Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday, Monday: Marketing, Money and Muses

It's Monday! It's early and today instead of writing ahead of time, I decided to write the morning blog when I woke up. I'm a planner in most aspects of my life except the actual creative fiction part. In that part of my life, I'm a pantser. I like to have my morning blogs put to bed before I go to bed. But last night, I watched the Daytime Emmys and live blogged them for my day job, so to speak. I actually really enjoyed the Emmys this year and I have to say I salute the CW for the crisp, well-organized show that kept the pomp to a manageable minimum while the circumstance allowed everyone a moment to shine except Bradley Bell at the end.

Following my live blogging event, I rolled over to watch True Blood, which I had to catch on the TIVO. After last week's powerful episode, I was hoping for so much more from tonight. Instead, it felt like we were sitting on an elevator listening to the music, artificially ramping up the tension for the finale (which airs in two weeks by the way). I was a little disappointed, admittedly. I did love the conversation between Sookie and Lafayette about Eric, Eric's blood and their rather passionate dreams regarding the Viking. Yum. Yum. Jason and Andy acted like keystone cops with a lot of posturing and Sookie rushed headlong into trouble to save Tara from herself, sadly, it looks like Sookie and her happy hand of light may be the only thing that can push the Maneid back since Maryann has willed herself immortal. I'm still looking forward to the season finale, but I hated treading water tonight.

Oh and note to Bill -- sacrificing Sam to save the rest so you can kill Maryann is not going to go over with the girlfriend. I'm just saying.

Marketing 101

One of the most basic rules associated with book publishing is that books are business. Yes, you as an author may be laboring with love for your characters. You may have passionate ups and downs with the writing, then find yourself having to court your characters to make up with them and coax them into the stories you have created. But when it comes down to submitting the manuscript to an agent, the first rule of thumb is not how much do you love your characters. It's not how much you sweated and worked for the story. It's not even whether the story is good.

The question is can the agent sell it? A lot of agents won't take on books they don't believe in. So you really have to make the agent believe in your work to get their attention. But just getting the agent is like pushing a grocery cart uphill with three wheels, one of which is rusty and getting ready to fall off. Once the agent believes in your work, they have to find a publishing house that's willing to believe in it. Then so forth and so on.

In the ebook world, you don't have to go the agent route. For some print submissions, you can bypass the agent too. You still have to get the squeaky cart up the hill to get it submitted and accepted. Now you've got a contract and woot, that feels good. You're going to be a published author. It's all gravy, right?

Selling Your Book

You've worked your way through writing. You've sweated your way through submitting. You've cried your way through the editing process. But now you have to sell your book again. That's right, you have to sell your book to the readers and their rejections don't come with form letters or words of encouragement. If they buy it, you get some money, if they don't, well you don't. Sales are the ultimately equalizer when it comes to understanding whether you're doing your job of selling your book.

Wait, you thought the selling was over when the agent agreed to represent you? Or when the publishing house said they wanted to put the book under contract? Sorry to disappoint, but even the big publishing houses have a limited budget for promotion. Unless you're a top tier, huge author with guaranteed blockbuster sales, you're the one who is out there schlepping your novel through:

  • Social Networking

  • Website

  • Mailing List

  • Guest Blogs or Blog Tours

  • Author Appearances

  • Book signings

  • Interviews

  • Contests

  • More

As a first time author or even second time author, you do not have the luxury of name recognition. E-books, this is even more true, because you're an unknown quantity. So you do all this schlepping in an attempt to get noticed, to have people look at your book out of curiousity. Sure, they may pick it up randomly when scanning the bookshelves at the bookstore or at the new releases section, but you're only a new release for a small amount of time.

Personal Appearances and Name Recognition

Ebook authors have a harder time with appearances because they don't have a physical product to hold up and say, check it out. They are less likely to be invited to do readings at their local library or bookstores because the library can't stock the book and the bookstore can't sell it. The online book tours are fantastic, but you have to really work it and line up all your appearances with multiple sites, coordinating multiple dates and arranging for interviews, blogs and reviews which is a gargantuan effort for the individual unless you can afford to shell out the dough for someone to do it for you.

Now, promotion is a carrot, but here's the stick. You can spend a few hundred dollars on promotion - yourself - with no promotion budget from anyone else and get little to nothing in return. It's a gamble. It's a crapshoot. Particularly for new authors. Yet, you do it because people don't know your name yet. They don't go, ooo, Nora Roberts, must buy. Nora Roberts has name recognition, so does Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher and Kelley Armstrong and Kay Hooper and dozens of other authors out there. People go out to find their books because they are by them.

Some imprints are popular enough to sell the book without creating buzz about the name of the book or the author. But those imprints are series romances or published by a name that is a brand in its own right. For first time writers, the marketing aspect of your job can be daunting. In fact, after nearly six months of schlepping for Remembering Ashby, I've experienced the gamut of fun to frustrated.

The Value of Marketing

Great reviews from a wide variety of sites, industry magazines and even other authors that I really respect does not always translate into sales. Free giveaways interest people, but so does solid writing and believable characters. But the number of hoops you have to go through just to get your book into someone's hand and to get people to buy them much less read them can be so overwhelming as to not be worth it.

What was that? Are you suprised to see me say, not worth it? I'm not the best marketer on the planet. I've been learning. I've been working it. I've paid my dues, but do I see a return with my book sales? Honestly, not this time around. But that's okay, because I've learned so much from this experience that I am going to pay it forward to the next book and the book after that and the book after that.

My muse strangles under the marketing, so I have to strike an even balance between the two. I have a marketing budget that's next to nothing because I have to feed my family and pay my bills. So what is an author to do?

They keep doing it. They don't do it for the fame. They don't do it for the fortune. They do it because they can't not do it. They have to write, they have to tell their stories and then they have to talk about their stories so they can sell their stories. It's an ongoing process that gets a little easier each time.

