This & That

A long time ago, I read that Barbra Streisand made some environmentally friendly suggestions to her fans on her website, one of which was asking them to line-dry their laundry. Some people demanded to know whether she line-dried her own clothes and there was a small-scale to-do over it.

I am not going to ask anyone to line-dry their wash. But, but, but, in honor of Earth Day, which came and went without my awareness, since at the Thomas household, everyday is Earth Day, much to the dismay of DH–I keep turning off the water when he’s doing dishes…Okay, where was I? Oh, my solar-powered dryer, let me show you it.

Everyone had laundry lines when I was growing up in China. Shirts and pants fluttered from balconies and yards and sidewalks. I didn’t realize how much I missed that sight until I passed through Hong Kong, after my first six years in the States, and could not get enough of all the “flags of ten thousand nations”–as we used to call colorful washing on a line.

There is something exuberant about a city district of apartment buildings all festooned with jeans and sweaters and sheets and pillowcases. My washing hanging in my backyard looks rather insipid in comparison. Suburban laundry. 🙂

It takes me about half an hour to put everything out–sock-sorting included. I think of it as my weekly meditation, a time when it’s just me, a sunny day, and my very ordinary backyard that for some reason is at its prettiest when I’m hanging up the washing.

In other news, book 3 (book 1 of my new contract) now has a title. I drew a complete blank on this one, so I pulled a title that had been suggested for Private Arrangements: Not Quite a Husband. Since the marriage between the H/H had been annulled, I figured it was accurate enough.

My editor replied that Not Quite a Husband had been put into the list over her strenuous objection. So I said no problem, we’ll figure another one–the last thing one should be attached to in publishing is titles.

The title I really wanted was Untie My Heart, which is a Judith Ivory title. So DH, being methodical, suggested that I look up synonyms for “untie.” We had a few good laughs over the exercise. “Oh look, how about Disembroil My Heart?” “How about Unclog My Heart?”

And then we came upon “unlock”. Oooh. Unlock My Heart. I immediately e-mailed my editor and my agent. My editor loves it right away. My agent likes it and also suggests Unchain My Heart, name of an old song.

I like Unchain My Heart even better than Unlock My Heart. But in discussion with my friend Janine, she pointed out that “unchain” might have a slightly different connotation than “unlock.” Untie My Heart had a scene where the heroine was literally tied to an upside-down chair while the hero had his way with her–an awesome scene by the way, though I still haven’t quite figured out exactly how the physics aspect of that scene worked.

We then had a discussion about those messages certain words convey in titles. A dark book would often have “shadow” in it, like Shadow Heart and The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale, and the more recent The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran. And then I realized that omg, “arrangements” means sex is exchanged for something else. 😛

What to do? Unchain or unlock? Turns out neither. Marketing overrode my editor again and chose Not Quite a Husband. (I imagine my poor editor somewhere in a ditch, depleted from her valiant but ultimately doomed fight.) And so Not Quite a Husband it shall be, my most romance-y title yet.

And now, last but most certainly not least, I have put an ARC of Delicious up for bid in Brenda Novak’s 4th Annual Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research. But how can you put up a title called Delicious without having some goodies to go with it? So after a lot of strenuous research, I settled on a box of graphic print chocolate truffles from Viva Chocolato.

Isn’t it gorgeous? And costly too. That little box set me back more than $20. So please be generous and bid at least my chocolate’s worth! The bidding starts on May 1, 2008, at www.brendanovak.com. And as I’ve realized again, recently, karma can be a very nice doggy when you help others. But that’s another post for another day.

My First Book Signing–a Survivor’s Tale

When I was a teenager living in Baton Rouge, I sometimes went to a Books-a-Million–my mom would drop me off there and go to the K-Mart down the road. One fine, hot Saturday afternoon, I was there in the Books-a-Million, walking around, browsing.

Whenever I passed through the center aisle of the store, I’d see this man sitting there by himself behind a desk. I passed him probably five or six times before I looked at the little plaque in front of him: he was an author, there to sign his books. Once I realized that, I kept far away from him, because I didn’t have any money to buy his book and could not stand to see his wistful face one more time.

That non-encounter left a powerful impression on me: Most authors are not celebrities, and do not have fans clamoring for their autographs. And as a member of Most Authors, I would suffer the same fate were I so foolish as to have a book signing where people have to pay to buy my books, as opposed to the fabulous publisher-hosted signings at RWA which draw crowds because the books are free.

