Alma Katsu's Blog: Have You Been Taken?

April 3, 2016

It struck me just now how quiet my weekends are. Is everyone's weekends so tame?

Like most writers, I have a day job. I try to write or edit for two hours on weekdays (don't always meet that goal, of course) and save the weekends for deep dives. You may have read that I recently sold a book but I'm not working on it at the moment, waiting for my partner to get back to me with a reworked outline. So at the moment, I'm working on another project, an epic fantasy with a twist that's been knocking around the back of my mind for the better part of a year.

My colleagues at work seem to have more exciting, or at least more interesting, weekends than me. They visit friends or go on local trips to state parks or petting farms with their children. There's always the weekend soccer games and errand runs. They seem to know what's going on around town, the best restaurants, the hot local bands.

For me, and a lot of writers I suspect, the weekends are for writing. I take time out only for the absolutely necessary: grocery shopping, laundry, walking the dog. Cooking up a big pot of something for weekday dinners, making sandwiches for lunches for me and the husband to eat during the week.

I'm not telling you about my sorry weekends for pity. Occasionally I'm asked for advice on the writing life; how do you make the jump to being a published writer? The answer is invariably that you have to put in the time writing. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard as my friend Alan Orloff likes to say. It doesn't matter if you've sold twenty books or none. It takes an amazing amount of time to turn out writing that deserves to be read.

It also pays to be reminded occasionally what your fellow writers are going through. This article in the NY Times is less about poet Kevin Young's office than the fact that he has piles of unfinished work lining the walls, waiting for him to figure out how to make the piece work. Rarely does a piece emerge in the writer's head, fully formed, and honestly I wouldn't trust it if it did. The truth of a piece takes simmering; stories are like soups or stews, needing time to fully mature. I have unfinished novels that have sat around patiently for years waiting for me to figure out why it's not hanging together--just as The Taker did for a decade. Writing, it seems, is not for the impatient.
1 like ·   •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on April 03, 2016 09:46 • 58 views

March 15, 2016

I hope that you saw my recent post on the good news: the next book, THE HUNGER, has been sold! Since it's early days in the process we don't have a publication date yet. Given that technology has made production cycles much shorter in many industries, it's only normal to wonder why it still takes so long to get a book in stores. I'm by no means an expert on the subject, and things may have changed since I last went through this in 2013, but I thought I'd give my perspective for those who are interested:

A lot goes into getting a book ready to hit the market. It's not just a matter of editing, printing onto paper, and shipping copies out to bookstores. Not to oversimplify, but a good deal of the time for the publisher is taken up with marketing. 

The first part, and the part of the process most visible to the author, is editing. If you deliver a complete manuscript, the next step is for your editor to read it and decide what changes need to be made. He/she (let's just say "she" from here out) may do line changes, marking in the text to change words, punctuation, move things around, etc. or it may all be big-picture. developmental issues (for the first round, anyway). However, your editor likely has several manuscripts on her desk, waiting for her attention and it may take months before she sends her edits. Expect a couple rounds, especially if big changes are needed.

Then comes copy editing. You'll get a marked-up manuscript with suggested changes, all usually pretty minor. (Did you mean to use the word "worry" twice in one paragraph?) Factual questions may get raised here, too (Referencing the Battle of Hastings in your book set in 966 when it took place in 1066, for instance. Unless this is a novel with time-travel, you probably don't want to do that.) 

Time passes. Then comes reviewing the typeset pages. You can make changes to the manuscript at this stage if you must, but it costs the publisher money and may affect schedule. Normally, you're catching typos and making minor tweaks (did I mean to leave the second "worry" in that paragraph? It strikes me funny, now). I believe there is a final pass after this stage, to make sure those last tweaks were made, but I think the publishing house took care of this for me. 

We're not done yet! During this time, your editor is working with the rest of your publishing house to market the book. Cover art is chosen, copy written to be used on the jacket, in the publishing house's catalog, on Amazon. You and the editor have asked other authors if they'd consider blurbing the book. Galleys are printed up (or it may be all electronic these days) from the typeset pages. You check in with the authors you ask--have you had a chance to read the book yet? Please, pretty please?

