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Thank you, Heffers! What a wonderful shop, and a wonderful evening.

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It’s important to me to mark the occasion of  a new book. It’s too easy for the day itself to be nothing remarkable. Suddenly the book is there in the shops, and available online, and hopefully there are reviews popping up. But at home, the day is just as usual. Today my books came out in the UK, and I did laundry. That’s why I’m so glad I had a party earlier this week.

Launch parties have more value than just the evening itself. The process of inviting people is an opportunity to share what’s going on–the pre-release reviews, the excitement–without sounding braggy. You’re offering something (a party!), after all, not just announcing. Sharing an invitation is a lot more tactful than sharing buy links. I do go ahead and share good news and, yes, even reviews and buy links with my non-local friends, but with the party I feel more free.

The party has value after as well, even with those who weren’t able to come. “How did it go?” and “I’m so happy for you!” start lovely conversations that wouldn’t have existed without the party itself.

All that said, the organizing/inviting process is also stressful. I find it helps to send an early invitation 6-8 weeks in advance, then a reminder invitation about 2 weeks in advance. Some people are planners and need lead time; others won’t be able to consider RSVPing until much closer to the date. My preference would be to assume that few will come and then be happily surprised by big numbers, but that could leave the shop unprepared. So, I had to be brutally realistic in my expectations, risking feeling foolish if the numbers were way off. A week before, I was still chasing up RSVPs and feeling frustrated, but it turns out that many of the delayed replies were from friends trying to overcome schedule clashes, which was very kind of them. On the day itself, it turned out pretty much as I had guessed from the start: about 100 adults and 30 kids, which rocks by any standard (especially on a Tuesday night!). I’m very grateful to all who came to share the day.

Also grateful to delightful author Helen Moss, who kindly came to do a talk for the children while I talked to the adults. For my last book party, getting babysitters was a problem for guests. This way, the kids were themselves welcome guests.

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I loved talking about the books, and getting laughs and other reactions in all the right places.

I loved being introduced by my publisher and by my favorite bookseller.

I loved seeing all those books! I signed so many that I got a blister on my finger.

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Thanks, everyone. It was a good day.

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I’m a little late commenting on my January New York trip. At the time, I posted pics to Facebook, and just enjoyed the event without other comment.

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It was a great trip. New York has figured in many stages of my life, so visiting there stirs up memories from all over my past: It was “the city” nearest my childhood and teenage home, and so the site of family visits and later fun with friends; though my college years were in Pittsburgh, many of my college friends ended up in New York to act (and I got to see some of them this trip); for grad school, I lived back at home again, interned at the Met, and did part of my thesis at the Brooklyn Museum. I got my first writing job in New York twenty years ago thanks to a party at the Plaza Hotel (and I got to meet up with that editor this trip, too–thanks, Mark Danna!). It’s the city where my sister lives, where my agent lives, and where I published my first book. New York is one of the places I feel at home.

The event with author Jenny Milchman and agents Donald Maass and Janet Reid went great. That Barnes and Noble has a lovely dedicated event space, and even a “green room” for speakers to wait in. Jenny and I snapped pics of each other like giggly teenagers.

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It was wonderful to see old friends there, and it was wonderful to see so many strangers (always a treat when a lot of strangers come to a book event!). My agent brought a good camera and took this nice shot of the talk itself:

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Another agent from my agency wrote a little about the event, pretty accurately in my opinion. Here is a relevant quote:

I recently attended a panel given by two agents and two authors—one of the agents, full disclosure, was my boss, and one of the authors is one of our clients. Over the course of the hour they each spoke about writing and the publishing process—from the point of view of the author and the agent—and about what makes a good book. Don Maass, my boss, spoke about what he thinks makes a book “work” where other books with similar themes might not. Janet Reid, uber-agent, talked about books keeping her from going into the office because she has to find out what happened. Jenny Milchman, whose debut novel Cover of Snow just came out, talked about writing eight books before this one found a home with a Big Six publisher. Emily Winslow, whose second novel Start of Everything was just published, talked about finding freedom as a writer, releasing herself from fear through her early days writing poetry. At the end of all this discussion I was energized to get back to work, but it was time for questions from the audience—and the very first question was on how important social media is to an agent or publisher.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse! And the questions that followed—do I need to pay someone to write a proposal for a nonfiction project? What about autobiography?—were equally off the mark. It is not constructive for an author to think about their twitter feed more than their writing. It is not constructive for an aspiring writer to think about how they’re going to get published before they’ve even finished the book. I venture to guess that an author who is worrying aloud about their social media presence has a deeper fear, that there is something missing from their work that is keeping it from finding a home. I advise them to work on that first. Aspiring writers should aspire to write, and the business of writing is a bit of a long game. But if an aspiring writer with talent then works hard, works long, and is constructive about their craft, then I think they’ll have pretty good luck.