Buying Me for Me

No one knew who Heather Long was when Remembering Ashby came out. Chances are, only a handful of people know who I am right now. But a few more will know when Prime Evil comes out and a few more after that. Someday, someone will pull up an ebook shop or go into a bookstore and they will see Heather Long on a book and go, 'Hey, I know that name. Don't I?" And they're going to pick up the book and they're going to check it out.

It doesn't mean they will buy it, but that's the next step, right? Marketing isn't for everyone and it can certainly be a headache, but it's in the contract of blood, sweat and tears for our art. So tell me, what have you sold lately? How much time a week do you spend on marketing yourself and your work?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Snips and Clips: Books, Blogs and Beauty

Is August really drawing to a close? It seems like just yesterday the summer heat was rolling in, but the kiddos are back to school, moms and dads are back to writing and fall television will soon be back on the air. Before we know it, Halloween will be here.

Sunday snips and clips is my weekly round up of news and views that may not have fit in anywhere else. Today, we've got a few different things going on: it's the end of one month, the beginning of another and we've got a lot of great things to look forward too.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

The BBAW is this month around the week of September 14th. Now, I would typically jump on this week to feature multiple profiles of some of my favorite book bloggers, but I did a series of Spotlight Ons in July with some great book reviewers who are also bloggers. Many of these book bloggers are also up for awards of their own and I am so happy for all of them. I'll be featuring a little blip on the sidebar about various book bloggers all month, so be sure to check in on that.

The Daily Dose Coffee Mug

If you look on the left, you'll notice that you can now order your very own Daily Dose coffee mug. That's right, I wanted one because I just love the banner art so much and I thought I would share with my readers. Also, beginning in September and running through December, one lucky commentator a month will win a coffee mug. I will randomly draw a name and announce it the last day of the month. You can then contact me with the shipping information and I will send you your very own Daily Dose coffee mug, the perfect accessory for daily inspiration.

Prime Evil Edits

That's right, Prime Evil is back in my hot little hands with all of its red marks in place. I will be working diligently to get these edits done and back to my editor. I will be posting the release date soon. Also you have just a couple of more days to enter in my free Prime Evil give away. Check out this interview with me at Erotic Book Junkies Book Reviews and leave a comment. The winner will be drawn on August 31st!

You Are So Beautiful, To Me

Spotlight On will feature interviews with cover artists this month including Dan Dos Santos, Kendra Egert, Judy York and Sherin Nicole. These artists are the creative force behind some of the best looking covers in print and e-books.

Charmed and Demonic

Don't forget the contest to win Charmed and Dangerous (the first of the Charmed series by Candace Havens) and Kiss and Hell by Dakota Cassidy is open until September 10th. If you haven't entered, you can check out the rules here.

Guest Bloggers, Anniversaries and More

My husband and I will be celebrating 10 years of marriage in October by spending a week at Disney World (we were married there in 1999). So for our personal week away, I am lining up a great array of guest bloggers so that you can continue to enjoy your morning dose of coffee, wit and wisdom. Among the features and guests you can look forward to are: Candace Havens, Angela James, Nikki Duncan, Kelly Ann Zuzulo, D.D. Scott and an interview with Shannon K. Butcher. Also on the agenda is an interview with authors Rachel Caine and Thomas E. Sniegoski.

It really is shaping up to be such a great month. If you are interested in guest blogging while I'm out of town, be sure to drop me a note and hopefully we'll be able to fit you in.

What are you looking forward to next month?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saturday Speculation: Gothic Horror and Romance

Gothic horror sounds like the antithesis of romance, but the dark and brooding genre is very appealing to fans of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. A very modern example of gothic horror on television is Supernatural. The show uses a mixture of the modern monster hunter versus the dark gothic horrors from ghosts to demons to vampires and more. In fact, the very first episode of the series embraced the lone woman in the dark who needed saving in the very first episode, albeit as a 'Woman in White' rather than as a heroine. Other notable differences are the fact that Supernatural features two male leads, the brothers Winchester, who do have romantic entanglements that end badly as often as they end well. In season four, for example, the brothers were entangled with a demon and an angel.

Making Gothic Romance Work in the Modern Setting

In most gothic horror with romance, the romance most often ends in tragedy. Frankenstein offers a look at how the romance of Victor and his love ends horribly. While Frankenstein does not focus solely on the relationship of the two characters, it does show how Victor's monstrous actions affect his family and ultimately kill his love.

Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will definitely recognize the gothic horror influences in that show. None of Buffy's relationships end well. Her love for Angel must remain unrequited or he turns into the monster Angelus. Spike's love for Buffy is unrequited, despite the fact that they form a close bond and he even goes so far as to earn a soul for his own redemption and sacrfices himself to save her. In the end, Buffy is alone amongst many and one is left to ponder whether she will ever be able to find a love that does not end in tragedy.

Horror, Romance and Angst

In comic books, the concept of gothic horror and romance remains firmly alive. More often than not, the hero and the heroine do not live happily ever after. The ongoing nature of serials precludes the HEA and lends itself more to the tragic romance such as that experienced by Alison and Nathan on Eureka. The show is science fiction, but the gothic level of romantic tragedy that exists when Nathan sacrifices himself on his wedding day to save the town cannot be denied.

The deep and passionate response to all of these suggests that romance audiences do not just crave the HEA. Sure they want it, but they are also touched by the sublime stories that explore the darker, passionate side of the human psyche.

Do you enjoy gothic horror and romance? Would you read a story knowing that at the end there is only tragedy awaiting the couple you rooted for?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Guest Blog: How Hot Is Hot?

