Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Older and Wiser--Reflections of a Birthday Girl

by Sophie Perinot

You are only young once.  And you are only a debut novelist once. Time passes—you can’t stop it. But if you are going to get older than you might as well work on the getting wiser thing. I mean wisdom is a MAJOR perk of experience.

I am just one day shy of another birthday and one week shy of my book-baby’s first birthday. So I am working hard to focus on wisdom—especially because it keeps me distracted from the appearance of new gray hairs.

Here are some of my new, wiser, attitudes towards being a published author—a state-of-being that I believe that I understand better today than I did one year ago:

It is NOT about the 2%.  When your book is published there will be some minority of people who just don’t get it. More than that, who just don’t like it. My sense, from scanning the goodreads ratings and reviews of my own book and the books of others, is that your anti-fans will be about 2% of your readers. Are you really going to let 2% make you feel bad about your book, your craft or yourself?  If you are, I can’t help you. Nobody can help you. Remember that old saying “you can’t please all of the people all of the time?” Well TRUE THAT! So focus on the 99% who think your work is solid, or better still on the sub-set at the top of the spectrum who give you great reviews and write you nice notes saying they can’t wait to read your next book. You will be saner.  You will be more productive.

It IS about the moment.  The older you get the more you realize moments are fleeting. The same is true for your book. In its first weeks everybody notices a debut novel. It’s a review here and interview there the attention is dizzying. Were you enjoying it, or were you worrying about your next appearance or deadline?  Don’t feel bad—me too. After nearly 12 months on the market, however, I’ve learned to savor a nice blog review when it comes in, ditto that hour with a book club on a Thursday evening. I’ve also learn to stop anticipating problems. The one’s you worry about in advance never seem to happen and the crises that do arise are going to gut kick you when they happen so why worry in advance?

Everybody feels competent to judge, but ONLY your judgment matters.  Everybody has an opinion on this writer-gig you’ve taken on. They feel entitled to judge whether it was a good idea, how you are handling it, and whether you are succeeding.  This is true in very few other professions. When I practiced law other lawyers might have an opinion on my professional competence, but the grocery checkout lady—not so much. The only thing I’ve ever done that has attracted more unsolicited opinions is parenting. But, like parenting, the bottom line here is that only YOU can know why you make the writing-related decisions you do. Every writer wants the good opinion of somebody, but not the same somebody. Every writer wants to sell books, but the number that feels like “enough” and the auspices under which we’d like those sales to be made (e.g. Tradtional, Indie etc.) vary. Based on what we want out of our book babies we will make different parenting decisions than other writers.  So what?  There is no “one right way.”  Let other’s “tsk tsk” you. You are the book parent here and you will be the one living with the results of your decisions.

Do not covet you neighbor’s ox—or your fellow author’s book tour.  Envy will eat the heart of out you. And to what purpose? Jealousy of a fellow author’s cover will not change the art on yours if you don’t like it. Hating on someone because his publisher sprang for six weeks of coop and yours only paid for two will not improve where your book is shelved. If you are busy thinking about the inequities of life and publishing you will miss the good stuff (see point two on enjoying the moment). It also has a tendency to seep out—leaving you looking bitter and unpleasant. Bitter and unpleasant never made a friend or sold a book.  Of course we are all human. If (or rather when) you must indulge in a moment of envy do it privately—that is what good friends are for. And speaking of friends. . .

You don’t have to have lunch with people you don’t like.  I stopped having lunch with people I didn’t like about a decade ago. I thought, “I am likely half-way through my life why the heck am I wasting time and calories in situations I don’t enjoy?” Book promotion is like that too. If you make yourself engage in promotional activities that you don’t enjoy it will only end in heartburn and disappointment, because if you don’t like to do something chances are it will show in the results. Don’t’ like blogging?  Don’t’ blog. Concentrate on doing those author-ly things you actually enjoy, and you will be making the most efficient use of your promotional time and money—at least that’s my opinion. Oh and ditto with the actual lunch thing. Networking is important in this profession but you don’t have to sit on every panel you are asked to sit on, or have coffee with every fellow writer who asks. You are looking to develop a support group of fellow writers and it is perfectly acceptable to have liking those writers as one of your criteria. Tomorrow on my birthday I will be lunching with two fellow historical fiction writers whose work I respect and who I adore and that is as it should be.

