Jess Lourey's Murder by the Month series is published by Midnight Ink as was my Dot Dead. Her latest, August Moon, is just out and has been piling up raves. ("Move over Stephanie Plum. There's a new bad girl in town!" - Anthony Winner William Kent Krueger.) I met Dana Fredsti last December at M is for Mystery's annual holiday party. Her first novel, The Peruvian Pigeon (not, mind you, The Maltese Falcon) is also on the shelves of bookstores across the country. A cover blurb warns us that "The ending will wash you away." When these two gifted, witty, and insistent authors stuck a Glock in my belly and asked me if I wanted to turn my blog over to them today, I thought it over for some time. Too long, I guess. A nudge in the solar plexus from the gleaming carbon black weapon decided it for me. I'd been blog-jacked! Keith
The Troubles with Touring, by Dana Fredsti
When Jess first emailed me about doing a joint book-signing road trip from the Bay Area to Seattle, I immediately pictured us cruising up 101 in a convertible a la Thelma and Louise. We would be two pistol-packing mamas, tempting amoral drifters and book store clerks alike with our sexy southern accents (never mind I'm from California, like, y'know?, and Jess is from Minnesota, ya, fer sure!).
Of course, we'd substitute pens for pistols (comment from Keith: "Yeah, right.") and neither of us would be stupid enough to get all our money stolen by one of those sexy drifters. And we'd be driving my Saturn SL2 instead of a convertible and probably forgo driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon since it's several hundred miles out of our way and gas ain't cheap. Oh, and no head-scarves or mom jeans. But aside from all that, it would be just like Thelma and Louise. If they visited bookstores and begged passers-by to purchase their mystery novels.
Setting up the actual tour made me rethink the "no pistols" part, however. (Anothercomment from Keith: "I warned you.") Both Jess and I are published with small presses: Midnight Ink and Rock Publishing, Inc. And while there are many advantages to being published by a small press (lots of personal attention, a quicker turnaround from acceptance to publication, more say in cover art), being taken seriously by bookstores isn't one of them. After dealing with rejections from several unnecessarily snotty bookstore clerks and owners, the idea of going in with a gun and snarling "You're gonna carry my book AND give me a signing AND have a cheese tray available!" is very attractive. "Do you know how many people I talk to every day?" said one local San Francisco bookstore owner when I stopped in with a review copy of my book. He declined it because he "didn't have time to read." A friend of mine went into this same store a few weeks later and asked about my book. She was told by the clerk they didn't carry "self-published" books.
(Note to snotty bookstore owners and ignorant clerks: having a book published by a small, un-Murdochized publisher who pays all the costs of publication, provides free marketing and review copies of your book as well as other publicity materials and support is NOT self-publication. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
The dichotomy here is the independents want people to support them and not buy books through the big chains such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Borders, where many books can be bought at a discount. However these same stores can't always support the independent publishers who give many new authors their first break because these smaller publishers don't offer the bookstores the discounts they get from the large publishing houses. Ah, the irony!
This all being said, not all bookstores are created equal and there are plenty of perfectly lovely independents willing to host new authors for signings and take a chance by ordering copies of our books. Jess and I are starting off our tour at M is for Mystery in San Mateo as well as hitting Murder by the Book in Portland. As far as the larger chains, the District Event Manager of the Seattle and surrounding area Borders stores has been fantastic and we have signings lined up at the Olympia and downtown Seattle stores. Thank you, Don!
We'll be driving from San Francisco to Portland after two days in the Bay Area. The plan is to take a full day to drive from SF to Portland with time to meander up the coast, make pit stops as needed, visit a few wineries, and see what kind of trouble we can get into and still keep on schedule. We're still arguing over who gets to be Louise. Neither of us wants to be the naive housewife even if she does get to have hot sex with Brad Pitt. Isn't this how Janet Evanovich and Sue Grafton started out?
