea what I was doing. I always worried that I had no plot or that the characters were getting away from me. I know, though, that I just have to weather those storms and keep writing. That it's all I can do.

I do a lot of detailed synopsis and outlines, which change throughout the writing. I depend on writing friends and constantly email them to try out ideas. I tried to break some rules in this book, like introducing a character 7/8 of the way through the book, who tells his very important story and then disappears, or flash forwarding 20 years, and I was always anxious whether or not I could make this all work the way I so desperately wanted it to.

You've done some screenwriting in the past. How does your background in screenwriting inform your novel writing?

Screenwriting really helped me learn about structure. I began to study character arcs and pacing in a different way than I had before. I also began to think more visually, to understand how a gesture could reveal so much more than a line of dialogue. Screenwriting, too, is all about economy, which is helpful when you're used to writing these big, unwieldy drafts that can be 500 pages. It's helped me hone down the essentials of the story and keep things moving. It's also emphasized to me how important character is, how it's all about (in a Rolling Stones sort of way) the difference between what a character wants and what he or she discovers he or she really needs.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Your least favorite?

I actually love all of it--even when I hate it. I love when the characters suddenly come alive and they seem to be breathing on the page. That's just magic. I love it when I begin to dream about them and think about them all the time. I also love when the pages make me feel deeply. I've sat over a chapter crying at my desk! My least favorite is at those moments when I feel that I've lost control, that I have no idea what I am doing and all the self-doubt begins to creep in. You start to think, "Oh, I can never finish this. What I'm doing is boring or horrible or worthless." The only way out of it is to hunker down and write more deeply, but it's really uncomfortable and difficult. I've learned that I just have to have faith and that I just have to keep writing.

I am very uncomfortable in the middle of drafts, which is where I am now on a new novel. Nothing seems to be holding together, and sometimes the only thing that keeps me from chucking the whole project is that the initial idea obsesses me so much I just can't let it go!

Who are some of your literary influences and why?

I deeply admire Dan Chaon for the way he explores character. Right now, I am reading everything by Kevin Brockmeier. I love the way he can write about distinctly odd and off-kilter situations, but make it all feel believable and grounded in reality. I'm trying to write about something a bit off-kilter in the novel I want to do after the novel I'm writing now so I'm actively studying his work right now. I also love Elizabeth Strout because her characters are so real.

Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eight novels. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a columnist for the Boston Globe, a book reviewer for People, and a writing instructor at UCLA online. Visit her at  

Friday, January 21, 2011

23 Author Promotion Tips: What Works, What's Worthless

Book tours, postcards, Twitter, and Facebook. There are hundreds of ways to promote a book.  Some swim, other sink. Girlfriend share the strategies that worked for them as well as the time and money wasters.

I can't really take credit for this, because my publisher set it up, but at two book signings for my recent release, MEET ME IN MANHATTAN, my publisher gave away cupcakes. Offer a tasty treat and the line of eager fans will extend out the door!

Judith Arnold

Promotional – being available on Facebook and Twitter. These two places are where the conversation between readers and authors is really occurring. Biggest loser? Easy - any kind of giveaway, closely followed by a postcard mailing.

Melanie Benjamin

One of the ideas I had the most fun with was the One-Question Interview Blog Tour that I did last spring/summer. I made 60+ stops at various blogs, answering only one question at each stop with no two questions being exactly alike. Bloggers enjoyed it because it was fun, easy and different, and I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I've never followed trends or gone in for postcards/bookmarks etc so I can't think of any that was a complete loser.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted

The promotional idea that I had the most fun with was putting together the Deadly Divas with Denise Swanson and Letha Albright back in 1999. We all had our first mysteries out, and we realized that getting publicity as a new author (without a seven-figure deal) was going to be rough. So we banded together, came up with the Deadly Divas and our slogan, "Nice Women Who Write About Murder," and we toured the country in our feather boas and tiaras. We sent boxes ahead of time to libraries and stores for signings so they could decorate with crime scene tape, spider webs, giant spiders, and all sorts of goodies we bought in bulk after Halloween! We had a St. Louis T-shirt guy (Randy at make up Divas T-shirts for our various tours, and we did a random drawing at each event, giving away signed shirts.

Letha and I retired from the Divas in around 2006 (I think), but they are still going strong, thanks to Denise. It didn't take long for me to realize that promoting as a group with a clever theme really worked...and was a heck of a lot more fun than promoting alone. Just taking the time to put yourself out there, meeting booksellers, librarians, readers, anyone who'll give you a shot, is the most beneficial marketing tool of all.