Never stop learning.  Learning is like breathing—if you stop, you die (or at least part of you does).  You can always be a better person and a better writer. Read with your “writer glasses” on. Keep up with the industry. Beg, steal or borrow promotional and motivational ideas from other writers you respect. Listen. Not only to other writing professionals but to readers. I ask every book club I visit where they think I fell down on the job. You don’t have to react to every bit of feedback you receive, it is within each author’s purview to access whether a critique resonates, but if you never entertain the possibility that there is room for improvement you will not improve.

Your whole goal is be wiser next birthday and next book-baby isn’t it?  That sure is my goal, and possibly an appropriate wish as I blow out this year’s candles. 

Sophie Perinot is the author of The Sister Queens (NAL/Penguin, March 2012) a novel of sisterhood set in the 13th century. Her debut was widely well-reviewed and made a number of “best of 2012” lists.

When Sophie is not chauffeuring one of her three kids or lint rolling the hair of one of her three cats she is currently working on a novel set in 16th century France.

Yes, tomorrow really is her birthday but DO NOT ask her how old she is because she is not telling.

Monday, February 25, 2013

My Baby Gets a New Face: From Hardcover to Paperback

This box of paperbacks showed up at my house the other day:

I don’t have human children, but I imagine it would be a shock to wake up one day and find that the face of your child had been replaced. Her personality, her insides, her soul all remained the same, but outside, she had a brand new look. It’d be pretty strange, right?

I suppose the comparison isn’t exactly the same, but getting a new paperback cover---quite literally a new face in this case---for my novel, Hand Me Down, took some getting used to.

I fell in love with my original hardcover image. It was the first one the publisher presented to me, and my agent and editor and I all loved it. And suddenly, it was like my book was real. This image was the first face of my faceless word document, the first visual representation of my labor of love, and very quickly, it was the image I pictured when I thought of my book. Especially after I held a physical copy with its bound pages and felt the thick matte texture of the jacket, the weight of it in my hands, it was hard to imagine a new face for my baby. But I knew it was coming.

I hated the first proposed paperback design. It felt so wrong for the book—pink and flowery and fluffy and so very, very wrong. Luckily my agent agreed and we asked to see another design. For a while nothing came, and I grew even more attached to the girls on my cover since we spent so much time on the road together, but after a few months I got a new design. It didn’t grab me right away, but I didn't hate it, and I was mulling over its pros and cons when another new design showed up with a note that encouraged me to decide between these two covers relatively quickly. I burst into tears. Neither seemed right, neither seemed like it held a candle to the original cover, and I wished we could just keep it. Why did my beautiful baby need a new look anyway? She looked great the way she was.

I felt pressured by time, was emotionally and physically drained from months of book tour traveling, and was so used to my hardcover that I’m not sure anything would have looked good enough to me in that moment and in that mind set, but my agent LOVED the last image. She thought it was perfect, and even through my pouting I had the good sense to listen to her advice. 

She said that this girl on the new cover was watching, just like Liz does, and then I noticed the moon in her eye, the dusting of downy blonde hair at the top, and I thought maybe my agent was right: that this could be the perfect cover for the book’s new form. And boy, was she right.

I now think this close-up black and white face is a striking image that also really represents Liz’s story. The colors pop and the composition makes you want to pick it up and investigate. If Hand Me Down had to get a new face, this a pretty good replacement. And it’s not like the other image will disappear, at least not from my mind. It’s more like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, a metamorphosis, and the two images live together in my head, both faces equally special.

