C.S. Harris's Blog, page 8

May 28, 2015

What Works in Book Marketing, and What Doesn't?

My publisher has asked me for suggestions on how they can best market the next book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I've come up with a few ideas, but I thought I'd ask what you think works.

Time was, publishers pushed their authors to be active on Facebook. But now that Facebook only shows an author's post to 3-10% of the people who follow her, even publishers are admitting it's really not very effective. (I'll swallow the rant I'd like to insert here.)

I usually make a book video for my books, even though I doubt anyone has ever watched one and bought the book because of it. I make them because they're fun and because they make my publisher happy because it looks like I'm doing something to promote my book. Which is a really stupid reason to do something, but the truth is, I suspect a LOT of what authors do falls into that category.

I have asked them to drop the price on What Angels Fear and run a Book Bub Ad right before the next book's release. They don't seem too enthused, but I plan to keep pushing the idea.

I just had the book tour for Who Buries the Dead, so that isn't in the cards again, at least not this soon. I did a virtual blog tour last March, but I'm not sure how much good that did and it took a lot of time to write all those posts. Who saw them? Did anyone try the books because of them? Who knows?

I am in the process of revamping my website, but that is more because after eight years I'm tired of looking at it myself, and because Google is being a pain (swallowing another rant here; if you don't have a special page for mobile devises, your site's ranking is now knocked way down on a Google search).

So, any suggestions? What makes you decide to buy a book--other than having someone whose tastes you respect say, "I read a great book you should try!" What have you seen authors/publishers do to promote a book that actually worked?


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Published on May 28, 2015 12:31

May 13, 2015

On Proctorizing

I am a notoriously picky reader.  I have such a reputation for abandoning books half-read that my writers' group has coined a word for the act of giving up on a book without finishing it: they call it "proctorizing." As in, "This book was so boring, I finally proctorized it."

I haven't always been this way. Time was, once I started a book, I'd plow through to the end largely I suspect because the idea of NOT finishing it--of judging it--never occurred to me. But once I started writing, I carried the habit of scrutinizing word choice and pacing, characterization and plot structure from my own work to the books I was reading. I grew impatient. My To Be Read pile was growing, my time for reading shrinking. I started proctorizing. Sometimes I would proctorize half a dozen books in a row--books by very successful NYT bestselling authors I won't name because this is a small business and saying nasty things about other authors can come back to bite you in the ass. The list of authors I enjoy is short. My editor once actually snapped at me for this, because editors like to ask their writers' favorite authors for quotes.

Then, about a year ago, I decided I needed to break this proctorizing habit. And so, when an author started losing me, I didn't allow myself to put the book down but would plow through determinedly to the end. As a result, I read a string of books by popular authors whose works I'd never been able to finish. And you know what? At the end of each one, I found myself thinking, "Well, that was a waste of time."

A couple of weeks ago, I gave myself permission to abandon my short-lived resolution and go back to proctorizing. Life is too short, and my TBR pile too high (piles, actually; that's a photo of one, above). Ironically, I then stumbled upon a book I thoroughly enjoyed--The Two Minute Rule, by Robert Crais. For years, one of the members of my writers' group has been singing Crais's praises, but while I'd added a couple of his books to my TBR pile, I'd never been able to bring myself to try one largely because this friend (sorry, Sphinx Ink!) also absolutely loves a certain other bestselling author whose popularity mystifies me. Crais does not have the literary inclinations of James Lee Burke or Martin Cruz Smith (my two favorite mystery/thriller writers); he's a Hollywood screenwriter, after all. But I found this particular book brilliantly plotted and emotionally satisfying. So I tried one of Crais's Elvis Cole books and found it, again, masterfully plotted, gripping, and frankly fun. So I've looked up his backlist and I'm dizzy with delight at the thought of all those books I now have to read.

So, what about you? Do you proctorize books?
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Published on May 13, 2015 08:06

May 8, 2015


I've spent the past I-don't-know-how-many weeks rereading the entire Sebastian St. Cyr series and taking copious notes. And I'm FINALLY finished.

It was quite an experience, alternately fun, insightful, and (when I found mistakes) horrifying. The most hilarious error I discovered was one place where instead of "Mayfair" there was "Mayflower." Seriously! Apart from being a weird mindslip in the first place, how did that slide past my dozen or so rereadings, my editor, the copyeditor, and whatever minions are supposed to read the galleys after I go over them? Oh, oh, oh.

