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Here’s what I love about  book shows.

a sack of not-yet-published books

a sack of not-yet-published books

And this:

making new friends: Paige Mitchell from A Good Read in Sumner, WA

making new friends: Paige Mitchell from A Good Read in Sumner, WA

…and this…

fanmail, hand delivered by Paige

fanmail, hand delivered by Paige

…and this…

signing copies of my new book

signing copies of my new book

…and this!

Amy Fosters debut novel

Amy Foster's debut novel

an amazing, inspiring memoir

an amazing, inspiring memoir

Amy is as talented as she is gorgeous. I inhaled this book, a magical story in the tradition of Alice Hoffman. It’s getting starred reviews all over the place. Amy’s a songwriter (“Everything” by Michael Buble, anyone?) and a poet, and she brings her artistry to this novel. When you finish reading it, you’ll want to go on a quest to find the town of Avening. A fairy tale filled with a sense of wonder. Not to be missed. In stores October 6th–put it on your must-read list.

I’m a tough sell on memoirs, but this one is just so remarkable. Kevin‘s voice and point of view as a writer are as incredible as his personal story.

It’s a guy’s book by a guy’s guy, but you’re going to love it anyway.

Another one to put on your must-read list. In stores October 13.

Ready, set, read, people!

Another Q from Shelf Awareness:

my childhood library in Olean, NY

my childhood library - MY kind of temple

Book you are an evangelist for:

SW: I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris makes the perfect hostess gift—It’s everyone’s childhood in one volume. And Meeting God in Quiet Places: The Cotswold Parables by F. LaGarde Smith is one I read while losing someone dear to me. I tend to give it to people in need of comfort. Regardless of where you’re coming from, both books are good for the soul, for totally different reasons.

[I love the idea of being a book evangelist. For me, fantasy jobs include bookseller and librarian. Some people sit around dreaming of being astronauts or movie stars. I imagine being in a position to invite people to read! And matching the perfect book with the perfect reader? Heaven.] 

What books are you an evangelist for? What books do you buy over and over, giving them to people simply because you love them?

Back when I was an aspiring writer, I would have done anything to get my material read. The Internet makes it easier these days, sort of. Check this out–an article about the Amazon/Penguin search for new writers, with a mention of the Gather/Borders/S&S writing competition. What do you think? Is this a good opportunity for aspiring writers? Does it motivate you? If you need inspiration, there’s still time to register for The Fire in Fiction workshop.

Judging by the page views on my previous cover art post, it’s a topic of interest. Here is my 9780778326175_fireside_fc. My friend Karen posted a question about cover art on my web site message board.

“Why doesn’t an author have more input? ….it’s YOUR work and I would think…the author would know best. “I’ve passed over books that had terrible covers on them before…only to have them sent by a book review club that I belong to. Authors and books that I NEVER would have read because of a cover…were GREAT! So? What’s the mindset?”

I gave a talk at a library recently, and we touched on this in the Q&A. Covers matter to readers. We writers might wish that it’s all about story and voice and our unique view of the world, but readers are quick to say that reading a book is about more than words on a page. And so often, the writer’s preference isn’t the best choice for the book. One case in point is the Lakeshore Chronicles covers. I favored a really contemporary, more graphic look for the books, but my publisher kept coming back with this peaceful, nostalgic retro scene. And they were right. The look fits the books, and it draws the eye of the reader most likely to enjoy this type of story.

Sometimes the writer isn’t always the best judge of what her book should look like. I’m not saying she shouldn’t get to voice her opinion, but ultimately, it’s a packaging and marketing issue. I’m not a marketer. There are things I understand about marketing, but I feel better knowing it’s being handled by professionals.

