Archive for publishing

Bookworm’s Paradise in New York

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

The program ad for my next book!

The program ad for my next book!

Last week, I got caught in a perfect storm: hot weather and hotter books.

I was in New York City for BookExpo—once known as BEA, or Book Expo America. Starting this year, the show’s name was shortened to emphasize the global nature of the event. BookExpo is the largest book trade fair in North America and has bounced between convention centers in Washington DC, Chicago, and New York since 1947. Although it’s not as populated a gathering as those in Frankfurt and London, I was impressed by its scale. I hadn’t known it was possible to produce book banners the size of a house, and that no space could escape advertising: not even the stairs.

Precisely positioned Pullman steps

Precisely positioned Pullman steps

Who's got the biggest banner?

Who’s got the biggest banner?

My marquee event was the Library Reads Dinner at the elegant Yale Club. It was humbling to be invited by a librarians’ association to set on a panel with five other writers with serious credentials. I was there with Corner of Bitter and Sweet bestseller Jamie Ford; powerful National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward; humor memoirist John Hodgman; science journo Annalee Newitz; and debut true crime guy Ben Blum.

Librarians paying attention in the gorgeous Yale Club

Librarians paying attention in the gorgeous Yale Club

Do I sound too buzzy? I guess the marketing and PR focus of BookExpo has gone to my head. We were each charged with pitching our books and speaking of the power of libraries at 13 minutes per writer. I’d practiced with a stopwatch.

Jamie Ford, myself and Annalee Newitz after the pitching

Jamie Ford, myself and Annalee Newitz after the pitching

My turn arrived in the middle of the Library Reads dinner, when the petit fours and coffee were being served. I spoke about my misadventures getting library cards at the National Library of India and the British Library and explained that my new mystery series is inspired by the legal cases of India’s first woman lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji. I told the librarians that I wouldn’t have thought of a woman lawyer series if Cornelia’s early 20th century memoirs hadn’t been preserved. I also went into some detail on how her scanned memoir’s pages were riddled with holes made by a hungry bookworm. I thought my comments about the true origins of the word “bookworm” would get some knowing chuckles, but no luck. Maybe it was because they were trying to eat dessert, or because insect-damaged paper is not a joke for anyone working in a library. Fortunately, they laughed at some other parts.

It was inspiring to hear my fellow panelists talk about their own library experiences—and the next day, to see Annalee with Charlie Jane Anders and Malka Older on a women’s science fiction panel. I also scored a signed copy of Jamie Ford’s next book, picked up ARCs from other writers, had bagels with my agent and hung out with the gang at Soho Press, who are bringing out my new Perveen Mistry series.

Charlie Jane Anders, Malka Older and Annalee Newitz are sci-fi wiz women

Charlie Jane Anders, Malka Older and Annalee Newitz are sci-fi wiz women

Soho Friends: PR Paul Oliver and Managing Editor Rachel Kowal

Soho Friends: PR Paul Oliver and Managing Editor Rachel Kowal

A friendly parade of librarians, journalists and booksellers came by Soho’s booth to chat with us and get signed advance reader copies of The Widows of Malabar Hill. Signing these paperback galleys was a surreal experience. I had to remind myself this wasn’t an actual book event, because the hardcover first editions won’t hit bookshelves until January 2018. That’s seven long months away.

The haul I brought home!

The haul I brought home!

That afternoon, I rode the train home to Baltimore. My nose was already in the galley for Timothy Hallinan’s next Bangkok thriller, Fool’s River, and I had twelve more ARCs jammed into several promotional tote bags.

The bookworm felt rewarded.

Booking India

This post originally appeared on Murder Is Everywhere.

Chiki Sarkar, co-founder of Juggernaut Publishing/photo by Vogue India

Chiki Sarkar, co-founder of Juggernaut Publishing/photo by Vogue India

This post is a tribute to a young democracy that has brought the world great writers–and a fantastical amount of readers.

India’s population of 1.2 billion boasts a literacy rate of 86% in cities and 71% in rural areas. Inside India, twenty major languages are spoken and read, and a few hundred more languages are used in rural communities. About 125 million Indians speak and read English, making it the second largest English-speaking country in the world.

Indian kids selling pirated books to car passengers

Indian kids selling pirated books to car passengers

Yet despite the vast numbers of Indians educated in  schools, book sales are paltry—out of proportion for a nation with the largest middle class in the world and a plethora of talented writers in those twenty-plus languages. Why is this?

Many urban people are exposed to pirated books every day. An estimated 25% of books sold in India are proffered by slum dwellers who work under the supervision of gang bosses who distribute reprinted versions of Indian bestsellers on paper thin as tissue. During recent travels in Kolkata and Mumbai, I kept running into kids selling pirated Slumdog Millionare books… such an irony! If you got stuck on a street for a half-hour every day, and the same friendly youth offered you a bestseller for less than half of its cover cost, why wouldn’t you buy—especially if you thought it would help the child?

