Friday, January 19, 2007

Whenever I Come Up For Air

Ah, weekends used to be for...well, honestly, I can't remember what on earth I used to do with my time before I had kids, but I do know that I got a lot more reading done. I'm hoping that things will slow down soon (ha!) because I've had Cindy Bokma's A Thousand Dollars For A Kiss on my nightstand for, since, like forever. The plot - all about Hollywood and its false promises and pretenses - sounds just like something I could (when I actually can) dive into. (Cindy runs the wonderful Conversation With Famous Writers blog, fyi.)

I also bought Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects to bring with me to the hospital when I gave birth to Amelia, thinking (double ha!), I guess, that I'd have some free time there. I read the first chapter, and it's marvelously excellent, but I haven't had another moment to pick it back up. I don't know Gillian personally, but she works for my favorite magazine, and that's a good enough for me.

Oh, and I'm also anticipating Mia King's Good Things, which comes out in a few weeks. I do know Mia, and she's fabu, so I'm sure her book will be the same.

What's on your nightstand? And what have you read recently that rocks?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Separating Fact From Fiction

When writing fiction, how close to the truth should it be? For instance, if writing a novel based in Los Angeles, how important is it to have REAL street names, locations, etc? Or if writing a mystery/suspense, how important is it to give REAL details of what the LAPD office looks like, REAL LA laws and regulations, etc?

Great question. And I think the answer depends on what specifically you're writing about. Though, I think when in doubt, it's best to stick as close to the truth as possible, since, even though you're creating a fictional world, you still want readers to believe that it's a reality.

What I mean by that is this: when writing TDLF, it was very important to me to try to be as factual as possible about the process of chemo and what a cancer patient endures. Not only out of respect for real life cancer patients, but also because it was important for the reader to go along this realistic journey with my heroine. To that end, I spoke with doctors, did a lot of research on the web, and also relied on my personal experience with both survivors and my friend who succumbed to the disease. And from what I understand from people who have read the galley, I did, indeed, do a pretty good job of mirroring the cancer process. So, in that case - something medical or scientific or even something like LAPD regulations, which you mention - I do think it's important to try to be as truthful as possible. After all, you don't want people to read the book and think, "There's just no way that this is realistic." You lose reader interest right there.

That said, I also have a scene in the book that's set in the world of showbiz. (I'm being purposefully vague because I don't want to give anything away!) Now, this scene was intentionally comical and slightly slapstick, and while some of the details might be off, I think that's okay: do readers really care if I nail 100% what happens behind the scenes of a show or whether or not a character's Blackberry would go off in the green room? I think - and this is solely my opinion - that in situations such as these, conveying an overall sense of the scene and the emotion that goes along with that scene (in the TDLF's case - joy, humor, elation) might be important than nailing all of the minutiae. That said, when drafting this scene, I certainly tried to adhere to reality as close as possible, or as close as I imagined it to be.

So what am I saying here? If you're setting your book in LA, I'd imagine that it's entirely fine to make up say, the name of a nightclub or a restaurant or a movie studio. Writers do this all the time, and readers - since, after all, this is fiction - expect it. But when it comes to specific standards or guidelines, like police rules or scientific facts, well, I think readers are less inclined to suspend their disbelief. And frankly, it might help your writing to do the necessary background research.

I don't know if I'm expressing this very well - maybe someone can do a better job. :)

So writers out closely do you stick to the truth? What can authors get away with and what can't they?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Publicity Plans

I'd love to hear about your publicity efforts for TDLF. Did you hire an outside publicist? What made you decide to/not to? What is the timeline of pre-publication efforts? Will you do a launch party? A tour? A dance routine like Andrea Seigel? (Okay, just kidding on that last's been a long afternoon of editing and I'm a bit punchy.)

Well, one thing is for sure: there will be no dancing. Unless, of course, it will help sell books, in which case, I'll dance my ass off.

Great questions, and I'd love to hear others weigh in on what they did or didn't do to gear up for their own book launches.

As of now, I've opted not to hire an outside publicist. For a few reasons. I'm in a pretty unique position of having excellent magazine contacts - I know a lot of editors personally - and I really don't think an outside publicist could bring that much more to the table, at least in that realm, than I can. I've made a point to send galleys to all of my editors, and have asked them, with the understanding that they are under no obligation, to consider featuring the book in some capacity. A publicist might find a cute way to package this to these same editors, but still, at the end of the day, we're more or less doing the same thing. In addition, outside publicists are pricey - from what I understand, you're not going to get much real help for less than 10k. Now, certainly, I could shell that out - my advance would allow for it - but would I really sell THAT many more copies to justify dropping ten thousand dollars?? I really can't imagine it. Really can't imagine it. The thing about publicists is that there's no guarantee that they'll have success. They might - and often times they do - but geez, what if you paid that sort of money and they didn't end up landing many hits for you? Can you imagine how furious you'd be? (This isn't to point a shady finger at publicists: their job is to try to generate press, and really, there are simply no 100%s when doing that.)

