Sometimes real life intervenes

I am in California, packing up my mom’s house in preparation for her move to be closer to me in Maine. It’s been physically and emotionally exhausting, and I’ve had no time to blog, much less think about books or writing. For the past three days, every lamp, every chair, every dish had to be categorized as “take” or “give away.” Since my mom’s moving from a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment, there’s a lot of stuff, including sentimental items, that must be winnowed down. And with the moving company people standing around waiting for instructions as to what to carry into the truck, and my mom hemming and hawing and sometimes flaring up in anger that I’m “making” her choose when she doesn’t want to, I’ve really wanted to escape into some fictional world. Even a fictional world involving serial killers.

So for the time being, I’m not thinking about the next story. I’m just trying to get through the day.

It makes me anxious to get back to my desk — because at least, on paper, I can control my universe!

more about book trailers

It’s my day to post over at Murderati.com.

Who’s really a “Number One bestselling author”?

I’ve come across yet another novelist who claims to be “the number one internationally bestselling author.”  This isn’t just your standard hype put out by an overzealous publicist; this actually appears on the author’s own website.  It makes me roll my eyes, because unless your last name is Rowling, Grisham, Brown, or Meyer, it’s pretty hard to back up such a claim.   Yet it’s a boast that I’m hearing more and more these days, and I’ve wondered how authors can justify it.  Does “Number One” mean that one of your titles was the top selling book in the world?  Does it mean you’ve sold more books overall than anyone else around the world? 

I think I’ve now figured out what that term “number one internationally bestselling author” has come to mean, in this age of hype and exaggeration.  It means that, somewhere in the world, one of your books hit #1 on a bestseller list.  Even if the only place you were a #1 bestseller was in Inner Mongolia, you can claim primacy in the international book world.  I know it sounds nutty, but that seems to be the new definition.  Although I’ve hit #1 in the UK and in Germany, I’d be embarrassed to claim such a crown because it sounds grandiose and delusional.  It makes me think of Jack standing at the bow of the Titanic, crowing to the world: “I’m king of the world!”

And we all know what happened to him.

These exaggerations seem to be rampant in publishing.  Books are frequently touted as “bestsellers” or “international bestsellers”.  The problem is, there’s no firm definition of what these words mean.  Publishers have slapped the “bestselling” label on so many books that the word itself has lost its significance.  Was the book a bestseller on the New York Times, or in the author’s home town?  Maybe in the local Waldenbooks?  Hitting the list in any of these venues now qualifies a book for the label.

Likewise, wildly exaggerated numbers are bandied about when referring to how many books an author has sold.  Journalists always ask me for that number, and I’ve come up with the answer of fifteen million, but the truth is, I honestly don’t know.  I’ve written 21 books that are now published in 33 countries.  Foreign royalty statements are often indecipherable.  I don’t have a tally of my sales through direct-mail book clubs, which alone probably total in the seven figures.  Nine of my books have hit the NYT bestseller list so far, and hopefully THE KEEPSAKE will be #10.  To my astonishment, the re-releases of my old romance novels are now hitting top-10 lists overseas.  So I think I’m being pretty safe when I throw out that number fifteen million.  But as I say, I’m just guessing. 

The truth, however, often gets lost in an industry where everyone’s trying to look more golden than they really are.  Some authors claim gazillions of sales, but those of us who watch the numbers know those claims are certainly bogus.  Some authors pump up the numbers by instead citing how many of their books are “in print”, which is more a reflection of how foolhardy their publishers were, rather than how many books actually sold.

So the next time you hear an author refer to himself or herself as the “number one bestselling author,” take it with a huge grain of salt.  Unless her name is Rowling.

 

The Keepsake book trailer!

Want an advance peek at what THE KEEPSAKE is about?  Hop on over to Youtube and check out the cool book trailer that’s been created by two filmmakers here in my town, Jonathan Laurence and Ryan White.  It gives me the chills just watching it.

Send the link to everyone you know!

Finland wrap-up

I’m home now, and still smiling over the great time I had in Finland.  On the day I arrived in Helsinki, I had a few hours to play tourist, and the first thing I did was head down to the waterfront, to admire the views.

 waterfront

And of course I visited the food stalls, where the scent of frying fish had me reaching straight for my wallet.  I’m not sure what the English name is for these savory little fish.  All I know is, I ate a whole plateful of them!

fish

Still a little dazed by jet lag, I wandered around for hours, encountering some lovely views:

helsinki square

And a pair of lively street musicians.  (The guy on the right looks just like Daniel Craig, doesn’t he?  A shorter version of James Bond!)

musicians

The next day, it was time to go to work.  although it hardly seemed like work because I was so pampered and well looked after by Tarja Kopra, who is a press and communications officer for Otava Publishing Company. After interviews with four newspapers, I spoke at a literary evening at the Great Finnish Book Club, where I was interviewed by Ms. Emmi Jakko. 