The worst promotional idea was probably spending money on advertising items, like mouse pads, puzzles, and other things with my book cover on them. I did that for my first book...and never again.

Susan McBride

I used to send out postcards, but I think the return is just not worth it anymore, especially when you add in the cost of stamps and the cards themselves. Plus I used to put a stick on each one saying if I was going to be speaking near them plus a handwritten line.

Or maybe I'm just lazy.

April Henry

The most effective thing I did to promote my books was to start local. Readings, ad on local NPR sponsored by my publisher, a book party/benefit for charities in a big old house downtown. Cost of entrance included a copy of the book, proceeds went to worthy causes and I bought the food and wine. Book festivals are also lovely because the readers WANT to be there.

Worst things: 500 window stickers in the font and colors of my first book, 490 of which are still in their box. Worse, my parents are still driving around five years later with a crooked Diana Lively is Falling Down attached to their rear window. Second worst thing for me was a two hour trip to Jacksonville Borders in the rain to sign books. One person, a woman in her seventies who'd gone to my college and saw the notice on the listserv, came to the event, which I'd publicized the hell out of but between the storm and the fact that this particular Borders was in the middle of nowhere, came to one big fat soppy NADA. As Ann Patchett put it in her Atlantic Monthly article about book tours, titled MY LIFE IN SALES, the only thing worse than going on a book tour is NOT going on one. And there you have it, the introvert's dilemma, wherein we suddenly must wrench ourselves out into the daylight and shout "Hey, look at me! I have a book! It's good! Really, it is really good! Seriously!"

Next go round I plan to hire a surrogate, tall, blond, winsome and gregarious.

Sheila Curran

The most effective: hands down, Twitter. Through tweeting, retweeting, linking, etc., I've met so many authors, book bloggers, readers, booksellers--and countless others in the books and publishing community. Through Twitter, I met the amazing Claire Cook and Beth Hoffman, both of whom I asked to blurb my latest book, The Love Goddess' Cooking School (and both said very kind yeses!). Through Twitter, I've joined online writers groups that help promote the group's books and good news (and lend strong shoulders of support). Through Twitter, I've been asked for review copies of my latest book, I've been asked to guest blog on authors' sites and book blogs and entertainment sites, and I've connected with readers--through all of these outlets--who might not have picked up a book of mine before.

Once you get comfortable on Twitter, it's truly a gift for a writer. (Facebook is also wonderful for all of the above, but I think Twitter is more wide open in terms of reach and possibilities.)

As for least effective, I'm really not sure, since it's hard to really say what doesn't work at all. I recently created a Facebook ad for The Love Goddess' Cooking School, aimed at women over 18 who "like reading books" and are not connected with me on Facebook. In the four days it's been running, the little sidebar ad has been clicked on 31 times (at a cost to me of $1.10 per click with a $50 cap). Supposedly, the ad has been made available to 90,000 pages/profiles, so that's not a lot of clicks! But if 90,000 eyes see my name and cover of my book without clicking, it seems worthy. I think. (Anyone else do one of these ads and can weigh in?) --Melissa Senate

Melissa Senate

It's hard to really know, at least for me, what specifically worked to get my book into the hands of readers . . . and what didn't. I firmly believe, though, that connecting with book clubs was the single best thing I did. And not just because book clubs are fun and usually involve wine. In the six years since my book was released, I've met with 100+ book groups--in person and by phone. Many of these meetings led to meetings with another book club, too. I also would say that becoming friends with your local bookstores is incredibly important (I took cookies to 6 stores in my area the Valentine's Day after my book came out to thank them for all their support . . . one of the stores still mentions it to me when I stop in!). Because of my friendships with bookstore owners/employees, I've gotten invited to participate in book/author events, been recommended to book clubs, gotten front placement for my books, etc.

I'm sure there were things I did that were big flops . . . but I've conveniently forgotten those . . . or never knew what they were to begin with. Ignorance is bliss.

Judy Larson

It's always hard to say what the most effective and least effective things I did to promote my books were-- there's really no way of knowing which promotional efforts of yours yield results. That said, I think today it's really important to have a professionally designed web page, and an email address, linked to your domain, for your readers. Beyond that, I (still) don't know what actually makes readers buy your books. I just try to write the best book I can each time, and then do as much as I can to get the word out there

Brenda Janowitz

Most effective - I think responding to fans directly. In the early days I answered every fan e-mail at length and chatted people who contacted me on fb and weekly on Least effective? I wish I'd taken out more ads in RT.

Leslie Langtry

I honestly don't know specifically what's been the most effective promotion I've done; I can't quantify it. I do think that in general being a consistent member of group blogs like this one plus doing Twitter and Facebook bring lots of positive returns. I also try and promote fellow authors as much as I can and this also seems to work out for all concerned.

Wendy Tokunaga

It's really been difficult to track what works and what doesn't. I would say for me going on tour to book stores isn't as effective as going to book festivals and events in which there's already a built-in audience and lots of publicity, etc. I would suggest newly published and soon-to-be published writers check into book festivals and book club events.

I put out an invite to book clubs on my website. I went to just about every book club in my city. I also "attended" numerous via phone call and am doing my first Skype book club meeting on the 22nd. On average about half the members buy the book and the other half borrow it from them or from the library. So my attendance at book clubs kept my novels moving at my local indie and kept them on a waiting list at the library for months on end, which added to the public perception of their popularity and kept word of mouth going. And, I have to say, book clubs are a lot of fun. They almost always wine and dine you, and there's often presents! I've received numerous bouquets, chocolates, tea cups, mugs, pens, journals, book marks, candles, you name it. If nothing else it's good for a writer's soul to mingle with readers.

You will get the occasional member who doesn't like the book. And you may get someone who's downright rude, but I've had way more people share stories with me about how my books touched their lives and when the writing gets rough it's a great reminder about why I do what I do.

Carleen Brice

Mostly, I’m here to take notes. But when I was in the sixth grade, a teacher came up with an innovative fundraiser: selling boxes of light bulbs door-to-door—and now I’ve dated myself, confessing to an era when door-to-door sales were encouraged! Anyway, it was hard work. Light bulbs do not offer much aesthetic appeal. However, compared to the kaleidoscope of possible book promotions, light bulbs were a pretty “clear” idea! I did take out a thumbnail ad on Facebook, noting a jump in referrals to my site. But I have no idea if that’s translating into sales. I’m headed south next week, signing copies of BEAUTIFUL DISASTER in Athens, Atlanta, and Charlotte. So for now, I’ll be using the one-on-one approach, hand selling BD to one reader at a time!

Laura Spinella 

Most effective: before my book was released, I had postcards featuring the book cover printed and sent personal notes to every bookstore manager in my state, as well as the cities the characters in my novel visited during their roadtrip. My goal was to make booksellers aware of the book so they'd (hopefully) stock and prominently display it, maybe even handsell. I heard back from several who did just that. (Hooray!) Several invited me to do signings, which had mixed results, but I did discover the magic formula to selling every single book you're hawking in under two hours: lots of drunk people with money to spend!

I was sponsored by a bookseller as part of a local community's Strawberry Festival (and again later during Harvest Fest): they put me at a table along the main drag, next to other sellers hawking their wares (crafts, foods, wine, etc.). We sold out quickly, and I had a ton of fun meeting people. I think the key to a successful signing for a non-marquee author is to do it in conjunction with another event (festivals, farmers' markets, etc), so there are people there, having fun, interacting with you. Even if you don't sell many books at the event, people might remember your cover and pick up a copy the next time they're at the bookstore. While you're at the event, hand out postcards with your info, including blurbs & the book synopsis. That last part is key! Most people don't want to decide whether or not to take a chance on your book while you're staring at them. For their comfort (and my own), I prefer to send them off with the pitch, and many come back later and pick up a copy.

Meeting with bookclubs has also been wonderful; and don't be afraid to talk to strangers! A woman I sat next to on a plane once created a bookclub just to invite me over, and it resulted in 25 sales.

Least effective: I'd like to think that any exposure is good, but there are some readings and signings that are simply going to be busts for a midlister. Screen event invitations carefully.

Jess Riley

I'd give you an answer but I'm a little stymied about how to answer it! It's so complicated! Especially when the truth is not a whole lot works unless your house is behind you doing most of it for you LOL

Jenny Gardiner

Since I am two months out from publication and putting together my own promotion plan, you can believe I'm paying attention and taking notes on this post.

Cindy Jones

Most effective: website, guest blogging, reaching out to online book reviewers
Least effective: book signings, bookmarks!

Nadine Dajani

Really, I think the most effective promotion an author can do is to write the best damn book they possibly can.

Maggie Marr

Most effective things to promote my book? Spending the entire U.S. advance I received for The Opposite of Me, my first book, on promotion. I hired a publicist, took out blog ads, printed up postcards, hired a designer to create a wonderful website, and did as many readings as possible, traveling to nearby cities for book festivals.

Sarah Pekkanen

Boy I wish I knew the right answer to the question about the most effective promotion--because then I could set about doing it for next January's Key West Food Critic mystery series debut! For my first two golf lovers mysteries, back in 2002 and 2003, I had miniature pencils and golf tees printed with the names of the books and my website on them. At night in front of the TV, my family would doggedly stuff little baggies with those items and a bookmark. And then I mailed them all over the world, put them in conference goodie
bags, and carried them with me everywhere. I very much doubt these
were cost effective, but they are collector's items now!

Probably the best publicity I ever got was a four page spread in Sports Illustrated about the golf mysteries and me. This was a result of several years of pitching golf writers at various publications until the right pitch struck the right writer. That led to an avalanche of sales.

I guess the moral of the story is finding the right niche for your (or my) book, and then finding a path in. This time around, could I worm my way into Bon Appetite or Cook's Illustrated? You can bet I'll try!

Roberta Isleib, now writing as Lucy Burdett

Most effective thing I've done: knowing other writers. Many good ideas have come out of this, as well as actual assistance (one novelist got me a mini-review in Woman's World Weekly), as well as support and a sense of what to expect. Knowing others in the profession has allowed me to gather wisdom from those who have much more experience, as well as brainstorm and generate marketing ideas I never would have dreamed of on my own. Also, although it may not have been the best for sales, I found visiting book groups immensely gratifying.

Least effective: Too hard to say! I think everything counts in promotion--getting your name out even to a small group of readers can be useful. That said, I am challenged by self/book promotion on every level and find it an uphill battle, always wishing for a magic marketing fairy godmother!

Sam Wilde

I get a kick out of promoting so I’ve tried it all. Most effective was preparing folders with an excerpt of the book and sending them to various indie booksellers six months in advance of publication. I made sure to personalize all my letters (staff member names book preferences can often be found on web sites.) I enclosed a stamped ARC request postcard and asked for quotes after the book was read. (You can how many I got by visiting the front page of my web site.  Just scroll down a bit.) As a result my novel also ended up being a Booksense Notable.

I’m also not afraid to approach media. (Most media quotes I got were due to my own efforts, including Good Housekeeping. I’ve never been afraid to approach the biggies )

I once used an independent publisher but found it to be a waste of money, because she wasn’t doing anything I couldn’t do myself. Advertising is another story. I once bought an Author Buzz ad and thought it was totally worth the money. My credo on promotion? Nobody will work as hard as you will on your book. I think an author can actually move between 3,000 and 6,000 units entirely from her own efforts. That won’t make you a bestseller, but it may make a difference in whether or not you get a new contract.

I’ve also made plenty of promotion mistakes. I don’t like doing bookstore signings unless I know there will be an audience, but I will do drive-by signings. Also I’ve learned to ask for appearance fees when approached by libraries or other groups with a budget.

Karen Neches

Girlfriend News

The Cougar Club by Susan McBride has sold rights in France and Croatia.

Sarah Pekkanen's Skipping a Beat is already in its second printing and it's not even pubbed yet. It's been chosen for the Doubleday Club alternative pick and Italian rights were sold.

This Little Mommy Stayed Home by Samantha Wilde has just sold to a publisher in Spain. (Last year it sold to a German publisher).

Moonlight Temptation by Stephanie Julian and published by Ellora's Cave is out Friday.

When the Lucky Planet Jupiter is Dominant in Your Writing Career House

I’m a fair-weather fan when it comes to astrology— I only take it seriously when my horoscope predicts good things to come. And an analysis I read in late 2009 predicted that Geminis would have an auspicious year in the career department in 2010.

I have to say that 2010 did turn out to be a satisfying year in my writing life. My second novel, Love in Translation, had come out in late November 2009 so I was still busy promoting it in the first half of 2010. I got to do some radio interviews, bookstore events, and met with some lovely book clubs. I made an appearance at the San Francisco Writers Conference (the first time I’d attended a conference as an invited published author instead of as a pre-pubbed writer with stars in her eyes) and had a fantastic experience. I did a reading at an amazing literary salon in Sausalito called Why There Are Words, spoke at the California Writers Club and was a guest speaker at the Foothill College Author Series. (After my reading I was supposed to have lunch with the college president, but Bill Gates made a surprise visit that day and I got bumped in favor of him—quite understandable!)

