Happy 4-Week Birthday to my beloved book-baby.  Since you are an inanimate object, Mommy gets the cupcake (chocolate please) 😉

Tell a Friend (or a Non-Friend)

When I became active on social media and started blogging I promised myself I was never going to use those tools to say “buy my book.”  I made this vow primarily because such direct shilling makes me profoundly uncomfortable when I am on the receiving end of it.

Now, with the launch of my debut novel. The Sister Queens, only 2-weeks away (March 6th), and knowing as I do how important it is to sell well in the two weeks after the book debuts there is a considerable amount of temptation to break my word.  As an individual who embraces “historical” values, however, I still believe “a man’s word is his bond” (ditto a woman’s word).  So what to do?  Make all the new friends I’ve made on twitter, facebook and through this website feel uncomfortable by hitting them up?  Or remain silent and possibly miss sales?

As I tend to do whenever faced with unpalatable choices, I’ve imagined a third option (darn creative types, always imagining things).  So today, and without breaking any promises, I am asking you to tell someone else to buy my book.  You don’t have to spend a dime of your own money on The Sister Queens if you don’t want to, but please consider suggesting or recommending it to someone else.

How, you may ask, can I do that when I’ve never read The Sister Queens?  Ah, but here’s the beauty of my suggestion—I didn’t specify WHO you should tell.  If you suspect, based on your virtual acquaintance with me, that I am only good for 140 character quips and I probably should have stuck to Twitter, then recommend The Sister Queens to your mother-in-law, that lady in the next cubicle at work who talks too loudly on her phone about matters of personal hygiene, or any other person you are not particularly crazy about.  Sale for me; revenge for you.

If, on the other hand, anything I’ve said in this forum or elsewhere has resonated with you or made you think, “that woman can write,” then please mention The Sister Queens to a friend.  It won’t cost you anything and you will be doing me a big favor.  Heck you might be doing your book-mad friend a favor too.

An Open Invitation to Join the Historical Novel Society Chesapeake Bay Chapter for a Launch Day Lunch

You know you LOVE historical fiction. And I know it too, or chances are you wouldn’t be hanging out at my website.

If you live in the metro Washington DC area here’s a chance to be surrounded by fellow historical-fiction devotees. The Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the Historical Novel Society is holding its first official meeting on March 6th. The 6th is also launch day for The Sister Queens and that’s not a coincidence 🙂  There was some concern that if I wasn’t kept busy on release day I would sit at home obsessively checking my Amazon ranking. Many thanks to fellow authors Kate Quinn and Stephanie Dray for saving me from that horrible fate.

So, if you are in the mood for good food and better company, become part of HNS Chesapeake Bay Chapter TODAY. Then join us on March 6th at Food & Wine in Bethesda, MD. Check here for details.

Books ARE Magic. Believe!

I have a marvelous video to share to start the week. In my eyes it is more magical than many big-budget Hollywood special effects films.

The words of the final book say it all, “there is nothing like a real book.” This video is enchanting. If it doesn’t give you shivers you are not a real book lover. Enjoy!

My Year In Blogging — A Personal Top 5

In honor of the arrival of 2012 I am taking a look back at my very first year of blogging—2011.  Here are the five blog posts—some written for “From the Write Angle” others for my personal blog—that I consider my best work.

The top of my list HAS to be “Voice, It’s Not Just for Manuscripts Anymore” discussing how essential it is for writers to infuse their query letters (the letters they use to try to attract a literary agent) with their unique voice.

I would posit that snagging an agent with a good query is NOT merely about what you say but is equally about HOW you say it. For those of you who have seen “The King’s Speech” (and if you haven’t, forget reading my post and get yourself that DVD) think of the moment at Westminster Abbey when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) asks Colin Firth’s George VI of England, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ The King’s answer. . . “Because I have a voice.” If you want agents to listen to you, to pay attention to the punchy mini-synopsis of your oh-so-clever plot that you spent a gazillion drafts perfecting, then you’d better let the voice that imbues your manuscript sing out from your query letter as well. 

Number two is “Give me A Little Kiss — Sex and the Historical Novelist,” in which I discuss and defend the place of sex in straight historical novels (not just historical romances).

The inclusion of sex in historical novels is neither good nor bad in a vacuum.  It’s not the sexual content that determines whether a particular scene works—it’s whether that scene (sex or otherwise) has a REASON for being in the novel.  Tossing in an orgy (or even a kiss) into your work of historical fiction without a solid reason is a bad idea.  The scene will feel “added on,” and gratuitous sex is no more acceptable in a novel than gratuitous dialogue.

At number three I have selected my reflection on the very act of blogging itself and how it can become a digital distraction from the author’s most important task—writing books:

Blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

 Blog number four tackles the question of why our sisters (or more broadly our siblings) are NOT very much like us.