Your editor is using this time to drum up support in-house, getting the marketing staff excited about the book. Galleys go out to Publishers Weekly and elsewhere for reviews, to bookstore owners, to book bloggers. If you're very lucky, the publisher may send you out to do advance marketing work by attending special events with booksellers and librarians, all designed to get the word out and get people excited about your book. You start brainstorming how to launch the book, what promotions you might do. If there's enough support at the publishers, they may devout some resources to helping you with this, often you're left on your own. Do you hire an outside publicist? Be forewarned: getting attention for your book is hard.

When I sold my first book, I was advised to think of it as a car on a production line (not to detract from the art and magic of putting together a creative thing like a book, or from the expertise of the people who work on it.) What that meant was, among other things, your book had to wait for its turn for attention. Publishing houses group their offerings into spring and fall, generally speaking. Publishers need 12-18 months to get a book into the stores because of this process we just stepped through, and because they're also working on books that are about to go into bookstores now. You may have been placed in the Fall 2018 catalog--that means they have Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 to roll out first. 

Make sense? I hope this takes some of the mystery out of the process. I'll thank you in advance for your patience. I'll try to keep you updated on THE HUNGER's process but here's the twist: THE HUNGER is not my book alone. I'm working with book packager Paper Lantern Lit on this book so decisions on what we can say and when are not mine alone to make. (Not that it is once you sign a contract--you must take the publisher's wishes into consideration, too.) There will be a future blog post on why I signed on for this project rather than work on a book of my own: it'll give you another view into the business.

Have questions? Did I leave something out you were expecting? Write to me in the comments section below.

Other resources: 
Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer's Digest. There's also a link to self-publishing your book.
Writers communities with tons of advice on a variety of issues facing writers can be found at Writer Unboxed.

1 like ·   •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on March 15, 2016 03:38 • 74 views

February 11, 2016

A couple years back I got an idea in my head for an erotic short story. Some ideas are like cravings: you just can't rest until you indulge it. So I wrote it up. And one story became two, and then three . . . and The Collected Stories of Isolde was born. It's the story of Isolde, an orphan, who seeks a job at the castle to put a roof over her head, only to be chosen to be a handmaiden for Sir Rhys, the liege lord. Sir Rhys has a mysterious affliction that causes him to live in near-seclusion with his handmaidens--and now Isolde is about to learn his secret.

I didn't write them under my real name because I wasn't sure how my publisher would take it, if the company would think that it was harming my "brand". That was around the time self-publishing was exploding, publishing companies weren't sure how they felt about authors directly competing with themselves in the marketplace. Fifty Shades was hot as wildfire and many writers decided to try their hand at erotica. I didn't want to be seen as thoughtlessly jumping on the bandwagon.

Three years later, things have changed a lot: for me, my career, the publishing business. So I thought I'd come out of the closet on this one. From this experience, I learned a few things about self-publishing and how hard it is to market a book from a dead start, when no one knows your name and you have no presence on social media. At one point, I talked to my agent about selling it commercially but he didn't think there would be much of a market for it because it doesn't fit in any particular genre. My readers won't be surprised to find that it's not a romance. It's set in a high fantasy world, with explicit bits. A little BDSM, a little tongue-in-cheek with a nod to old-fashioned porno.

If you'd like to read it, it's only available on Kindle as an ebook. The reason is practical, not political: Amazon recently launched the capability to advertise on its site but it's only available if you, the author, join KDP Select, which is an exclusive deal: for 90 days, you can't sell it anywhere else. I want to see if advertising on Amazon is worthwhile. (Self-publishing is all about experimenting with marketing.)

If you do read it, could you do me a favor and post a review on Amazon? I'd like to get at least ten reviews before I pay for advertising. I'm asking for an honest review. And please bear in mind, it's intended for mature audiences so if you're under 18 years old or don't like that kind of thing, then please don't feel you have to do anything out of loyalty. 

