Jan 262016

Seven is a lucky number—or so the tradition holds. I am a woman who believes STRONGLY in making her own luck. And I am going to ask you all to help me. Here are seven things you, my much appreciated fans, can do to generate good fortune for Médicis Daughter in its seventh week on sale:

1 & 2 (not cheating! This one is THAT important): Recommend the novel to someone, in person or on social media. Word of mouth is still the most powerful force in lifting a book from mid-pack to hit!

3: Write a short review somewhere (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, your blog) so that people looking for a book with passion, intrigue and history will find Médicis Daughter in their search. lucky-7

4) Ask your library if they have a copy. By requesting a copy from your librarian you put the book on the radar of your library system, making it more likely they will buy and shelve the book and thus making it possible for those who cannot afford to spend money on book-buying to have a chance to read Médicis Daughter.

5) Suggest Médicis Daughter to your book club. Did you know I DO book clubs! If you are in the Washington DC Metro area I will actually trot out and see you in person if my schedule permits. If you live elsewhere I am generally able to participate in your discussion by Skype.

6) Reign fan? Hiatus is a painful time but you can help your fellow Reign aficionados by sharing this blog post with them: “5 Books Reign Fans Should be Reading Right Now.” And by mentioning that Médicis Daughter offers them Valois intrigue and that “Catherine shows up, of course, in all her devilish glory.

7) Let me know you enjoyed Médicis Daughter. Writing can be an isolated business—and not just when you are snowed in as I am now. Facebook messages, emails and notes from readers are such a treat. I am always interested to hear how people react to characters that I spent many months of my life with. And I am fascinated by the tremendously varied feelings and opinions Margot and Catherine in particular have raised in Médicis Daughter readers. So what was yours?

I don’t play fantasy sports (real sports either for the record), but as a reader and writer I participate in something similar—fantasy casting. I bet you do too. Certain novels just read like movies, filling my head with images of people, places and situations so vivid that I might be watching the action unfold on a screen. I know EXACTLY who I’d like to see play particular characters in some of my favorite novels but, sadly, no one inHollywood ever rings me up when they are making a movie out of a book and says “cast this baby for us.”

Hence the fantasy casting.  Because when real-life constraints—money, an actor’s age, and/or even whether he/she is still among the living—are set aside I can have any book made into a movie starring precisely who I envision in each role. Bliss.

Of course my fantasy cast is not your fantasy cast. And that’s another upside from my point of view. If I prefer Glenda Jackson asElizabeth I (a role she nailed on the BBC before many of you were born) and you prefer Cate Blanchett that’s just fine. We can each pop some popcorn, pull up our respective hassocks, settle down with the very same book in hand and watch the action on the tiny screens in our head featuring our choice. It’s a fantasy remember :)

But for some reason while I’ve been busy casting other writer’s historical novels I never thought about a fantasy cast for The Sister Queens . . . until yesterday. That’s when a pair of talented writer friends (Lydia Netzer and Nancy Bilyeau) pointed out how cinemographic my novel is and started making casting suggestions of their own.

Next thing you knew we had a pretty good list going. I knew it was time to share, and more than that to solicit readers’ opinions. So, in a sort of “We’ll show you our if you show us yours” gesture, I am putting our current fantasy casting ideas out on the table and counting on you to reciprocate. Who do you see playing Louis IX? Eleanor? Jean? The Dragon of Castile? DO TELL (that’s what comments sections are made for)!

Fantasy Cast, The Sister Queens
A Starter List Courtesy of Sophie, Lydia and Nancy

Marguerite: (I’ll admit I see my eldest daughter in this role so thank heavens for the suggestions of others) Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Keira Knightly

Eleanor: (Again my second daughter plays this role in my head): Miranda Otto (remember current age is no impediment), Anna Kendrick, Hailee Steinfeld (right age for start of book but later?), Rooney Mara, Dakota Fanning

Blanche of Castile:  Dame Judy Dench, Virna Lisi

Louis IX: Julian Sands (when he was younger), Rupert Penry-Jones (ditto. Or he could play Henry as he currently is), Keith Ledger (told you we included the dead), Alex Pettfer, Raymond Coulthard, Douglas Booth (if he isn’t playing Jean)

Jean de Joinville:  Douglas Booth (if you didn’t see him in the recent Masterpiece Great Expectations, click the link—it will be apparent why he is my first choice), Kit Harington (you know, Jon Snow in Game of Thrones), a younger Joseph Fiennes (particular if his brother played Henry), Henry Cavill, Jamie Bell (right age for the start of the action but later?), Jeremy Irvine, Orlando Bloom (who might also play Louis if he put in those contacts he wore for Legolas)

Henry III:  Michael Fassbender (yeah he is too good looking – so?), Seth Green, Daniel Auteuil (in younger days), Sean Bean (and for once he wouldn’t have to DIE in a movie), Johnny Lee Miller, Rupert Penry-Jones.

 

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If cost were no object I would definitely make a book trailer.  It would be just like a big-studio film trailer—atmospheric music, gorgeous settings, first-rate live actors, dramatic editing effects.

But cost is not irrelevant.  Not in my world (if it is irrelevant in yours and you want to bankroll my big budget book trailer just let me know).  So when I got my book contract and started to plan my personal promotional budget I had to look critically at every possible piece of the marketing puzzle.  As part of that process I asked myself what I could reasonably expect to achieve with a book trailer for The Sister Queens, and given that did I want to invest in one?

