When you write a novel like The Circle of Thirteen, you open the door to a new part of the book business.
You’d think, in my case, that there wouldn’t be that much left to learn. After all, my wife and I have been in the book business for about thirty-five years as owners of Book Passage in Northern California. We’ve seen a lot, but neither of us had focused on the growing number of book-bloggers and their followers. I now realize that this electronic underground seems to have as much influence on the success or failure of a book promotion as anything else.
There are probably thousands of book bloggers operating in the U.S. Some are big enterprises with lots of book related activities. Others seem to be little more that someone sitting in front of a computer at a kitchen table. How do they make any money? How does anyone make any money in the book business? There seem to be a few ads and an occasional affiliate fee. But book-bloggers seem to be like other book lovers, putting up with lowered financial expectations because they love books.
My consultant in New York, Wiley Saichek, told me that he would contact several book-bloggers and send them advanced reading coies of the book. He was focusing mainly on mystery blogs, but since The Circle of Thirteen is so relentlessly cross-genre he’d pitch it to other blogs as well.
If they’re interested, Wiley said, he’d ask them to do an article. That sounded great. And once we got closer to the launch date for the book, the blogs would ask me for an original article. That sounded even better. But then that week arrived – and it suddenly hit me: I was back in college, and I had ten term papers due the week before finals.
First up was Omnimystery News, a classy, elegant website with an impressive list to author interviews running down the right-hand column. The review mystery books, games, television, film, and what have you. This is a good place to start, for a newbie like me. They had a long Q&A for me to answer. About half-way down came this question:
OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn’t mentioned in the synopsis.
Hmmm… What were they after? I decided to take the high road.
WP: As I was well into the writing of the book, I began to realize that the back-story about the thirteen women — the fallen leaders of Women for Peace — seemed to fall into an archetypical pattern. There’s a recurring theme in literature about a “band of brothers” — the Knights of the Roundtable, the Seven Samurai, the Three Musketeers — who devote themselves to a higher cause. Although I didn’t set out to write that kind of book, I’m beginning to think that it may have evolved into that genre. If so, it’s an archetype with a twist. This band of brothers is a band of sisters.
Next on the list was Fresh Fiction for Today’s Reader. After I clicked on it I found myself in the middle of a very enthusiastic blog run by two women from Texas who have a video entitled “Great Choices to Read While Waiting in Carpool Lane at School.” The website is full of events, reviews, and contests – including 18 women and one guy who say they are anxious to read The Circle of Thirteen! “I’m sure that your book would be a real page-turner for this time of year. I’d have to make sure to keep a lot of hot chocolate on hand, to make sure I don’t have any interruptions!!” says Peggy Roberson. (Where does she live? I’ll bring the cups and the marshmallows)
A topic for the Fresh Fiction blog? Well, we agreed I should write something about what a writer puts in a story and what her or she leaves out. Here’s a piece excerpted from that blog: “Front Story, Back Story – Where do you find the Story?”
The main story line of The Circle of Thirteen is written in the first-person narrative voice of Julia Moro, the young Security Director of the United Nations. She is trying to thwart a terrorist threat to the U.N. over a two-week period in 2082. That seems straightforward enough, but the problem it raises is suggested by the title of the book: The Circle of Thirteen. That title refers to a group of thirteen women leaders who had a major impact on society during the decades leading up to the events in the book. They are important enough to warrant more than just a passing reference in the story. To some extent their tale could be told as part of the back story, but they can’t stay in the background forever. As the book goes on, their story demands at times that they to be brought to the forefront.
Articles mentioned in this blog:
The Omnimystery News Interview
Characters Who Invite Themselves into the Story
Front Story, Back Story – Where do you find the Story?
Writing: The Best Group Sport You’ll Ever Do By Yourself
I took a look at RT Book Reviews, and I found myself surprised — and impressed. This group is so organized that they sponsor a “Booklovers Convention” each year. Their next big event is scheduled for the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans May13-18, 2014 (I hope they invite me!). And these people also know how to make a fellow feel welcome. Their lead-in was “As avid readers, booksellers occupy a place near and dear in our hearts — second only to authors and beloved characters.” (Aww ….) They wanted to know how social inspiration affected what an author writes. Here’s a little bit of what I said:
Writing — particularly fiction writing — is a social craft. Every scene is a distilled, re-worked version of some observation I’ve had or some interaction with someone else during my lifetime. In The Circle of Thirteen, Julia Moro, who was then thirteen years old, is caught up in a huge peace march in San Francisco. The year is 2055, but it might as well be today. The protests, the placards, the chants, the visceral impact of that that peace march are pretty much the feelings I absorbed from those around me in 1969, when I marched to protest the invasion of Cambodia, or in 2003, when hundreds of thousands of us marched to protest the war in Iraq.
There something very authoritative about the way Elizabeth White patrols the mystery scene, from mysteries to thrillers to noir. In the piece I posted on Elizabethawhite.com we talked about where characters in a story originate. I suggested that there were some characters who were persistent — usually stopping just short of being pushy. These are characters that get inside the writers head and invite themselves into the story:
A story may begin with an idea. It may even begin with a place, a memory, or a mood. But those things can easily fade and drift away until the writer is not really sure what he or she had in mind in the first place. The story only becomes real when a character invites herself into the story.
I say “herself” when, of course, I could just as easily say “himself.” And, in fact, there is an important male character who invited himself into my novel The Circle of Thirteen at a very early point and has clung to the story like death. And that’s the problem. Wherever Jesse goes, bad things happen. He might have invited himself into the story, but he’s not someone you would ever invite out for a drink or welcome into your home for tea.
But that’s the unpleasant story-crasher. There’s also a nicer character who invited herself into the story later on:
Maya arrived in the story by an entirely different route. She’s like the person who enters through the side-door of the opera house, looking for a job as an extra, only to have the director discover that she can sing a glorious soprano. In an early draft of the story Maya was simply one of a group of baby-sitters for Julia and other children in their co-housing community. At the time, that seemed like her only role in the story. Now I look back and say, what in the world was I thinking?
(There’s more to come from the world of bloggers. I’m just getting started on this!)