Monday, January 12, 2015

What's a virtual book tour?


[I'm dual-listing this post with my other blog Payperazzi.  I wanted to post it here as a followup to a note about the blog tour that I added to my last Creating Van Gogh post.  But as it deals with the
   writing life generally I thought it was appropriate for Payperazzi too.]

When the publicist I hired in the fall suggested an organized online book tour, I must admit I hesitated.  Although I should have been, I wasn't aware of this phenomenon at the time.  Of course I knew about book blogs--in fact I'd contacted dozens of them last summer trying to line up reviews and mentions--but a coordinated tour through several of them was a new form of  marketing for me.  The publicist suggested a particular tour company she knew and respected: TLC Book Tours.  Looking over their web site I saw that I could choose between a 10-blog tour and 20-blog tour; I also could, if I wanted, among other services, pay for advertisements in a newsletter the company puts out to its book club.  All the different services offer by TLC seemed attractive and potentially valuable, but a 10-blog tour was what our budget allowed, so I went with that.

It took several weeks for the tour to get fully arranged--no way could I have coordinated this all on my own--and I must admit that there days when I wondered if TLC had forgotten about me.  Ideally the tour happens very close to the official release date of your book, but since I was late to commit, the tour  couldn't happen until my book Island Fog had been out for a couple months.  I had my choice of December or January, and Trish Collins at TLC strongly recommended January, explaining that everyone is too distracted in December to pay much attention to bloggers.  I took her word for it.

So--ta dah--January successfully (and coldly) arrived, and with it came the beginning of my blog tour.  So far so good!  I must admit that it's childishly thrilling to wake up and know that a given book blog is going to exclusively profile your that day.  Thrilling, but anxious too, because you have no way of knowing what they will say.  There's no contractual agreement that the blogs have to provide positive reviews.  No, you just send each blog a copy of your book, stand back, and then simply wait for the results.  I guess it's kind of like an actor in Broadway show who, the morning after the opening, rushes to look at his copy of the Times to see what the reviewer had to say, knowing how his day--to say nothing of the fate of the show--will hang on what's printed there.  That same breathless thrill--and that same anxiety.  Except that, weekends excluded, I get to experience it for ten days! (Actually eleven, as it turns out.)  It's been great, though.  Really fun.  It helps that every review so far has been positive, and a couple have been overwhelmingly so.  Ann Walters at Books on the Table so liked the book after she read it that she shot me a series of questions to answer so that she could expand her review with an author interview.  Very gladly!  Thank you!

To make the week even sweeter, a long-since-completed interview I conducted with my colleague Garry Craig Powell finally found its way into Fiction Writers Review on Thursday.   How's that for timing?  For the very attractive look of the interview I have to thank the kind attention, and conscientious editing, of FWR publisher Jeremy Chamberlin.  Click here to read it.

As I've mentioned to a few people already, and said in the Books on the Table interview, I feel like publishing this book has taught me what to do the next time I publish a book.  (Keeping my fingers crossed on that score.)  That has been the real benefit of all these various marketing activities.  And certainly one lesson is that a book blog tour is clearly worth it.  In sales?  I don't know yet.  Maybe yes; maybe no.  In exposure?  Yes, certainly.  In thrills?  Absolutely.  In fact, I would heartily recommend TLC to anyone who asked.  That said, if anyone reading this has had a particular bad or useless experience with a book blog tour I'd be happy to hear about it.  Below find links to the reviews that have been posted on the first five blogs on my tour.  And then below that, links to the upcoming six.  (TLC kindly arranged a lagniappe for me.)  Cheers, everyone.

Last week's stops on the Island Fog book blog tour:

Monday, January 5th: The Year in Books
Tuesday, January 6th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, January 7th: Books on the Table
Thursday, January 8th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Friday, January 9th: The Book Binder’s Daughter

This week's stops:  

Monday, January 12th: The Discerning Reader
Tuesday, January 13th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, January 14th: Lit and Life
Friday, January 16th: Peeking Between the Pages

The last two stops:

Tuesday, January 20th: Bibliotica
Thursday, January 22nd: A Book Geek

Monday, January 5, 2015

A great Hands On experience


I've discovered a new conference!  And it's in a great city: New Orleans.  I traveled down there shortly after Christmas for what, I found out, was only the second running of the Hands On Literary Festival and Masquerade Ball.  It could not have been a more pleasant, more friendly, more genial event--aptly organized and warmly administered by New Orleans native Jennifer Stewart-Wallace--and I found it unusually nourishing.  First of all, because the conference is only in its second year, it's still a very manageable size.  Only two sessions to choose from for each time section, one being a craft talk and the other a reading, with plenty of time allowed, and occasions provided, for socializing and interacting with new colleagues.  And not so many of them that you run into them only once and hurriedly in the hallway of some enormous conference center, or that you can't remember their names.  No, no.  The Hands On Festival is a much cozier affair.  Many of the participants had past or present connections with either the University of New Orleans or  Louisiana State University; several of them knew each other already, which created a kind of lovely reunion atmosphere at the festival.  But by no means was it an exclusive / "no new faces wanted" kind of affair.  In fact, not only did I feel welcome, but I felt I made some important new professional friends.