Case in point: there has actually been a lot of mag interest in TDLF. I've been lucky. Through both my efforts and the efforts of my fabulous in-house publicist, we've gotten some really positive feedback. But none of these mentions are slam dunks until the magazines close and are printed. An outside publicist wouldn't have any more luck securing these plugs than we have.

I guess what I'm trying to say, and from what I understand from other authors, is that you really have to weigh how much impact you think an outside publicist will have on your sales vs. how much they're going to cost you. You also need to assess how involved your in-house person will be. As I've mentioned before, I've been very fortunate to have a great team at Harper. If, however, I wasn't getting internal support - and that might be something that you just have to gauge when the time comes - maybe I'd be more likely to look elsewhere for help. I've heard in the past though, for what it's worth - and I really don't know if this is correct or not - but that your publisher probably won't put a whole lot of effort into promotion if your advance is less thank 50k. Again, I have no idea if this is a publishing urban myth or not: I'm just passing it on.

One possibility I *have* entertained is hiring someone to generate some radio and TV coverage. I have no contacts in that arena, so maybe that would be a smart move, but again, nothing is guaranteed, and who knows if a debut fiction author would really generate much interest.

In terms of a time line, we started really making an effort about a month ago. The monthly mags usually have about a 4-6 month lead time, so galleys were sent, and follow-up calls were (and still are) being made. I've also placed an essay in one of the mags, set to correspond with the book's release, about the experience of losing a friend to cancer. So I'm working on that right now. I think things will be relatively quiet for a month or so, and then we go back out (with the actual book, not the galley) to weekly mags, newspapers and websites. Once the book comes out, things can really get nuts: I'll be driving around to local bookstores to introduce myself, trying to drum up interviews with papers/websites, and will probably head out to a few cities for readings. Oh, and I'll most definitely will be throwing a launch party, though I haven't given any thought to the details. (Other than copious amounts of alcohol.)

So that's my general plan.

Folks who have gone through this already - what was your game plan? Did you hire a publicist? How was your in-house support? Thoughts to add?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I'm a Guest Blogger

Hey guys,

The fabulous gals at
The Debutante Ball asked me to guest blog for the day, so for today's post, check out their grog. And fyi: for those of you who aren't regular readers of the grog, the Deb Ball is a group blog made up of seven wonderful authors, all of whom will have debut novels published in 2007. They pick a topic each week, and then each author weighs in with her thoughts.

This week - my entry included - they're chatting about the writing process.

Go for my post, stay for their wonderful insights.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Does Geography Matter?

Many successful writers live in New York City and while there are obvious advantages to proximity to this major media market, NYC is prohibitively expensive for some writers and seems like the internet may have leveled the playing field on some level. Do you think its feasible for a writer in a secondary market like Boston or Philly to make a decent living writing full-time?

Great question, and one, I think, with a surprising answer. Which is this: I really don't think that NYC-based writers have much of an advantage at all. If anything, given our high cost of living, we might actually be disadvantaged.

When I got your question, I took a quick look at my address book to determine where most of my writer friends live. Here's what I came up with: several in Chicago, several in New England, a few in Philly, D.C, LA, SF, various random parts of California and the Midwest, Long Island, and Brooklyn. A paltry number of us actually live in Manhattan. Surprised? You shouldn't be. Hell, some of my friends even live in Europe.

As you hinted, the internet has become the great equalizer. I can count the number of editors I've met in person on one, okay, maybe two hands. Nearly all of my relationships have been built via email, and nearly of my correspondence is carried out this way too. So most editors don't give a flying fig where you live, as long as you're accessible. Another bonus? Many of the writers who do live outside of the city plan visits to NYC and make a point to schedule meetings with their editors, something I don't do nearly enough because, well, I live here, so both my editors and I fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, we can do coffee at any time." And meeting with your editors is definitely a great way to land assignments, so if you live in Timbuktu, just plan an annual trip, and you're set.

Finally, don't forget that some of the biggie magazines don't even operate from NYC these days. Many of Rodale's mags are housed in Emmaus, PA (where???) and Southern Progress, now an arm of TimeInc, operates out of Birmingham.

I often beg my husband to give it all up and move to Southern Cal - nude babies on the beach, lingering warm afternoons, lazy work schedules. Alas, he's a New Englander (never more so during Red Sox season, sigh) and just won't cave. But if I could, I'd happily move anywhere in the world (anywhere that's warm, that is), and I'm confident my career wouldn't be affected one bit.

So...where do you all live? Think it affects your success?