On the other hand, authors can be really influential–and boy, can Hummingbirdthey ever be right. A famous example is the great LaVyrle Spencer, so hugely popular in her time that she was able to influence her cover designs. She wanted to be rid of the embracing-couple look on her books, because she knew that what went on in the bedroom between her characters was not the most important element of the story. It rarely is in romance novels, despite what critics (most of whom have never read one) like to think. [Note: My own books average around 400 printed pages. The sex scenes take up maybe five pages of that. ]

You could see LaVyrle’s covers change Hummingbird reprintas her popularity grew. She went from a classic bodice-ripper look to covers completely dominated by her name, which was the main selling point, anyway. Ultimately, Hummingbird reprintLaVyrle’s publisher found a great look by giving her a bouquet of flowers, with the illustration of the couple on the inside. These were among the first “step-back” covers and readers loved them–a romantic outer cover on the outside and a picture of the characters on the inside. LaVyrle has always been one of the smartest authors in the business.

The degree to which the author is involved in her cover design process varies a lot. Some of us have “cover consultation” specified in our contracts. However, “consultation” can mean anything from major input to simply receiving a picture in e-mail and being asked, “How do you like this?”

An author might be granted the right of “cover approval” in her contract. This might sound desirable, but do you really want to take ultimate responsibility for book design? In my case, no, not anymore than I want an art director telling me how to write my book.

I can think of one writer who would probably disagree with that–James Bernard Frost, a first-time novelist, who caused a bit of a kerfluffle when he publicly and vociferously objected to his cover art. It so happens that his publisher, in my opinion, creates some of the best artwork in the business. According to his blog, he was so hugely unhappy with the art that he took matters into his own hands.

original artre-designed coverauthor's version

The original version (above, left) was beautiful and evocative. I might have picked it up, but according to the author’s blog, he didn’t care for it. I understand that every author has a vision in his or her head of what the finished book will look like. In my case (and apparently in this author’s as well), it’s a collage of images from the story. Well, guess what? These images don’t always add up to the perfect cover. Sometimes, you have to allow that, in a crowded market, a single, stark image will make your book stand out. If that image doesn’t literally nail the book’s content, so what? That is not the goal. The goal is to get the book into the hands of the reader most likely to enjoy your book.

The second version of the Frost book, created in response to the author’s objections to the first, didn’t appeal to me, but I might not be the reader for this kind of book. Finally, the clearly frustrated author had an illustrator create a sticker to cover up the publisher’s art. I wonder how that’s working for him. The tagline of his blog says “The life and opinions of an agentless novelist.” Agentless? Maybe that’s a clue. My literary agent has extremely good judgment when it comes to things like cover art.

On the other hand, this author’s blog post about the whole kerfluffle shows passion and commitment on his part. In the hopes that this dramatic flair will come through in his fiction, I submitted a patron purchase request for his book to my local library.

To read a series of articles with in-depth information about book covers, please visit author Laura Resnick’s web site and click on the link to “A book by its cover.”

[COMING UP: How does a good book wind up with a bad cover? Check back for more in a future post.]

Last month, I lost one of my oldest and dearest writing friends. I found comfort in the words Alice herself wrote in Devoted, her first published novel. This is from the final page:

…Owen felt again a hint of the peace that had descended on him in the church when he committed himself to Christ and his people’s cause.

He still had no assurance of anything, not tomorrow or his springtime, but he had found his heart and his life. However long he lived, he would take that assurance with him.

Even if his road brought him soon into the shadow of death, he would carry that achievement , that peace with him into darkness and beyond. To whatever God waited there.

Devoted by Alice Borchardt (1995)  Here’s a detail of a memory collage I made to give to Alice’s husband:Alice

Wishing peace and love to all.

Boy, does this article by Robert Klose ever strike a chord. It’s the age-old dilemma faced by every author who has ever signed a book for someone. The requirements for decorating that title page with your finest work are as constricting as doing a tap dance in a phone booth. You have to be

  • brief
  • original
  • witty
  • charming
  • personal
  • and fast.

Is there any possible way to do that when you’re sitting (and sometimes you have to stand) at a bookstore, with a line of people waiting, people who intimidate the heck out of you because they’re paying their hard-earned money to buy your book? Add to that my own habit of wanting to chat up every person who stops by, and suddenly my mouth and my pen are working independently (and often, not terribly well).

I love signing books and I do it with a sense of humility and accomplishment, if it’s possible to feel both ways at once. But I am the world’s worst at coming up with something of value to say in the inscription. Seriously, after Best Wishes, Happy Reading, Relax & Enjoy, Warmest Wishes and the ilk…what else is there to say?