I also heard some excellent presentations.  One in particular sticks in my memory and is relevant to this blog.   The theme of the session was "Using Research in Long Form Writing."  Not all of the comments related to historical fiction, but some of them did.  One participant, Lania Knight of Eastern Illinois University (pictured on the right), is currently working on a novel set one hundred years in the future, a period that in her novel has suffered through considerable ecological turmoil and vast social upheaval.  What I found most interesting about Lania's presentation, however, is that nearly all of her comments were about the past and how writers understand that.  One of Lania's credos is that if one is writing about the future it is supremely important "to get the past right."  She's found in her own reading of futuristic novels that the authors' visions of the future are often drastically different, a difference she claims stems from their very different views of the past.  It only makes sense that how one interprets the past will invariably affect how one perceives the future, but the thought had not crystalized for me until Lania said it during the session.   Some authors, for instance, Lania explained, perceive the past purely through a white, European, neocolonial gaze; others perceive the past more broadly. She has been attempting, as best she can, to perceive the past comprehensively and accurately.  So her research for the novel has not been only or even mostly a matter of reading a lot of futuristic science fiction (although she has done quite a bit of that) but reading nonfiction that explains the nature and history of the various ecological phenomena that play an important role in her novel.  She stressed repeatedly that she "wants to get the past right" in order to make her vision of the future credible.

One of the other presenters was Daniel Wallace (pictured on left), fiction writer and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.   Daniel is working on a novel set in eighteenth-century Scotland.  He outlined many issues he was having with how best to use the research he has carried out for the novel.  But one concern seemed most pressing: that of spoken language.  Daniel explained that at the time three separate languages would have been commonly spoken in the country: a less-than- modern-sounding version of English; Scots, a Germanic language variety only distantly related to English and spoken in the Lowlands; and Scottish Gaelic, spoken in the Highlands.  If Daniel were to be completely faithful to the facts of history, his novel would need evidence speakers of all three types.  He's worried that this could be quite confusing to contemporary readers, especially when he begins to represent these different dialects on the page.  He was not at all happy about this prospect, yet he clearly did not feel entitled to ignore the facts of history.

Of course, here again we are faced with one of the questions I've asked repeatedly on this blog: When and where is it appropriate to ignore or even alter history when writing a novel supposedly drawn from history?  In regards to Daniel's case, other conference goers came to the same conclusion I did; i.e., unless he intends to market the novel solely to a society of linguists, Daniel cannot and should not attempt reproduce precisely how his characters in real life would have spoken.  Understanding one alien dialect can be confusing enough for a reader--along with the ever-present risk that the dialect will render the character a caricature, that the reader will see only a dialect and not a person.  But multipy that by three and you only have chaos.  One possibility, given that Daniel's intended audience is native English speakers, is that he aim for a neutral form of English, one that a) is readable, b) comes across as natural for the characters, and c) is stripped of any giveaway slang or anachronistic cultural references.   I remember years ago hearing Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, explain that this was her strategy for that novel.  She didn't try to imitate seventeenth-century English just because her novel was set in the seventeenth-century (in Holland, though, not England), but instead she aimed for a brand of English that sounded believable to the modern ear yet was free of obvious anachronisms.  Another possibility suggested to Daniel was that when he first introduce a character he suggest that character's language through a few choice phrases or words, thus putting the idea in the reader's mind that this character speaks in a given way, but then not to push it very much for the rest of the book.  This sounded like a different but workable solution to the problem, and one in which the underlying strategy is similar to what I usually suggest: When writing a novel, what your novel needs is paramount, not what history needs, because a reader won't care about your novel's accuracy to history if he or she can't read it--or doesn't want to.   Which is not to say--not at all--that history should always be jettisoned.  Often, one gets the best, sharpest ideas for a novel from the historical record itself.  But I've blogged about that fact in the past and I expect I will in the future too.  So we'll save that discussion for another time!

Just one example of the interesting talk that went on at last week's Hands On Literary Festival.  Can't wait to next year to go back.

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Blog tour starts!  My new book of short stories, Island Fog, has already been featured on several book blogs and websites, but today marks the start of my officially arranged "blog tour." Over the next eleven days, not counting weekends, eleven blogs will publish reviews of my book, one per day.  It's an exciting and somewhat anxious prospect.  I have no way of knowing if they're going to like it!  But given that so far the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, I'm going to hope for the best.  In my next post, I'll provide an update on how the tour is going, with links to the individual blogs.

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More thrills--my wife's book club!  Tomorrow night my wife's book club meets at our house to
discuss--you got it--my book.   Talk about pressure!  Wisely I think, the club likes to pick books if they know they have special access to the author and thus will be able to ask the author questions.  Sometimes they Skype with authors; in my case, I'll be sitting in the room with them.  Again, I can't know in advance if they liked the book or what their questions will be, but it's sure to be a memorable evening.