Below: Emmi, me, and Tarja.

 tarja

That evening, it was off to dinner at the exquisite Savoy Restaurant, hosted by Otava.  At dinner, I met Finnish author (and sister foodie) Outi Pakkanen, who writes a mystery series that includes recipes.  I want so much to read her books, but they’re not yet published in English.  Someday!

The next day, Tarja and I boarded a sleek train to the town of Turku, where I appeared at three different bookstores and found quite a few readers waiting for me.  In this multilingual country, a majority of Finns speak English, so they seemed to understand me, without any translation needed.  But I must confess that signing books wasn’t easy for me, because I had no idea how to spell some of those long Finnish names.

bookstore

Then it was back by train to Helsinki, where I packed for my flight home the next day.  Ironically, after such smooth travels within Finland, the trouble started as soon as I set foot on American soil, where I found multiple cancelled flights and crowded and chaotic airports.

I miss Finland already. 

 

 

This is why I avoid transfers through NYC

Tornado watches! Lightning and thunder! That’s what’s happening in NYC tonight, which is how my flight home from JFK got cancelled. After an 8-hour flight from Helsinki, I had to scrounge for a hotel room, and just managed to snag one for the night. I’ve given up on flying home. Forget the airlines. Tomorrow, I’m catching a train to Boston.

The Finnish book scene

It’s my last night in Helsinki, and I’ll post photos when I get home. In the meantime, wanted to write a bit about what I’ve discovered on my whirlwind, wonderful first trip to Finland.

Although it’s a small country in terms of population (only a little over 5 million people live here) it’s a country of avid readers. As I mentioned earlier, the largest newspaper in the country has a circulation of over 400,000. That tells you how important newspapers are here. The Finnish language is fascinatingly unique – not derived from the Indo-European language family, but instead from a small subgroup that includes Hungarian and Estonian. While a number of Swedish authors seem to be making inroads into the American market, so far, it’s the rare Finnish novelist who has his work translated to English.

Not many American authors come here on book tour, so I felt very special, being invited to the country. During the three days I was here, I was interviewed by six journalists and had four book signings. And the crowds that turned up at those booksignings were indeed impressive — today, in the city of Turko, long lines of 50 or more readers waited patiently for me to sign their copies. The Finns love their crime fiction. Popular U.S. authors include Patricia Cornwell and Mary Higgins Clark. Many other bestselling U.S. crime authors, however, are complete unknowns to them. Romance seems to be a tougher sell here, and the only name that they really seem to recognize is Nora Roberts.

Because it’s a small population, it doesn’t take many copies sold in retail stores to make the national bestseller lists. If you sell eight thousand copies in a month, you will almost certainly make the top lists here. But this is only part of the picture of the bookselling business in Finland. A major number of books are sold through the book clubs, with members receiving books through direct mail. And here’s an astonishing statistic: In this country of 5.3 million, over 300,000 people belong to the Great Finnish Book Club, which sells my books. A title chosen as a main selection in this club will easily sell 20,000 copies.

If you extrapolate this to a proportionate sale in the U.S., this is the equivalent of selling 1.2 million copies in the American market.

jet lag blues

It is now 2:30 AM in Helsinki. I’m have just raided the minibar, devouring a bag of almonds and downing a gin and tonic. CNN is playing on the TV. As much as I love traveling abroad to promote my books, this is the downside of hopping across the Atlantic — waking up fully alert hours before dawn, my inner clock telling me it’s time for dinner, and knowing that in six hours I will have to be at my best, looking bright-eyed and intelligent. Fat chance.

guest post over at Murderati

Hop on over to Murderati.com to see my guest post: “Should I Fire My Agent?”

I’m in Helsinki at the moment. After a night flight from Boston, my only work for today was an interview with a journalist from the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in Finland, with a reported circulation of 450,000. That’s a huge circulation even for a U.S. newspaper. After that, I was free to explore Helsinki.

