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Question of the Month: Introverts on Book Tour

by Susan Henderson on December 4, 2017

How do you make the transition from the person who wrote in private for years to someone who must now help sell that finished book?

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Most writers I know—me included—are introverts. And suddenly, when our books are published, we have to wear makeup, mingle, and speak into microphones. Worst of all, we’re asked to help promote our books when we are not salespeople.

The shift can be jarring.

And yet, we worked so hard on our books. We want people to read the thoughts and obsessions that consumed us for years.

So how do we make this shift, and how can we help each other?

First, we must swallow our discomfort and our pride and do what our publisher asks. They want us to post advertisements and reviews. They want us to send out letters and change the photos on our social media pages. We don’t want our publicists and sales reps to tell us how to edit the sentences in our books. Likewise, they don’t want shy, rejection-phobic authors to tell them how to make sales. They simply want us to help them do their job.

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What is the most helpful thing we can do for each other before a book’s launch? Pre-order!

It matters, and this is why. Publishers look at the number of pre-orders to help determine which authors to invest their marketing dollars in and whether to send their authors on book tour.

The other important thing about pre-orders is that they are the number one shot authors have at landing on a bestseller list. The first day a book goes on sale is usually the most explosive day of sales. The more sales we’ve already banked, the better our chances.

Here are some links to where you can pre-order The Flicker of Old Dreams: IndieBound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Books-A-Million * Target * Turn of the Corkscrew (You can also pre-order more than one copy if you plan to give the book as gifts!)

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What is the most helpful thing we can do for each other after a book’s launch? Make some noise!

If we are enthusiastic about a book or simply want to be supportive of an author, our best way to help them is to post reviews or pictures of the cover on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, GoodReads, and on our blogs. Authors often repost positive reviews, and sometimes the publisher will as well, so this kindness has a way of coming back around.

Some of the folks I need to thank this month… Marilyn Berkman for including me in her WNBA write-up; Marcia Butler for interviewing me on the Creative Imperative Video Project; Virginia Stanley, Director of Library Marketing, for talking about my novel on Under the Radar, Over the Moon; and High Country News magazine for including The Flicker of Old Dreams among its must-reads for books about the American West.

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As always, I’ll end by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post (not counting manuscripts I’m editing or blurbing—the bulk of my reads this month.):

Janet Fitch, The Revolution of Marina M.
Vicki Croke, Elephant Company
Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings

And two re-reads because I love these books so:

Etheridge Knight, The Essential Etheridge Knight
Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

That’s it for now. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section. Let me know how you deal with getting out of your comfort zone!

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Question of the Month: Post-Mortem Photos

by Susan Henderson on November 6, 2017

What are your curiosities regarding the dead and the dying and our customs for mourning them?

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The Flicker of Old Dreams, my new novel that’s narrated by a mortician, explores all kinds of death—the death of a town and a way of life, the death of a body, the death of a spirit.

I’ve been obsessed all my life with looking closely at the things others find uncomfortable or hurry past. And our often-peculiar rituals for mourning the dead have particularly consumed me.

And so, when I first stumbled upon a post-mortem photo, I couldn’t turn away.

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This mother died in childbirth. Two of the triplets died as well.

Sit with that shock for a moment, the bereaved family members dressing and arranging them so lovingly. Needing to do this though it must have also felt wrong. And then to see that death, and not peace, crept into the mother’s eyes.

But it’s the photos of the living with the dead that wreck me. Just imagining the grief.

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This little boy is holding his deceased sibling. All of these pictures, by the way, come from The Thanatos Archive and appear in the book, Beyond the Dark Veil.

It’s jarring, isn’t it? The photo is both tender and gruesome, an expression of profound grief and also a portrait of our greatest fear. I wonder, when I look at photos like these, whether it soothed some family members while haunting others.

In my book, a post-mortem photo is taken in the opening pages. And it is touched upon throughout the novel. I wanted to walk as close as I could to death and to grief and see what it all had to say to me.

Talk to me in the comments about what these photos stir in you. Tell me stories about your family rituals for mourning, or for bypassing that painful process.

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As always, I’ll share the books I’ve read since my last post:

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
Ronlyn Domingue, The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy
Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird
Stephen King, Firestarter
Nicole Krauss, Forest Dark
Danez Smith, Don’t Call Us Dead
Marcia Butler, The Skin Above My Knee
Lidia Yuknavitch, The Misfit’s Manifesto

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Oh, and I owe some thank you’s:

To Jill Tardiff, National Reading Group Month Chair, for inviting me to be a part of a panel celebrating the WNBA’s centennial and National Reading Group’s 10th anniversary. It was a pleasure to talk books, writing and publishing with Susan Larson, Laurel Davis Huber, Julia Franks, Margaret Wrinkle, and a great joy to spend time with friends (Melissa Connolly, Wayétu Moore, and Kimberly Wetherell) who showed up for support.

Thanks also to Library Journal, Virginia Stanley (Director of Library Marketing), and Bookish Roundup for the kind words.

And last but not least, gratitude to those of you who’ve pre-ordered The Flicker of Old Dreams and added it to your GoodReads lists!

That’s it for now. I look forward to your stories in the comments section!

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Question of the Month: Firsts

by Susan Henderson on October 2, 2017

Tell me something you’ve done recently for the first time—a public reading, a crossfit class, a trip to another continent. Whatever it is, I’d like to hear your story.

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Last month, I did my first interview for The Flicker of Old Dreams. It was fun to talk about the new book, about embalming and researching a dying town and how the book became a giant meditation on death. It’s a very generous, 2-page Author Profile in the September 11th issue of Publishers Weekly, and the interviewer, Wendy Werris, was lovely and engaging—a great writer herself, as you’ll see when you read the profile.

