Friday, July 27, 2012

Review Friday: A Blue Man, Telepathy & Psychic Sex - Meet Keir


Today it is my pleasure to review Keir, by Pippa Jay. I'm going to start by saying that I highly recommend Keir for anyone who would like a fun, fast-paced read. Here is the summary from Goodreads:

Outcast. Cursed. Dying. Is Keir beyond redemption?

For Keirlan de Corizi--the legendary 'Blue Demon' of Adalucien--death seems the only escape from a world where his discolored skin marks him as an oddity and condemns him to life as a pariah. But salvation comes in an unexpected guise: Tarquin Secker, a young woman who can travel the stars with a wave of her hand.

But Quin has secrets of her own. She's spent eternity searching through space and time with a strange band of companions at her back. Defying her friends' counsel, Quin risks her apparent immortality to save Keir. She offers him sanctuary and a new life on her home world, Lyagnius.

When Keir mistakenly unleashes his dormant alien powers and earns instant exile from Quin's home world, will she risk everything to stand by him again?

Author of Keir, Pippa Jay
Pippa Jay starts out the novel with a haunting scene of Keir, beaten and near death, being rescued by Quin. That opening scene haunted me and drew me in for more. I immediately like Quin, a strong woman with a penchant for getting herself into trouble. And Keirlan is immediately sympathetic.

The story unfolds and we learn more about each character - and their demons. Quin may seem like she's got it all together, but she's hunted and on the run. At first she is saving Keir, but by the end she is leaning on him as well.

I enjoyed the romance aspect of this book very much. Generally, I avoid romance novels because they too frequently follow a pat formula that is not to my liking. Keir was a breath of fresh air.
Brooke Shields & Christopher Atkins
in The Blue Lagoon. Keir is is what this
movie could have been if it was good!
The book is worth the read, in my opinion, just for the section where Quin and Keir are stranded together on a desert island. Remember the movie Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields? Pippa Jay's version is a steamy, hot adult version. The scenes contain sexual content, but it is not X-rated or pornographic. Because the characters (Quin and Keir) have had a sort of mind-meld thing, they are connected not just physically, but mentally as well. I've never read sex scenes where the characters were telepathically connected. Steamy!

Keir is a fun, satisfying read with an ending that left me wanting more - more of these characters, and more of the world that Pippa Jay has created.

I highly recommend Keir. You can pick it up at Amazon by clicking this button.

And to learn more about author Pippa Jay, check out my fun interview with her by clicking here.

I give Keir 5 Hawks, and can't wait to read the sequel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writer Wednesday: The Awesome Pippa Jay, author of Keir

Pippa Jay, author of Keir
Every now and again, I read a book that is so intriguing - so unique - I just have to get to know the author a little better. I recently read Keir (my review coming this Friday), and when finished immediately contacted Pippa Jay, the author, to request an interview. To my delight, she said "yes." For those of you have not yet "met" Pippa Jay, I'm excited to bring this newish author to you:

Natalie Wright (NW):  Keir is your most recently released novel – and I loved it! What was your inspiration for Keir?

KeirPippa Jay (PJ): Aww, thank you! It might sounds a bit corny, but the opening scene and idea for the book came from a dream. When I woke up with that image - a man crouched in the dark, beaten and broken - I instantly had a name for him, and I wanted to know how he’d gotten into that state because it seemed more like a tragic ending than a beginning. I think his appearance was inspired by a couple of characters from X-Men and from reading Stephen Lawhead’s Merlin as a teenager.

NW: The male lead character, Keir, was born blue. And then he got tattooed all over, not of his choice. So he is sort of strange looking, maybe even what some might consider ugly. Did you see this story as a beauty and the beast sort of story?

PJ: Do you know, I’d never even thought about it like that? But you’re right, it is that kind of story. Keir is very much based on the idea that only certain ‘types’ of human beings are considered beautiful, and that anyone outside those often unrealistic stereotypes is ‘ugly’. There’s an increasingly unhealthy obsession with attaining a media-hyped, photo-shopped ideal of the perfect body, and too often we judge by appearances. But beauty is only skin deep. While Keir’s society might have rejected him as a monster, Quin can see beyond that. In her eyes, he’s beautiful.

NW: Okay, the chapters where Keir and Quin are stranded on the deserted island together – HOT, HOT, HOT! I mean, this is what the movie Blue Lagoon could have been, if the people were grown up – and hot! And their intimacy, I love the way they come together not just in a physical way, but you added the dimension that they can read each other’s thoughts. So they’re actually feeling what the other feels. *Wipes the sweat beading on her forehead.* What I want to know, is did you have a real life inspiration for these wonderful scenes? Or is it your vivid imagination?