Well, somehow I got talked into having a book signing, at a romance-friendly local B. Dalton’s. I did not dread it in a sick-to-the-stomach way, but I did not relish the thought of it either. The bookstore is located in a mall, and I would be put on a table right at the front of the store, naked to the passing traffic.

Well, I needn’t have feared. My friends from the local chapter of the RWA were there from the very beginning. They chatted with me, so I wouldn’t be all by myself. They bought multiple copies for moms and moms-in-law. They brought kids and husbands and sisters. Some drove in from Bastrop and Fort Hood.

By the time my beloved sis-in-law showed up to my squeeing surprise and delight–she drove in from Dallas–I knew it was going to be a great time. Hubby arrived–looking very cute–with the senior kidlet and the camera that I always, always, without exception, forget.

It turned into a party. So much so that I was completely bowled over when strangers bought my books to be signed. One very lovely reader, who has 800 books at home and loves historical fiction, took the book on faith. A trio of gorgeous college students came to get a copy of PA signed for their roommate, who wanted to come but had to be in Dallas that weekend.

When Sybil and Lawson from The Good, the Bad, the Unread strode onto the scene, they triple-frosted my cake. Part of me still can’t believe that they took the trouble, driving in from San Antonio. Really, I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve a whole lot of this support and warmth and just wonderful consideration from everyone who came. It was the loveliest feeling to be so grateful to all the good people in my life and to the world for just spinning.

After the book signing, I took Sybil, Lawson, and my friend Catherine to Viva Chocolato, a rather scrumptious little local establishment. Lawson and Catherine were carded when they ordered wine, and Sybil and I demanded to be carded too, even though we were only having gelato shake and Italian soda, respectively. We also demolished a little chocolate fondue.

(And Sybil told me on our way out that she’d harassed the bookseller at a nearby Borders to re-order my book–I need to be more like that woman.)

I went back home and started to clean house–and it was great to do so, to be once again just another anonymous suburbanite. But my signing for the day wasn’t over yet. My mom–who’d looked after junior kidlet when everyone else was at the signing–had bought a few of my books, and she wanted me to sign them for her so she could give them to her colleagues.

I show up at her house and almost fell backward. There was a very tall stack of my books on her kitchen table and she’d drawn up a long list of not only her colleagues, but her friends and neighbors to whom she wanted to give my book. This was the best moment in an already incredible day.

We are close, Mom and I. But Mom, for the longest time, didn’t understand why I was wasting my time on a seemingly hopeless endeavor–we came from a family of scientists and engineers, solid professionals who did not sit home and doodle. So it meant a lot that she was out there buying all the copies of PA from two different Wal-Marts and a Target.

I love you too, Mom.

So has my opinion of book signings changed? Well, no. I just lucked out. And I already wonder why I agreed to hold a book signing for Delicious–it’s only 4 months away, too soon to trouble everyone to come out again. But for now, I bask in the afterglow of it all.

Some people will always have Paris. Me, I’ll always have that Saturday afternoon.

New Year’s Resolutions–Quarterly Evaluation


The Negative Goals

1) Have no tight deadlines

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. The recent copyedits saw me rushing to Fedex at 7:45 in the evening to make the 8pm deadline for overnighting. And to ship a measly 5 lb of paper cost me $59.95. Why for a few more dollars I could fly myself, along with the copyedits, from Austin to New York City.

2) Not write 1,000,000 words to get a 100,000-word novel

Haven’t written any 100,000-word new novel yet. Stay tuned.

3) Not be constantly behind on laundry, yard, and house cleaning

Gah! At the end of the copyedits, the abode resembled what my suburban, disney-fied imagination thinks of as a crack house. Kidlets were scrunching for socks in the laundry chute. And I just finally mowed the lawn yesterday morning, with some portion of the grass up to my knees.

4) Not exercise only when I have trouble fitting into my clothes

Haven’t had trouble fitting into my clothes. Have been forgetting to eat rather than eating too much. But what awful shape I’m in. Rode bike the other day to kidlet’s school because he forgot something at home. Half a mile, and I was about ready to dial 911. Must exercise more.