The hardcover image really focused on two girls: Liz and Jaime, the sisters in the book, who are definitely the core relationship of the story. But I have to admit how much I like that in the long term, in the life that she will live forever, Hand Me Down’s main image is a single girl, who is tough but vulnerable, watching, cautious, but still with the moon in her eyes.
Melanie Thorne is the author of Hand Me Down, a debut novel in the tradition of Dorothy Allison and Janet Fitch. A Kirkus Reviews Best Fiction Book of 2012 and a 2013 YALSA Alex Award nominee, Hand Me Down has been widely praised by media, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Daily Candy, and received a “compelling” 3.5/4 stars from People. Melanie earned her MA in Creative Writing from the University of CA, Davis, where she was awarded the Alva Englund Fellowship and the Maurice Prize in Fiction. She lives in Northern California.

Find out more at, and connect with Melanie on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Just Say No!

by Mindy McGinnis

From a young age we're taught a very simple phrase- Just Say No.

Don't be afraid to reject drugs. Stand up for yourself. Make it clear you're not interested. Walk away. But it seems that if you continue to apply this lesson to innocuous solicitations as you get older, you risk social alienation.

What am I talking about?

Random Kind Person: How would you like to be on The Something That Really Matters A Lot Committee this year?
Mindy: No.

Someone With No Time Constraints: We'd love to have you in the Collection of Various Sorts of Folks, we meet right after school, so surely you could come, right?
Mindy: No.

Really Cool Book-Type Person: I'm starting an adult book club, would you be interested?
Mindy: No

When you read the above statements, I kinda come off like a bitch, don't I? And while that's a debatable point, what it comes down to is that there are only so many minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in the week, weeks in the month, and months in the year. I've got time constraints like a sassy nun's got a chastity belt, and adding more shit to the shinola in order to make nice doesn't fit into my worldview.

I started out trying to say it nicely, and be polite, the way my German momma wants me to.

Mindy: Well, that doesn't really work for me. Wednesday nights I have a knitting class. 
Gleeful Response: Oh but that's OK! We can move to Tuesdays or, meet in the mornings even!

Mindy: I'm not sure. I'm awfully busy right now.
Cheery Smile: Oh it's not all that time consuming, half hour meetings at the most!

I've even tried honesty:

Mindy: I don't think I can. See, I'm a writer, and I need that time to write.
Oblivious: You can just bring your paper and pencil with you, and write during the presentations!

So, I let my Irish side have a go and I went with the concise, slightly rude, you-can't-explain-me-away answer that those anti-drug assemblies taught me years ago: No.

While our amazing e-friendships and networking reminds us that we are not alone in our journey towards authorship, the fact remains that the act of writing is a solitary endeavor. We need our time, we need our space, we need to get into the groove and hit our stride to make the words start flowing. 

So don't be afraid that you won't be invited to the next Nice People Gathering or Coalition of Really Useful People. Stick to your guns, write your books.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 9, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Pregnant Authors in the News

Book Pregnant is proud to announce that TWO of FIVE nominees for the The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (part of the 33rd LA Times Book Prizes) are Book Pregnant members.

Congratulations David Abrams whose novel Fobbit  (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic,Inc.) was nominated and to Lydia Netzer nominated for her own debut Shine Shine Shine (St. Martin's Press) 

The winners of the L.A. Times book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony April 19, 2013.  For more information about the awards and this year's prestigious list of nominees click here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

101 Tips for Writers

We're celebrating our 101st post here on Book Pregnant with 101 tips for writers! Dive into our past posts for some great pointers, and look for more from all of us in the months to come.