PJ: Thank you. Well, that’s a tricky one. I’d say a combination of both, although I’m not going to talk about some of the real life inspirations. *blushes* One of my favourite ways to spend the weekend is on a local beach, which is the main inspiration for the island of Kasha-Asor. But I’ve always had an obsession with psychic abilities, so most of my characters have been telepathic at least. Being in someone else’s head and knowing how they feel - and how you’re making them feel so much more intimately - would be an amazing experience. It makes it more complicated to write, but I think it’s worth it.

NW: And I have to know, is there a sequel in the works to Keir?

PJ: Yes, there is a sequel.

NW: YAY! *sigh of relief* I got attached to Keir and Quin, so relieved that you said yes!

PJ:  I’m editing it at the moment, but real life stuff keeps interfering! I very much want it to live up to any expectations that readers may have after Keir.

NW: I understand that problem completely! Do you have any news to share about your work?

PJ: My publisher recently announced that Keir will be coming out in print format in October, one of two titles fronting the return of Lyrical’s paperbacks. You can already pre-order it from Barnes & Noble. I’m so excited!

NW: That is exciting news. Congrats! For those of us that would like to check out more of your work while we wait for a sequel to Keir, what other books/stories have you published/ had published so far?

PJ: I have a scifi short story that I self-published through Smashwords - The Bones of the Sea - which is a free download. (*Click the link to go to Smashwords to download The Bones of the Sea for free.)

NW: What is your favorite scene from Keir and why?

PJ: Hmmm, that’s really, really hard. There are several I love, usually for different reasons. I think maybe the scene in the village where Quin sees Keir properly for the first time, and he comes to realize that she isn’t like everyone else he’s known. That she doesn’t care what he looks like and that she might actually be someone he can trust. That’s an important moment for them both.

NW: What genre do you write in?

PJ: Speculative fiction but predominantly scifi and generally romance.

NW: What works in progress do you have?

PJ: Aside from working on the sequel, I’ve a YA scifi novella out on submission at the moment, and another scifi romance novel currently entered into a contest. The last needs more work before I can submit it to publishers, but that’s my planned project for September. I signed up to do the August Campnanowrimo (my first ever nano, and with my three kids home for the summer - what was I thinking?!) with an outline for a steampunk superhero romance. A bit off the wall for me, but I like a challenge.

NW: Steampunk superhero romance?! Love it! Can't wait to see that as I'm a tad bit obsessed with steampunk. 
Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?

PJ: Urgh, I HATE choosing favourites! I suppose, to answer both parts of that questions, I’d have to say Quin. Although she’s been through some terrible things, she hasn’t let it poison her and she still has a good heart and a lot of inner strength. A lot of her character and appearance is based on my teenage self. Although all my characters have some aspect of myself in them.

NW: If you walked through a portal to a dimension without books, what three books do you want to take with you?

PJ: Only three?! Could I not leave food and clothes behind and take more? *sigh* All right. Two of these aren’t even available yet but - Queen of Nowhere by Jaine Fenn, Twisted Metal by Liana Brooks (I had the opportunity to beta read that one), and The Crystal Singer Trilogy by Anne McCaffrey

NW: Who is your favorite author and why?

PJ: Again, only one? Jaine Fenn. She writes a mixture of tech and psi talents in her scifi books, which I love, and I aspire to do it as well as she does.

NW: How long have you been a writer?

PJ: For as long as I can remember. But I’ve only spent the last couple of years actively writing to be published.

NW: Do you have a “day job”? And if you do, what do you do when you’re not writing?

PJ: I used to be an Analytical Chemist but gave that up to be a stay-at-home mum once my first baby arrived. Now my youngest is set to start full-time school in September, so I get to make writing the day job. For now, at least.

NW: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

PJ: Finishing the first draft. I don’t plot, so reaching the end means I have all the essentials and key scenes down and in place. Until then, I don’t know where the story is going and what will need more work.

NW: Describe your perfect Saturday.

Full English Breakfast
Here you go Pippa, one Full English breakfast.
PJ: A lie-in (never happens). A full English breakfast. Some quality family time, maybe at the beach or on a walk, without anyone squabbling. Sneaking in some writing time without getting that ‘should you be on the computer?’ look from my husband. A quiet evening with said husband. Again, that rarely happens. By the time we get the kids to bed, we’re about ready to head that way ourselves.

