Monday, July 29, 2013

Back to Business: The Book Trailer Question

I am back on the promo roller-coaster already (trying to get a jump start on plans) while trying to squeeze in enough time to do justice to my SHINY NEW NOVEL IDEA. And, of course, I once again face the question of THE BOOK TRAILER. These are labor-intensive, can be expensive, and I am not certain of their value.

For my first novel, I teamed up with the unstoppable sister duo Lisa & Laura Roecker, rented a dance studio, brought in some teen talent (filmmaker and dancer), and after agonizing struggles to convert and ship files, and countless hours of work on everyone's parts, we produced this:

Occasionally someone will point me to a lovely reader-created video like this one:

Or even cool reader art like this adorable NovelNovice post:
So the question now is: To create a trailer for THE SOUND OF LETTING GO or not to create said trailer?  Is it worth it? Are there distribution opportunities that would make it worthwhile?

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I feel I can say what I am going to say because I am a writer of sorts. A reader in earnest. And, in both capacities, I keep list of books that reveal something of the soul of humankind. Books I know in my deepest heart I could never even attempt to write. Books that nonetheless goad me on because they shine an almost other-worldly incandescent glow on the possibility that one can use words to affirm an existence that is more than the sum of our biology, our theology, our actions.

As a college student, I would have topped this list with OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham. As a twenty-something pregnant woman on bedrest, it was E. Annie Proulx's THE SHIPPING NEWS that spoke to my heart. Over the years, I have added Henry Taylor's THE FLYING CHANGE, Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK and other titles to this list.

I believe that this list is different for everyone. And that sometimes it's not just the words on the page, but the moment in time at which the reader meets these words that creates deep meaning.

That said, as a thirty-something struggling with the terrifying stasis of at-home-mom existence (no worries, I am over it and kind of love it now), it was LIFE OF PI.

For me, PI is a story of the way people invent narratives so that they can bear to live with the truths of their lives. It is about the way we weave happenstances (being named Piscine), ethical conundrums (having charge of captive animals) and our actions in real or metaphorically life-threatening situations (shipwreck) into a costume that shows us to the world as someone essential good--someone we want to be even if this is not our identity at all.

For me, LIFE OF PI is not the story of a tiger.

So, the sparkly CGI of the movie trailer makes me a little bit queasy. I've been told by those who have seen the film that space has been left for my interpretation (I won't get any more specific because I hate spoilers). Still, I haven't been able to make myself watch it.

Sometimes, no matter what you're told about the movie version, you want to hold the book close to your heart and never see the pictures that dance in some other filmmaking reader's head.

LIFE OF PI isn't categorized as YA, though the bulk of the narrative features the main character as a teen. But I believe it makes a great older teen read, which is why I allowed myself to finally write this post as a Bookanista entry.


Here are more Bookanista goodies for you...

Nikki Katz is delighted by CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn
Jessica Love has cheers for CHALKLINE by Jane Mitchell
Gretchen McNeil  sings out for SECOND VERSE by Jennifer Walkup
Shari Arnold adores ALSO KNOWN AS (AKA) by Robin Benway
Tracy Banghart delves into TOUCHING THE SURFACE by Kimberly Sabatini
Christine Fonseca is held captive by ABANDON by Elana Johnson
Katy Upperman shines a light on THIS IS WHAT HAPPY LOOKS LIKE by Jennifer E. Smith

Monday, July 22, 2013

Craft Chat: The "Why" of Mysteries and the issue of Immortality

A touch of insomnia this past week found me watching PBS at 3 AM which is how I discovered a terrific Masterpiece Mystery series. ENDEAVOR, charismatic (and handsome) Shaun Evans, explores the early career of detective Endeavor Morse, masterfully portrayed by the late John Thaw in the earlier series, INSPECTOR MORSE.

How does this relate to writing craft?

As a child, I was an avid mystery reader, devouring Nancy Drew, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and Dorothy Sayers. In my late teens through early thirties, books by Elizabeth George, Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane, and Morse's creator, Colin Dexter, sat on my nightstand. Mystery novelists were some of my first instructors on plot, pacing, use of setting to create mood, and developing the character of your protagonist.