As the summer winds down, an issue that seems to keep erupting for me in weather and reading choices is How hot is hot? First of all, the overall romance market is hot. The area of romance fiction generated $1.375 billion in U.S. sales in 2007, a five percent increase over 2006, making it the biggest fiction publishing category for that year, according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing. A recent article in The New York Times reported that Harlequin Enterprises had fourth-quarter earnings in 2008 that were up 32 percent over the same period a year ago. That’s hot!

However, I specifically refer to the level of heat I’ll find between the pages. The romance market is awash in names, titles, and scantily clad or just sweetly glowing covers. It’s hard—eh, difficult—to tell just how far the story arc is going to extend. Of course, the reader can writhe around at the various online romance sites (bit more difficult to do in an actual bookstore) to try to determine the romantic intentions of a prospective booklist. But that takes research. Readers would rather be reading. And they don’t want to waste money on a title that, ultimately, disappoints or shocks by its content. I’d like to see an industry-wide standard by which romance books reveal their moist inner core right there on the cover.

Heat meters certainly are nothing new. But I find them too generalized. For instance, you know you’ll get romance from Avon Books, but, as noted above, that’s a huge range. Avon also has Avon Red for erotic fiction. That’s a division of two. Not good enough. Harlequin has a bit better articulated system with various imprints, such as Blaze, Silhouette, and Harlequin Presents. Harlequin Blaze describes itself as: Stories have a contemporary feel and emphasize the physical relationship between the couple. Stories run from flirtatious to dark and sensual, and the line pushes boundaries in terms of characterization, plot, and explicitness. Okay, “pushes boundaries” is a good description, but the whole thing is too wordy and a reader would only discover this information after going to the Harlequin site. Harlequin Silhouette describes itself as passion, drama, sensual, scandalous. Yup, that covers a lot of ground and flesh. Harlequin Presents: passionate, seduction and passion guaranteed. Hmm. How is that different?

I really like the way All Romance eBooks defines the content of the titles they carry at their online store, which, incidentally, is also the system that my publisher, Sapphire Blue Publishing, abides by. The flame system:

If you buy your ebooks from All Romance, you know immediately what you’ve got coming. Can’t romance publishers have a consensus that such a system benefits the reader and may motivate them to buy more titles more quickly?

The flame system is taken. However, any series of icons could work. A 1-to-5 rating system seems to be sufficient, with 3 being the middle of the road and including your run-of-the mill nudity and thrusting. All Romance does a good job of describing the range of heat levels. Perhaps an icon structure that would use familiar symbols to convey those heat levels.

For example, level 1 could be a rose (sweet, for love); 2 could be a trailing ribbon (untied from a package or unwound from a bodice); 3 could be a bared breast (just kidding, but you get the idea); 4 could be a phallus of some sort (maybe an Egyptian obelisk, rounded tip please); and 5 could be a studded dog collar. Just throwing ideas out there. Would love to hear yours.

The thrust of this essay basically is—as in life and love—we humans desire to know what we’re in for. Well, it’s not feasible in reality. But in the romance publishing industry, it certainly is. Readers want to know what they’re going to get, and publishers should give it to them.

K. F. Zuzulo is the author of The Third Wish, a genie romance novella published by Sapphire Blue Publishing in June 2009. Her supernatural thriller A Genie in the House of Saud: Zubis Rises was a winner in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Visit her site to learn more about the author, her writing, and genies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Review: Hunting Ground

Hunting Ground is the second of three books in the Alpha and Omega series. The series began with a short story in the anthology On the Prowl. You can read more about the Anna Latham’s story here. Now, Hunting Ground picks up about a month after the events in Cry Wolf. Charles and his father are arguing, which is unusual when you consider Bran is the Marrok, Alpha of all Alphas and most of his wolves obey him. The argument is over the fact that Bran is hosting a summit with the Alphas of the European packs and Charles doesn’t want him to go but he cannot give him a logical reason for it – only an instinct that says Bran should stay home in Montana and stay safe.

In the meanwhile, Bran’s tried to enlist Charles’ mate Anna to get through to Charles, but the contrary little Omega reminds Bran that Charles would not argue with him for a frivolous reason so maybe Bran should really think about what Charles is saying. All of this is revealed as Anna in wolf form, stalks Charles who is shoveling snow off his walk. Charles is agitated and angry, irritated that he cannot just obey his father and more irritated that he cannot make his father understand his point.

A month ago, Anna probably would have run away from such anger, but instead, she tackles him into the snow and thus begins a pounce and play game that is wonderful to read. Bran even gets involved when he shows up to talk to his son and the two do not stop their horse play to greet him. The interaction allows readers to fully grasp the dynamic between the leader of the North American packs and his family. Anna’s poise is also a welcome evolution of her character as she grows not only more comfortable with whom she is, but also with the men in her life.

When Bran actually acquiesces to Charles’ request to stay away from the summit and sends Anna and Charles instead, it demonstrates to Charles just how much Anna’s influence has changed things. This brief glimpse into life in Aspen Creek is wonderful, but short-lived because soon, Anna and Charles are heading for Seattle where they will meet with the European Alphas, spend time with the Emerald City Pack and even see two old friends from the Strange Brew short story (werewolf Tom and his ‘mate’ the blind witch Moira).

What I Liked

Briggs expands her world to include the European wolves with their territorial, ethnic and nationalist disputes to the fore. Alphas from the British Isles, France, Germany, Spain, Russia and Italy are just some of the examples of werewolves Briggs introduces readers too. Not only are there language barriers to overcome, but the wolves of Europe are not like the North American wolves. They are not ruled by a single Alpha of Alphas.

The summit is designed to address the political ramifications of the wolves coming out in public. Not about asking their permission. Interestingly enough, while the Emerald City Pack is ‘hosting’ the event in Seattle, it is a Grey Lord of the Fae that is providing the ‘neutral’ security for the event. This is important because all those dominant wolves in one place can mean a lot of trouble.