NW: What is your favorite movie – the one you can watch over and over again?

PJ: *eyes Natalie* Just one? You make this so hard. I have four or five I watch repeatedly, but if it has to be one… A Knight’s Tale. Probably because Sir Ulric inspired some of Keir’s character in terms of personality.

NW: What is your favorite band or musical performer?

PJ: Oh, easy - The Rasmus. Love, love, LOVE their music and the lead singer’s voice. That’s a real inspiration to me. They even made the acknowledgements page in Keir for it.

NW: What do you hope readers will take with them from your writing?

That they will be thinking about the characters afterwards, and remember that beauty isn’t all about good looks. That society is too quick to judge and condemn simply on someone’s appearance. That life is precious and should be enjoyed, with no opportunity wasted.

NW: Let’s Get Silly Questions:

NW: Vanilla or Chocolate? 

PJ: Chocolate

NW: Mountains or Beach?

PJ: Both

NW: Double bacon cheeseburger or gluten-free, dairy-free vegan lentil burger?

PJ: Double bacon cheeseburger

NW: What three words would you use to describe yourself?

PJ: Stubborn, loyal, quirky

Thank you, Pippa Jay, for stopping by my blog and chatting.

I highly recommend Keir - check it out:

Buy links:


The Bones of the Sea is free at Smashwords -

Twitter:  @pippajaygreen
Facebook:  Keir - Beyond Redemption (book page)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Manic Monday: A Poem

Let me start today's post by saying this: I am not a poet. I haven't studied poetry since high school (a long, LONG, time ago ;-0 ).

But in order to get my muse cranked up, I will, from time to time, dabble in writing poems.

The following poem is from a scene that has haunted me for a while. I've written a narrative version, but writing it in poetry form helped me tighten the thoughts. Poetry helps me focus on the essential feelings and descriptors.

I don't know where this scene fits in to anything. Not sure what happens before. No clue what comes after. It feels to me, though, like something bad is going to happen.

What do you think? What does this poem/scene evoke for you?

Blackberry bushes

Air thick and
Heat rises from
           the ground.
Out to the brambles,
           bushes full of fruit.

Into the viscous air,
           a languid summer day.
Wrapped from head-to-toe
           in anti tick gear.

Air filled with
Heat rises from
           their faces.
Out to the brambles
           and safety.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review Friday: LEVERAGE, by Joshua C. Cohen

Today I'm reviewing Leverage, by Joshua C. Cohen. In case you missed it, please check out my interview of the author, Josh Cohen, AND enter the Giveaway for FREE, signed copy of Leverage, by clicking here.

Let's start with the description of Leverage from Goodreads:

"The football field is a battlefield

There's an extraordinary price for victory at Oregrove High. It is paid on - and off - the football field. And it claims its victims without mercy - including the most innocent bystanders. 

When a violent, steroid-infused, ever-escalating prank war has devastating consequences, an unlikely friendship between a talented but emotionally damaged fullback and a promising gymnast might hold the key to a school's salvation.

Told in alternating voices and with unapologetic truth, Leverage illuminates the fierce loyalty, flawed justice, and hard-won optimism of two young athletes."

Okay, this is accurate description - sort of. But I found it odd that nowhere in the description of this book does the publisher ever use the word "bully." And that's odd, since this is a book largely about bullying.

Yes, there is an ever-escalating prank war, but that makes it sound like what happens in the book is somehow the shared fault of the victim of things gone too far. And that is NOT how the book is written.

Yes, there are football players - and male gymnasts. Yes, they engage in a prank war. And yes, the school's pride - in fact the whole town's pride - in their football team is at the heart of the story. It informs as to why some of the characters make the choices they make.

But in Leverage, sports is part of the setting. It's the background of the human drama. And Leverage is, more than anything, a human drama, and a story about bullying.

In our social media age, bullying these days often takes the form of cyber-bullying. But in Leverage, bullying is the old-fashioned kind. "I'm big, you're small, therefore I can do to you what I want. And because I'm seen as popular (i.e. powerful), I'll get away with it." 

Bullying is pervasive in our society and it doesn't end when you become an adult. A person can be bullied at work, in their marriage, or even bullied by media. For that reason, books like Leverage are so important. We need to discuss this topic. We need to explore it. 