Then, one day, I stopped reading mysteries. Why? Pretty much every detective novel I read started out with a death. Not that that initial death is the point of a mystery novel. Mystery novels are most often not about the victims but about the detectives (pro or amateur) who discover their killers. Regardless, all those first-chapter corpses started to bother me. I stopped reading potboilers, stopped watching tv mysteries, like Prime Suspect and Poirot.

Until the wee hours of that recent morning when Shaun Evans' performance revealed this to me: Detectives are often tortured souls because they are philosophers. They embody our need to understand the inevitable outcome of human existence: death. Murder mysteries are not celebrations of criminal cunning but explorations of the minds that seek to figure out a reason one person becomes responsible for another dying. Because if a detective can find this answer, it might point him or her to a reason for living.

When asked the inevitable author question, "Why do you write?" I often tell people that it's my stab at immortality. Yes, it's a compulsion and a (sort of painful) joy, but it is also fired by a need to be remembered, to leave something behind, to prove I existed for a window of time.  Perhaps my occasional discomfort with the murder mystery genre stems from the fact that detective novelists pursue this immortality on both literary and meta-levels. Through the act of writing. The use of death as a plot catalyst. The employ of a hero/anti-hero detective who is both searching for a perpetrator of death and struggling with his/her own mortality or other personal/ethical dilemma. I feel like they are turning a mirror back on author-me and I'm not sure I feel about my reflection.

Gah, this reads like an English paper!

Go watch Endeavor and tell me what you think.

Friday, July 19, 2013

First Pass Pages of THE SOUND OF LETTING GO!

Here they are and, if I do say so myself, they are SO PRETTY!
What do you think?

Thursday, July 18, 2013


This post was originally titled Some Cynical Thoughts About Skyping.

For the last hour, I have been struggling to complete a post on Virtual Author Visits (Skype, blog, chat, etc.).  This is a huge topic right now, the subject of much discussion amongst writers, and amongst the marketing and publicity folks within publishing houses.  There are some amazing things going on in the virtual world and also some frustrations.  I am finding the post I have written to be a bit cynical.  So, to publish or not?  Obviously, I've decided to share these thoughts.  Please realize that I am in fact a very happy person who loves books, authors, the publishing industry, and believes in author visits, in-person, cyber and everything in between.  That said...

At work, I routinely receive requests for authors to Skype or otherwise "virtually visit" with school or library groups.  With school and library budgets shockingly tight, it is not surprising that this is an appealing notion.  However, with no disrespect to the amazing, enthusiastic educational professionals who want to connect their students with favorite writers, I am running into three tricky assumptions about Virtual Visits:

1. Virtual Visits can be arranged quickly and it is hard to imagine an author who could not make time for such an appearance.

2. Virtual Visits should be very cheap, or probably free.

3. Virtual Visits will work with large, assembly-sized groups without particular preparation.

While, as a marketing professional, I always want to maintain happy relationships with educators and librarians, stepping back and taking a look at this from the authors point-of-view, I have these thoughts...

I should note that at this point authors are handling virtual appearance requests in myraid ways. Many offer free short (10-15 minute) Skypes with book groups, etc., and only charge for longer virtual sessions. (If you're doing this, please share your experiences--thanks!). There are authors who Skype for free, those who charge a fee or require minimum book purchase, and every possible permutation and combination in between. Some just find the medium challenging (shy!) and are nervous about charging because they are not sure they are any good at virtual appearances.  Others love the high-tech stuff.  In sum, there is a lot of experimentation going on.

*I think of the old saw about how authors, who work hard at their craft, are asked to give away their time and services in a way that other professionals (think doctors, nurses, lawyers, computer programmers, plumbers, accountants...) are not. Landscapers, for example, are not routinely asked to share funny stories, gardening tips, and give free advice via Skype because it will be "good publicity" for them (maybe you think they should?!).  The internet particularly lends itself to the "free" model.

*If an author's book is on the New York Times Bestseller List, and they are doing Virtual Visits to build goodwill or give back to their readership, free is cool. For writers with a day job who have to use vacation time to fit in Skypes during school hours, or must spend cash to upgrade computers to facilitate virtual promotion, free probably isn't feasible.  Also, there's that whole tricky thing about finding time to write the next book :)

*While Virtual Visits can be arranged quickly, students do not always read works of fiction not-for-a-
grade all that fast. Therefore, while a plan can be made in days, even hours, for an author to Skype with a class, I wonder if there might be a formula correlating the amount of time between scheduling a visit and the author's actual appearance with the amount of preparation teachers and students are doing for the event. In my experience, less tends to correlate to less. (Also, it is hard to keep the attention and interest of a large, semi-prepared group squinting at a stilted video coming through a sub-par internet connection slapped together for the quick occasion.)