Thank you for your patience. And I'd love your feedback: do you think this will harm my brand? Should I have kept this one in the proverbial box under the bed?

 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on February 11, 2016 16:54 • 16 views

January 14, 2016

It took ten years to produce the published version of The Taker. Earlier drafts were quite different, including attempts with multiple third-person points of view.

That's right: earlier versions had chapters written from Jonathan's perspective. There were even a few scant pages written from Evangeline's point of view. For some reason, they were among my favorite and so, after the first book came out, I pulled them into a short story and titled it "The Marriage Price" to show that being married to the village's favorite son was no picnic.

I'm making the short story available on my website again for a limited time. Please take it for what it is: a different look into the Taker universe, for fans, not meant to be some kind of literary statement. I hope you enjoy it. 
6 likes ·   •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on January 14, 2016 16:46 • 63 views

November 4, 2015

For those of you undertaking National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, I remind you of the daily tips I published (with the help of writer friends) in 2011. Please check them out if you need inspiration. There are tips and links to online resources and a list of good how-to books on writing craft.

I've been writing continuously since 2000 and published in 2011, and for what it's worth: like everything else in life, the longer you've been doing something, the more your practices are likely to change. It's not a bad thing but a natural thing. You learn from experience, learn to trust your instincts and to distrust your tendency to procrastinate. I still believe writing is mostly done by putting in the time, that it's like a muscle and after three days away it's awkward when you first sit down to type, but within three days you're generally back in the swing of it. Don't be afraid of a terrible first draft, if that's what it takes to get back in the flow. 

You don't know if you have a real story until you get into it, see where you run into walls, where plots fall apart; when characters really start to get interesting. Many stories are abandoned along the way. It's the natural order of things. The trick is to keeping looking for the next idea and to always work on your craft..

For those of you who are hoping for a career in writing, I thought you might find it interesting to know what's it been like for me since the last book was published. In the past few years, I've written one complete novel and started a handful of others. (The agent didn't think it was worth trying to sell the novel at this time, which tells me that it probably needs more work.) I've started one novella and have ideas for a couple more simmering in the back of my mind. I'm currently working on a project that I don't have the green light to talk about--yet. 

As tends to happen with blog posts, I'll end by petering out rather than with a strong point. Please feel free to leave a question or observation about writing in the comments.
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on November 04, 2015 08:16 • 13 views

September 25, 2015

Here in the Maryland-DC-Virginia region we're blessed with multiple celebrations of the book, and one of the most enjoyable is Capclave, the Washington Science Fiction Association's annual convention. Unlike many science fiction-fantasy cons these days, Capclave is literature-focused, not media focused, definitely heaven for writers. This year it's being held October 9-11 at the Hilton Washington DC North (in Gaithersburg).

My schedule at Capclave this year is extremely limited due to personal reasons (which the Capclave programming committee was so nice to accommodate). I'll only be there on Saturday, October 10th.  Here's where you can find me:

12-12:50 PM Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance
        Much, if not most, of urban fantasy are either mysteries with magic, romance with a paranormal, or combination of the two. Has paranormal romance completely taken over the urban fantasy subgenre? What effects has the rise of paranormal romance had on the fantasy field? Is this limiting the field? Is the subgenre in danger of becoming a self-parody? What authors and works should people be reading?

2-2:50 PM   The Epic Blockbuster
        In the 1950s and 60s, 200 page novels were common (and told a complete story). Today my bookshelf is groaning under Weeks (800 pages) and Sanderson (1000), and these doorstoppers are only part of a series. What changed? Do readers prefer long books and longer series? Are authors using these longer page counts to tell a deeper story with multiple points of view and better characterization? Or is much of this padding and a lack of editing? What books are worth the extra page count?

5 PM-5:50 PM    Writers on Writing Style
        How do writers develop and refine their style? What makes one writer more literary than another? How can they improve? Did you deliberately work on your style or did it emerge naturally from experience? What sf/fantasy writers have the best style and what did they do to develop it?