The back cover blurb sums it up very well:

Anna Latham didn’t know how complicated life could be until she became a werewolf. And until she was mated to Charles Cornick, the son and enforcer of Bran, the leader of the North American werewolves, she didn’t know how dangerous it could be either.

Anna and Charles have just been enlisted to attend a summit to present Bran’s controversial proposition that the wolves should finally reveal themselves to the humans. But the most feared Alpha in Europe is dead set against the plan and it seems as though someone else might be, too. When Anna is attacked by vampires using pack magic, the kind of power only werewolves should be able to draw on, Charles and Anna must combine their talents to hunt down whoever is behind it all --- or risk losing everything.

What I Didn’t Like

Only that it ended. I wanted more resolution at the end than we got. I understand the action oriented nature of the books requires that when the conflict is resolved, the story ends. However, in the world that Briggs is building I don’t think it’s dragging on the book to offer more than just the conflict is over, the end, at the tail of the story.

While not one hundred percent predictable, I did figure out the conflict source fairly early on. The red herrings were well-played, however, because they did make me question my guess in a couple of places.

Final Analysis
I give this book a solid read it endorsement, but only if you’ve been following Anna’s story. I do not think it’s a good book for anyone to pick up as a first timer. In fact, you should read the books in the following order:

Mercy Thompson Books

Moon Called
Blood Bound
Iron Kissed
Bone Crossed

Anna Latham

In the loose chronology, Alpha and Omega takes place during the events in Moon Called, while Cry Wolf happens immediately following it. Hunting Ground appears to take place around the end of Blood Bound.

Alpha and Omega (On the Prowl Anthology)
Cry Wolf
Hunting Ground


Seeing Eye (Strange Brew) – Moira Keller and Tom Franklin are introduced in this story and play a role in the events of Hunting Ground.

Coming Up Next from Patricia Briggs:

Silver Borne, the fifth book in the Mercy Thompson series is rumored to address Samuel’s problems. The book is currently availble for pre-order and Amazon lists March 30, 2010 for release date. While a third book is planned in the Alpha and Omega series, it is as yet untitled. Learn more at her website.

Coming Up in September:

Cover artist Dan Dos Santos (Mercy Thompson and Alpha and Omega) will join the Daily Dose for a Spotlight On conversation in September! Be sure to stop by for that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wednesday's Work in Progress: Hel's Belle

I'm officially past the halfway mark in Hel's Belle and what started out as an exciting story to me is just getting better and better. I literally find myself working on it all the time, the story is churning out faster than I can type. No complaints here at all! Because I'm so obsessed with the writing, it distracted me a little from the blog - so I thought I would share with you my own work in progress today.

One of the best things about writing is getting into the heads of your characters and holding on for a wild ride. I used to work with horses and writing is a lot like working with equines. Some are sweet, even tempered and pleasant. They deliver you your word count at a sedate, but comfortable pace. Some are stubborn and recalcitrant and won't cooperate no matter how many times you delete and rewrite. Still others were born to fly and will race you along the paths of the story, leaping obstacles with powerful legs and all you can do is hold on for the ride.

I can't tell you which of these is best because like the horses I am comparing the writing too, I love all of them. What you're about to read began as a gentle, sedate ride through the countryside of my imagination, but then someone let out the hounds and we were off to the races.

I hope you enjoy the first few pages of Hel's Belle.

The Past is Prologue

"Venti half café, non fat, with whip, peppermint mocha.” Billy announced while pressing the hot cup of coffee in to Cassie’s hands. She nodded absently, watching the scene being set as camera men got into position and light meters were being tested. The podium stood forlorn in the sea of cables, camera men and reporters. Some of those reporters were checking their makeup and others were catching a quick smoke away from the thick of the crowd. Cassie’s nose wrinkled faintly as the crisp smell of burning tobacco brushed her nose.

“You don’t want one.” Billy assured her automatically as he flipped open a notebook. “Press conference starts in thirty minutes. Our guests of honor are preparing in the Park House. The caterers prepared the fruit and cheese table with wine and left it to your exact specifications. They will not be disturbed. Security is in place and ready to escort them before and after the press conference.” Billy’s pen scratched against the paper as he made a notation. “Jasmine called and rebooked your appointment with the Governor from two to five p.m. She also said it might be pushed off again.”

“It won’t.” Cassie murmured and took a sip of the dark chocolate and peppermint confection. Drinking a liquid York Peppermint Patty soothed her nerves. Everything was ready. Weeks of planning would shortly come to fruition. “In fact, keep my afternoon clear; I expect the Governor will be bumping me up by lunch time.”

“I ordered a tray of cold sandwiches and water to be stored in the car. If he does move the meeting up, you can eat on the way.” Billy made another notation. “Michael called. …”

“I don’t have time for Michael today.” Cassie tilted her head and glanced up at the sky. The clouds didn’t threaten rain, but the dark gray offered a gloomy feel to the conference. Thirty minutes to go and no sign of the promised sunshine.

“I told him you would return his call sometime next week.”

“I am sure he didn’t like that.”

“No ma’am. He didn’t.”

Cassie’s lips turned upwards at what Billy wasn’t saying. Michael found it infuriating when she pushed him off. “Don’t worry about Michael, Billy. He’ll huff and he’ll puff and if you just put him on ignore until he’s done, you can remind him that I choose my own clients, not the other way around.” For three years, Billy worked as her executive assistant. Cassie hired him the day he graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor’s in Communication.

“Yes, ma’am.” Billy voice betrayed little humor as he snapped shut the notebook and picked up her briefcase. He gave her figure the once over with a professional discerning eye.

She knew what he saw. She knew what everyone saw. Thick reddish-brown hair, pulled back in a single pony tail looked neat and businesslike. A crisp Donna Karen suit which almost matched her hair color and low-heeled pumps dyed to match. She wore a pair of simple diamond studs at the ears and a pair of darkly colored black eye-jackets.