After, I went out for shakes with friends. New York is just getting more full of memories.

Writers are playing tag!

These ten questions are being answered by writers all over the web.

Thanks for Carole DeSanti, author of The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), for tapping me. Carole’s answers are here, and are a fascinating glimpse of an editor’s decision to write, and why:

The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.  arose from a desire to flee the pressures of 20th/21st century  commercial publishing (i.e. my day job) to escape back into the earlier love that brought me to novels in the first place.  As a young editor, I sometimes felt like a courtesan of literary life – if the publisher thought something would sell and dropped it on my desk, I worked on it — from diet books to erotica.  I supplicated bestselling authors and pretended to like things I didn’t, which was hard going, because for me, reading is an intimate, personal act.

Don’t you want to read more?

Here are my answers:

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop:

  1. What is your working title of your book?

The Start of Everything.

  1. Where did the idea come from for the book?

A friend of mine had a very specific job for the Cambridge University Registrar: finding the intended recipients of insufficiently addressed mail. The story possibilities of this role leapt out at me, and The Start of Everything begins with a letter to a women who seemingly doesn’t exist.

  1. What genre does your book fall under?

Like my previous book, The Whole World, psychological suspense.

  1. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A misaddressed letter, an unidentified body, and a compromised cop.

  1. Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Cameron McClure of the Donald Maass agency, and The Start of Everything has just this month come out from Delacorte Press.

  1. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year.

  1. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m inspired by Ruth Rendell, especially her alter ego Barbara Vine, and by Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Kate Atkinson.

  1. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Along with the letter job described above, I was also struck by the strangeness of the annual fen floods. It’s apparently normal here in Cambridgeshire that, every winter, whole swaths of land, including roads, go underwater. The fens were once marshes and, despite drainage efforts that have technologically improved over centuries, the water always has to go somewhere. Here’s a pic of my mom pretending to hitchhike at a point where the road just disappears. In my book, the body is discovered when the floods recede in the spring.

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  1. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I started writing this story just after the unveiling of a new clock in Cambridge. It’s on King’s Parade, one of the most picturesque streets in the city, and people will actually turn their backs on King’s College Chapel, the most iconic building here, to gaze at the clock. It’s operated by an enlarged and exposed “grasshopper escapement” at its top, and this bit of machinery, named for the resemblance of its motion to the legs of a grasshopper, is on this clock represented by an actual monstrous robot grasshopper, which blinks and snaps and lolls its tongue. The designer, John Taylor, who has lived a fascinating long life and is poignantly aware of growing older, says that time is a monster. The clock is present in several key scenes, and various characters react to it.

  1. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t care who plays the parts, so long as it is properly filmed on site in Cambridge and the fens. The setting is very present in my books, and Cambridge itself is the most important character.

My turn:

I tag Marisa Labozzetta, author of  Sometimes it Snows in America. Doesn’t this look interesting? “Born into Somali royalty and Saudi Arabian wealth, Fatma is given away in infancy and, at age 12, forced into an arranged marriage with a young Peace Corps worker. Prejudice and cultural demands lead to a number of painful promises that will dictate the course of her life on two continents. Sometimes It Snows in America is a novel loosely based on the true account of an African woman’s descent into an American hell, and finds its echo in the descent of her native Somalia into its own hell of violent desperation. It leaves the reader with the gifts of unsuspected connection and surprising hope.”

Is your new year’s resolution to finish your novel, or to start one? Join literary agents Janet Reid (“Query Shark”) and Donald Maass (“Writing the Breakout Novel”), in discussion with authors Jenny Milchman (“Cover of Snow”) and Emily Winslow (“The Start of Everything”) for advice, inspiration, and solid ideas for making this your year.