At any rate, the fat notebook you see in the photo above is the result of the last weeks' labors, all 100-plus pages of it. I even drew a family tree for Sebastian that stretches back 200 years (no,you can't see it!).

I'm now starting back to work on Where the Dead Lie. And one other thing I did last week was approve the new cover for #11, When Falcons Fall, due out in March of 2016. It's by the same illustrator as the last several books, and we have a new model who looks much more like my own personal vision of Sebastian. It'll be interesting to see if y'all agree. I've asked for permission to reveal the cover, so hopefully that will be coming through soon. Stay tuned.
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Published on May 08, 2015 09:50

April 23, 2015

Wondering What the Next Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Is About?

My editor and I have spent the better part of the last two days tweaking the cover copy for WHEN FALCONS FALL, sending versions back and forth, agonizing over every little word. For those not familiar with the term, the "cover copy" is the blurb on the cover that tells readers what a book is about. So without further ado, here is the copy for WHEN FALCONS FALL (in stores March 2016).

The tragic death of an enigmatic young stranger draws Sebastian St. Cyr and his wife, Hero, into a perilous tangle of passion and intrigue in this breathtaking new mystery from the “best historical thriller writer in the business.” 

Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village on the Welsh borderlands to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own unknown ancestry. But when the body of a lovely young widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village’s inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help.
Almost immediately, Sebastian realizes that Emma Chance did not, in truth, take her own life. Less easy to discern is exactly how she died, and why. For as Sebastian and Hero soon discover, Emma was hiding much about her real identity, and her purported sketching excursion to Ayleswick concealed a far more grave intention. Also troubling are the machinations of Lucien Bonaparte, the handsome, estranged brother of the megalomaniac French Emperor Napoleon. Held captive in the neighborhood under the British government’s watchful eye, the younger Bonaparte is restless, ambitious, and possibly involved in sinister intrigues.

Sebastian’s investigation takes on new urgency when he discovers that Emma Chance was not the first, or even the second, beautiful young woman in the village to die under suspicious circumstances. Home to an ancient, hauntingly ruined monastery, Ayleswick reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place of deadly secrets that have festered among the villagers for decades—and a violent past that may tell Sebastian more than he wants to know about his own unsettling origins.  And as he faces his most diabolical opponent ever, he is forced to consider what malevolence he’s willing to embrace in order to destroy a killer.
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Published on April 23, 2015 08:28

April 20, 2015

Reading Myself

I've always made it a practice to never read my own books after they're published.

I still remember the rapture of receiving the very first copy of my very first published book, Night in Eden, nearly 20 years ago now. Bubbling over with excitement, I opened it, and my eye immediately fell on a typo. Eek! Then I flipped a few pages and found a mistake inserted by some well-meaning person after I'd seen the galleys (they italicized First Fleet, evidently thinking it was the name of a ship). I slapped the book closed, and that was it.

As a result, I haven't read What Angels Fear since I read the galleys back in 2004. And when you're writing a series, that's not a good idea. So a few weeks ago, I took a deep breath and sat down to start reading my own series, from book one on through.

In some ways, it's been fun. But in other ways, it's painful. There are things I know now that I didn't know I didn't know ten years ago. (It's the things you don't know you don't know that get you every time; if I know I don't know something, I look it up.) Those mistakes make me cringe.  And while I started out keeping continuity notes, I've since realized I didn't write down everything I should have, and I haven't been very good about keeping them up, either. It's one of those things I tell myself I'll do later, except by then I'm deep into the next book. (Yes, I'm doing it now.)

The one thing that made me laugh is a change my editor requested in the first book. You have to understand that I had been thinking about the backstory and personal story arc of this series for years before I ever started writing it. As originally envisioned, Sebastian fell in love with Kat when he was 21 and just down from Oxford, and Kat was 16. He was in the army six years, and by the beginning of Angels had been back in England since the previous spring, making it seven years since he'd first fallen in love with her. Well, my editor wanted me to make Kat seventeen, because while sixteen would have been just fine back in the nineteenth century, she (or perhaps someone else in the publishing house) worried that it might offend modern sensibilities. So I changed it, although I wasn't happy about it, and it messed things up a bit, reducing the time he was in the army to five years, and requiring him to have been down from Oxford a year before he met her, which didn't work so well, either.