“Shall I head down and double check the microphones?”

“Thank you, Billy.” Cassie turned away from surveying the crowd to give him a fast, genuine grin. “I’m going to take my ten with coffee.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Billy strode away, his long, lanky legs eating up the distance between the parking lot and the bandstand where the announcement would take place. Grant Park’s Clarence Buckingham fountain sprayed in the distance and Cassie turned her attention to the flowing pattern of the water. She could feel the heat of the unexposed sun on her face. If the sun actually came out from behind the clouds as she’d been promised, it would be a gorgeous, warm spring day after a terrifically brutal winter.

The sound of the water replaced the distant chattering of the press corps. The corner of her mouth quirked upwards as she imagined all those voices to be more like geese and water fowl than journalists waiting to hear what a wealthy donation to the Arts could purchase for a press conference. Initially she planned the conference for the steps to the museum, but the clients preferred the open space of the park with Lake Michigan spread out in the distance.

Another sip of the mocha and her nerves settled. Everything in place. Billy doing last moment checks and her watch vibrating a small alarm. She opened her eyes to look down at the dial face before pressing the alarm off. She would walk down and in five minutes begin her opening remarks. Skin flushing, Cassie took a deep breath and buried her nervousness under the veil of professionalism. In a few short minutes, she was going to be at the center of a news story that would cascade throughout the nation and eventually the world.

Heady stuff.

Tipping the mocha cup back, she drained down the peppermint and chocolaty sweetness. Touching a finger to make sure the corners of her mouth were clean, she disposed of the cup into a trash can. Her gaze found Billy on the bandstand. Cassie smiled at his thumbs up.

The image seemed scorched on her mind’s eye as the detonation picked her up off the ground and flung her like rag doll. Paper floated down, she wondered why anyone would throw that much paper in the air?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Strangely Beautiful Conversation with Leanna Renee Hieber

A short while back I read a review of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker on Donna's Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings blog. That review, along with a couple of others, really intrigued me about the book. To be honest, it was the title though. The title that I found to be an alluring invitation to my curiousity. The author, Leanna, just happened to be on Twitter (really loving the twitter-verse) so I struck up a conversation with her and that evolved into the interview or this strangely beautiful conversation with Leanna Renee Hieber. Her novel comes out today (so order it if you haven't) and while I've only just started reading it, I've already been seduced by the language.

Gothic Victorian fantasy. Just saying the genre gives me chills. What attracted you to this era and style?

I’ve been obsessed with all of the above since childhood. As a child I traipsed around in doubled skirts, makeshift corsets, speaking in a British accent. Not normal for a kid in rural Ohio. I fell in love with ghost stories (created and told them eagerly, spooking my local Girl Scouts troupe as often as I could), fantasy novels and Edgar Allan Poe and that formed the basis for the stories I began to write at a young age. The rich, complex language was intoxicating and alluring to me, romantic and strange. I could escape fully into it, and any supernatural aspects only heightened the draw. I honestly credit a past life to my literal life-long obsession with the 19th century. I can’t explain it otherwise. It just makes sense to me, feels like home, and calls to me like a siren, eerie and compelling.

What type of research did you do to create the right atmosphere for your novel?

The love of atmosphere came from simply reading 19th century literature, particularly the Gothics, and I believe that translated into my writing. In college I was a theatre major with a focus in the Victorian Era and went on scholarship to London, where I began to hone my thoughts and experiences. While there I became familiar with some London haunts and more familiar with Jack the Ripper. These keen interests led me to read more about both subject matters. Richard Jones’ tours and his Haunted London books ( were oft used resources. Once the idea for Percy Parker waltzed into my head, I surrounded myself with books, films and music set in that time, and continued to read my favourite 19th century authors. I adapted works of Victorian literature for the professional stage and that was a great help in getting me even more comfortable with the language. It was a combination of all of these things.

Can you describe your writing process? Do you have a writing schedule that you maintain?

I write whenever I can, wherever I can. I write best between 10pm and 3am, so I try and have my evenings free, a true creative night owl.

What was the toughest part of the publishing routine? Submitting? Editing?
The submission process for this book was long and torturous. The waiting to hear back from submission to submission is just so difficult when, like me, you don’t have patience and you yearn for your work to find a home. But this business taught me patience as a principle. It’s been about 9 years from the first moment of idea to publication, and that was plenty long enough for me. Because my book is cross-genre, I got a lot of favourable responses but houses wouldn’t take it because it wasn’t enough of one genre or the other. While this made the book harder to sell, I think it’s what makes it unique, and thankfully reviewers have thought so too, and it’s what compelled Dorchester to take a chance on it.

The editing process I really love actually, even though there will always be compromises involved, it’s like working with a director in a play. I think my enjoyment of it comes, though, from having a really great editor who I really enjoy working with.

Each book is a learning experience, what will you take from this book forward?

Pacing. My editor is really good about making sure I don’t lapse into a truly Victorian pacing. The narrative has to be more threaded with tension and more brisk in it’s pace. I’m trying to keep that in mind.

Where did the name come from? It's such an odd, yet curiously appealing name?

It came from my agent. He was really smart. He felt that the title could help navigate the cross-genre nature of the book.

The future novels (trilogy or series) -- are they already done? Are you in the progress of writing them?

The Strangely Beautiful series has four, perhaps five books maximum. I’m done with the draft of Book II, which picks up exactly where Book I leaves off, with Percy and Alexi still in the main focus but with more glimpses into the Guard. I’m currently working on a novella in the Strangely Beautiful world as well as Book III, a prequel.

What type of books do you yourself like to read?

19th century literature, mysteries, fantasy romances, paranormal, YA paranormal or fantasy, and graphic novels.

Author to author, what's the best part of writing for you? What's the worst?