Leverage is not a sports book. It's a book about bullying, choices, courage and relationships - and that's why it's worth a read. So take the cover and the cover copy blurb (chosen by a publisher, not the author), with a grain of salt.

The story is told from two different perspectives - Danny and Kurt. Danny is a sophomore, small and a gymnast. Kurt is a large, hulking football player. He's not stupid, though his stutter makes him appear so. Danny and Kurt form a strange duo and an unlikely pair.

Of the two, I enjoyed Kurt - liked Kurt - so much more than Danny. Kurt's story is entirely sympathetic. We root for Kurt and hope that it all works out for him. Kurt is a well-crafted character and one of the highlights of the story. 

The poignant thing about reading a book like Leverage is that you just know that there are Kurt's out there. People who have suffered abuse like he has. Who have been dealt shitty cards like he has. You just  hope that real kids dealt cards like that find the inner fortitude that Kurt finds to do the right thing and to lift themselves out.

I am not a fan of sports stories. If it wasn't for hearing the author discuss this book at a book festival, I probably would not have picked it up based on the cover and description. I would have judged it by its cover.

I am so happy that I picked it up, despite the cover. Leverage is a tautly woven tale about making choices, about finding courage, and about the consequences of our actions. Cohen creates wonderful tension in the book. You know from the first couple of chapters that something bad is going to happen. You don't know what and you don't know when. But you know it's coming.

The "bad thing" that happens comes at about the 40% mark. And as a reader, I felt the tension - actually began to sweat - as the "bad thing" began to unfold. Author Cohen did a great job of "showing" just the right amount. The big scene isn't for those who cannot abide any form of sexual violence (fair warning). As someone who avoids contemporary realism (I love Ellen Hopkins' writing but find her books too harsh to read), I was able to read Leverage. The author didn't resort to sensationalizing the scene to emotionally manipulate the reader. 

The remainder of the book explores the aftermath of the horrible thing that happens. The main characters, the ones involved - even the town itself - is explored.

Joshua Cohen is a bright star of a writer, giving us a wonderful first book that makes us want more from him.

I highly recommend Leverage and give it:

 5 Hawks

A WORD OF CAUTION: Leverage deals with mature themes and includes graphic violence of a sexual nature. I do not recommend this book to those under 13, and give it a PG-13 rating.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Writer Chat Wednesday with Joshua Cohen & a Giveaway!

Joshua C. Cohen
Welcome to another edition of Writer Chat Wednesday. I'm so excited to introduce my blog readers to an amazing talent, Joshua C. Cohen. Josh's first published novel, Leverage, has been nominated for awards such as the Cybil, the YARP and others. I heard Josh speak on a panel about edgy teen books at the Tucson Book Festival. Josh was funny, smart and entertaining - so I just had to read his book, Leverage (my review coming this Friday, so please come back).

Josh graciously agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Come eavesdrop on my conversation:

Natalie Wright (NW): Please tell us a little bit about your book, Leverage

Joshua C. Cohen (JC): Leverage is the story of two high school boys from very different backgrounds coming together after witnessing a brutal assault on a fellow classmate.  The book examines how fear can paralyze one into inaction and how remaining silent can be the worst possible choice to make.

NW: What inspired you to write this book?

JC: I always wanted to write a story with an “odd couple” pairing using characters that would normally never associate with each other but get thrown together and must work with each other.  Then I read about a real life attack that took place at a football camp and it started marinating in my head as I imagined what the victims and witnesses that never spoke up must have been thinking while the attackers roamed the school hallways without fear of punishment.

NW: From the author bio on the book cover, it sounds like you’ve got diverse experience. Stage actor, dance, musical theater and gymnastics. Were you writing before you began to pen Leverage? What is your writing background? 

JC: I’ve been writing little stories and chapters to longer stories since high school.  I have quite a few manuscripts that will most likely never be published but were essential for me to create in order to slowly learn the craft of writing.  I don’t want to give the impression I’ve somehow “arrived” now that Leverage is published and I no longer need to work on my craft.  It’s a never-ending process and I continually try to get better at it as I write and edit my own work.  During my years of performing, my schedule was too hectic for me to have the discipline to sit down every day and write.  That didn’t happen until after I retired from performing and started work at a more traditional office job that allowed me the opportunity to set up a daily routine where I’d write a little in the morning or evening before or after work.

NW: In Leverage, one of your main characters, Danny, is a gymnast. Were you a gymnast? 