1-9 Nine New Year's Not-Resolutions for Writers
  • No one sticks to resolutions--but hopes for the new year? Sure. 
10 Stop Writing
  • Sometimes the best way to move forward with your WIP is to walk away from the computer and stop writing. The best ideas and solutions may come when you're taking a drive or a walk, and you can listen to your imagination and not focus on your word count.
  • How to find your way back to the story in your novel.
12 The Next Big Thing
  • Where do you find inspiration for your novel? Don't discount your own family history which can inspire your novel.
13 The Ghost of Novels Past
  • Write What You Love! Love what you write, write what you love. 
14 What Cancer Has Taught Me About Writing And Living 
  • Seize your passion and write your heart out. Laugh, love and live. Live deeply. Smell the salt air, caress the butterfly wing, stare into the October sky. The more you live, the more you will be able to write.
15 Write Naked
  • The second book comes with a whole set of new pressures and it's hard to write from that gutted-open place once your first book is out in the world, but we have to figure out a way to write like no one's watching. 
16 Why Not All Books Should be 50 Shades of Grey 
  • Although erotic fiction is, pardon the pun, hot right now, not all books should be titillating. Almost all people have sex, but that is not what every story is about. When writing you have to decide what is important to include and what is important to exclude. What would the point of view characters share? How would they experience that moment? Would they tell their secrets? 
17-20 Three Ways Non-Writer Job Skills Can Help as You Publish Your Novel 
  • Did you have other jobs before you sold your book? So did most of us! Here are three ways you can apply the skills you learned in previous positions to your author career!
  • Most writers don’t enjoy querying—but you can’t find an agent without this process and that means writing the dreaded query letter. REMEMBER a query letter is a tool and tools need to be USED to get a job done--so stop over working your letter and send it. 
22 So You Found An Agent? Yay! Welcome to Hell 
  • Finding the agent is the least stressful part of the publishing process. 
23 Books, Blogs and BFFs: How One Thing Leads to Another 
  • Once you have a concept for a book find a community of other "pregnant authors" to support you! 
24 Writers Write 
  • When you're discouraged about rejection after rejection, remember why you're a writer! Writers write because they love to. So don't give up! 
25 Once You Sign With An Agent, The Wait Is Over (Oh, I Crack Myself Up!) 
  • It may take a very long time, but the perfect agent for your book is the one who loves it and sees its potential as a saleable book in the current market. Keep trying, keep querying, and wait for that right agent. 
26 Being Unreasonable 
  • It takes an unreasonable person to make the journey to publication. You must accept staggering odds, rejection, criticism, and bad reviews. And you must want it enough to persevere. As unlikely as it is, you must be unreasonable in order to succeed. 
27 Confessions of an Anxious Novelist 
  • Anxieties on the eve of publication are normal.
28 The Importance of a Great Editor 
  • A great editor can take your book and make it better in many ways. Trust her advice, but also trust yourself. 
29 Evolution Of A Book Cover 
  • Get the Cover you want. Don't be afraid to push for the cover you like.
  • A list of ten things you should do as soon as your novel is sold! 
41 Rabbit Test, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Me 
  • Reasons why--or why not--to have a blog. 
42 Premature Delivery 
  • Once a book is bought writers have less control than they think - make sure to find a community to support you! 
43 Setting Priorities on the Journey Towards Publication 
  • You're finally published -- learn to put Amazon rankings, reviews and sales in perspective. 
44  Conquering My Fear of Book Presentations 
  • Use your passion for your novel to get over your fear of public speaking. 
45-56 Writing Anxiety 
  • Eleven tips for controlling your inner critic. 
57 DIY Promotion 
  • How to promote your book without losing your mind. 
58 Book Baby Two 
  • It’s very common for writers to have a weak second book; publishers refer to it as a ‘sophomore’ book. Some ideas for making that second, stressful pregnancy a success. 
59 The Waiting Game 
  • Publication day will come and then you will have to find something else worth waiting for. 
60-70 Live Author Appearances 
  • Ten Tips to Surviving A Book Signing 
70-73 And Now The Book Store Reading... 
  • Three Ways to Survive A Book Store Reading
74-81 AUTHOR INTERVIEWS: Staple of the Blog Tour and Terror of the New-book Mother 
  • Seven tips to help you through a blog tour.
82 A Debut Author Learns About Libraries 
  • Don't forget the importance of libraries to your books success! Make sure to introduce yourself at your local libraries. 
83 On Being Nice 
  • Be nice. Always good advice, but especially when your trying to spread the word about your book! 
84-89 How To Get The Crap Out of Your Book 
  • 5 tips for editing the extraneous out of your WIP 
90 Why Does It Take So Long to Publish A Book Anyway? 
  • Be realistic about the length of your journey. 
91 Blubs-What Are They Good For? 
  • It's nice to have complimentary comments on the front of your book, but there's more to the picture than this. 
92 NEIBA and NAIBA & Independent Bookstores
  • If you have an opportunity to go to one of the trade shows for booksellers, jump on it. This is an opportunity to meet the people who will sell your book. 
93-101 Writing The Reader's Guide 
  • Eight tips to help you provide that extra-special something for your readers.
Thank you to everyone for following us through our birth pangs, we hope you'll continue on the journey with us as we learn more along the way - from second books to third books... and onward!