Jess Lourey and Dana Fredsti's pacifistic Thelma and Louise-type book tour starts in San Francisco on May 21. By then, they will have decided which of them gets to be the Susan Sarandon character. The person who makes the best case on this blog for why it should be Jess wins a free copy of August Moon, the latest installment in her Lefty-nominated Murder-by-Month series. The person who makes the best case on this blog for why it should be Dana wins a free copy of The Peruvian Pigeon, the first in her Murder for Hire series featuring warm, wise, and witty Connie Garrett. Check herefor the latest tour dates and stops.
Over 300 blogs are joining together to publicize The Liar's Diary by Patry Francis, which appears in paperback this week. I don't know Patry, but I do know about her fight against cancer that is preventing her from being being on the road promoting the book herself.
Here's what Mystery Scene Magazine said about her book: "The Liar's Diary is a dark book, engrossing from the first paragraph. Deeply textured, it is more psychological suspense than a simple mystery. The inevitable murder is the climax of the book, after which the tension relaxes, but the story still holds real surprises for the reader. The Liar's Diary is a beautifully written first novel by an author who has previously distinguished herself through her poetry and short stories."
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
You can read what Patry says about her fight against cancer here.
You can see the posting about her at Inkspot here.
And what Laura Benedict who organized The Liar's Diary Blog Day has to say here.
Just thought I'd let the readers of this blog -- a select group of discriminating taste -- know that I have signed up on Facebook. Why Facebook and not MySpace? Hmm.... Probably natural perversity. And the fact Facebook is headquartered about two miles from my house in downtown Palo Alto. Rooting for the home team, I guess.
After doing so, I sent an email invitation to one pal to join, too. He sent me a forlorn email reporting that Facebook told him that he had only one friend. Since I'd invited him, it had to be me and I tried out the quality versus quantity argument on him.
Anyway, there are number of mystery types as well as Silicon Valleyites who have Facebook pages. Why don't you try it out? Just follow the instructions at www.facebook.com. Be sure to invite me to be your friend via email. If you can't figure out how it all works, drop me an email and I'll invite you to join. Warning: if you follow the second path, Facebook will give you the sad news that you have only one friend.
While awaiting comments on the latest draft of Two Graves, I've been reading lots both on the computer screen and on the pulpy remains of dead trees. Here are some of the highlights.
Starting today, the New York Times has shrunk. Following in the regrettable footsteps of the Wall Street Journal, the Times no longer needs to be held open with arms extended. Instead, it is now best read with elbows almost touching. Might as well read it online. No ink smudges on the fingertips that way either. Anyway, on Saturday top-notch reporter Gary Rivlin wrote on how tough life can be here in Silicon Valley. (Opening: "Nick Halsey knows it can sound strange to an outsider: How is it possible for someone in Silicon Valley to have $10 million in the bank and still not feel rich?") Cry for us, would you? (Will have to sell a lot of books to get to $10M, won't I?) And on Sunday, friend Steven Torres, whose new novel The Concrete Maze is just out, wrote a subtle, heartfelt reminiscence on growing up with the exterminator. (No, not ex-terminator. That's our governor. This is about Steve's dad.)
Tess Gerritsen's blog pointed me over to Marcus Sakey's piece on how to get published. A must-read for aspiring authors. It's a good crib sheet too for published authors who are asked the questions Marcus answers all the time.
Next best thing to being at England's premier mystery conference is reading what David Thomas (or is it Tom Cain) had to say about it. Sure would like to get there some time. (Thanks, Sarah, for pointing this one out.)
Back to paying bills, reading more, and twiddling my thumbs till the comments on draft five show up in my email box.
But so what? Did it mean I was selling more books? I don’t think so, at least there was no effect on my Amazon ranking. So I started to wonder whether my more typical postings did anything for sales. Do I myself buy the books of the bloggers I read every day? Yes, but largely because they are friends whose books I’d buy anyway, not because they blog.
If blogging doesn’t lead to more sales, then why blog? As Dr. Johnson once famously said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."
Maybe we blog because it’s a way to keep in touch. When I lived in England years ago, I corresponded with friends via airmail. Blogging gives me the same kind of feeling of keeping in touch, but it’s more efficient since one posting goes to everyone I’d write to.