If you've never been to Capclave and you love science fiction and fantasy, you're missing something special. Hope to see you there.
1 like ·   •  1 comment  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on September 25, 2015 16:46 • 58 views

March 28, 2015

Outlander: Men in kiltsReaders, I'd like your opinion on this.

Are you familiar with Diana Gabaldon's series, Outlander ? Historical fiction that goes deep into Scottish, British and American history, a romance that defies time, with a fantasy element running through it. I'm a fan.

I have a conundrum. As you probably know, Outlander has been made into a television series on Starz. It's about to kick off its second season. I'm wondering if I should advertise The Taker to Outlander fans. I've seen a lot of Outlander fans asking, "what should I read next?"  

On one hand, comparisons have been made between the two series by reviewers and readers alike. It's the combination of history and fantasy, I think. And while The Taker isn't time-travel, it creates the sense of it as the characters go back and forth in their own timelines.

On the other hand, fans of a series can be fiercely protective. They can see any approach to the series' audience as an attempt to poach and may want to prove their loyalty by driving off anyone seen as encroaching on their territory. I don't want to offend anyone. I only want to make potential readers aware of my books.

What do you think I should do? Should I try to approach Outlander fans or are the series too dissimilar? Is the Outlander TV series all about the men in kilts--in which case they likely won't see the similarities between the two series of novels? Do you have any suggestions from how I might connect with Outlander fans? Please comment below. Thank you!
2 likes ·   •  4 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on March 28, 2015 05:18 • 161 views

March 14, 2015

Writers are obsessed with each other's process. We always want to know how other authors do it, capture lightning in a bottle. Why we're obsessed with it, I'll talk about in another blog post. Today we're going to talk about tools.

For a while, a presentation on online tools for writers was a staple at many writers' conferences. There are still classes on Scrivener, of course. And I once saw a great class taught by mystery writer David Hewson on electronic tools he uses to manage all the reference work and imagery he needs to write his location based books.

Today, however, I'm going to talk about paper journals. Not because I'm anti-electronics but because I grew up in the era before computers, when creativity was mostly paper-based. I took notes by hand in school and college and to this day, my memory is keyed off the act of having written something down. Even though I write all my drafts on the laptop these days, I think through plotting and character on paper.

And anyone who uses paper to capture a creative process knows that it is an unsatisfactory medium, because inspiration doesn't come in a linear manner. Before long you have handfuls of loose scraps of paper with a few words written down on them. Pages of meaty stuff but what you need is to take bits of meaty stuff off this page and that page and put them together, and jettison the rest. I keep scratch Word documents of notes and snatches of dialogue and descriptions on my laptop but then it becomes hard to incorporate them into the paper notes. What is a creative person to do?

I tend to use spiral bound notebooks but then you're stuck with the order in which the pages appear. Three-ring binders seem too clunky to carry around, and then there's the dreaded rings themselves, always threatening to grab your fingers.

For a while, I had my hopes pinned on this little thing, called a Sorta. It's a binder without rings that lets you reorganize pages. You can get different kinds of paper for it: blank, lined, grids. It really looked promising but the company that makes it suspended production, I've been waiting for months and months for the product to go back on sale and, alas, I can't wait no longer. Which led me to this . . .

I read about these notebooks on Design Milk. Designers are know for using journals and notebooks to capture their creative thoughts as well as to plan new products or keep track of things for projects. The Action Method was designed by the Behance design/promotion company. According to Design Milk, "In essence, it’s the process of breaking down a project into three primary components: action steps (specific tasks; “do this”), reference (notes, sketches, research, links), and things on the backburner (“for later, but worth keeping”). It’s a creative procedural and organizational system designed to navigate brainstorm sessions into executable tasks – the equivalent of wrangling a chaotic ant swarm into a focused line." It started out as an online tool for designers but now exists only in the paper form. See the line of notebooks here.

Then there are plain paper journals. There are a lot of lovely options out there: Baron Fig, Leuchtturm (I bought some of these a few years back while in Europe; comes in a lovely assortment of colors); Piccadilly (which are a less expensive alternative to Moleskins, I've heard); Fiorentina (bought one in Italy to give to an artist relation); not to mention Field Notes (cute but a bit skimpy for writers).