Writing a Novel With Blockbuster Potential
Wednesday January 30, 2013 7:00 PM
Barnes and Noble
86th & Lexington Ave
150 East 86th Street, New York, NY 10028, 212-369-2180

Emily Winslow’s The Start of Everything “[brilliantly portrays] the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn’t a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings, and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.” The Washington Post

Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow is a “superlative, dark, wintry debut…These well-defined characters take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the darkest night, with blinding twists and occasionally fatal turns. This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage.” Booklist

Janet Reid is a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City, specializing in crime fiction and narrative non-fiction. Her humorous and insightful Query Shark blog is the go-to site for aspiring authors preparing query letters.

Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in New York, which he founded in 1980. He represents more than 100 fiction writers and sells more than 100 novels per year to top publishers in America and overseas. His books for writers include the inspiring classic “Writing the Breakout Novel” and his new book “Writing 21st Century Fiction.”

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I haven’t yet had the courage to listen to the audiobooks of my novels. (I also haven’t yet had the courage to look inside the published hardcovers, so it’s not about the performances. I’m just very shy of seeing or hearing my words in a state where I can’t change them anymore. It’s as bad as watching myself on videotape! *cringe*)

What I have done is google all the actors involved. Here they are, in order of appearance:

Connor Kelly-Eiding (Polly in The Whole World)

Connor is a mystery. The only public photo I was able to find of her is as a clown called Peking Duck. So, here it is! Connor Kelly-Eiding as Peking Duck in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, 2012:

From left to right Connor Kelly-Eiding as PEKING DUCK, Dave Honigman as TOM and Lis Roche Vizcarra as LORETTA.

Philip Battley (Nick in The Whole World)

From his website, I see that Philip was recently in a Lifetime movie called “Layover.” (Don’t you think that title calls for an exclamation mark? Layover! ) As a Lifetime movie addict suffering withdrawal out here in the UK (the free movies on Lifetime’s website only play in the States), I am delighted to see that it will soon be out on DVD (under the much-less-fun title “Abducted,” which would also benefit from an exclamation mark). Philip has also performed Shakespeare at The Globe, so his life seems to be pretty awesome. Jealous!

John Mawson (Morris in The Whole World)

His website tells me that John “has a reputation on stage and on screen as an authoritative, intelligent performer with a fine dry wit” and also that he has acted in several “Funny or Die” sketches. This past year he wrote and starred in the short film “6 years, 4 months & 23 Days.” He has played Sherlock Holmes on stage to adoring reviews, so I count myself lucky that I get him to read the role of my detective.

Jane Carr (Gretchen in The Whole World)

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IMDB describes her as “she with the close-set eyes, lilting voice, trowel jaw and bubbly disposition.” Highlights from her resume include: a teenage role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with Vanessa Redgrave on stage and with Maggie Smith on film, numerous productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Olivier nominations, and, interestingly, “body double and voice actress of “Tabitha Lenox” on the daytime soap drama “Passions” when actress Juliet Mills took a brief hiatus.” An intimidating width and breadth of work that fits well for the intimidating personality of Gretchen!

Robin Gwynne (Liv in The Whole World)

“Rubber-voiced Robin Gwynne, comedic actress and one-time bikini model, blends funny and sexy in a quirky twist on the tried and true Hollywood formula.” She’s guest-starred on lots of TV shows, like Grey’s Anatomy, Samantha Who?, and Pushing Daisies. “Quirky” sounds ideal for the role of Liv, and “one time bikini model” sounds like Liv’s unfulfilled fantasy, so, perfect!

Sile Bermingham (Mathilde, Chloe and Grace in The Start of Everything)

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Her lovely Gaelic name is pronounced “Sheila,” which she is probably very tired of having to explain. Her recent films include a moody, Canadian-set serial killer movie “A Kiss and a Promise” and the heist film “2:22.” So, lots of experience with crime stories.

Stephen Hoye (Morris and George in The Start of Everything)

Stephen did a lot of stage and TV in the seventies and eighties, switched over to non-profit fundraising, then got his start as an award-winning narrator of audio books from a chance meeting with a producer in an elevator. So, he must be charming as well as talented! He says in an Audiofile interview that he learned to love audio books when he “became a commuter.” Ha! Amen.

I’m extremely lucky that these talented people have read my words aloud. Thanks to each one of them!

You can hear their work by buying the books here:

The Whole World

The Start of Everything

Books tend to launch on Tuesdays. Tomorrow, January 8th, is my Tuesday!

Launches are *exciting* and *nerve-wracking*. Three confidence-boosting things happened this weekend, preparing me:

1) One of the actresses who voiced the audio book of my debut novel wrote to tell me how much she liked it. I know from experience how intimate an actor becomes with a role, so a compliment from someone who knows the character (Liv) that well is a real treat. It absolutely made my day. Thanks, Robin Gwynne!

Yes, I said “one of” the actresses, because Audible cast five different voices for the five narrators of The Whole World! I’m delighted. For The Start of Everything, which also has five narrators, they cast two voices (a man and a woman). It’s an understandable difference, because the narrators of The Whole World have more variation in nationality and age.

Interestingly, there is one character (Morris) who narrates in both books, but two different actors were cast.

(Also, I would just like to say that Philip Battley, who was cast as Nick in The Whole World, has a smiling headshot that captures Nick perfectly. I know it’s irrelevant whether audio narrators look the part, but, yes, he looks the part! I can absolutely imagine Liv and Polly falling for him.)

The audio books are available here:
The Whole World
The Start of Everything

2) Art Taylor wrote a fantastic review of The Start of Everything for The Washington Post. I don’t mean that the review says that the book is fantastic; I mean that the review is amazingly written. It’s more an analysis than a review, and I’m thrilled to see the book talked about with such intellect and intensity. For example:

While Cambridge and that manor house may hark back to traditional British mysteries — a murder or two, clues and red herrings, the killer smoothly unmasked — it’s important to note that the manor house here has been “chopped into flats,” traditions have been broken, modern life is intruding. If Winslow overworks some of the connections here, she’s brilliant at portraying the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn’t a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.

What a privilege it is to have my work examined with such care.

3) I carry cards with info about the books, in case people ask. Yesterday, walking home from church, we stopped to chat with a family who lives on our route home. The mother looked over the information, and read aloud one my favorite reviews of The Whole World, from the Palm Beach Post:

“A first novel about growing up, having sex and going seriously off the rails at Cambridge University.”

She smiled, gazed wistfully into middle distance, said “Story of my life!” then laughed. Ha!

I don’t like shopping. These signs from a hotel in Germany think I must, but never mind: I don’t like it.

What I really don’t like is getting dressed. I would exercise a lot more often if that didn’t require a change of clothes. I get dressed in the morning out of necessity and I just don’t want to think about it again once I do. Shopping for clothes is one big Groundhog-Day-like repeat of getting dressed over and over again, in a tiny room more claustrophobic than an elevator, into clothes that I don’t yet know will fit or look good. I do it once every couple of years, buy piles of clothes then live off the spoils for many months, like hunting a mammoth to feed a village for a whole winter.

That time has come again. And it…wasn’t so bad! THANK YOU, MARKS AND SPENCER. Why do I love M&S so much?

1) Their clothes go up to my size and beyond. No plus-sized ghetto. I can shop at all the racks.

2) Their clothes are consistently sized. I had my kids with me, so I decided to try things on at home and later return what didn’t fit. Guess what? Literally ALL OF IT fit perfectly. At Marks & Spencer, my size is my size is my size. If that number is on their label, it fits my body. I sent the boys on a “treasure hunt” to find all the black trousers in my size. They found four; it took ten minutes; I bought them all; I’m wearing a pair right now. They look great.

3) Their shoes tend to be wide. That’s a nice change from EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE PLANET.

The impetus behind this splurge is that a photographer is coming next week, which is something that stresses me out even more than shopping does. I have to make the house look presentable. I have to make ME look presentable. While half the family goes to see Skyfall after church, I will go home and scrub the white stone entryway. (Who approved white stone and white grout at the front door anyway?? Oops, me…)

Wish me luck! Cross fingers that the photog will be forgiving and flattering.

(Photo credit to S.W. Stark, now old enough to be off in foreign countries having adventures without me…)

I am learning a lot about blurbs this year.

Blurbs are those quotes of praise from other authors. Reviews come after a book is published, so to get praise to print on book covers, other authors are sought for compliments.

When I have read discussions about blurbs, participants have often said that they don’t pay attention to such things, but more to the story description. Also, there are always accusations of authors blurbing their friends, supposedly regardless of actual quality. I let these thoughts affect my pursuit of blurbs my first time around. Now I know better.

First of all, many readers *are* swayed by a favorite author’s name on the cover, even if as the author of a blurb instead of of the book itself. It can get people to pick up the book. That done, of course the story has to stand on its own merit. But getting someone to pick up the book in the first place is no small thing.

Secondly, blurbs aren’t just for the sell-to-reader stage. Reviewers receive far more books than they can possibly read. They need a way to sort through which ones they will look at. Significant blurbs can make a difference in getting a reviewer to open your book. (Which then, of course, must stand on its own.) The subsequent reviews, then, reach readers, even those who don’t care about blurbs. (Or even those who aren’t swayed by reviews, simply from the exposure.)

Blurbs are also a great tool for getting reviewers/readers into an accurate and sympathetic frame of mind. Anyone expecting a bite of cake and getting a mouthful of quiche is going to be unhappy, even if they like quiche. Setting accurate expectations is important. Specific, vivid comments pre-read can help with that. Also, praise from valued sources can make someone more inclined to trust an author who may be doing something tricky or unusual. Watching a professional acrobat is a thrill. Watching a random person do something risky is nervewracking. Blurbs can reassure that the author is in the “professional acrobat” category.

As to accusation that published authors are a clique of friends trading blurbs without regard to actual quality, in some cases that may be true. In the cases of my personal experience, I can say that it works the other way: authors become friends often *because* they admire and relate to one another’s work. So, yes, the blurber and blurbee are friends, but that friendship came after the admiration.

I didn’t realise how important blurbs are with my first book, and I feel amazingly lucky to be getting good blurbs for my second.

With my first book, I didn’t do much to solicit blurbs. I didn’t know many writers and figured requests for blurbs coming from my well-known editor would be much more powerful than any request from unknown me. Turns out, authors receive so many requests for blurbs that getting someone to actually read the book is as difficult as getting a reviewer’s attention.

This time, I do know other authors, and I’m finding that makes a huge difference to someone’s willingness to direct hours, maybe days, toward reading with a possibility of writing a blurb. That’s a lot to ask of someone who is likely in the midst of their own writing/edits and has lots of reading for their own selves that they haven’t gotten to yet. Knowing someone doesn’t guarantee that they will compliment; only good work should prompt that. But getting them to read the work in the first place is a bigger hurdle than I realised with my debut.

In sum: No, blurbs don’t sell a book all by themselves. But they DO for sure contribute to a book getting picked up off a shelf or out of a pile. I had previously underestimated that.

Many thanks to:

Sophie Hannah
“Emily Winslow’s writing is uniquely perceptive and penetrating, inhabiting the minds of her characters with great subtlety. She is a precise and expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.”

Kate Rhodes
“Winslow has managed to get under the skin of Cambridge, her adopted city, to create a story of wonderful psychological complexity. The Start of Everything is an excellent literary novel, as well as a compelling mystery.”

Lisa Gardner
“A masterful whodunnit! Winslow effortlessly weaves together separate lives with intertwined lies, creating a powerful web of small deceits and horrifying misdeeds. A must read!”

I’m honored and happy that you took the time to read.

Harriet Klausner is Amazon’s most prolific reviewer. Can she possibly read all the books she reviews? Doubtful. At least she’s generally positive. (Her relentlessly four and five star reviews make her opinion less credible, but at least she’s not attacking books.)

My time has come: the Harriet Klausner review of The Whole World has hit the internet. In addition to Amazon (on which it has not yet appeared, but no doubt it eventually will), she posts to many, many other sites. It’s everywhere.

I’m not going to link to it, because it contains major spoilers that I think will harm the experience of reading the book. But I will say: she has clearly read it!

Note to self–the wisteria over the wall of Sidney Sussex college is in bloom. I always forget what time of year that happens; now I can just look up the date on this post 🙂

It’s a real book now!

(That’s my editor hiding behind it 🙂

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."