The best is falling in love with ideas, creating a detailed world, setting and characters that you adore so much, characters that become your friends and family and then sharing them with the world so that an audience can come to know and love them too. This book is my love-letter to the world and I’m so grateful for the privilege to share it! The worst part of writing is not having enough time to write.

Leanna is currently doing a wonderful haunted London blog tour of various blogs where she shares several wonderful ghost stories. I highly recommend you follow along with her.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Musings

Spent Sunday writing up a storm on Hel's Belle so I didn't really have time to come up with something pithy for today. But that's all right, I found you some great reading material. Be sure to head over to Julie Butcher's blog and check out this new series:

Seven Stages of Query Grief - Stage 1: Disbelief

It's so totally worth it!

The Good Humor Writer

If you're still looking for something to do after that and you want to write funny, but you don't think you are funny, it's okay. According to Writers Write: The Internet Writing Journal you don't have to be funny to write funny, so check out:

Seven Steps to Better Humor Writing

Supernaturally Delicious

And because I just didn't give her near enough attention in yesterday's blog. Be sure to head over to Michele Bardsley's website to learn all about this really fun lady. Anyone who can turn a soccer mom into a vampire and make a really fun series out of it is someone you want to know. So check her out.

Why are you still here? Click the link already.

Oh, here's the link: Michele Bardsley

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday Snips and Clips: Charmed and Demonic

This Sunday's snips and clips comes to you following a wonderful afternoon spent with the Reyes women of Fresh Fiction, authors Dakota Cassidy (kicked back in the photo on the right), Candace Havens and Michele Bardsley as well as seeing Nikki Duncan and a few other friends from Dallas Area Romance Authors (DARA).

Charmed Demons with Broken Hearts

I know Candace Havens and Dakota Cassidy from Twitter. I made their acquaintance in the twitterverse over the summer, chatting with them, retweeting and generally enjoying their wit and fun. Candace even answered a couple of questions for me while she was on the TCA tours in Los Angeles (for which I was very grateful by the way). In person, she's just as warm and funny and fun as she is online. Dakota Cassidy is every bit as sassy as one might expect from her tweets. Michele Bardsley I did not know before the signing, but definitely enjoyed hearing her experiences.

The three authors answered questions ranging from how do you work (really hard) to how do you cope with writer's block (no such thing) to how they feel about reviews of their work (it actually hurts one of the authors feelings when someone doesn't like her work). These very busy ladies have a lot of great books coming out over the next year including:

Accidentally Demonic by Dakota Cassidy (February 2nd release date) - This is the fourth book in the Accidental series that began with The Accidental Werewolf.

Take Me If You Dare (Harlequin Blaze) by Candace Havens is due out on February 1, 2010.

Come Hell or High Water (Broken Heart Vampires) by Michele Bardley is due out on January 5, 2010. This series begins with the book titled: I'm the Vampire, That's Why. The series set in Oklahoma uses the tagline of "there's a new soccer mom in town, one with fangs." Definitely adding to the to be read list.

All in all, it was a great day and I enjoyed lunch with Candace beforehand and coffee with Dakota and Michele afterwards.

Spotlight On Interviews

Our Spotlight On interviews will continue in September when we feature Cover Artists. Artists Dan Dos Santos, Judy York, Sherin Nicole and Kendra Egert have all agreed to interviews. So be sure to check in the week of September 14 for these great interviews. Also in September, I will feature interviews and guest blogs from some great writers (including one of my personal favorites).

Be sure to vote in the poll on the right for what you'd like to see in future Spotlight On interviews. The options this time around are literary agents, fantasy authors, romance authors and book bloggers.


For fun, let's have a contest. I picked up Charmed and Dangerous (the first of the Charmed series by Candace Havens) and Kiss and Hell by Dakota Cassidy. Both books are signed by their respective authors. If you'd like to win one of these books you can enter using one or all three of the ways below.

So, how do you win this first season? Here are the ways you can enter:

+1 Leave a comment to this blog detailing which book you'd like and make sure I have a way to contact you email or twitter.
+2 Follow this blog or leave me a note saying you already follow.
+3 Post a link to this contest on your blog and let me know where to find it in a comment.

That's six possible chances to win a great book. The only caveat is that there will be two winners: one for each book. Contest will run through September 10th. So get your entries in!

SF/F/H Reviewer Linkup Meme, 2nd Edition - Compiled By John Ottinger


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things mean a lot [also a publisher]

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday Shapeshifters

Shapeshifters are very popular in modern fiction dating back to tales of werewolves that haunted the countryside of Eastern Europe. The classic film The Wolfman from Universal launched an entire franchise of shapeshifting horror and not-so-horrible films including: The Howling, Teen Wolf and one of my all time favorites An American Werewolf in London. But this legacy continued to evolve and include multiple other types of animals from the Sillhouette Nocturne series about large cats to Sherrilyn Kenyons Were Hunters to vampires that become wolves and even going a step further in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books where an older woman is actually a wolf who became human for a time.

So, reaching back into their archival vaults, Universal is remaking The Wolfman. If you'll recall, a few years ago, they remade The Mummy with tremendous success. The plot for the film scheduled to be released in February 2010 takes us back in time to the roots of the legends:

Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman, is lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father, Talbot sets out to find his brother... and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself. Talbot's childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget. But when his brother's fiancée, Gwen Conliffe, tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline has come to investigate.

The film will star Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot and Anthony Hopkins as his estranged father. Emily Blunt stars as Gwen, Lawrence's soon to be sister-in-law and the absolutely brilliant Hugo Weaving (V is for Vendetta, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix) as the Scotland Yard inspector Aberline. I have to say, I've got chills just thinking about this film.

