Friday, November 30, 2007

Thus Spoke the Marketing Department

I’ve always known that many males are reluctant to pick up a book written by a woman. After all, that’s why J.K. Rowling is “J.K.” rather than…what is her first name, anyway? But did you know that some women are reluctant to read a book written by a man? It was news to me. Of course, since more women read books than men, women are an important part of any new book’s audience. Therefore the Powers That Be (otherwise known as the marketing department) have decided that my new thriller, THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT, will sell better with vague, androgynous first initials rather than with the macho name “Steven Graham” on the cover.

Say what? I was originally told to take a male name in order to disguise my double X chromosome. Now I need initials to disguise my nonexistent Y chromosome?

Whatever. If the marketing department wants initials, I’ll give them initials. Thus, Steven Graham has now become C.S. Graham. Doesn’t have quite the same ring as C.S. Harris, but anything to make the marketing department happy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Back to Work

I’ve taken a few weeks off writing to focus on all the mundane things that inevitably pile up when I’m in that desperate final push to get a manuscript in on deadline. I’ve cleaned my office—routine after every book. I’ve tackled my garden, which has been so woefully neglected since Katrina. Since Danielle was home for Thanksgiving, we spent some a few days decorating the house for Yule Time, although the mammoth undertaking that is the tree will have to wait until she comes home at the end of the semester. I was hoping to paint the newly installed trim in my office and get more done on the garden, but it didn’t happen. Monday I took a deep breath, hauled out my editorial letter and WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, and set to work on the revisions.

Some are easier then I’d anticipated, but others are keeping me awake at night wondering how the devil I’m going to work in that extra scene or necessary bit of explanation. I’m anxious to get this book truly finished, anxious to move ahead with the proposal for Book Number Five, tentatively entitled WHAT HELL MARKS. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and the next book will always turn out better.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Thanksgiving to Remember

We always have my mother over for dinner on Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, and every year she dutifully eats the vegetable risotto, or vegetarian lasagna, or whatever vegetarian fare we put in front of her. The only time she actually complained was when we fed her soy hotdogs for the Fourth of July. But I know our vegetarian feasts never actually seem like a holiday meal to her, so I decided this Thanksgiving we’d give her a real turkey dinner.

My girls said, “You’re cooking a WHAT?”

Yes, we cooked a turkey—or at least a turkey breast. With mashed potatoes and green beans and carrots and cranberry sauce and…the works, or the lot, or however you want to say it. I set the table with my best china and crystal and silver, because ever since I thought I’d lost all that stuff to Katrina I’ve vowed to use it and to hell with what gets broken or chipped or stained. What was I saving it for? Everything was going great until 15 minutes before the turkey was done, when my new post-Katrina just-off-warranty oven started beeping and flashing ERROR, ERROR, and turned itself off. What is it about me and mechanical objects?

And then there’s my car. Yes, my beautiful, shiny red brand new car. Smashed new car.

In the scheme of things, I know this is small stuff. I might even think it’s funny.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Murder By the Book

Murder By the Book in Houston is one of those wonderful independent bookstores where the magic of words and the love of books seem to wrap you in a warm, embracing glow the instant you step through its welcoming doors. At my signing last Saturday, I talked about early nineteenth-century England and writing historical mysteries with a group of friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic readers. The staff was wonderful, and I had an all-around great time. I also made a nice discovery: travel is sooo much easier when a publicist takes care of every little detail for you!

On a side note, check out Shauna Roberts' interview with me at Love of Words. Also, thanks to the trip I finally finished Martin Cruz Smith’s STALLION GATE. I’ve been reading it forever, in between nonfiction research books, so it was nice to be able to focus on it and enjoy. Not a mystery exactly, but still an incredible read. I now have only two of his books left, and I think I’m going to ration them and force myself to pick something else from my towering TBR pile. Unfortunately, it’s more a Books I Feel I Must Read for Market Research pile than a simple To Be Read pile, so it’s hard to summon up much enthusiasm. That’s one of the hazards of being a writer—all too often, reading becomes work rather than pleasure.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Things NOT to Say to a Writer