5) Not neglect this blog for months at a time

Gah again! If not an F at least a D. True there have been various updates in the past two months, but very little proper content. One reason is that all the contents have gone to other people–I guest-blogged at everybody and their great-aunt’s place during March. The experience was excellent, but my sluggish mind can only originate so many blog posts in a given time period. Guess whose blog got the shaft?

The Positive Goals

1) Spend so much time with Hubby that he runs away when he sees me next

He is still walking towards me whenever I see him. So must do better.

2) Get my bike repaired and serviced so that I never drive my car again for distances less than three miles, which should cover the grocery stores and the library and the most of the rest of my life when I’m not working my accounting job (which is 10 months out of 12).

Was all set to go Monday past, then it rained. And then the senior kidlet was sent home from school with a nasty bug and he’s been recuperating at home ever since. Will do next Monday.

3) Improve my grasp of the languages I already know.

Ummm…

4) Learn Spanish.

Maybe next year.

5) Make some money from writing. I made a grand total of $1,450 in 2007, from the Russian sale of Private Arrangements.

Well, what do you know? A goal accomplished! The delivery&acceptance check for Delicious came last month and surprised the heck out of me. I had totally forgotten that I was owed any money for it; I was just so happy that the book turned out right.

6) To make 5) happen, I should sell 4 books on contract.

Sold two more historical romances to Bantam. And given the snail’s pace at which I write, I’m going to call this a goal accomplished too. Lots of people would lose sleep–not the least of which me–to know that I have more than that many books under contract. If I ever manage to write a book in under six months again, I’ll revisit this one.

7) Have five foreign sales. I had three in 2007–Russia, Germany, Spain. Foreign rights sales are the awesome. Every one is like a little Christmas.

Sold French rights to PA in March. Not bad.

8) Become a better person. I’m actually not a bad person at all, but there is always room for improvement. (And I wonder what it says about me that this resolution is way down on the list. Ha!)

Uhhh…no halo around my head yet, so still a work in progress.

9) Buy a pair of skinny jeans. By the time this happens no one will be wearing skinny jeans anymore. But I’m patient. I’ll hold on to them until they come back into vogue again.

I actually went out and tried on a pair. I looked stupid in them.

10) Care enough to be upset when my resolutions languish from casual neglect. 🙂

Casual neglect, check. Casual indifference, check. Nope, still same old me. Well, I did hate that the house got so messy while I was on deadline. So perhaps there is hope for me yet. 🙂

PA Book Release Contest and Pay-It-Forward Contest Winner

Well, there’s a new book in town. 🙂

And to help it along a bit, I’m having a multi-prize contest. To participate in this contest, purchase a copy of Private Arrangements in the first 2 weeks of its release (3.25.08—4.7.08). Send me a scan of your receipt to writer sherry thomas at gmail dot com, with the subject “ARC Contest”, or send me a physical copy of your receipt to Sherry Thomas, P.O.Box 201372, Austin, TX 78720-1372. Three winners will each receive an advance copy of Delicious, my August 2008 release. And three more entrants will each receive, as a consolation prize, a beautiful Private Arrangements t-shirt.

The drawing will be held on May 1, 2008.

And now, the victim winner of the query consultation contest is–drum roll please–CM. Please contact me at writersherrythomas at gmail dot com to claim your prize. (And please be a little patient with me as I must wrap up copyedits on Delicious in
the next couple of days as well as a number of other PA publicity-related items.)

Directed by Sherry Thomas

The book trailer for Private Arrangements is up at YouTube.

And it actually tells the beginning of the story, a condensed version of the first scene of confrontation, just beyond what is in the excerpt.

Gratitude and acknowledgments go out to Jane of Dear Author, whose ROTFL video reviews for The Courtesan’s Daughter by Claudia Dain inspired me to make one for myself; to Diana Holquist, for her timely article, “The Down and Dirty Guide to Making Your Own Book Promo Videos” in the February issue of the Romance Writer’s Report, which provided very helpful resources; and to the wizards behind Windows Movie Maker, the easiest, most intuitive software I have ever come across.

I had tons of fun making this. I think I’m in the wrong line of work. Writing books makes me tired and haggardly, this makes me feel so young and hip. 🙂

Hope you enjoy.