Monday, February 18, 2013

The 36-Month Pregnancy

Click for more info
By Julie Kibler

The average gestational period for a chipmunk is 21 days. No wonder they speak with such squeaky little voices.

For a kangaroo it's 42, though the joey moves into the mother's pouch for another two to three hundred days.

For a lion cub, it's 108.

For a woolly little lamb, it's 150.

Gorillas and hippos and moose (meese?) are close to human gestational periods at about 225 to 260 days.

Human babies? 266.

In all three of my human pregnancies, my average 255 or so days of lugging each little one around inside my uterus seemed like FOR. EH. VER.

Little did I know I would carry my unborn book around for much longer than that. For the length of FOUR human pregnancies.
I think I look pretty good for having just given birth to a book after a 36-month pregnancy.

Indeed, from the time I began my outline until Tuesday, February 12, when my book baby, Calling Me Home, popped, it was 36 months. Except, I had--more or less--two semesters, because I don't even want to count the trimesters if we're talking three-month intervals.

I outlined, wrote, and revised for 18 months. I sold the book, and performed my part of the tasks related to growing it from sold manuscript to real book baby in 18 months.

But I will tell you that all the backaches (revisions), the constant bladder pressure (copy edits), the heartburn (page proofs), the mistaken sonograms (changed covers), the swollen feet and ankles (checking amazon rank 432 times per day), and--most of all--the labor pains (writing about yourself in interviews and Q&As until you can't remember your own name, much less anything interesting you haven't already said four times) don't mean a thing when it comes down to one moment in time:

The moment you stand before your family and friends and see the joy and pride and LOVE in their eyes.

My book launch, last Tuesday evening at Barnes & Noble in Arlington, Texas, ranks right up there with the BEST days of my life.

I had an amazing labor nurse--I only met her shortly before Calling Me Home hit the nursery, but Jessica Prigg was the nicest, most gracious Community Relations Manager I could have worked with. She even provided a box of tissues to keep handy at the lectern.

My critique group looks on as I read
from Calling Me Home
Because I did cry. I think the only other time I've truly cried with joy during this long, long journey was when I called my oldest child to tell him I'd sold my book. I think that's significant, considering he was the first human baby who made me cry tears of joy.

Tuesday night, the tears started when one of my beloved critique partners from my group blog, What Women Write, asked if I was nervous shortly before the event began. When I nodded, she leaned in for a hug and whispered in my ear:

"You've got it. And if you fall, we'll catch you. We always do."

My best friend Gail and me, next to cake and flowers
from her and my critique group
What author could ask for more than that? I mean, besides well over a hundred friends, family members, former bosses and coworkers, church members, neighbors, book club members, people from my dentist office, and the list goes on ... there in the delivery room, simply to encourage and support and listen to me (ME!) talk about a story I wrote with no guarantee this day would ever happen.

I realized, as I stood before these people, that NOTHING else mattered when it comes to this book. Not the sales numbers, the Amazon ranks, the lists, the magazine or news coverage, the good or bad reviews--the good times and the bad times, whatever was and is to come for Calling Me Home.

All of that pales in comparison.

What mattered was right there in front of me.

Photo credits: Rick Mora

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Writing Love

Those of us who write about love face a new dilemma. According to the 2013 judging guidelines for the Oscars of the romance writing industry, the RITAs and the Golden Hearts, the romance of a story is now twice as important as plot, character, and writing.