College Street bookseller/photo by Rishi Bandopadhyay

College Street bookseller/photo by Rishi Bandopadhyay

Another blow against literary commerce are  time-honored, used-book stalls in all cities. Used book shopping at book corners loaded with thousands of traded-in books is one of the joys of visiting Kolkata’s College Street. However, these places don’t earn a rupee for the author or publisher.

City of PalacesThe efforts of India’s biggest publishers to sell ebooks haven’t helped. I have a novel published in India, City of Palaces. The beautifully designed trade paperback has a list price of 499 rupees, but the reality is that the trade paperback is sold at Amazon for 310 rupees, while the ebook is 299. We are talking about $4.68 US versus $4.51. Many Indians buy e-reader devices are sucked into the free ebook and get so much content loaded up they have no interest in adding books that aren’t free.

A young woman publisher, Chiki Sarkar, is trying to change that. (Full disclosure: Chiki bought and published my book, City of Palaces, during her time at Penguin.) I was stunned that shortly after her promotion to becoming publisher for the newly joined PenguinIndia/Random House, she departed to create her own start-up venture. Juggernaut launched this month with an amazing author list.

In several articles I’ve read, Chiki has mentioned that publishers can’t expect distributors to pay them on time, and there aren’t a lot of great independent and chain bookstores in India investing in new authors. She joined hands with with Durga Raghunath, a tech entrepreneur. They are launching Juggernaut, a publishing house unlike anything India’s ever experienced.

Jagannath celebration in Puri

Jagannath celebration in Puri

Juggernaut is a very old, yet modern-sounding word. British administrators during the colonial era were stunned by the energy of the Rath Yatra Hindu festival held in Puri, Orissa every year in honor of the god Jagganath. To them, the Jagannath gathering was a wild melee of people and massive, heavy carts—the 18th-century precursor of rush hour traffic. Frequently, religious pilgrims were crushed in the throngs of Jagannath—yet the carts and people pressed on. The British colonials began using the term “Juggernaut” to describe a powerful force or institution that cannot be halted.

Juggernaut Publishing’s push is embracing the shift of reading on mobiles phone. The publisher plans to release more books as digital exclusives, although about 50 books per year will also be released in paper. The lynchpin of the publisher’s debut will be the memoir of Rajat Gupta, a business scion who was convicted of insider trading and jailed. More details are here in some interviews Chiki Sarkar did at the recent London Book Fair and with Vogue India.

Mobile users in India/photo by BBC

Mobile users in India/photo by BBC

Many people worldwide read novels on our phones and tablets, using apps from Amazon and Apple. I do it to keep myself busy when I’m waiting somewhere. I own a Nook e-reader and a Kindle Fire, but I confess both need to be charged, because I use them only on the treadmill or when traveling.

HangwomanHere’s the other side of the story. Remember how I mentioned people speaking so many languages in India?

Penguin/Random House has decided to go big guns and translate quality regional language fiction into English. One example of this new pubs is one of the most powerful thrillers I’d ever read, Hangwoman, by KR Meera and translated by J. Devika.

I would not have ever known about this haunting novel, originally written in Malayalam, if it hadn’t been for this publishing risk taken. The past and the future, interwoven. That’s why I love India.

Who are the Killer Femmes?

Come in out of the rain and make yourself comfortable. I’ll hang up your wet trench coat on the rack next to Libby’s Burberry. Watch that you don’t get clipped by one of the zippers on Zoe’s motorcycle jacket. The weather is wretched–shall I make us both a cup of tea? Really? You’d rather have a bourbon?
Okay…will do.

Final3dKillerFms copy
You have entered the realm of Killer Femmes, where vice is nice and a stiletto heel is a girl’s best defense. Actually, Killer Femmes is my summer literary release–a bundle of 5 mystery novels by 5 different authors: Libby Fischer Hellman, Zoe Sharp, Christine Kling, Julie Smith and me.  Coming together on this project has been really cool. It’s meant reading each others’ work and brainstorming promotion. In a way, it’s been like working in a newsroom again, something I occasionally miss.

Our collection is formally titled Killer Femmes: Five Irresistible Crime Novels From Around the World. It is ONLY in e-book form, but as you know, anyone with a laptop or mobile phone can read an epub or mobi file using free downloadable apps. The online bookshops carrying our book are Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBooks and Kobo. We’ve priced the whole thing at 0.99 because this special release is not about getting rich–it’s about finding new readers.

One thing we have in common is that we all started our novel-writing careers working with agents and editors in New York and London.  But as time passed and e-Books became popular, all five of us developed hybrid careers where we do some self-publishing on the side. Speaking for myself, it’s great because I can keep publishing different kinds of books (like some in India and others in Japan) and can also release shorter works such as novellas. PLUS I can run with spur-of-the-moment, fab collabs!

Now you know who the Killer Femmes are…what are the books like? Libby’s novel Easy Innocence is the first in the Georgia Davis PI series, featuring a smart young Chicago cop hunting for the murderer of a suburban high school girl. In Christine Kling’s Cross Current, you’ll meet Seychelle Sullivan, a sexy salvage boat captain who rescues an orphaned Haitian girl in the waters of South Florida. Zoe Sharp’s hardboiled thriller Killer Instinct introduces Charlie Fox, a beautiful but lethal ex-soldier who rights wrongs in Lancaster, England using semi-legal methods. Julie Smiths’ Louisiana Hotshot sends hip young poet Talba Wallis deep into New Orleans’ rap scene to unmask a killer.