Pay-it-forward Contest: Query Consultation

The Fine Print:

  • Nobody ever sold a novel on a query letter. (Yeah, I know somebody must have somewhere, but most of us don’t get struck by lightning.)
  • Since I could write a seductive query letter long before I could write a book worth reading, I always encourage people to obsess more about their manuscripts than their query letters.
  • A query letter need not be perfect, only effective.
  • However, in the process of crafting an effective query letter, we might hit on certain major deficiencies in your manuscript. For example, if we can’t synthesize a good hook, it might mean you do not have good hook for us to synthesize.
  • Eventual success on any level not guaranteed.

Okay, that said, a query letter is important. I hereby offer a snark-free e-mail consultation. You must have a query letter already written for me to critique–I won’t write it from scratch. I don’t need to read your manuscript or even a partial to help you, but chances are I will need you to fill out a questionnaire after I’m done reading your query letter to help me hone in on the set-up and the conflict.

If you only have half a book, but want to enter in the hope that you might be able to use a consultation later, that’s fine with me. Just be aware that right now I have a bit of time, later I might be on deadline again.

Notice: I don’t go easy on my critiques. Sometimes it’s important to hear that you are doing fine. Other times it’s more important to get it right.

This contest runs until March 25.

Totally unrelated but have to share: I just got an awesome review from The Romance Reader, one of the most venerable romance review sites around. I think my jaw is still bouncing around on my kitchen floor somewhere. Get this, Camden, my male protagonist from Private Arrangements is said to rank “right up there with Jamie Fraser as a hero for the ages.” I don’t know about you, but for me that was a “Holy @#$%!” moment. Jamie Fraser? Holy @#$%!

ETA: Let me know in the comments if you are interested in the query consultation. One victim winner drawn on the 25th.


Zen and the Art of Self-Promotion

I hate self-promotion.

I’m not a particularly modest person but I prefer to let people discover my good points over time, rather than loudly and insistently advertise them up front. And I judge others more or less the same way—the braggarts and blow-hards are discounted, while I take time to get to know the more confidently interesting ones who don’t feel the need to tell me right away every last one of their accomplishments in life.

Now square that with a career choice that requires a heavy dose of my loudly and insistently advertising to others just how wonderful my books are. Not only that, but that people should open their wallets and joyfully watch those dollars flow my publisher’s way.

Oy.

So I made a decision a long time ago that it would not be like that. There had to be better ways to self-promote.

One person who does it particularly well is my agent, Kristin Nelson, whose blog Pub Rants is a daily stop for many writers, both aspiring and published, and industry professionals. Kristin is a very nice person and she used to be a professor, so she genuine wants to impart useful information. But she is also an extremely savvy business woman who knows that a widely read, widely respected blog is a perfect venue to promote her authors—and herself.

It’s no secret that when I queried, I queried her exclusively—I wasn’t going to try any other agents until she’d turned me down. Part of it was Miss Snark’s consistent praise of Kristin as a fabulous agent. The other part was months of reading Kristin’s blog and seeing for myself how she adroitly balances helping others and promoting her clients and herself. The woman presents an absolutely stellar image online—every bit of it backed up by her real life demeanor and job performance–and it didn’t take me long before I decided that I wanted to be on her team.

Another person who does a bang-on job is Bettie Sharpe. The serialization of Ember, how brilliant was that? And Bettie might not have originated the pay-it-forward contest, but it was on her blog that I first read one.

So with all these luminous examples before me, what have I learned and how have I implemented my own self-promotion?

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. The Hippocratic Oath of self-promotion: first, do not annoy. Jane of Dear Author scared the living daylight out of me with her sharp-eyed catching of blog comment abusers. Not that I was ever going to do it, but now I don’t even think about it.
  2. If at all possible, make sure others benefit from my self-promotion efforts, whether it’s by dissemination of knowledge, entertainment, or what have you.

Here’s the implementation part.

1) I volunteered to be the PAN (Published Author Network) Liaison this year for my local RWA group. Sure it’s work compiling things like everyone’s release schedules for 2008, and will be even more work when I get around later on to compiling an e-mail listing of local booksellers, but it gives me a legitimate excuse to cold call booksellers, introduce myself, and ask such fun things as whether they might want to join the PAN authors for lunch.

2) I queried and received editorial approval to write an article for the Romance Writer’s Report (RWA’s monthly magazine) on how library systems acquire fiction, particularly genre fiction. I am personally fascinated by how it works and I think a lot of other authors might be interested in knowing how their books do or do not make it into libraries. But it’s also a good opportunity to introduce myself to the adult fiction buyer for the my local public library system—not to mention get some questions answered by Super Librarian, whose blog I enjoy very much and whose purchasing dollars I would not mind coming my way.