So, where to go from here? How can authors build great relationships with schools and libraries, have successful interactions with students, and encourage readers to BUY THEIR BOOKS through Virtual Visits? I would encourage authors to develop a thoughtful, payment-worthy Virtual Visit program and protocol and then to stick to it.
Meanwhile, here are a few interesting third-party sites for those investigating Virtual Visit options.  Not endorsing any of them as yet but it's good to know what's out there.  Please do share your experiences or any other resources you may have found for Virtual Visits, such as Skype an Author and Teaching Books (NOTE: I had two additional sites listed here but they have shut down since I first drafted this post.)
So, was I too cynical?  I will close by reminding you what a happy gal I am.  Finished THE FARWALKER'S QUEST on Tuesday (loved it, especially the notion of "The Forgetting") and am halfway through the KATHERINES (artfully drawn protagonist and hilarious footnotes).

Want to read some posts from 2013? Check out what the Bookanistas are lovin' today!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Y’know it’s hard out there for a pimp, er author…

First, let me be clear, I am NOT passing any kind of judgment. I very much enjoyed the Harry Potter series and have great admiration for J K Rowling as an independent woman, ambitious writer, person of integrity, and possible modern-day Horatio Alger story protagonist. And, with no need for the money, I truly believe she wrote as Robert Galbraith for the sheer low-pressure pleasure of being an unkown.

THAT SAID, as a writer struggling on the ground and in the cyberverse to continue to have opportunities to publish work… As someone who does not write fantasy/dystopian/zombie/psy-fi and who is not Stephenie Meyer, Veronica Roth, John Green, Cassandra Clare, Ms. Rowling herself, or an author of the Official SAT Study Guide (second edition)…

The following data points about THE CUCKOO’S CALLING (pseudonymously published but now revealed as a JK original) are a tough swallow.

“The novel had sold around 1,500 copies in hardback. However, in the hours after Rowling was named as its author, it shot up the bestseller charts. It was listed as the third biggest seller on on Sunday, having entered the top 100 only the day before.” THE TORONTO SUN

“A few hours after the news broke, New Statesman reported that the book's Amazon sales have gone up more than 150,000%.THE HUFFINGTON POST

“On, sales soared more than 507,000% after Rowling acknowledged being the author.” CNN.COM

"The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank…all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realising that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel.  And to those who have asked for a sequel, Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances."    JK herself

Here’s my translation:
  • It appears that strong reviews, a great cover, and a terrific publisher still often yield tragically low hardback sales.
  • Unknown writers stand little chance of getting books noticed.  Not no chance. Little chance. The odds kind of suck.
  • Name recognition is priceless
  • I haven’t got any much.
I think I should go pour me a glass of wine.
Also, I plan to contradict myself next week.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Back to Business: TWEET, TUMBLE, STUMBLE...

As a follow-up to my "vintage" social media post of last week, here are my reflections today.

Ahhhhhh, social media. The ultimate THING TO DO WHEN YOU WANT TO FEEL LIKE YOU
ARE GETTING SOMETHING DONE BUT DON'T WANT TO THINK TOO MUCH. Plus, it somehow makes you feel simultaneously lonelier and less lonely (or is that only me?).


Is all this tweeting, facebooking, etc., useful to authors? Does it come "naturally" to anyone? Has anyone figured out how to do it without it being a ginormous time suck?
WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM is best / most effective / most efficient?

Whether you like it or not, with Amazon's power in online book sales, the increasing use of e-books, competition from self-published books with low price points, and the fact that B&N (the barely hanging-on brick-and-mortar bookstore) is shelving a dwindling percentage of new hard copy releases, some level on online self-promotion is a must.


Two years down the line from my adorable early social media post, I still have more questions than answers. Can't imagine that this is a good thing!