JC: I was a competitive gymnast in high school and then in college I realized pretty quickly I didn’t have the skills to compete at the next level but I still trained in the college gym and became good friends with many of the elite level athletes.  I loved the sport.  It helped me build self-confidence, a diligent work ethic and solid friendships that I still maintain to this day.

NW:  Josh, one of the things I love so much about Leverage is how real it feels. I was wondering how much of Leverage is based on your own experiences?

JC: I get asked this question quite a bit, mostly by people anxiously preparing to feel horrified on my behalf because they’re afraid I experienced something as awful as what happened to the characters in the book.  So let me assure anyone out there reading this that it is very much a work of fiction.  The parts I pulled from my own experience is the double-edged sword of team camaraderie and how loyalty can be such wonderful bonding experience that connects you to another person or persons at a level paralleling family.  But it can also allow you to get pulled into a “group think” mentality where you allow yourself to get pulled along into actions that are bad and, out of loyalty, you cannot bring yourself to stand up and say, ‘stop it’.

NW:  How long did it take you to write Leverage?

JC: I won’t count the years where, as I said, I was toying around with trying to create an “odd couple” story and starting and stopping in fits.  I’d say from the point I sat down, ready to make an earnest attempt at writing the story (spurred on from reading of the news account of the real life attack) from beginning to end, then revising, getting feedback, revising more and then getting the manuscript acquired and revising even more, it was probably 5 or 6 years.

NW: Were you a small guy – like Danny – or a larger guy – like Kurt – in high school?

JC: I was a small guy in high school.  Of course, in the story, Danny is much smaller than I was in high school.  He’s also not very “political”, which I was in school.  What I mean by political is that I was very good at making friends with the big guys so I wasn’t running around in fear that I might get pummeled at any given moment. I actually enjoyed high school for the most part and didn’t feel traumatized by it.

NW: Being a girl, I never noticed size being much of a factor (size didn’t matter ;-). But in your book, size is a major factor. Kurt is obsessed with becoming big so he won’t be vulnerable. And Danny is aware at every turn that because he’s not large, he is vulnerable. Is this what you experienced yourself in high school?

JC: To a degree, yes. I think boys at that age rely on physicality to intimidate more than girls do. I realize I’m generalizing in this answer. Girls have their own pitfalls to deal with and, because they’re more mature at that age, they have the ability to use their wits more than boys do as a weapon.  Boys are not quite as smart as girls in their teens (yes, I know, I know, I’m generalizing, still) so boys need to quickly size each other up and figure out where they are in the pecking order to avoid getting real bruises. Girls have to worry more about mental and emotional scarring (still generalizing, I know). At no other time in your life do you need to worry about physical punishment just for showing up somewhere.  I mean, imagine if, when you showed up at your office job as an adult, you had to worry that you might actually get cuffed on the head or randomly punched.  Thank god we become adults!

NW: Part of what makes Leverage such a page turner is the dialogue. I felt that you got it just right. They aren’t potty-mouthed sailors, but you use swear words judiciously and when the guys talk, it feels real. Did you do any dialogue research?

JC: I appreciate your comments.  I think if I knew that I was writing a “YA” book when I first started writing Leverage, I would’ve probably been nervous about the amount of swearing and I might have pulled back more.  Teens will always curse and swear because it’s such an easy act of rebellion.  I was mainly worried that some of the slang had changed since I went to school.  I tried to stay away from phrases that I thought would be dated in a year or two.  But it seems that George Carlins famous “7 words” still hold up.  I did keep my ears on alert whenever encountering groups of teens to see if they had changed up their word choices.  But some curses and putdowns remain classics!

NW: What do you hope people will take away from reading Leverage?

JC: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained.  I’ve always loved the description “page-turner” as a compliment for a book.  I grew up in a household where my parents read all the time and they still do. While my taste in books differs from theirs, we all agree that unless the storyline is gripping, the rest doesn’t matter so much because you won’t actually finish the book.  After that, if the reader gains some insight into these characters’ lives and why they do or don’t make certain decisions, well that’s gravy for me.  If a writer can get the reader to see from the perspective of another character and empathize with them, understand the perspective of another soul walking on this planet, well that’s a big accomplishment.  Empathy is what I’m trying to get at.  If I can make the reader empathize with my characters even when they make poor choices, I’m doing pretty good in my storytelling …I think.

NW: Has the story been optioned for a movie or T.V.?

JC: Yes, it has been optioned for a film but being optioned for a film is a long way off from actually becoming a film.  As I’m discovering, many books are optioned but only a few ever make it all the way to becoming films.  I’m crossing my fingers that it will one day happen.