Okay, now it's your turn: do you have a favorite notebook?

 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on March 14, 2015 14:19 • 14 views

February 14, 2015

There was love in a hay field in The Taker, too.Valentine's Day, that most peculiar of holidays. The day we celebrate the idea of being in love. 

I have said that The Taker is an anti-romance. One of the reasons I wrote it is because I was horrified by the way our culture overemphasizes the importance to being in a relationship. Young people are pressured to be paired off with someone before they even know what it means to love. I had young nieces planning their dream weddings, down to the designer dress and the perfect place to have the reception, without spending one-thousandth the amount of thought put towards the kind of person they would marry. I saw women turning themselves inside out to hang on to indifferent men. The price of giving your heart can often be high--few loves will never go untested. Love is a precious thing but we try to mass-produce it, stamp it out in red and hot pink plastic instead of gold, make it ubiquitous. 

Well, saying that sort of thing is like pinning a target to your back. Some people get it, but most accuse you of being a sour, joyless old thing. So once a year, I like to remind people that it's a writer's job to tell the truths of the world and that I am hardly alone in my view of love:

If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.
--Ernest Hemingway

Often it is just the most deserving people who cannot help loving those that destroy them.
--Herman Hesse, Gertrude

Love is like a fever which comes and goes quite independently of the will.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. 
--CS Lewis

What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.
--Fodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamozov

This month in 2012: my Italian book tour. A writer's career is a fickle thing, but they can never take this away from me. 
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on February 14, 2015 04:46 • 22 views

February 3, 2015

Red Riding Hood: a stinkerThe question I get asked the most is whether The Taker books are going to be turned into a movie or television series. It's pretty natural, when you like a book a lot, to think of it in terms of something visual. After all, you've played it in your head as you've read it, you can just picture what it will look like, and so having it made into a movie seems like the next logical step.

While it seems that it's the norm for books to be turned quickly into a movie or such, it's worth remembering that this isn't always the case. It took Diana Gabaldon's Outlander (a book The Taker has been compared to many times, I'll add) 26 years to be made into the series on Starz. I haven't watched it but have plenty of friends who adore it, and so it seems it was well worth the wait to have a producer come along who was going to do it justice. An even better example is Game of Thrones, George RR Martin's epic fantasy. GRRM himself said he never thought the books would be make it to the screen. He'd been a screenwriter and knew the constraints of the media, but he wanted to write something very big and sprawling and rich, knowing that it would be too expensive to capture in a movie or series. Luckily for us, someone at HBO wanted to give it a try and perhaps changed the playbook on what makes successful television.

We had early studio interest in The Taker but no sale. My agent at the time passed along that he'd been told, which was that the story, jumping around in history as it does, is hard to make work in a film. Also, historicals are expensive and so Hollywood doesn't like to make them. And lastly, for some unknown reason, as it was being discussed in Hollywood it got associated in some way with the 2011 film Red Riding Hood . Why, who knows: perhaps because it was dark and fairy tale-ish. I understand this happens: as producers discuss a book, they come up with some movie that they think is similar in some way. Only Red Riding Hood bombed. So suddenly no one was interested in The Taker anymore.

I only bring this up because, as I said, there is always interest in whether there's going to be a movie. I have to admit, this question always irks me a little because I would (of course!) love to be able to tell readers "yes". And if there ever is a deal, believe me, you'll hear about it. But I'm afraid some people make judgments about a book if there isn't a movie deal, and that couldn't be more unfair. Because--as we've seen with Game of Thrones and Outlander--it might be that the most difficult books to make into film are the ones that are most worth it, but you have to be patience and wait for the right visionary to come along, the one who can see exactly how it must be done. Then it will be well worth the wait.
1 like ·   •  0 comments  •  flag
Twitter icon
Published on February 03, 2015 17:22 • 55 views

Have You Been Taken?

Alma Katsu
From the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING, from Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster and Century/Random House UK. THE DESCENT coming May 2013
Follow Alma Katsu's blog with rss.