My writers group had fun with this tonight. Here’s the list we came up with:

1. I’d love to be a writer but I just don’t have the time.
2. I have this great idea for a book. How about if I tell you about it and you write it, and then we can share the money when it’s a bestseller?
3. I bought three of your books just last week at the used bookstore.
4. I’ve got your book on order at the library.
5. I’ve lent your book to everyone I know.
6. I liked your book, but…
7. How much money do you get for a book?
8. Will you read my manuscript and tell me how I can get it published?
9. Oh, you’re a writer! Are you someone I’ve heard of?
10. You write romance/fantasy/horror/mysteries? So are you ever going to write a real book?
11. Are the sex scenes in your novels taken from your own experience?
12. You’ve written TWELVE books? Wow, you must really churn them out!

Tomorrow, I hope to have some pictures up from my signing at Murder by the Book in Houston. In the meantime, Shauna Roberts at For Love of Words has an interview with me posted on her blog. She asked some great questions.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do You Want To Talk About It?

Don't you love it when science "proves" something we already knew? According to a recent study from UCLA, attaching words to a feeling reduces activity in the part of the brain that controls our biological response to emotion, basically short-circuiting the body's reaction by preventing stress hormones from being released.

In other words, talking about what's bothering you literally makes you feel better. We already knew that, of course. But now we know why.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My (Abbreviated) Book Tour

Most authors dream of being sent on a book tour—those glamorous whirlwind trips through Spain and Germany and Japan, or at least to New York City and Boston and Philadelphia. On a book tour, one is feted and wined and dined and treated as a celebrity. Quite a thrill for writers who normally labor in relative obscurity.

Do book tours really help sell books? According to the conventional wisdom, the answer is no. Americans don’t turn out for booksignings they way they do in, say, Europe. True, local press will sometimes feature a visiting author, and that kind of impact is difficult to measure. But for the most part, book tours are said to be expensive and exhausting. Yet authors still continue to yearn for them, and to go on them when asked. John Connelly recently finished a three-month, around the world marathon. I saw him half-way through and he said he was starting to feel his age. I think he’s 39.

I’ve never been sent on a book tour. But this weekend, my publisher is flying me to Houston for a 4:30 booksigning on Saturday at Murder By the Book. One destination can’t exactly be called a “tour,” but it is a step in the right direction.

Now, if I could just make my next stop Paris…

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Dangerous New Toy

I’ve just discovered that has what they call their Historical Mysteries Bestseller List. I’m not sure how long it’s existed, but I wish I still didn’t know about it. It’s updated hourly, and it allows neurotic authors to track how well their latest release is selling compared to other historical mystery releases. Did I mention it’s updated hourly?

So now, in addition to agonizing over our sales ranking, we can also agonize over how we’re stacking up against the competition. Hourly.

For the last ten days, the Number One spot has been firmly locked down by THE JANISSARY TREE, the recent Edgar winner about a eunuch in Turkey. WHY MERMAIDS SING has occasionally flitted with the Number Two spot, more often hovered around Number Three or Four, bur sometimes slipped down to Number Six or even lower. Thanks to this list, I can see that the paperback release of WHEN GODS DIE is not doing well. In fact, the paperback of WHAT ANGELS FEAR is selling better, I guess to people who liked MERMAIDS and have now gone back looking for the first in the series. Hopefully they’ll then go on to buy GODS (although I still think the cover killed that book).

Obviously, MERMAIDS is a long ways from making the NYT bestseller list, but the sales so far have been encouraging. The first ten days traditionally see the biggest volume of sales—they will fall off rapidly from here.

Sales are always such a curious thing to tease out. What’s selling this book? The great cover, obviously, helps. But people going to Amazon for the book aren’t like buyers lured by an evocative cover from across a bookstore. Good reviews? Some, perhaps; except WHEN GODS DIE received those three starred reviews, which I’m told was quite phenomenal; MERMAIDS has received good reviews (ignoring the idiot who posted on Amazon—a pox on her), but only the Library Journal gave it a starred review. Word of mouth? Always good, but that can’t have kicked in yet.