Where does that leave women’s fiction writers who cross over into the category of novels with strong romantic elements? Confused and struggling to define ourselves. Women’s fiction may be a shape shifter, but tell us romance is the most important part of our novels, and we're likely to give you the evil eye.

As publication day loomed, I was terrified that my book baby would be shelved under romance. Relationship stories, which are my thing, have always fallen between the thinnest of cracks. To complicate the definition, my characters find hope and love in the darkness of mental illness. Think Silver Linings Playbook with woodland garden settings.

The Unfinished Garden—TUG—sold to MIRA, an imprint of Harlequin, as women’s fiction. Despite various incarnations, it has always been the story of Tilly, a young widow whose grief has begun to twist into relentless guilt. Enter James, a charismatic, brilliant obsessive-compulsive who recognizes that Tilly is trapped in the world of obsessive thought. TUG is Tilly’s journey because of James. Without James—no life-altering epiphany for Tilly.

Before publication, I adopted the mantra, “It’s a love story, not a romance.” Then TUG launched—as an August romance pick at Barnes & Noble. My worst fear was realized: My debut novel was destined to be labeled romance.

I told myself it didn’t matter, but I was faking. Until I read my first romance novel and had my own HEA—happily ever after—moment. I consumed that novel in one weekend. “Go away,” I told the family. “I’m working.” And I was, because I was learning how the pros craft page-turning love scenes. It was like binging on English candy, which I do every summer within 24 hours of returning to England. (I miss wine gums something rotten.)

There’s no sex in TUG, there’s only one kiss, and because my hero is phobic about soil and my heroine is a gardener, it takes him a while to hold her hand. But from the moment they meet, Tilly and James have sexual chemistry. Their mutual attraction does not define the story even though it does help drive the plot. For at least one chapter, they’re on different continents. Tilly is wading through heavy-duty family drama, and James doesn’t enter her mind. In the romance novel I was reading, however, the sexual tension was up front and center on every single page. I was awestruck.

I learned something else, too: this romance writer was a master in the art of pacing, and boy, had I been struggling with pacing in novel two. After finishing her novel, I ripped apart my first nine chapters, which had been filled with introspection, backstory, and lovely descriptions of the North Carolina forest. “Back to the story,” I kept muttering.

The one complaint I had with this romance novel was the writing. It was littered with coursing and throbbing. But then again, I’ve read mainstream novels chock-full of chuckling. (Chuckle is my trigger verb. I detest it.) Writing is super important to me. I agonize over sentences and word choice. When I read Jodi Picout—whom I think of as the queen of women’s fiction, although she’s a genre bender—I am constantly collecting sentences that scream, “This is how you do it!”

So. Am I going to morph into a genre romance writer? No. But six months out from pub date, I have a new mantra: “I am one with the romance label.”  Hand on heart, I no longer care how readers classify TUG—provided they enjoy the story.  Much of my life echoes through my first book baby. I thought I knew every theme and every thread, but then it bounced out into the world and surprised me.

Two weeks ago, I had the biggest surprise of all.  Simply Books, the Harlequin Reader Service magazine, declared TUG number one in their list of Most Romantic Books of 2012. Tilly and James had even earned a rosy pink heart for being sensual. I was thrilled. I celebrated by toasting my favorite couple with Bombay Sapphire gin. And I’m pretty sure they approved.

Barbara Claypole White is the author of The Unfinished Garden (Harlequin MIRA, 2012), a love story about grief, OCD, and dirt. You can find her on Facebook.

“White…conveys the condition of OCD, and how it creates havoc in one’s life and the lives of loved ones, with style and grace, never underplaying the seriousness of the disorder.” Romantic Times 4* review

“Barbara Claypole White gives us a moving story about the challenges of OCD and grief combined with the power of the human spirit to find love in the most unlikely of places.” Eye on Romance.

“A fabulous debut novel, THE UNFINISHED GARDEN easily earns Romance Junkies’ highest rating of five blue ribbons and a recommended status for its unpredictable originality! So good!” Romance Junkies