Other great shapeshifters in modern books, television and film include:

*George from Being Human
*Sirius Black (black dog) from Harry Potter
*Professor Lupin from Harry Potter
*Jacob Black from Twilight
*Richard from the Anita Blake series
*Billy Borden from the Dresden Files
*Vane Katalakis (and so many more) from the Dark Hunter Series
*Bran, Adam, Samuel, Charles and Anna (werewolves) from Mercy Thompson series
*Mercy Thompson (Coyote)
*Jeremy, Clay and Elena and the rest of the North American pack from Women of the Otherworld
*Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
*Sam Merlotte (true shapeshifter) from True Blood (The Southern Vampire Mysteries)

Who are your favorite shapeshifters?

Manimal Transforms into Panther

This shortlived series was a lot of fun when it was on, even if it was cheesy. Besides, Simon MacCorkindale was pretty to look at.

Jacob Transforms into a Wolf

Jacob Black is Bella's childhood friend in Forks, he's also got a tribal secret of his own that comes to fruition in Stephenie Meyer's second book New Moon:

Sam Transforms into a Dog

Sam Merlotte is a great bartender, boss and friend to Sookie Stackhouse. Sam is also a true shapeshifter. While he "must" change once a month, he can change whenever he wants. He turns into the animal he last looked at. His most common form is that of a dog that looks a great deal like my Murray dog.

Cat People
This film was really cutting edge in its day and I remember wanting to watch it so badly.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

In Sunday's Snips and Clips I mentioned picking up Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have always been a firm believer in don't knock it until you tried it. So I started reading Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange and it was slow going at first.

Pride and Prejudice: The Dark Sequel

The novel is based on the premise that Fitzwilliam Darcy, the hero of Pride and Prejudice is also a vampyre. That's obvious from the title. The book begins with Elizabeth Bennett's wedding to Mr. Darcy a joint venture as her sister Jane is marrying Mr. Bingely in the same ceremony. The girls are full of nervous anticipation. Grange's use of the language is absolutely lucious. I was immediately transported to the world of Austen's original Pride and Prejudice.

Unfortunately, the story lagged as much due to the language as to the pacing. The writing style that is so wildly Austen in flavor and texture is easy to digest, but we the reader, know from the beginning that Darcy has a secret. We even know what the secret is. So we spend a lot of time waiting to see how it will be revealed.

And waiting.

And waiting.

When the climax of the story is achieved it is vastly unsatisfying because the long, slow build has stimulated the senses and the tension to such an extreme that you want a lot more than what you get. Which to me was the ultimate disappointment. I won't warn you off the book, I think it's definitely worth reading, but I also felt like it could have just been so much more. If you are a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you will enjoy the Darcys, if you're planning to read this because you really love vampire books -- I wouldn't.

Spoilers ahead if you continue.

The World According to Elizabeth Bennett

The novel is written resolutely from Elizabeth's viewpoint. We see every event as it unfolds through her eyes. We also are intimately acquainted with her letters, her fears, her love and her tears. Her wedding day is everything she can imagine. She's thrilled, she's nervous and she's a woman in love. But on their wedding night, Darcy doesn't come to her. He eventually and abruptly changes their plans from spending the wedding tour in the lake district for taking a boat across the channel to France.

Elizabeth's emotions run the gamut from excitement and joy to pained disappointment and longing. Night after night passes and Darcy never comes to her. She sleeps alone. She longs to be with him, yet he makes no move in that direction. During the day when they are together, he is attentive, loving and wonderful. Their journey takes them to the coast of France and then to Paris.

Many of Darcy's acquaintances are shocked that he's married and even more shocked about Elizabeth herself. Sadly, the old concerns from the original book rear their head as Elizabeth worries that Darcy feels he's made a mistake. She knows he is harboring a dark secret, a deep concern and that he is consulting old friends and family about it. She worries that she is the source of the concern. After all, she had no dowry.

They leave France to travel to the Alps where they stay with a distant Uncle (Count Polidori) in a castle with no mirrors. Darcy and Elizabeth must abandon the castle suddenly when a mob attacks it and they ride frantically through the night. Eventually they make their way down to Italy and to Venice. And so it goes, on and on. Elizabeth meets all these new people, sees all these exotic places, but Darcy does not come to her.

Twice she nearly seems to seduce him, but he resists or they are interrupted. Eventually, a dark man tries to bespell Elizabeth in Venice and Darcy fights him off. The pursuit of this ancient dark vampyre adds a layer of tension not felt in the first half of the book. In fact, by the time we get to Venice and I was ready to throttle Darcy and Elizabeth. She's so ill with worry and he's so lovingly diffident that my personal level of frustration with the story just grew.

Lasting Impression

The big reveal comes near the total end of the novel and by then it feels rushed to conclusion and a not very satisfying conclusion at that. I think the greatest disappointment for me was that I fell in love with the language of the book, the viewpoints and the continuing adventures of Miss Elizabeth Bennett now Mrs. Darcy and her beloved that I wanted more than I got.

I am, however, very glad that I read it.

Cafe of Dreams offers a great interview with the author Amanda Grange.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spotlight On: Don Linn, Publisher

As our Spotlight On ... Book Editors week continues, today, we deviate to focus our attention on publisher Don Linn. I met Don via Twitter (the little social networking engine that could) and I find his insights and observations to be on target with the modern publishing world.

Don graciously agreed to be interviewed for this series and I hope you find his responses as fascinating as I did.

What makes a book marketable? I.E. How do you anticipate what people will want to read a year from now? Two years from now?

Ha! If we knew that the publishing business would be in better shape than it is. In fiction, it’s a particularly difficult call but my feeling has always been that a strong story will be saleable most any time. To me, while it’s worth watching trends and talking to buyers and readers about what’s interesting to them and what they’d like to see is valuable, but only to a point. Good writing, strong characters and a nicely woven tale transcend trends. Of course you have to get the cover, the price, the publicity, the distribution and a zillion other things right to make a book successful, but without a good story, those things seldom can carry the day. Readers are smart.