BIG-1600-Cover-FM

I’m including The Flower Master, because it’s the earliest Rei Shimura book to which I hold full copyright and the book’s emphasis on the darker side of ladies works nicely with the theme of Killer Femmes. Rei Shimura is sent to flower arranging school in Tokyo and gets tangled up in the murder of a snippy teacher. Things look bad for Rei’s Aunt Norie, as well as a Korean-Japanese potter, and an elderly doyenne of the school. To break up all that estrogen, there’s a new character called Takeo, a hunky young flower arranger, who can’t decide if he despises Rei, or is falling in love.  This book is one of the most light-hearted and funny in the Rei series and won the Macavity Award for Best Mystery of 2000. If you missed it first time around, now’s your chance.

I hope that Killer Femmes keeps you up late–and gets you interested in some other writers’ work.

The Road to the Right Cover

I just ate three five chocolates to celebrate the fact that my book’s cover design is finally approved. This was more than a three month process. The talented artists at Simon&Schuster went through four designs before resulting in this one:

I like the bold red and gold, the cozy, interesting vintage bed, and the opened book on it. And I’ve got to say, cover designs that match the writer’s dream don’t usually come together. Here’s how it happened.

Years ago, when I started writing The Sleeping Dictionary, I thought there was a strong chance I would self-publish, so I got an account at Istock, a photo image shopping source. There I saved a “lightbox” of good images I might one day use. I gathered pictures of ornately carved doors, intricate textiles, graceful young women in saris, and also, a very romantic, canopied bed (all right, it was a Moroccan bed, but I would sleep in it any day!) Then my book was sold to the amazing Kathy Sagan at Simon&Schuster…and I thought I probably wouldn’t look in the India lightbox again.

Writers don’t direct their cover designs. Our skills are typically stronger for words than graphics and images. Therefore, we are offered “cover consultation.” The art department comes up with a design, and if you absolutely hate it, will prepare another one for you to consider. Fortunately, I’ve never heard the swearing that must be inevitable after someone sweats for weeks on a design that I’ve rejected.

Over the last ten books, I’ve had thirty-plus covers, if you count all the US hardcovers, the foreign editions and trade and mass market paperbacks. Generally, for the paperbacks and all foreign published editions, I know nothing about what the covers look like until a box of finished books thuds onto my porch. Still, my favorite Rei Shimura cover design of all time is the very first one. How I love the face and Mount Fuji-san…let’s forget that only elderly farmers in Japan would ever wear such a conical straw hat!

The early cover design ideas for The Sleeping Dictionary appeared in February. I’d post them if they were not lost in the Iclouds. But I remember them! Both cover ideas were sepia toned photographs. The first was a teenaged Indian girl wearing a North Indian dancer’s skirt and blouse. She was smiling and frolicking in a meadow. The other was an image of a naked Victorian lady seated with her voluptuous back and buns facing the viewer. Now, there is a short chapter in the book about naked photographs…but this cover was from a different era, featuring a European! There was nothing ugly about these cover designs–but they just didn’t connect with the material inside the book. Quietly praying to myself–they will change the cover!–I sent my editor a polite note with suggestions and a link to the sepia toned photos of Calcutta from the University of Pennsylvania’s magnificent collection and also the image of the Moroccan bed from Istock.com. Luckily she adored the bed, and a month later the art department came up with a cover featuring their own Indian bed.

I was so thrilled with the publisher’s willingness to put a nice-looking bed with a red coverlet on the cover that I didn’t have the heart to make any comments other than they maybe brighten up the red. But in my long-ago imaginary design for self-publishing, I’d thought there should be a book on the bed. It turned out I didn’t need to say this, because the assistant publisher was struck by the idea herself, and voila!

But we weren’t done yet.My agent suggested that the book was awkwardly large–and the green didn’t play well with the red and gold. At a publishing meeting in New York, I mentioned that the book might look better if it was opened, like someone had been interrupted while reading. Again, the publisher listened–and a nice new book appeared on the bed!

The Sleeping Dictionary will be released August 20. But you can pre-order it now through Amazon or any bricks-and-mortar bookseller. If you do this, and you’d like something special from me now, I’ve started mailing out signed, personalized book plates to stick inside the books. Pre-orders REALLY help the book to succeed…and right now I still have the time to send out bookplates in a timely fashion! I will sign personal messages to you, your mother, your friend, your school library…whoever! Just email me the details of where you’ve ordered The Sleeping Dictionary, and where I should mail your bookplate.

Hey! If you would rather have the book’s title page signed in ink by me, simply email one of the early bookstores on my tour–like Once Upon a Crime, Centuries and Sleuths, Mystery Loves Company, and The Ivy. They’ll take pre-orders and get the details from you on what I should write on the page. And rest assured that your book will be mailed straightaway once I’ve had it in my hands.