I’ve just spent the past three hours wandering around the city in a jetlagged-induced daze, so I’m not thinking too clearly yet. But the town is lovely, the weather’s bright and warm, and I had a nice stroll down to the waterfront where I stopped at an outdoor food stand and snacked on fried whitebait (?), crispy little fish that you eat bones and all. From there, it was over to watch some street musicians, sample a local beer, window-shop (yikes, things are expensive here for Yanks!), and then head sleepily back to the hotel, getting a bit lost along the way.

Tomorrow, the real work of book promotion begins.

What to pack for book tour

On my first book tour, I wore high heels. 

For a gal who spends most of her days in bare feet, wearing high-heeled shoes is the ultimate torture.  But it was my first big book, and I wanted to look the part of the “successful”? author, so I decided to go all out with an expensive knit skirt suit and nylons and high heels.  In aching feet, I trudged through airport after airport, looking like – well, like a California realtor.  I came home with blisters.  I promptly shoved the suit and heels in my closet and climbed back into my blue jeans.

As the years went by, and I headed out on successive book tours, I began to shed the business attire.  First to go were the nylons and the high heels, replaced with comfortable, if clunky, black walking shoes.  I ditched the knit skirt suit and instead wore black slacks.  I love black because it goes with everything.  Plus, it hides grease stains, a big plus if you’re as addicted to French fries as I am.

I started paying attention to what other authors were wearing.  I noticed that most male thriller writers were wearing leather and black turtlenecks.  I noticed that the female authors were adopting the black leather look as well.  I was briefly possessed by leather envy, so I bought myself a leather jacket — a stupid affectation, since my tours are usually in September, and I ended up sweltering in my jacket while trying so hard to look cool.

So I ditched the leather jacket.

The ordeals of airport security eventually forced me to leave the clunky walking shoes behind, in favor of slip-on shoes.  Too often I’d come out of security screening and find nowhere to sit.  It felt undignified to plop down on the floor and tie my shoes, so I’d end up performing a stork dance as I struggled to pull on my shoes while hanging onto purse, reading materials, and laptop. I don’t know how elderly passengers with bad knees and hips manage. 

The “author look” has certainly changed over the years.  Tom Wolfe, in his elegant white suits, is now the exception, not the rule.  Authors, in short, have become slobs.  They show up for book events unshaven and rumpled, in tattered blue jeans and tee shirts.  They’re artists, and the public almost expects them to look unconventional.  Nowadays, when an author wears a business suit to a booksigning, you can be pretty sure he’s either:

1) written a business book or

2) on his first book tour, and still under the impression that he should look as elegant as Tom Wolfe. 

Let’s take a look at what I’m wearing for this, my twelfth tour.

 — Blue jeans.  Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to wear them on tour.  But then I noticed that Stephen King lives in blue jeans when he’s on tour.   And all those rich, high-powered computer geeks wear them everywhere as well.  If jeans are good enough for them, then they’re good enough for me.

— A travel blazer from the mail-order company Travelsmith, because it has lots of zippered pockets in which to stuff airline tickets, reading glasses, peanuts, you name it.

— Mule-style boat shoes.  To whisk through airline security.

— White cotton shirts.  Because they’re comfortable and can be used to dress up or dress down.  The downside: they get wrinkly. But that’s what hotel room ironing boards are for.  Or you can accept the wrinkles and just adopt the always fashionable “rumpled author look.”

— And, of course, enough underwear. I hear that some authors consider this almost an optional item.  Instead, they simply locate the closest department store or Victoria’s Secret and buy new underwear while on the road.  And either dispose of, or mail home, their dirty laundry.

I’ve pared down my travel wardrobe to fit into a single carry-on bag because one thing I’ve learned after eleven book tours is to never, ever check in your luggage at the airport.  Since you’re in a different city every day, your suitcase will never catch up with you. 

Besides clothing and toiletries, what else do I pack?

— Bookmarks, to give away at signing events.

— A roll of “Signed by Author” stickers, to slap onto book covers when I see my books in airport stores.

— A simple wind-up alarm clock.  Because I’m too stupid to figure out how to use those clock radios in the Hilton Hotels chain.  (Does anyone know how to set the alarm on those things?)

— Electronic gear (Blackberry charger, computer charger, laptop, camera.)

Although I seem to pack less and less clothing every year, my suitcase is heavier than ever because of all the gizmos.  Other authors also seem to be lugging along more electronics while paring down their wardrobes. 

This trend could point the way to the new “author look”.  Naked, but with Blackberries fully charged.