Is the electronic industry better able to ride trends than the print industry?

I think it probably is for a couple of reasons. First, we have a shorter time to market in most circumstances simply by eliminating the printing step (which will become less of an advantage as POD and devices such as Espresso) improve and attain greater acceptance.. Shorter time to market, at least theoretically, should allow digital publishers to be onto ‘the next big thing’ more quickly than traditional publishers. I think this will be particularly true for timely non-fiction. Second, because of the low advance, high royalty model that many digital publishers have adopted, we can take a risk on an emerging trend without making a huge investment. Finally, I just think digital presses are more nimble generally than their print counterparts and can respond more quickly because of their small size and more versatile company infrastructure.

What advice can you give authors about measuring their success? Particularly when critical success far outweighs financial?

Authors have to measure their success according to the goals they’ve set for themselves. For some, it’s sales; for others, it’s getting good reviews; for still others, it’s signing a contract with a particular publisher. Any or all of these are perfectly good measures. But I will say that the best authors I know personally measure their success in relation to what they describe as their need to write. If they’re getting their ideas down and doing it well, they view themselves as successful.

Tell us more about yourself. As an author, I love learning new and interesting things about a publisher.

The birth of my two children and the grueling travel schedule of investment banking led me to rethink my priorities and my (then) wife and I made the decision to slow the pace. We moved to a small town in Mississippi where I took on the role of managing partner for her family’s businesses, which included large cotton, catfish, soybean, rice, corn and wheat farms, a catfish processing and marketing plant, a cotton gin, a feed mill, a small bank, a chain of assisted living facilities and some other odds and ends. Yes, that was a change, and you can read more than you probably care to know about it in chapter 19 of Po Bronson’s 2002 book What Should I Do with My Life? ( ) Suffice it to say, my business skills and my ability to adapt to different situations were honed during those fourteen years.

In mid-2001, I faced another What Should I Do? moment due to some changes in my personal life. As if by magic, the above-mentioned Po Bronson reappeared, calling to say he was on the board of a book distribution company in St. Paul, Minnesota, that was for sale, and he thought I should buy it. I went to look and thought it was an opportunity to work with some really cool and important independent publishers (City Lights, Akashic, Copper Canyon and New Society, to name only a few), turn it around and make some money. So I bought it, had some success and ended up selling it to Perseus Book Group in 2006.

After knocking around for a few months, I accepted an offer to become senior vice president and publisher at The Taunton Press, a top-quality publisher of hands-on and how-to books, magazines and Web sites. It was a great experience to work with an incredibly talented and generous group of people at Taunton, and we were fortunate enough to produce New York Times bestsellers, James Beard and IACP award winners and category leaders in our target markets.

But I’m an entrepreneur at heart, and I’ve been fascinated with this transitional phase of reading, writing and publishing for some time. So when Kassia, Kat, Kirk and I finally came up with the idea to put Quartet together, it seemed the time was right to make the move.

If you have 2 hours free time tonight, what would you rather do? Why?

Most of my free evenings are spent cooking and reading. Apparently I’m getting old.

Why your own small press? What led you down the road to founding the Quartet Press?

Well, we hope we’re not going to be a small press forever. More seriously, having worked in traditional publishing I came to realize what an enormous undertaking it was going to be to transition a print publisher to the digital model, which I think everyone agrees is at least a major part of publishing’s future. Converting systems, workflows, infrastructure and mindset to the new approach is time consuming and expensive, even under the best of circumstances. Kassia, Kirk, Kat and I determined that not only would it be easier and faster to build from scratch, but also that we could create the company that we wanted and one that would be able to serve readers, authors and the community. One day we were talking about it…the next day we were doing it.

Are you an author turned publisher?
No, as you can see from the background information, I’m an investment banker, turned farming/agribusiness/banking/health care manager, turned book distributor, turned book publisher, turned co-founder of Quartet. Like most people, I feel like I may have a book or two in me (probably non-fiction) but God only knows when I will find the time to try to write it.

Why the book business? I often ask other authors what made you start writing, What made you get into the book business?

Despite having been a voracious reader all my life, it never occurred to me that I’d be in the book business until the opportunity arose for me to buy Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, a distributor of over 100 top quality independent presses from around the world. After working with those folks, who were (and are) some of the most creative, thoughtful, hardworking, industrious and fun people I’d ever met, I was hooked.

How can an editor help a writer achieve their creative vision?
In general, I think editors can help authors best by pushing them hard for focus and clarity in their writing, character development and storytelling. Writing a book is very hard work and it’s natural for author fatigue to set in at some point and for certain elements of the book to break down. .The best relationships between author and editor are the ones where the editor helps the author overcome those weak points to make the book whole.

Is it difficult to not interject your own vision on what the author is doing? How do you walk that fine line?

It’s the author’s story and a publisher or editor can never lose sight of that. The analogy I like to use is this: I tried to raise my children within a certain set of guidelines that I thought would be beneficial to them as they grew up, but their lives are ultimately their own. I could make them be home by 11:00 (cut 2000 words of unnecessary character backstory) but I didn’t want to force them to become something they weren’t (significantly alter the crucial arc of the story).

From my own personal experience, I would say my editor labored lovingly to help produce a better work, do you feel a kinship with each piece you edit?

I can say that as a publisher, I really bond with the titles I’ve been associated with. The hard work really becomes a labor of love. If it doesn’t you may be in the wrong business.

What is your pet peeve when you're editing?
Missed deadlines. I can’t emphasize this enough. Authors, you’re hurting yourselves when you don’t get things in on time. It creates production havoc and can cost sales big time.

This concludes our Spotlight On week at the Daily Dose! I want to thank all the editors and Don for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have a question for Don, feel free to post it here and I will do my best to point him at them.