Or maybe we blog because writing is a solitary vocation (except for Joe and Lynn) and this is our way of crying out, “Hey out there. We're alive.” Descartes wrote, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” Maybe we’re saying “Blogito, ergo sum” or “I blog, therefore I am.”
P.S. A version of this posting is also on InkSpot with trenchant comments from some of my fellow Midnight Ink authors.
When my Dot Dead came out, I did the usual thing: tour with bookstore signings and radio and TV interviews. My expectations were low and at times those low expectations were met; at a Portland stop, two people showed up. But even for the highlights of the tour, 70 people at Kepler’s or a live interview on public radio in Seattle, it’s difficult to say the effect on sales overall. There might be a blip, but that’s it. What good is it to build a better mousetrap – or write a book people will enjoy – if no one knows about it?
I hate to say it, but the best and most cost-effective way to let people know about a good book is – drumroll – a newspaper review. When a review ran in the San Jose Mercury, Dot Dead leapt up the Amazon bestseller list. When Lora Robert’s Palo Alto Weeklyreview ran, local stores ran out of copies. There’s only one problem – reviews are harder to get than Norah Jones’s new album on eight-track.
Before publication, the PR people and I sent out around three dozen ARC’s (advance reader copies) to newspapers across the country. Except for the local papers mentioned, scarcely anything. (Exception: The Royse City Herald Banner.) Part of the problem certainly was that Midnight Ink has not been around for long and that it publishes in trade paper format, not hardback. Also, there’s the problem with me: Dot Dead was a first book and I wasn't known as an author. A reporter friend at the Wall Street Journal explained the dilemma to me: We will only give you coverage if you don’t need it.
But there’s a bigger macro issue at play here. Print newspapers are dying. Employment at U.S. papers is down by a third since 1990. As the papers cut back, the book review section is often first hit. Authors are fighting this trend but I fear they are, like Canute, ordering the tide not to come in. The National Books Critics Circle has started a campaign to save book reviews. The Circle reports book coverage has been cut back or eliminated recently at, among others, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News, the Sun Sentinel, the New Mexican, the Village Voice, Boston Phoenix, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. As for the last-named, the New York Times reports that 120 authors have signed a petition to save the job of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s book editor.
Michael Connellywrote a piece for his alma mater, the LA Times, that ran during the Book Festival last weekend. He attributes the success of his Harry Bosch series to reviews of his first book, The Black Echo. Michael then goes on to say, “I can't help but wonder, though, how long Harry would have lasted had he been born in today's newspaper environment.” Michael goes on to ask whether publishers and editors are being short-sighted as they practice a scorched earth policy on book review sections.
“In the past, newspaper executives understood the symbiotic relationship between their product and books. People who read books also read newspapers. From that basic tenet came a philosophy: If you foster books, you foster reading. If you foster reading, you foster newspapers. That loss-leader ends up helping you build and keep your base. What I fear is that this philosophy is disappearing from the boardrooms of our newspapers; that efforts to cut costs now will damage both books and newspapers in the future. Short-term gains will become long-term losses.”
Now Ed Champion offers a somewhat contrarian point of view, arguing that reviews will come increasingly from bloggers, podcasters, and other online participants. Who can argue with that? I’m a blogger myself and read 10 or 20 more every week. Pat Holt, the former editor of the Chronicle book reviewer who did some editing work on Dot Dead, wants to do something different, to take action: “Let's get out there and pound some tables about books; let's put our hearts and souls on the line, not to pander to base tastes but to start a true critical discourse with audiences and make book reviews in all their forms as riveting to read as they are essential.”
Still as a mystery writer who publishes in a format not much changed since Gutenberg, I can’t help but lament being caught in the sea change that’s going on. The blogosphere and online worlds do not have the wide reach of traditional newspapers, at least not yet. And the book review sections of those same papers, if not the papers themselves, are – like the Wicked Witch – melting away.