I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve thought how can my sister and I have had such a different experience of the same childhood or how could we have played the same games (together), walked to the same school (together) and heard the same family stories and yet turned out so very differently? If you have a sibling chances are you’ve had such thoughts as well.  At the heart of my questions lay the idea that nurture shapes people, and since my sister and I were raised in the same environment that should have made us similar.

Turns out that’s just dead wrong when it comes to siblings.  Being raised in the same environment helps to make us different.

And finally, sitting at number five, is the first blog I ever wrote—“Not THAT Sophie.”  This one is all about the marketing lessons I learned from a teething toy.  Half-a-year after I wrote it, as I struggle to build my author brand, I still marvel at the power of Sophie the Giraffe.  And yes, she STILL comes up before I do in an Amazon search and she continues to top the ranks of baby items.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think. . .

 Happy New Year all!!!

Thanksgiving Wishes

First a bit of holiday humor

Then—for those interested in some of “bumps turned to blessings” this writer is thankful for—a link to my post on that subject over at From the Write Angle.  Just want to add that I am tremendously thankful for those of you who visit this space, and particularly those who occasionally leave me a thought provoking comment.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

When Authors Become Spammers They Waste Readers’ Social Media Time (and Their Own)

You know what drives me crazy (currently)?  How much of what passes for author interaction at social media sites these days resembles spam.

I made the connection while clearing out the spam comments at this blog.  They almost all start out the same, with a sentence that looks like the writer (probably a bot) might actually have read my blog post—“I enjoyed this post. This topic is really very interesting. . .”—then they turn into self-serving sales drivel.  While I was gleefully emptying the spam folder it occurred to me that I’ve been seeing lots of this same sort of “let me say a polite thing about you so I can talk about ME, ME, ME” stuff on twitter, in on-line writing groups, and on facebook lately.

Frankly, it’s cheesing me off.

It’s gotten particularly bad in writing and reading related facebook groups.  When I join a group devoted to say “Lovers of Mysteries with Dogs as Their Main Character” (okay I made that one up, but I don’t want to point fingers at actual groups or communities) I expect folks therein to share information on good books with doggy detectives, or links to websites to help me in researching or writing same.  Instead what I am getting these days are nearly naked advertisements—“My book ‘It’s a Dog Eat Dog World’ just got a super-duper review at ‘Dog books R us!’ Read it here. Or better still buy my book here, or here, or here.”  This is just annoying.  If I want advertisements there are plenty running along the top or side of every darn website I visit.  “Come on fellow writers,” I want to scream, “you’ve got a personal facebook page, probably an author FB page, and doubtless an author website to share good reviews and ‘buy it now’ links.”  The essence of communities and/or shared-interest groups (like FB “bookclub” pages) is dialogue—even in the virtual world.

A hybrid of “boast posters” are the folks who share EVERY blog post they’ve ever written or will ever write to a facebook group, or to twitter, irrespective of whether it’s on topic.  Sure, if someone has written a post that is germane to the topic of a group or comment thread (or touches on one of the subjects that they assume people follow them on twitter to hear about) then posting that link is a worthy public service.  But if a blogger is just slapping up everything he can think of to increase his name recognition then he should spare us and save himself the time (because pretty soon I for one am going to stop looking at his posts because I already KNOW what they will say – some version of “look at me.”)

As a writer I understand where this behavior has its roots.  There is a great deal of pressure on writers today to market our own work, and very specifically to have a presence in the virtual world.  If writers join any community of like-minded people as part of “building an internet presence,” however, I firmly believe they should try to interact in a genuine, non-agenda-driven, manner.  And just for the record the interaction is neither effective nor genuine when it amounts to commenting on topics started by others in true spam form (“I am fascinated by cocker spaniels but for a really great blog on poodles, more specifically MY poodles, click here”).  I think spam-types fail to recognize a basic truth – all on-line presence is NOT equal and, specifically, an annoying presence seldom sells a book.

If you are a spammer not a genuine community member you are wasting your time—at least as far as I am concerned.  Because the truth is, when I have my “reader hat” on, I buy two kinds of books: 1) those receiving notable reviews or buzz from reviewers I trust (whether that’s a “R”eviewer in the print or digital media or a guy I sit next to on the bus every morning and discuss books with); and 2) books written by friends (folks I’ve gotten to know through writers conferences, through on-line communities and through their blogs).  You are no friend of mine if you spam me.

Readers, what do you think?  When you join a “readers” or “lovers” group on line (as in “mystery lovers” that was NOT meant to be an X-rated comment) do you expect to encounter posts/comments that are nakedly self promotional?  When you do see them do they bother you or do you merely consider it a convenient way to discover new books in a particular genre?  Am I must imagining a sudden spike in such spam-like posts (after all I am a writer and I do have an overactive imagination), or have you noticed a similar phenomenon?

World Humanitarian Day 2011

Today is world humanitarian day.  Please join me in celebrating those who devote their energies and their lives to people most of the world prefers to forget. 


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