My publicist was able to copy the pages so they’re legible, and I’m including them below.

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Since it was my first time talking about the new book, I wasn’t sure what kinds of questions I’d be asked. And then, after talking for an hour, it’s always interesting to me what the interviewer chooses to highlight.

There was a little concern from my publisher that the profile was running so many months before the book will be available. It doesn’t launch until March 2018. But if you’re interested in pre-ordering, you can follow this link. It will give you options for all the main book outlets.

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Oh, later this month, I’ll be on a panel, along with Julia Franks and Margaret Wrinkle and moderated by Susan Larson, celebrating the 10th anniversary for National Reading Group Month. If you want to go, it’s Friday, October 27th in NYC at Cafe Auditorium at 1745 Broadway.

And I also want to give a shout-out to A Bookaholic Swede for featuring The Flicker of Old Dreams on her weekly Cover Crush. And to Peter de Kuster for interviewing me on The Heroine’s Journey.

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I’ll end, as usual, by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post.

Rene Denfeld, The Child Finder
Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
Stephen King, Firestarter
Jamie Ford, Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Roxane Gay, Hunger
Martin Espada, Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

That’s all for October. I look forward to your stories in the comments section. :-)

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Question of the Month: Out of Your Hands

by Susan Henderson on September 4, 2017

Talk to me about how you stay calm and emotionally present when important parts of your lives are out of your hands.

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This is the ARC of The Flicker of Old Dreams. ARC stands for either Advanced Reading Copy or Advanced Review Copy. It’s a free book that still has typos in it, and it goes out early to newspaper and magazine editors who might review it, as well as to authors who might offer a blurb for it.

Up until this point, you feel like you still have control over the book. You can still make small edits to the text. You can still dream big about the life it will have. You still have time, perhaps, to lose ten pounds or become an extrovert before you go on book tour.

But then you arrive at this place. And the novel that was such a private affair for all the years you wrote in your garage office or in the back of a café has now become something public. The ARC is sent far beyond your circle of kind friends, who would never say anything to hurt your feelings, and to people who might hate it and say so loudly. Or they might interpret the book or the characters in ways you never imagined or intended.

It’s out of your hands.

Reviewers will have their opinions. The book will have its own life outside of you.

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We learn this again and again. We’re not in control of as much as we like to believe. We can do things to help. We can be proactive. But the art we send into the world becomes one more thing (like illness, rain, and the choices our loved ones make) that may impact us deeply and personally, but is not ours to steer.

So how do you make peace with what you can’t control, and get busy with what you can?

Talk to me in the comments.

I’ll end, as usual, by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post.

Tyehimba Jess, Olio
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Bittersweet
Mona Simpson, Anywhere but Here
Julia Fierro, The Gypsy Moth Summer
Maile Meloy, Do Not Become Alarmed
David Niall Wilson, Gideon’s Curse: A Novel of Old Mill, NC
Robin Black, Life Drawing
Teju Cole, Blind Spot
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

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One last thing. Some sad news. We lost our beloved Steve in August and we miss him every day. I can’t say more here without breaking down, but I’ll be around in the comments.

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I’m in the mood to celebrate. Want to win some cool prizes?

Good, because I have something special for you:

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Bestselling author, Caroline Leavitt, will give away 3 signed copies of her incredible, haunting novel, Cruel Beautiful World. I read this book in one sitting, my heart racing, as a lonely girl makes a series of terrible choices in order to feel loved. Here’s the official description:

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold is about to run away with a much older man to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that will have vicious repercussions for both her and her older sister, Charlotte. As Lucy’s default parent for most of their lives, Charlotte has seen her youth marked by the burden of responsibility, but never more so than when Lucy’s dream of a rural paradise turns into a nightmare.

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty, chaos and control, as it explores what happens when you’re responsible for things you cannot make right.

Set against a backdrop of peace, love, and the Manson murders, the novel is a reflection of the era: exuberant, defiant, and precarious all at once. And Caroline Leavitt isat her mesmerizing best in this haunting, nuanced portrait of love, sisters, and the impossible legacy of family.

So, wait. A signed copy of this extraordinary book is not the only thing you will win…

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…because Caroline is also going to watercolor a bookmark just for you!

Okay, so she only knows how to paint these things, but you get to choose:

1. mermaid
2. dogs
3. fishes
4. a hand wearing a pair of pants (I know! Wha?!)
5. cups of coffee

6 cats

How do you enter to win? Easy. Just post a comment below, and I will make sure your name goes into a hat. This is the hat.

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At the end of the week, I’ll draw three names and announce the winners!

One last thing. Remember that first picture with a cover of Caroline’s book in it? Scroll back up to the top and look at the painting. I love this story: This painting (by Eileen Patten Oliver) is very important to Caroline because she’s terrified of the ocean but also loves it. So Eileen painted a small figure standing in front of a tsunami. And Caroline says this painting gives her courage.

And I love Caroline—for this and a million more reasons.

Okay, post a comment, and I’ll put your name in the hat. Hope you win because this book is spectacular!! (And if you’ve already read it, you can post a note to Caroline just because.)

UPDATE! UPDATE!

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As promised, one week after I posted this, I put all the names of you fantastic people into the hat. The 3 winners of a signed CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and watercolored bookmark of your choice are:

Ric Marion
Nikki Dawson
and Joanne Mielczarski

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(See, I chose with my eyes shut and let the winners fall on to my filthy keyboard.)

Caroline will be in touch with each of you about prizes. Congratulations! And thank you, everyone, for playing!

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