Anne Rice signed my copy of Queen of the Damned with a simple, “To Susan — Blessings.” The ebullient Catherine Coulter always puts something fun about the reader: “To Susan of the Big Hair.” My favorite is from the late Crosby Bonsall, who added a little cartoon to her wonderful And I Mean It, Stanley!

For me, the problem is to sum up my gratitude for the person buying the book and my hopes that the story will be enjoyed in just a few words. I’ll keep trying.

One big help for me is my home town bookstore. The Eagle Harbor Book Company makes it possible for me to have a long-distance signing. Readers can order a signed book, personalized any way they like, through the bookstore. Just please, don’t expect a masterpiece….

…Make LEMONADE CAKE.*

I put two recipes on my web site this summer, along with the promo for my August book, Dockside:

Lemonade cake

The small Catskills town of Avalon, New York, on the shores of Willow Lake, is what I think of as a “Velveteen Rabbit” of a place. It has become real because we love it there. Thanks to everyone who has visited my fictional town in the Lakeshore Chronicles. Dockside is a story for everyone who’s ever dreamed of making a life at an idyllic lakeside inn. Researching this book, I met so many innkeepers who shared not only their passion for hospitality, but some pretty amazing innkeeping secrets as well.

Each section of the book is introduced by a snippet about the Inn at Willow Lake, followed by a hospitality hint from a working innkeeper. They’re little grace notes, the sort that make a guest’s stay just a little sweeter. But the real sweetness comes from the unexpected romance of single dad Greg Bellamy, and the town’s former mayor, Nina Romano. In fact, expecting the unexpected is a major theme in this book.

News

  • Thanks to all for asking about Just Breathe, originally scheduled to be published in 2006. It is now tentatively slated for September 2008, and I promise, it is worth the wait!
  • By popular request, I’ve added a link to the recipes from my books. Finally! Click here: http://www.susanwiggs.com/recipes.shtml
  • As always, you’re invited to join in at the message board. If you have a question, ask it there, and I promise to respond right away. Since it’s a public forum, pride compels me to be prompt so I don’t look like a slacker.
  • Also, please check out “The View From Here” (Themed photo shows, including   Barkis the Wonder Puppy, at www.susanwiggs.shutterfly.com).
  • My local bookstore, Eagle Harbor Book Company, will send autographed copies of my books anywhere you want, personalized however you like. Check it out here: Eagle Harbor Book Company.
  • You can get a Printable List of my books, which includes related books and series by clicking this link: Printable List.
  • You can also subscribe to my occasional newsletter by sending a blank e-mail to Words4Women-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.
  • Check out the most mysterious site on the Web at www.purpleamoeba.com.
  • And below, the promised recipes. Enjoy!

Happy Reading,

Susan Wiggs

*Note: I couldn’t make up my mind which recipe to post here, so I’m giving you two. Please, try them both. They’re unbelievably delicious:

LEMONADE CAKE

  • 6 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 pkg. lemon cake mix, without pudding
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • Small package lemon-flavored instant pudding
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 c. cooking oil

Mix lemonade concentrate with sugar and stir well. Mix the remaining ingredients and beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Bake in greased and floured 9×13 pan for about 35 minutes or until done when tested. While cake is still hot poke holes all over cake with large fork and pour lemonade glaze (1T lemon juice + 1 cup powdered sugar) over top. Leave in pan until cool. Dust with powdered sugar. If you’re feeling artistic, lay a stencil on the cake and then dust with the sugar to make a pattern.

ICEBOX LEMONADE CAKE

  • 1 prepared angel food cake
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade (keep this semi-frozen–slushy)
  • 1 small carton Cool Whip, flavored with ½ tsp. lemon extract
  • grated lemon peel, for garnish

Slice cake cross-ways into three even layers. Soften ice cream just enough to thoroughly fold in the lemonade. Spread the bottom layer of the cake with ice cream. Add the second layer, spread with the remaining ice cream. Add third layer and spread entire cake with the Cool Whip. Freeze cake in the freezer. Take cake out of the freezer about half an hour before serving time. Garnish with grated lemon peel.