So what is causing MERMAIDS to sell so much better than the two previous books in the series (at least on Amazon; I don’t know what it’s doing in the bookstores)? I suspect it’s the Entertainment Weekly mention. It’s the only thing I can think of that’s different. Now if we could just get someone like Angelina Jolie to be photographed carrying the book….

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Surviving the Editorial Letter

What is an editorial letter? It’s the letter your editor sends you after she’s read your manuscript. Anywhere from a week to a couple of months after you send in your manuscript, your editor will send it back. Minor corrections or questions will be noted on the manuscript, but more detailed or involved suggestions will be spelled out in what is called an “editorial letter.” I just received my editorial letter for WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP. It’s six pages long. Single spaced. Gasp.

My first reaction, whenever I receive an editorial letter, is consternation. Chagrin. Dismay. Despair. And, always, always, Tears. I think, “I can’t do that! There’s no way I can make these changes!” It’s not that I think my editor’s suggestions are wrong—she’s always spot-on. In fact, many of her suggestions are things that niggled at me when I read through the final draft, but my thoughts ran along the lines of... I don’t know how to fix it. Or, I don’t have time to fix it. Or, Maybe no one will notice.

Editors always notice. They always start out telling you how much they loved your manuscript, how they think it’ll be a great addition to your series. BUT… Don’t you hate the Buts?

So, what kinds of things do editors put in their editorial letters? Here’s some samples from my latest:

“TOO MANY DEAD BODIES. By the end, there’s an incredibly high body count. I understand that there are many reasons why that can’t be avoided in this novel, but at one point it seems that in every new chapter we hear of another death. I wonder if some of these people might be allowed to live…”

“MORE FULLY EXPLAIN REFERENCES TO PREVIOUS BOOKS: In the few places where you mention or refer to characters and events from previous books, I generally feel that more explanation is needed. For example…”

Sigh. At this point, I am sick to death of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP. The last thing I want to do is pick it up again, but tackle it I must. Some of these suggestions are not going to be easy to implement, but I know I’ll figure out a way in the end (although there’ll be a few tense moments when I think, “This is never going to work!”) I also know I’ll have a better book when I’m done. My editor is brilliant—one of the best in the business—and I know I am lucky to have her.

But editorial letters ain’t pleasant.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Entertainment Weekly Reviews WHY MERMAIDS SING!

This week's ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY is running a review of my new Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, WHY MERMAIDS SING. It's my first-ever Entertainment Weekly review, so I'm pretty excited about it. Not sure I'd have described the book this way, but hey, I'm not complaining! Here it is...

Why Mermaids Sing
by C.S. Harris
Reviewed by Tina Jordan

Regency-era London--abuzz with the grotesque murders of several wealthy young men--looks to noblemen/sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr to solve the crimes

MOVIE PITCH: It's Hannibal Lecter--early 1800s style!

LOWDOWN: A serial-killer thriller set 200 years ago? It may sound incongruous, but it works, thanks Harris' pacing and fine eye for detail. A real plus: the murk and stench of the age only heighten the suspense.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

2007 Louisiana Book Festival

The Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge was this past weekend, and as always, it was a wonderful, enriching experience. Plus, look at that shirt-sleeve weather, in November! Ya gotta love southern Louisiana.

My six-hour workshop on Friday went great. I had a fantastic group of enthusiastic writers, and I can only hope they enjoyed the experience as much as I did. Although I must admit, I have a new appreciation for just how exhausting elementary and high school teachers must find their days! The most I ever had to teach back when I was a university prof was two classes a day, well spread out. Even though we took plenty of breaks, by the end of the day I’m not sure how coherent I was!

Then, on Saturday afternoon, Laura Joh Rowland and I did a panel entitled “Clean Breaks and Balancing Acts.” Basically, we talked about making career changes, and the fine art of juggling two very different series—an interesting comparison of our two experiences. After that came my booksigning, and then it was time to dash across Baton Rouge and pick up my new car! Finally!!!