NW: Let's hope that they see this project through. Who would you like to see playing the main characters, Kurt and Danny?


NW: Of all your characters, I think I liked Kurt the best. I spent the majority of the book being worried about him. Despite his hulking size and strength, he still is a vulnerable character and so likeable. But Kurt is a damaged person. Have you ever known a Kurt?

JC: Kurt is a composite of a number of people that have crossed my path and that I have known at various stages in my life.  All of them, I deeply admired. After spending years writing his character, I fell in love with him a bit.  I was sad when I was done working with him.  During the writing of the story, he really lived in my head and I’d find myself placing him in completely ordinary events in my daily life and wondering how he’d react.  I really did miss him when the story was completed.

NW: There aren’t many girls in Leverage. The two main characters are guys and their story revolves around their sports teams. But Tina plays a pivotal role in the plot and I love her! She’s sassy and tough. And she utters my favorite line. Can you guess what it is?

JC:  Is it, "I told you girls are way craftier than boys."

NW: Of course I just loved reading that! Have you ever had a Tina in your life?

JC: I’ve had Tina’s in my life at all stages, starting with my mom.  My wife has Tina moments as well.  The older I get, the more I realize the female gender seems to—appropriately-- be silently shaking their heads while the male gender blowhards bounce off walls, yell and don’t get much accomplished.  It’s sort of what Canadians do to Americans in general.

NW: *Smiles*  I first became acquainted with Leverage when I heard you speak on a panel at the Tucson Book Festival. The panel was about “edgy” YA fiction. Do you think Leverage is “edgy”?

JC: The thing is, I didn’t write it to be edgy YA but, rather, fiction that both adults and teens would enjoy.  Once it became officially YA, the adult issues, violence, and language made it “edgy”.  I don’t mind the description at all, however, and take it as a real compliment. As I work on new fiction, I realize my mind continues to push and probe the borders of standard issues in order to dramatize them and make them entertaining to read about so “edgy” is probably a pretty accurate description.

NW: What makes it edgy?

JC: I gotta go with the male assault scene on this one.  That scene lobs this book deep into the “edgy” sweetspot.  The surrounding attacks and cursing, of course, add a nice layer of icing on the “edgy” cake.

NW: There are a couple of scenes in this book that are difficult. By difficult, I mean bad things are happening. I don’t want to give anything away, but the first such scene comes at about the 40% mark (I read Leverage on my Kindle). And up to that point, it is building and building. You just know something bad is going to happen, but you’re not sure what. That pivotal scene, I actually began sweating – I was so worried! But I felt you wrote the scene just right. It is graphic, but it doesn’t go on and on and you included just the right amount of detail but not so much as to be just sensationalistic.

So what I want to know, was it hard for you to write these difficult scenes?

JC: Yes! I really had to prepare myself on the days I was working on those scenes. I was very much aware of trying to balance the violence in such a way that the reader would feel horrified on behalf of the victim. But I didn’t want the descriptions to cross the line where they felt gratuitous. I hate movies like “Saw” and “Hostel” and violence along those lines is, in my mind, a type of pornography that I have no desire to emulate. Once I finished a scene, it almost felt like “Whew! Done” but then I’d have to go back and revise and try to make sure it wasn’t too graphic. When re-working the scenes with Julie (my editor), I think my tendency was to pull back so much that, at one point, she said she was confused as to what was actually happening. She understood what was happening, of course, but it had to be written so it made sense and didn’t cause confusion. Also, I should add that while the scene is violent and suggests awful things, if you go back and read it, there really isn’t much detail about the act but, rather, on how the character of Danny feels while witnessing it. That’s partly why it’s so horrible, because your brain is filling in the blanks. And to those that feel it’s too violent, my response is it needed to be in order for the reader to believe that the character of Danny (who witnesses the attack) would be shocked and scared into silence.

NW: Absolutely true - not a lot of detail in that pivotal and brutal scene. It's a testament to your skill that - I'm not kidding - I was sweating and pulse racing because of the tension you created in that pitch-perfect scene. Kudos!

On a different topic, I was curious about how your book is being marketed. The cover, the blurb on the front, and the book description make it sound like a sports book. And it is, I suppose, to some extent. But I have to tell you, I’m not into sports much but I enjoyed your book so immensely. And I felt the sports was like the background – the setting – for a story about bullying gone too far and what happens when people don’t speak out. If I had just read the cover, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up because I would have thought it was about sports. I guess what I’m saying is your book, to me, belongs in the same category as Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher, and You, by Charles Benoit. Do you agree?