“Wiggs’s uncomplicated stories are rich with life lessons, nod-along moments and characters with whom readers can easily relate. Delightful and wise, Wiggs’s latest shines.”

Publishers Weekly review of Dockside

Book people. You know the type. They read. They remember, they have their favorites, they have a gift for matching up books and readers. They can tell you where they were when they first read [fill in groundbreaking title here]. They know exactly where a certain book is shelved, even if it was put there months and years ago.

You’ll be happy to know that the people in charge at Barnes & Noble are extreme book people. I had a very happy meeting with Tommy Dreiling, Antoinette Ercolano and Bob Wietrak in New York this week and I have to tell you, it’s a treat to sit down and visit with people whose careers are dedicated to selling books. Dating myself: I was able to share with them the fact that I’ve been a B&N customer since before there were B&N stores. As a student, I used to order from the B&N catalog every month. Bob & Tommy have worked for bookstore chains nearly all their adult lives and know them inside and out. Antoinette, too, and she has visited some 500 of the 800 B&N stores. You can mention “Bellevue, Washington” and yes, she’s been there. We are in very good hands.

And P.S.–I got to dine at two unforgettable restaurants: The Modern and Beppe. Not to be missed if you’re in Manhattan.

That’s entertainment–Levy Home Entertainment: I attended the Levy National Meeting last month. Outside of publishing, people might not be familiar with this firm, but it is one of the biggest players in the industry. And once a year, they have a meeting at a great resort. [Note: This year, the locusts were out in their 17-year cycle, which I’d never seen (or heard) before. These bugs are so huge and fly in such impressive force that they look like alien invaders. In fact, at the airport, they would periodically explain the phenomenon over the PA system, so people wouldn’t look out the window and panic that something very Old-Testament was taking place.]

Back to business–My publisher arranged for me to attend the Levy meeting. Think about it. A week of meetings completely dedicated to getting books into readers’ hands. Meetings attended by people at the highest level of publishing and book distribution, like Louise Burke of Simon & Schuster and Donna Hayes, president of Harlequin–every major publisher sent their top people. The workshops and seminars were designed to maximize the exposure of our book to readers. That’s what Levy Home Entertainment, based in Illinois, is all about. If you bought a paperback at a big discount store, chances are, it was placed there by Levy. Their main warehouse, in the appropriately-named Romeoville, is the size of an airplane hangar and staffed by the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. I know. I was lucky to meet them when I went to the warehouse to sign 6000 books. What 6000 books looks like

That’s not a typo. I signed 6000 books. Levy is going to distribute them to their accounts so 6000 readers can have a signed book. Then I rushed back to the hotel for–wait for it–a booksigning.Yes, I seriously signed 6000 books.

I didn’t know whether or not I could survive signing so many books. On my best day, I’ve written maybe 5000 words in longhand. But the Levy people made it easy. They had us set up assembly-line style so helpers would open the carton, sticker the book, open it to the title page and put it in front of me for my hasty–but legible–signature. Picture the candy-factory scene in “I Love Lucy,” and you get the idea. To make the time pass, we took breaks to dance to the incredibly cheesy disco music being piped into the room. We played with my screaming monkey slingshots. We guzzled bottled water. Tamar Kipper of Levy showed me some chiropractic exercises for hands and I am none the worse for the wear. There is something so special about meeting people whose entire job involves getting my books to readers. Also about attending a banquet with fellow authors Dave Barry, Carol Higgins Clark, Mary Jane Clark, Joanne Fluke, Laura Lippman, Ridley Pearson, Deanna Rayburn, JR Ward. We were all privileged to hang out with the Levy people.

God, I love this business.

My author copies have arrived. I even know when Dockside will appear in stores, because there is a sticker on the packing boxes:

Dockside street date

The label says, “This box contains Dockside by Susan Wiggs. DO NOT DISPLAY until July 24, 2007.” I cheated a little. Sent an early copy to my mom and Carly Phillips’s mom.

I’m marking my calendar. The idea behind the street date is that the book will go on sale all over North America on the same day. Very smart move by my publisher.

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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