3) I got up at the crack of dawn to write a double-review for Bettie Sharpe’s Ember and Like a Thief in the Night. Bettie is one of the fiercest writer to come along in a long time, but I did not actually decide to write the review until I’d read LATITN and enjoyed it—I’m one of those crazy people who take their own credibility dead seriously. But once I decided to do it, I made sure I did it properly. I contacted Jane of Dear Author–she has one of the highest trafficked blogs–and attached a giveaway to the review (which Jane graciously doubled)—who doesn’t love free books? It was for Bettie—especially the getting up at the crack of dawn part, so that I could get the review done in time for a high-traffic day and that she would receive the exposure she so richly merited–but I also knew I was publicizing my own name. I mean would you even believe it if I said that I wasn’t aware that such a gesture would harm me none?

4) Whenever I can, I write blog pieces that, if not useful or entertaining, at least try to be thoughtful. (Yes, I know it’s a disgrace how I’ve neglected this blog again, especially after I made a New Year’s Resolution to be less neglectful. Shame on me.) With a big line-up of guest-blogging spots in March and April, sometimes my head throbs just wondering how am I going to come up with original content for everyone. But I will, because that is the least I expect from myself.

Does any of it work? Who knows? But given all the publisher support that I’ve received, it is incumbent on me to do as much as I can on my end to promote the debut of Private Arrangements. And I can only do what I feel comfortable doing.

So far, I have enjoyed myself: it’s great fun talking to booksellers and interviewing librarians and promoting Bettie; it’s completely liberating to never participate in blog discussion with an eye toward putting my book out there; and it’s amusing to read over old blog posts and go, lol, I said that?

Tomorrow, mutually beneficial self-promotion continues with the Query Consultation Prize finally up for grabs. (It will be a separate post of its own.)

Private Arrangements Giveaway!

DearAuthor is giving away 20 copies of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS. Final copies too, from what I understand. That Jane, she is scary efficient. I don’t even have final copies yet.

But anyway, if you want, go put your name in the hat. Usually these giveaway posts get 70 or so comments. So it’s like almost a 1/3 chance of getting something. Pretty darn good odds, I’d say.

And if you’ve already read PA, and want to say what you think, this is your chance too.

Full disclosure: I am good friends and critique partners with Janine of DearAuthor. But this review is by Jane, who does know me from Adam, but not much more than that. 🙂

ETA: The contest runs through 12 am CST, Friday, which means 11:59 pm CST Thursday, I guess.

Michelle, You Tease, You

A couple of days ago Michelle Buonfiglio dropped me an e-mail.

I’d come across her name a couple of times before–she gave the cover blurb on Eve Kenin’s Driven, and Lisa Lleypas thanked her in the acknowledgment section of one of her contemporaries–but I didn’t really know who she was. Well, she is a great advocate for the genre, lifetimetv.com’s romance columnist, and the marquee name at Romance B(u)y the Book.

And she picked up PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS out the hundreds of ARCs she receives every months, read it, liked it, and wants to feature it. (Can you tell how thankful I am that my publisher gave PA a distinctive cover?) I feel like Lana Turner, discovered at a drugstore soda fountain.

And the woman works fast. She’s already posted a fun tease for PA.

Really, I’m a little overwhelmed with the attention PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS is getting. Maybe I should fly up to Hayden Christensen’s farm up north and have a chat with him about how to deal with sudden fame. 🙂 Oh, look. Here’s another stack of 1065 tax returns. Okay, that will do too.

My very own Desert Isle Keeper

I was at AllAboutRomance this afternoon doing my usual drive-by review reading. And then I had to blink and look at my screen again. It’s still five weeks before PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS’s street date, but AAR’s review is online.

Now when I go to RWA nationals next time, I’ll get to wear one of those “I’ve been DIK’ed by AAR” pins that I so coveted in Dallas.

This is a true milestone. I’ve been reading AAR since the previous century–indeed, the previous millenium. 🙂 And I have waited a long time for one of my own books to join that venerated desert isle. My grade is an A-, rather than an outright A. But oh well, next time.

In other news, the excerpt of DELICIOUS is up at last.