Friday, July 12, 2013


This post was originally titled THE HUNGER GAMES & LEARNING YOUR CRAFT

I'm not a big LinkedIn person but I do occasionally update my profile. It was while doing so recently that I saw that I'd been working in publishing for EIGHTEEN YEARS. First I thought that just couldn't be true. Then I realized that I started working at Random House the year before my eldest was born.  Here are some other things I realized.
  • It took me forever to get my act together to try to become a published writer. (To be clear, the delays caused by my four kids were totally worth it.)
  • Having the opportunity to work on the "other" (non-author) side of the business does not give you a leg-up in becoming a best-seller but certainly arms you with a healthy understanding of your odds.
I loved The Hunger Games, am terribly excited to see the movie and hope that I love it. The recent flop that was John Carter kind of proves that even the hulk-muscled arm of Disney can't MAKE a movie property a success.  Still, I have a good feeling about THG.


In an ode to nostalgia, herewith a link to a pre-Common-Core writing guide I wrote for Random House: It is for a Seuss/Prelutsky title, so it's in verse. Foreshadowing? Coincidence? Karma?

Also, in this earlier post, I was already showing a predilection for capitalization and parentheticals.

Finally, I can report that I did like, thought didn't love, THG, and that  I am currently looking forward to seeing THE HEAT (yes, I am a Sandy B. fan), DIVERGENT and WORLD WAR Z (who knew back when I was only 18 years into publishing that zombies would become the new vampires?).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bookanistas: ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME by Julie Berry

Plot without spoilers...Judith has endured a horrific ordeal and been returned home, after two years in captivity, unable to speak. She has lost her father, her place in the community, and any chance at being with Lucas, her beloved childhood friend. She has also returned to a Roswell Station threatened by an attack, and to the unsolved mystery of another girls death and her own return. Despite shame, pain and mutilation, she must find a way to share the truths she holds inside.

Of literary interest...The novel is written in an intense, immediate first-person that makes the mystery element unfold with unique electricity. Judith, the main character, also addresses many of her thoughts to an unhearing Lucas, whom she addresses as "you." The book is also divided into a prologue ("Before"), four parts and a final scene ("Now") that feel more natural and organic that I could have imagined. In all, a work of expert literary craftsmanship.

Finally, just gotta say...I read this book because my editor sent me an arc. And, as I always am when someone I respect sends me a novel, I was afraid that I might not like it as much as she wanted me to. But, I totally got what she loved about it. ALL THE TRUTH THAT'S IN ME is not a story for the faint of heart. It is a story for those who want to dig deeply into the meaning of words like "survival," "protector," "enemy," and "friend." It is a story for those who appreciate truly bold writing and taking an intimate journey with a truly unique protagonist. Immediate. Intense. Un-put-downable.

Visit for more must-read summer fun!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Back to Business: Nook versus Kindle for the VERSE NOVEL reading experience

I'm going to be honest with you. AUDITION has not been a break-out success of a debut novel. Sales are, well, sufficiently weak that a paperback edition is more of a maybe than a sure-thing. My book cover is also very teen and romantic, leading adult YA readers to skew more to online reading. So, for me, e-book sales are important. Personally, I read on a Kindle. Why? Somebody gave me one. That's it, really. I'm not much of a technology buff and honestly have no strong opinion. However, given my sales situation, I though it might be interesting to answer this question:


I took screenshots of online sample pages of Audition at both B&N and Amazon. Here are the results.




I find it a little bit difficult to read the verse as a two-page spread without the division of a binding-seam in the middle, as it appears in the Nook preview. So, for this, I think I prefer the Kindle version. What do you think? Have you compared e-reader experiences more generally and formed any opinions? Please do share!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Blog Tour Stop for THIS IS W.A.R. by Lisa & Laura Roecker

I am thrilled and delighted to be a stop on Lisa & Laura Roecker's THIS IS W.A.R. blog tour  I was introduced to these dynamo sisters by our mutual agent, Catherine Drayton, back in 2010, before the publication of their first book, THE LIAR SOCIETY. They are amazing, talented, incredibly hard-working, and master-mystery-plotters. So, it is with great pleasure that I share our conversation with you.
SWK: Willa. James. The Gregory Family...I love the names in this book. Are there any special stories about these naming choices?
L&L: Names are very important to us and they often change until they're just right. We wanted the Gregory boys to have a last name that could be a first name. Just because it sounds semi-pretentious. And we knew we wanted a Trip for the third. Willa's name changed the most. She was originally Alice Wells-Rowan. But when the title of the book changed from THE HUSH FUND to THIS IS W.A.R., we knew we wanted initials that would spell war. So we came up with Willa Ames-Rowan and it fit perfectly. The rest of the girls had to be named their particular names. We sit on the phone together for days and debate until we find the perfect fit.