And a new career also took off in 2010—as a writing teacher and manuscript consultant. Something I wasn’t sure would ever pan out—making some money from the MFA in Writing I received in 2008—has been gratifying. In 2010 I taught classes at Books Inc. and Book Passage and Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Online Writer’s Studio (and I’ll be teaching there again this year in the Spring and Summer quarters). I also put on my own workshops. I discovered how much I love teaching and have been getting positive responses from my students. This has led to a busy private manuscript consulting business where I help writers with their novels and memoirs.

During this year I was also hard at work on my third novel, which tells the story of a congressman’s sex scandal from 20 years ago and the effect it has on his wife and two daughters. This is all new for me; the book is a departure from my others, and I have no book contract and a new agent. I went through several intensive revisions of this novel in 2010 and I hope to finish up the final draft this month. My previous novels have been modest sellers and I have no idea if my agent will be able to sell this book to a publisher.

The publishing industry has been in constant turmoil for a while and no one knows how it will all play out. I’ve heard too many stories from published writer friends who have gotten rejected by editors because their novels were too “quiet.” Other friends have had their paperback releases delayed or canceled because of poor hardcover sales. Some are having their hardcover deals revoked in favor of a paperback release only. Still others have had their books canceled outright by their publishers before any release.

No, there’s no guarantee that I’ll be published again, but I try to take it in stride. This is all out of my control and I have to keep in mind that it wasn’t so long ago that I had no published novels to my name and had been rejected by every agent known to man. I’m grateful for every success—big or small—in my writer’s life. And I will keep writing because I can’t not write; it’s too much a part of me.

What will the astrological heavens bring us in this new year? I’m not sure, but I wish all my fellow Girlfriends Book Club girlfriends and readers nothing but the best for 2011!

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels Midori by Moonlight and Love in Translation, both published by St. Martin’s Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco and teaches novel writing for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio. She also gives her own seminars and enjoys helping private clients get their novels and memoirs into shape, giving practical advice on how to fix problems so they don’t make the same mistakes she did on her road to publication. She is currently revising her third novel and working on a non-fiction book about cross-cultural marriage. Visit her at:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Coolest Thing About Getting Your Rights Back...

Okay, maybe that sounds more  intriguing than it actually is.  But recently, I had the opportunity to get the rights to my four books back from my publisher.  I wanted to sell the e-versions myself on Kindle and Nook myself.  I studied the formats and talked to my friends who have already done it.  I was just about to publish, when my friend Jana said, "What are you going to do about your covers?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.  I'd liked my publisher's covers...well, except for one book.  I really hated that cover.
"You don't own the rights to the cover image - the publisher does."  Then she told me I would have to design my own.

I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that the thought intimidated me more than the time I met Bill Clinton (and then couldn't shut up as I held his hand in a vice grip).  I felt a little ridiculous because what author wouldn't want to have total control of their covers?  My concerns were in my complete lack of photoshop skills.  That and I had no idea where to begin.

My friend Gemma told me about a photo service where I could pick, edit (and pay for) images to use.  After hyperventilating for a while, I sucked it up and thought I'd just try one to start.  Finding the photos was easy. For reasons that are beyond me, there are millions of stock photos of people holding guns.  Maybe I shouldn't question that and just consider myself lucky.

I just used color banners across the top and bottom - similar to the way my publisher did it and found a similar font.  After that, it was just a matter of pasting on the reviews.  And I did it all in...(graphic designers should look away for a moment) Microsoft Publisher.  But hey, it worked!

I even found a photo very similar to my original cover on one of my books.  Now, I just had to upload them to Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  No problem!

Except that they didn't take the format I created them in.  I called up my photographer friend, Todd, and he helped me - while simultaneously making me feel like an idiot. 

BTW, did you know photogs don't use film anymore?  Weird.

So I finally got the right covers uploaded to the right books.  And now that I look at them, I smugly think (forgetting how nervous I was to do it in the first place) I did a good job.  (If you don't agree, please don't tell me...I crumple easily.)

The second coolest thing about getting your rights back?  Seeing your sales as they happen online.  But that's a story for another time.

Keep writing and don't be afraid to try new stuff...because it's all new stuff. 

Leslie Langtry