Never one to make a decision in a vacuum (or to miss an opportunity for goofing off on YouTube when I should be reading an obscure reference work), I looked at dozens of book trailers.  Along the way I realized that writers of historical fiction face special challenges because our trailers must create and populate a rich visual world removed in time and place from the present and transport the viewer there.  Of course we had to do this in our novels as well, BUT we were working with words and that left the visual images up to the fertile brains of our readers.  In a visual medium (a video trailer) we must craft the images ourselves (or pay someone to craft them), and they must be convincing.

Having finished my “tour de trailers” I have pretty much decided that not to do a trailer for The Sister Queens.  But I’ve been known to make the wrong decision (more than once even).  So I am asking you, AS READERS (fellow writers, put your “readers hat” on please) to disabuse me of the following conclusions I drew along my journey.

Lots of book trailers view like educational power point presentations.  They have music, they have art.  Sometimes they manage to have both from the same (and the correct) period.  They might even have well-done voice-overs (don’t get me started on the trailers that just have rolling text like extensive film credits).  But I have to admit a vast majority of book trailers without live action felt educational to me.  This was true even of the trailers that wove a bit of author interview in (this technique reminded me of the “talking heads” used in documentary films).

I am big on education (especially history education), but I thought the purpose of a book trailer was to make me want to BUY THE BOOK.  These fact-heavy trailers full of still images just didn’t sweep me up and leave me all shivery the way good film trailers (and by good I mean trailers that make me come back and plunk down money to see the full product) can.  I guess when a visual medium—video—is employed I want action.  So what about trailers featuring live actors?

Live-action trailers can be more gripping but NOT if they look homemade.  Blame the production values I am used to seeing in costume-drama on PBS, but if I can tell that a live-action trailer for a book set at the Tudor court was made in someone’s dining room or backyard, you’ve lost me.  If the costumes look homemade or, god forbid, halloweeny (if that is not a word I hereby create it), I can’t even watch to the end.  My reaction to such trailers is similar to when I attend a recital at which one performer botches badly and I don’t know where to look because I am just SO embarrassed for him.  I know this is unfair because creating a realistic look for a historical trailer is difficult whereas if you write a contemporary novel you can come up with a convincing setting and wardrobe pretty easily.  But I guess we historical novelists ought to have thought of that before picking a genre because the bottom line is I am not willing to forgive hokey.

And then there are the acting and editing aspects of a live-action trailer.  Have a look at the trailers for The Borgias or The Tudors or Game of Thrones.  Setting aside any historical accuracy issues you may have, have you ever seen a book trailer that looked like them?  I haven’t.  They are pure, pulse-pounding drama.  If these were book trailers I would crawl over broken glass to buy the books.  But I suspect they cost big, BIG money (see paragraph 2 – I do not have big money).

Finally, even if I poured vast sums of money into a trailer (and was subsequently divorced by my spouse and beaten to death by my children whose tuition payments I failed to make as a result of my spendthrift ways) I am not sure how many people would see it.  Yes, I know they are out there on YouTube but that is a huge pond and trailers are little fish.  How can I be certain that potential readers would ever see my trailer?  Many of the trailers I looked at had low “views” numbers.  Of course I could put the trailer on my website as well, but presumably if I have managed to lure some unsuspecting potential reader to my site the blurb for my novel will provide her with the best way of gauging both the content of my book and her interest in it.  There simply needs to be a better and more direct forum for readers to browse trailers before I would consider pouring cash into one.

I will close by admitting I saw some good trailers—trailers that did their authors and the books they represented proud.  Even so, I have no way of knowing whether or not those book trailers were effective in interesting readers and generating sales.  So I am back where I started, no book trailer for me.  Unless one of you wants to point out my errors of reasoning.  Any takers?  The comment section is wide open.  Do you use book trailers to select books?  Has a trailer ever sold you a novel you didn’t already intend to buy anyway?

As those of you who follow me on twitter know, I learned a lot at 4th North American Historical Novel Society Conference in San Diego last month (see—I didn’t just spend my time drinking in the hotel lobby).  I even had a number of “ah ha” moments.

One of those happened early on, when a publishing industry insider said, “The author to reader connection is closer than it has ever been.”  Now admittedly this was a bit more of a “duh” moment than an “ah ha” moment as it was happening because if there is one thing a writer knows (even a newbie like me) it’s that in this era of social-media we are expected to network with our potential readers.  But knowing something being able to act on it effectively isn’t always the same thing.

What does it mean to “be accessible to our readers?”  How can we turn the monologue (I blog, I tweet, I facebook, therefore I am) into a dialogue?  How can I improve your experience—of this website and ultimately of my book?

It was while thinking about these questions that the “ah ha” bit happened (or more precisely while thinking about these questions and not coming up with any clever answers) —ask readers.  AH HA!!!

 So, what do you think?  What would you like to read about here in blog-land?  What do you like about this place and what needs some improving?  Do you follow me on twitter, and, if so, how would you whip @lit_gal into shape if you were given access to a whip?  What can I or should I be doing to improve your experience as a reader (of this blog and soon, I hope, of The Sister Queens)?