JC: I’d love for this book to have the appeal of Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why. I agree that Leverage is much more than a standard “sports book” and I think it has met resistance to a larger audience for the reasons you’re describing.  I actually like the hardcover image because it’s striking yet vague as to what it indicates.  Marketing is an art form and if we didn’t go the “sports route” then we end up going the “bullying route” so it tends to get pigeonholed no matter what is suggested.  The blurb and book synopsis probably paints it too much into one category.  Hopefully the word gets out and it crosses genres.

NW: I hope that for you too because it really is a book that will appeal to a wide range of people.

I found the honesty of your storytelling so refreshing. I’m looking forward to your next story! What have you got in the works?

JC: I’m working on a story about a twin brother and sister suffering from severe PTSD and forced to start life all over again at a new school where their existential angst infects the entire student body and school faculty.  Hijinks ensue!  In some ways it’s darker than Leverage but it’s not as violent.

NW: Do you consider yourself a young adult writer? Or will you also write adult stories?

JC: I’d love to have the freedom to write in both categories.  I think I’ll always be on the “adult” side of YA and that my stories can cross-over into the regular adult genre based on the subject matter that interests me.

NW:  Okay, time for some silliness. Chocolate or vanilla?

JC: Chocolate!  But mixing them together is even better!

NW:  Coffee or tea?

JC: Tea in the morning.  Coffee in the afternoon.

NW: Do you still root for the Vikings? (BTW, my husband has rooted for them since he was a kid too – poor fella.)

JC: Unfortunately, yes, I still do.  I don’t see them contending for a championship anytime soon so my football seasons will be pretty disappointing into the foreseeable future.  Please pass along my condolences to your husband and tell him that rooting for losing teams builds character, or so I’m told.

NW: Beach or mountains?

JC: Beach!  I love the mountains and love hiking in the forest but I really, really love swimming and the surf.

NW: What three words describe Josh Cohen?

JC: Hmmmm … three words huh?   Sleeping’s my drug!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Manic Monday: 3 Truths About Self-Publishing

Last week, I saw a blog post titled: "How I got a big advance from a big publisher and self-published anyway," by Penelope Trunk. Intriguing title. I took the bait and clicked through to read the post.

Essentially Ms. Trunk wrote a non-fiction book about how to achieve happiness. She sold the book to a large publisher, got a "lot of money" for an advance (paid in full). According to her blog post, things began to go sour about three months before publication when she was contacted by the marketing department. 

She was, apparently, unimpressed with the first call. "Their call was just about giving me a list of what I was going to do to publicize the book." 

Hold it right there. Was she surprised by this? This didn't fit with her expectation?

When I went to my first writer's conference in 2009, I distinctly recall hearing from panels - and in individual conversations with authors - that the publishing house expects that the author will do the majority of marketing of their book. If you hang out with writers on Twitter, or anywhere else where writer-folk gather, you will hear a constant chorus of how publishing houses do NOT put significant money or time into marketing the books of first-time authors. Everyone knows (or should know) that your book won't get a significant (or any) marketing budget unless you've previously had a best-seller.

In fact, even as far back as 2009 at that writer's conference, I began wondering why writers needed publishing houses. I mean, they aren't going to market my book. They're not likely to do much editing of my book (I've been advised repeatedly to hire a freelance editor before I even query).

If they don't edit and they don't market, it really begs the question: What do they do? And why give up 90-96% of the royalties?

When I was finished my first book, I had a choice to make. Self-publish or begin the query process. Knowing that it would like to take 3-5 years to see my book in print if I went the traditional publishing route (IF I ever saw it in print), I decided to self-publish.

I don't regret that decision and I'm quite pleased with the success of my first book, Emily's House. But Ms. Trunk's blog post got me to thinking about some truths about self-publishing and how she may have discounted the advantages to having a big publisher on board. Which begets another question: Are there still advantages to being traditionally published?


Indie and self-published books still make up a tiny fraction of overall sales.
Amanda Hocking, Uber Self-Publisher
JA Konrath, 4 - Click for larger version in new window
J.A. Konrath
If you have been lulled into thinking that you, an army of one, without a publishing house behind you, are going to shoot up the bestseller list, you are more than likely going to be sorely disappointed. Last year we watched Amanda Hocking sell over a million copies of her self-published books. J.A. Konrath talked about making $60,000 per month on his self-published books (but also cautioned writers to focus on writing more books rather than just jumping onto the self-publishing bandwagon). Writers worldwide collectively said "hell yeah" and stopped querying and started publishing on their own.