SWK: Like the Liar Society books, W.A.R. takes place in an environment of exclusivity, of privilege.
Do you feel these settings are particularly helpful in exploring themes of wealth and power? What else draws you to these settings and how (if at all) do you feel they affect the way you build your plots?
L&L: We had wonderful childhoods. We were loved and happy and had pretty much everything we wanted. But we drove beatdown cars, worked after school at shoe stores, dry cleaners and dentist offices and spent our summers at the Solon public pool. But money (to this day) fascinates us. We know (know, know) it can't bring happiness and we also know if we had loads of it we'd still wear Target t-shirts and shop at Homegoods, but when we set out to write, we're drawn to characters with an extra-exclusive lifestyle. We like celebrities, we like design and drool over pretty things on Pinterest. The themes of wealth and power that naturally arise when we create these extraordinarily rich characters are a bonus, too!

SWK: I think you fill a special niche, writing exciting mysteries in the teen space (kind of YA Nancy Drew). What draws you to the mystery genre? Do you ever think about writing other genres and, if so, what would be your first choice?
L&L We write what we used to love to read. We grew up on Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan, so mysteries were a good fit for us. Of course, when we're plotting them out and poking holes, we curse the day we ever thought we could write a good mystery! And yes, we are drawn to other genres. We also love romance novels and are currently plotting our own version out.

SWK: I WILL NOT ask the "what is it like to work together as sisters" question because I'm sure you hear it, like, hourly. Instead, I'll as what is the ONE QUESTION you WISH bloggers and readers would ask but never do--and what is the answer?
[SWK caveat. Okay, I know the answer below seems like shameless self-promotion. In fact, I almost didn't post this part of the interview. But I honestly asked this question and this is their unedited answer!]
L&L LOVE this question! What's the book that you wish will be/was a #1 New York Times Bestseller?
Laura: Stasia Kehoe's AUDITION and THE SOUND OF LETTING GO. Poetry in novel form.
Lisa: Anything by Adele Griffen. She consistently nails the teenage voice and takes us right back to those years.
To celebrate the launch of THIS IS W.A.R., LiLa and SourceBooks are giving away beautiful key necklaces. Learn more here. Then follow the links to the entry forms at these book retailers:
Kobo; iBooks; BAM
Or visit a participating indie bookstore or libraryeach has keys for the first 10 people who check out/order the book!

Friday, July 5, 2013


This post was originally titled The (Lady) Problem with Social Media. 

Batman circa 2011
Late last night, I was watching E News when a not-unpredictable ad for a feminine hygiene product came onto the screen.

My husband always jokes that I watch networks that carry ads for zit creams and hair dye, and he watches television channels that hock collectible coins and scooters for the mobility challenged. But, I digress.

The ad in question was actually kind of funny. Above average for its topic. But at the end of the ad, it was suggested to me that I like the product on Facebook because that would make me look super-cool, right? Or help me in any way, huh?

After giggling in mortification at the thought of actually LIKING said page, I thought a minute about my own liking habits.  What's in it for the like-ER and like-EE? Liking other author pages is nice because I want to support colleagues, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't do anything to drive anyone's book sales. Liking television shows or music groups gives me a few seconds of fun but failing to update these likes more-or-less creates a trend-expiry date for your page, not unlike the open-by stamp on milk. Besides, I am pretty sure I have never found new "friends" or readers because we both like Smash. And so on. You get it.

What's more, many of the pages I "like" are updated with an infrequency that, combined with my kind of "meh" relationship with Facebook results in my almost never seeing a posting from them again. I mean, it's probably close to a full-time job to FB enough to keep a page in its "likers" feed enough to make the whole effort worthwhile.

This post was originally written a couple of years ago. What's REALLY FUNNY is that, since I wrote it, SMASH has been cancelled, TWITTER and other sites have emerged, and SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER has actually BECOME a full-time job at publishing houses.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I am writing an article about the ways authors (traditionally and self-published) use the internet to promote their books. I would be so grateful if you would take the survey below. I promise that I will contact you for permission in you say something "quotable" and I'll post a link to the article when it pubs! THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME!