Book Expo America 2014: A Few From the Floor

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) at Book Expo America 2014

Faces you’ll recognize from MWA’s crowded booth.

From the perspective of the Book Expo America 2014 exhibit floor yesterday, all is going very well indeed in book land. I did my best to catch a few shots from my mobile, but what with the crowds and the juggling of bags and books, my efforts were undermined.

I attended with two Glenmere Press authors, and it was a grand coincidence that the first person we bumped into was the owner of our small town’s indie bookstore – Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe  – a gorgeous and recently expanded store that supports local authors as it does joyous readers who come to our town for the pleasure. On the floor at BEA, he, and we, thoroughly approved the apparent confirmation that the well-being of print books, and bookstores in general, is stabilizing.

Author signings at the MWA booth.

Regularly scheduled author signings at the MWA booth.

The so called eBook threat may still bob around at ceiling level, but you wouldn’t know it down on the floor, among the folks in healthy sized lineups waiting for free print copies and author signings.

Our friends over at MWA and RWA were enjoying mobs of readers, and they’re true pros at scheduling signings and keeping the crowds both happy and orderly.

 

 

Yet it’s true the show is experiencing undercurrents, this year as in many others, at meetings off-floor and behind the booth tables. Murmurs about Saturday’s fan-based BookCon with a childrens’ author list largely white and male. Grumblings about the deadlock between Amazon and Hachette Book Group that has incited protest from The Authors Guild and from authors hit in the crossfire.

 

NetGalley's booth at BEA 2014

NetGalley’s BookExpo booth

As a small publisher, I attended with a slightly different perspective. I met with my wonderful reps and marketing mentors at INscribe Digital, the fabulous eBook distributor that gives small publishers the means to achieve status at retailer sites. I checked out three of our authors’ books on the shelves of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) booth, where I got helpful guidance from the personable and knowledgeable Terry Nathan. I also talked to the folks at NetGalley, where our books are available as e-ARCs for reviewers, booksellers, and librarians.

If you weren’t out on the floor yesterday, I encourage you to go today, or on Saturday when fan-based BookCon debuts. Be sure to pick up a copy of Publishers Weekly Show Daily, a good way to get your bearings on the day’s signings and events.

There yesterday? Going soon? Went last year? Got better pictures? Do tell!

What’s With the Book Cover Makeovers?

Harry Potter Gets a Makeover Why do authors and publishers go for the big makeover in book covers? It isn’t as if Harry Potter and Hunger Games aren’t selling. You expect new covers when there’s a switch in publisher, or with the release of a new edition that involves content changes, but otherwise, why go for a face lift when the original hasn’t aged?

In the case of the big sellers, maybe it’s simply because they can. To be sure there’s a marketing and sales angle – that bottomline to bolster. But maybe it’s also just fun to get fans excited all over again. And excited they are! Check out book cover makeovers on GoodReads and you find polls galore and heated discussions over which version is best.

Still, even for books with, ahem, more modest expectations, there are very good reasons to go for a change. No question a new cover can stir interest and increase sales, but if we’re going for improvement, what do we expect of the switch? Maybe to better give a hint of the story. Raise an intriguing question in a reader’s mind. To more precisely set a tone. Correct for gender neutrality. Go for more current design20140314_ebook_thumbnail trends. Or simply to create a design so pleasing to the eye that readers want to hang it on their walls.

Here’s one, for example: our friend Carole Howard’s About Face, currently featured on NetGalley’s “Judge a Book by its Cover” blog.

Ever wish you could trade in your old book for the edition with a new face? Ever discover a classic in gorgeous new garb?

Thanks to the LA Times for the side by side Harry Potter cover display used above.

Popup books – feeding the kid in us

Mommy? popup with art by Maurice Sendak

MOMMY? by Michael Di Capua Books – Scholastic with art by Maurice Sendak, scenario by Arthur Yorinks, paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart

I didn’t have time, Easter Day, to read to the four visiting little ones, but that’s the good thing about family. With very few exceptions – like when they were tearing around the yard finding Easter eggs or examining the compost heap – at any given moment one kid or another was draped over a grownup’s lap absorbed in “hearing” a book.

It was a beautiful thing. And when it’s not a grand holiday with a lot of cooking and cleanup to interrupt, I do have time to read to them, and I absolutely love the fact there are so many ways to do it.

Popups don’t usually make the list of book publishing media, but I think they qualify as a category. As a couple of dozen paper engineers ply their art around the world, I’m increasingly amazed by what they produce. The Sendak book shown above (I’m pleased to say it’s from my own small collection – these books are pricey!) is one example, but the 2-D image I’ve supplied hardly begins to demonstrate the experience of thumbing through one of these hand-crafted books. But hey, we’ve got video to show us what it’s like.

Whatever you think of Game of Thrones (much to appreciate there, though I don’t count myself a fan) if you haven’t been amazed by popups in the past, here’s a trailer you’ve got to watch for the popup effect. If you enjoy popup books too, I hope you’ll tell me about your favorites.

Social media overwhelm? Oh wait. . . there’s Twitter’s Fiction Festival!

Twitter Fiction Festival 2014When you’ve got a book to promote or better yet, more than one; or you’re trying to brand yourself as a writer or help readers find your book, there’s no better way to do it than social media networking. Right? Okay then!

Problem is, if you’re writing and publishing and promoting, there’s so much of it to do, and so little time. It’s a killer. Social networking invades the space and time we set aside for writing. It’s terrifically exhilarating until it isn’t. But just when you’re throwing up your hands, crying “No more! No more!” there’s the next new train to jump on. It’s exhausting.

Time to get back to telling stories. And lo, there’s a fresh new social-media way to do it!

Twitter’s upcoming Fiction Festival is for every kind of story teller, but the authors selected for featured spots alongside a group of famous authors may well be pitching ideas that transcend the written page. (And you thought you were up to date because the world can read your book on an Android or iPhone.) If you’re interested in new ways to share stories and get a lot of attention for doing so, enter your pitch by Feb. 5th and you might win a featured spot.

You don’t have to already be on Twitter or have a huge crowd of followers. And so what if your pitch doesn’t win you a showcase spot. Join in, join in, and do it anyway! You do have to be able to tell a story in 140 character segments or in photos, or six-second looping videos. Because now, of course we have Vine and Twitpic and who knows what else to make that a breeze.

During the Twitter Fiction Festival, authors have six days to tell their stories in itty bitty slices. Which of course means figuring out how to leave watchers on the edge of their seats, gasping for the next installment, which you can post in five seconds (or 5 hours, if you really must catch a few winks of sleep).

Last time around we had Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jennifer Egan telling a Sci Fi story, and Lucy Coates telling a hundred myths in a hundred tweets written in headline form. (Read more about it at The Christian Science Monitor.)

Are you in? Do tell. And I hope you’ll come back and share pitches and plots once things get rolling on March 12.

Cathi Stoler is Keeping Secrets

Keeping-Secrets-by-Cathi-StolerOver on Criminal Element, check out the Fresh Meat review by Doreen Sheridan with a Sweepstakes giveaway of Cathi Stoler’s new book – released today! – KEEPING SECRETS, the second novel in her Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series.

Here’s Sheridan’s take on the reporter and private eye in this story about identity theft, greedy bankers and dirty politicians:

“It’s great to read a contemporary mystery with two strong female leads who are friends without being sidekicks to one another. Cathi Stoler writes about the problems faced by modern women sympathetically, but in a way that also reminds us that certain dilemmas are timeless. The burgeoning love triangle between Laurel, Matt and Aaron, for example, is echoed in Helen’s navigation of her own tricky relationships with Mike and Joe. The romances are just as colorful as the mysteries unraveled here, and just as satisfyingly resolved.”

Hop over quickly; the sweepstakes ends at 9:29 a.m. ET this Monday, November 4. All youNick-of-Time-by-Cathi-Stoler need do to enter for a chance to win a copy of Keeping Secrets and Cathi’s novella Nick of Time (out Nov. 25), an international gambler’s tale of intrigue, is make sure you’re a registered member of Criminal Elements and leave a comment at the Fresh Meat post.

DEADLY ADAGIO book giveaway winner!

Congratulations to Teralee, winner of the Carole Howard – DEADLY ADAGIO book giveaway!

We had a grand turnout of readers for our interview with Carole Howard. Each person who posted a comment was eligible to win a signed copy of Howard’s suspenseful first mystery, in which the American community in Senagal deals with the brutal murder of one of its own.

Was the murder of the Peace Corps Director’s wife in Senegal just random anti-American violence, as the official investigative team seems to think? Emily  suspects it may have been something else. She ignores everyone’s warnings that she’s putting her life in danger to find out. But it turns out they’re right.

Giveaway winner

Teralee, your signed book will arrive in the mail. Thanks for providing your contact information, and happy reading!

Don’t forget to check back often at www.womenofmystery.net for book giveaways.

Giveaway! Carole Howard’s DEADLY ADAGIO

Deadly Adagio CoverI’m happy to introduce our readers to Carole Howard, whose first mystery, Deadly Adagio, set in West Africa, was published in July by Second Wind Publishing. (Check the bottom of this post to enter the book giveaway!) The novel offers a glimpse into the private lives of Embassy families, backstage politics among members of an amateur orchestra, and a collision of cultures; all contributing to an engrossing read.

Carole, your background as violinist in a community orchestra and your life in West Africa with a Peace Corps administrator both come across in your plot and characters. Can you tell us a little about how your experience in Senegal influenced the novel?

CAROLE: Living in West Africa was a pivotal chapter in my life; I loved it; I recently realized that my overseas experiences were unusual, and that things I found “normal” were considered exotic by others. I found that spending time in other countries shaped my perspective on life, on the world, on our country, and on human values, and I hoped to communicate some of that.

How much of the story did you have in mind before you started writing it?

CAROLE: I knew I wanted it to be a mystery, and I knew I wanted it to be set in West Africa. I figured out who the murder victim was and who the murderer was. I also knew I wanted an amateur orchestra to be part of the story because most people have no idea about the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. Then I started writing. Between writing and revising (and revising and revising), I figured out the rest. In retrospect, I think I was a bit naive. Then again, if I’d known much more than that, I don’t know that it would have been as much fun to write.

What do readers tell you they find most surprising?

CAROLE: They like having a glimpse into the Peace Corps (I’m constantly amazed that people think the Peace Corps doesn’t exist anymore!) and the day-to-day workings of the State Department. Plus, without getting into any spoilers, there’s a common tribal practice that many Westerners consider cruel. I hope I’ve shed some light on that as well.

What advice about writing helped you most?

CAROLE: Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, spoke of the need for experiences to be composted before she could write about them deeply and honestly. That helped me deal with the fact that when I was in Africa, I couldn’t write about it. I was paralyzed by the overpowering sensory stimulation.  But later, when I was home, it came more easily.

Your engaging voice first hit the stands in 2011, in About Face, your first novel. How did that book differ from Deadly Adagio?

CAROLE: About Face was more of a character-driven novel. The protagonist is a 50-something woman who’s trying to resolve the differences  between who she used to be (Peace Corps volunteer) and who she is (Marketing Executive), whose body is conducting its own little mutiny, and whose boss is, let’s just say, not a nice guy. It may not sound as if it’s also funny, but it is. Really.

Are you working on another book?

CAROLE: After my husband and I retired, we did five overseas volunteer assignments, each in a different developing country, each about two months.  I’m working on a travel memoir about those experiences. Let’s see now, three books, three different genres: I sure don’t make things easy for myself!

* * *

Win a signed copy of Deadly Adagio by leaving a comment and an email address below. We’ll do a random drawing at midnight on Sunday and announce the winner next Wednesday!

You can find Carole Howard online here.

Stephen King on crafting a good opening line

Writing about craft in the form of memoir, as Stephen King did in his book On Writing, was inspired. Exploring his life – the boy, the man, the writer – he illustrated craft nuggets that might have sounded dry as toast in another writer’s hands.

That book is a favorite of mine, but it includes little on the subject of good opening lines, so when I found this interview with King in The Atlantic‘s “By Heart” series, I sat up straighter. Here’s the link: “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences”. It’s delicious, as well as instructive on the topic. It also includes a fabulous, if brief, discussion on the elusive quality of voice.

Here’s a taste of King’s interview:

“A book won’t stand or fall on the very first line of prose — the story has got to be there, and that’s the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice — it’s the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there’s incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.”

From the article I’ve culled a bare bones list of what contributes to a stunning opening line:

  • “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
  • Load it with unspoken but intriguing context that raises questions in the reader’s mind
  • Let it quickly introduce your style
  • Give it a powerful sense of voice
  • Encapsulate what’s going to happen later without making a big thematic statement

I poked through the books on my shelves for a few stunners:

“Ocala Police picked up Dale Crowe Junior for weaving, two o’clock in the morning, crossing the center line and having a busted taillight.” - Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard Yep, a doorway right smack dab into the action. Bouncing with voice. A gem-like example of the inimitable Leonard prose. Questions, anyone?…what kind of a loser is this guy, anyway? What else is about to go wrong for this slob….

“‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.'” – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Somebody got into this kid’s head? Okay, so it’s futuristic. But what does he mean, “the one”? This is gonna be fast-paced. Simple and straightforward, I can handle this one. And…is that Big Brother who’s watching? 

“My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher.” – House-Keeping by Marilynne Robinson
Ah, a serious kid here. Formal, trying to please, but really, that’s kind of a run-on sentence. What happened to her parents? What happened to the great aunts who fled? Does this Mrs. Sylvia Fisher, at least, stick it out? These kids have had it tough, but this Ruth’s not complaining, now, is she? No, she’s trying to sum it all up for us like she’s patiently explaining to some social worker…. 

I couldn’t decide on a favorite first sentence. It would take me weeks to open every book I ever read, I’m nothing if not thorough. What about you? Have a favorite you know by heart?

Friday Fatales – Woman of Mystery P. D. James

On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recognized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.

After nearly six decades writing crime novels, best-selling British author P. D. James is much loved and going strong at 91. Her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, was published 
less than a year ago. It’s a sequel, believe it or not, to her beloved Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. James has gone and done in one of Austin’s characters, and plays the whole cast in this dark riff.

She’s credited with transforming the traditional English detective novel. She was, and is, primarily drawn to plot, but unlike many of her predecessors of the Golden Age, she doesn’t use one-dimensional villains, sacrificing their humanity for the sake of the puzzle. Her villains are ordinary people, flawed and pressured beyond what they are capable of coping with, but not evil. In fact it is sometimes her victims who are most despicable, and their murders feel in some way like justice.

In Adam Dalgliesh books, which have won her fans all over the world, James intentionally drew a character she could live with for decades. She claims she planned it that way to avoid falling out of love with her detective, which is the problem that Agatha Christie ran into with Hercules Poirot. She says that Dalgliesh is a male version of her.  Despite the adversity they’ve suffered, despite their shared sensitivity and literary bent (Dalgliesh is a poet) she says they are both without sentiment.

She’s a master at developing atmosphere, but her description of place does more than one job.  She uses it to give us an understanding of a character’s emotional state and personality.

From A Taste for Death:

“It was eight forty-five and they were nearing the church, passing now into one of the low tunnels that spanned the canal. Darren, who liked best this part of the walk, gave a whoop and rushed into the tunnel, hollering for an echo and running his hands, like pale starfish, along the brick walls. She followed his leaping figure, half-dreading the moment when she would pass through the arch into that claustrophobic, dank, river-smelling darkness and would hear, unnaturally loud, the suck of the canal against the paving stones and the slow drip of water from the low roof. She quickened her pace, and within minutes the half moon of brightness at the end of the tunnel had widened to receive them again into the daylight and he was back, shivering at her side.”

A Taste for Death introduces the young inspector Kate Miskin, as strong as Dalgliesh and in some ways more interesting:

“The elation went deeper than mere ambition or the satisfaction of a test passed, a job well done. She had enjoyed herself. Every minute of her brief confrontation with that self-satisfied poseur had been deeply pleasurable. She thought of her first months with the CID, the plugging, conscientious, door-to-door enquiries which had made up her day, the pathetic victims, the even more pathetic villains. How much more satisfying was this sophisticated manhunt.”

The subject of P. D. James is huge and fascinating.  Any favorite stories about her? Any favorites among her novels?

Friday Fatales – Woman of Mystery Agatha Christie

On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recognized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.

I hardly need to introduce you to Agatha Christie, British Golden Age who-done-it writer best known for two eccentric and diametrically opposed detectives: self-aggrandizing and methodical Hercules Poirot, and self-effacing Miss Jane Marple, student of human nature.

It’s possible you didn’t know that, according to PBS’ Miss Marple website, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, that in fifty years she wrote more than a hundred literary works, including six romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. That Christie, with Sayers (whom we honored last week), was one of thirteen contributors, members of London’s exclusive Detection Club, who playfully co-authored the world’s best known round-robin mystery, The Floating Admiral.

It was especially fascinating to read, at The Christie Mystery, about her writing methods. It was no surprise that her characters came from observations of strangers on trains. As for plots, it was delicious to learn that she sometimes stumbled on an elegant way to disguise a character’s guilt while, for example, gazing at a hat in a shop, and that she usually did so (stumble, that is) before sitting down at her typewriter. Her books evolved not only in the five or six notebooks she had going at once, but grew like embryos inside her very soul, and once they reached full gestation she sometimes wrote them incredibly fast. But she was just as likely to write two at a time to keep them from going stale.

Her writing style has been analyzed by academics who have gone so far as to figure out the average number of letters in her words and the number of words in her sentences: remarkably uniform, apparently, although the site does not reveal the magic figures.

She seems, almost, to have set out to mesmerize readers. According to researchers, people can’t focus on more than nine things at a time, and Christie often used more than nine characters and sub plots. Her language was simple, and she repeated words rapid fire for emphasis, to penetrate (something akin to brainwashing?). With frequent descriptive segments near the beginning and few toward the end, she controlled the speed at which we read her books. It’s no wonder we lose ourselves in them.

And Then There Were None is a much-admired stand-alone mystery.  Christie published it in 1939, calling it “Ten Little Niggers,” but it first arrived on America’s shores with the less offensive title “Ten Little Indians.

Although we’re clued in to the number and manner of murders by the children’s nursery rhyme, which starts the count-down at ten and ends with “and then there were none,” I defy you to figure out who done the deed. There’s no detective, unless you count the bewildered Scotland Yard inspectors in whose laps the puzzle falls when the story’s all told. I was relieved, after all, to find Christie’s traditional tie-it-all-together-with-a-bow ending. It comes in the form of a sort-of letter. It blew me away. By the way, if you want to enjoy the book, I do not recommend reading Wikipedia’s page about it, where major spoilers lurk.

Here is a little something to leave you wanting more:

“In a non-smoking carriage Miss Emily Brent sat very upright as was her custom. She was sixty-five and she did not approve of lounging. Her father, a Colonel of the old school, had been particular about deportment.

The present generation was shamelessly lax – in their carriage, and in every other way….

Enveloped in an aura of righteousness and unyielding principles, Miss Brent sat in her crowded third-class carriage and triumphed over its discomfort and its heat. Everyone made such a fuss over things nowadays! They wanted injections before they had teeth pulled – they took drugs if they couldn’t sleep – they wanted easy chairs and cushions and the girls allowed their figures to slop about anyhow and lay about half naked on the beaches in summer.

Miss Brent’s lips set closely. She would like to make an example of certain people.”

Tra la! Do tell me your favorite Christie works, and I’d really like to hear about the romances, if you’ve read one.