I'm on of them. And I'm glad I did and I'll continue to self-publish.

But come on, lets have a reality check. My opinion (feel free to differ in the comments if you have experienced otherwise): if you have never been published by a publishing house, you should continue to try to get a contract.


Here are some truths:

1. Selling books is about discoverability. So long as there are brick and mortar stores, if you're books aren't in them, you are losing a facet of discoverability.  When you walk into your local Barnes & Noble, a publishers PAID to have their books on the table or end-caps. If you are a self-published author, your book isn't even in the local Barnes & Noble. It certainly is NOT on an end-cap or table. Having your book in the bookstore is not just about vanity. Books on shelves and book-signings in stores are about sales. If you're self-pubbed, you won't have either of these things.
Tables full of books at a Barnes & Noble
2. Reviews sell books. Lots of reviews from influential people sell a lot of books. If you are self-published, it is unlikely that popular reviewers with lots of influence will even look at your book. That's a fact. You may get lovely reviews from lesser known reviewers who are still willing to read self-pubbed books. But most popular reviewers long ago gave up on self-pubbed. Why? Because for every gem, they had to wade through nine clunkers. That's a fact. Traditionally published books will be more likely to get reviewed by influential reviewers and bloggers. It will not be turned away by reviewers simply because of who published it.

3. Traditionally published books SELL BETTER. In the top 100 on Amazon, any day, any time, there may be two - perhaps even five - self-published books that have made it into the top 100 (my review of the list this morning showed no self-pubbed books in the top 60). THAT STILL MEANS THAT 95-98 percent of the top 100 are traditionally published. You will get an occasional Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy, or The Mill River Recluse, or Switched (Trylle Trilogy) (originally self-pubbed, but now published by St. Martin's Griffin). But the vast majority of books making it onto the bestseller list are from large publishers.

Why is that so? I believe there are two reasons.

First, see numbers one & two above. Large publishers have the distribution channels to get books on every shelf, everywhere. Virtual and real. When it comes to discoverability and availability, traditional publishers still have self-pubbers beat.

Second, and this may ruffle feathers, but traditionally published books are (generally) better reads. I'm sorry, but this is true. I download and read about ten book samples a week. I only download samples of books that a friend has recommended, or that I've read the cover blurb, and/or seen reviews, and/or buzz, and I think it's a book up my alley.

For traditionally published books, I'll buy about 50-60% of the time. This means that from the sample I read, I'm hooked enough on the premise and feel the writing is strong enough that I'm willing to pay the (usually) $6-$10 to buy the book.

For self-published titles, I hit the buy button less than 5% of the time. Most of the time, I'm sucked in by the premise and think it sounds like a great story. But my choice not to buy is generally because the writing fell short, either in the first pages or by the end of the sample. And usually, these books are priced at 99 cents to $2.99. I won't even download a whole book that's free if I can't get through the sample.

Now there are exceptions - self-pubbed or small press books that are as good - or better - than traditionally published books (like Keir, by Pippa Jay, one of my recent favorites which I'll review here on my blog soon). But the truth is, you have to wade through a lot of not-so-hot books to get to those gems.

Look, I self-published my first book, Emily's House (The Akasha Chronicles), and I'll self-publish the rest of that trilogy and perhaps other books. I've been quite happy with the results of my first publishing adventure, and I believe that a self-published author can achieve fabulous sales.

But I think that it is grossly inaccurate to assume, with an unchecked ego, that a self-pubber can do better without a big publisher. Folks like J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler both had traditionally published books in their back-list before embarking on their self-publishing journey. They already had a fan base, folks ready to purchase their books, regardless of the publisher.

Let's face it, whether we have one of the Big 6 backing us up, or we're on our own, the writer is going to do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing the book. But when your book bears the publishing house imprimatur, the author has marketing avenues that aren't even open to self-published writers.

That is why I'll seek a publishing contract for my next series of books while continuing to self-publish. It is my belief, (I could be wrong), that working both avenues will produce better results than going down only one road.

What do you think? Am I full of bull? Do you think self-publishing is the way to go and screw traditional publishing? Or do you think self-publishing is for amateurs and only traditionally published authors can be considered pros? What are your thoughts on the publishing houses?

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