And then, obviously because I had always thought of the story my way, I promptly forgot the changes. (I also never changed the continuity notes I'd already made on that book.) I found one place in the middle of When Gods Die that is consistent with the years given in Angels (that's probably where I was in the manuscript when she asked me to make Kat older). But in every book I've read since (I'm just starting Maidens), I slid back into the timetable I originally envisioned. It was a serious shock to be reading Angels and see seventeen... five years....  I literally said out loud, "Oh, hell! How did I forget we did that?"

Which leaves me with something of a quandary. Because the lovely thing about modern publishing is that you can change a book after it's published. True, you can't change the ones that are already out there in print, but you can change the ebook. Any subsequent editions can also be changed (Angels has gone back to press half a dozen times or more). Obviously, my preference is to change the timeline in Angels back to what it originally was, rather than change all the books since then. Of course, my editor might not like that (I've yet to point out the shift to her). But given that she slid right over the sixteen in all the later books, it must not have offended her after all?

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Published on April 20, 2015 09:26

April 9, 2015

New Sebastian St. Cyr Audio Book: WHEN GODS DIE

Recorded Books has just released the audio version of the second book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, WHEN GODS DIE. Once again the narrator is Davina Porter.

I know that Recorded Books has gone back and bought the rights to the earlier books they didn't produce, so they will all be available eventually. But I don't have a clue what their production schedule is. In fact, the first notice I get that one is in the works is when the cover shows up in my email inbox, usually just days before the release.

But I must say, I do like this cover.
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Published on April 09, 2015 20:25

April 3, 2015

The Evolution of a Cover

I'm in the process of having my website redesigned and overhauled, which means coming up with new images. Now, images for a mystery set in the Regency are tricky, largely because so many of those images are linked in the popular imagination with Jane Austen--who doesn't exactly evoke a sense of mystery, threat, and death. It occurred to me that it would be cool to use the guy from the WHY KINGS CONFESS cover, but.... (There's always a BUT.)

Legalities require me to get permission from that cover's illustrator, Gene Mollica. I was a bit nervous, but it turns out that in addition to being a fantastic artist, he's also a great guy. Not only did he give me permission, but he also sent me a  HRes file of his original painting for the cover. This is something I'd never seen before, and I suspect you'll find it as fascinating as I did.

Neat, huh? Here's a closeup:

Gene also told me a few other things I didn't know, such as that he did the MERMAIDS and SERPENTS covers, too (by far my favorites, along with the original ANGELS). And he told me that for the photo shoot for the cover of WHEN FALCONS FALL they actually made the model's costume, based on examples from old prints and paintings I've been sending them over the years. I've seen the stills from that photo shoot, but the way, and I'm happy with the new "Sebastian." (For those who missed it, the previous model joined the Navy!)

Gene tells me the photo shoots are mine to use, too, so once the new cover is available for reveal, I'll be able to show you the entire evolution of a cover, from photo shoot to painting to actual cover. It's a fascinating process.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions from my big website overhaul, I'd welcome them!
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Published on April 03, 2015 08:09

March 24, 2015

Radio Interview with John Raab of Suspense Magazine

Here's a link to a recording of a live radio interview I did last Saturday with John Raab at Suspense Magazine. It's about 25 minutes long. Have patience because it takes a moment to load, and then begins with some rather loud music. We talk at first about Who Buries the Dead, then move on to other things.

Spring has finally arrived in New Orleans. I'm afraid I've been playing hooky this week and neglecting poor Sebastian in favor of my garden. It's been glorious.

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Published on March 24, 2015 20:36

March 16, 2015


Ever since I was first published nearly twenty years ago, I wanted to go on a book tour. Unfortunately, book tours aren't as common as they once were; publishers have decided they're expensive and don't offer a very good return on investment. So I was stunned when my publishers offered to send me on tour for the tenth Sebastian St. Cyr book. Then I saw the schedule and I thought maybe I'd fallen into one of those "be careful what you wish for" scenarios.
Yes, it was exhausting, but it was also unbelievably exhilarating. The nice thing about going on tour for your tenth mystery as opposed to, say, your first, is that the people you're meeting already know your books. I met so many readers who love Sebastian and Hero and Gibson and Tom and Hendon and Kat as much as I do, and I can't tell you how exciting that was. I could talk about these books forever and the book tour gave me the opportunity to do juch that.
The only frustrating aspect (apart from the whole lack of sleep and mealtimes thing) was that I spent so little time in each city. I'd fly in with barely enough time to dump my bags at the hotel and get to the bookstore; have the signing; eat dinner; go to bed; get up at the crack of dawn (or before) to make it to the airport and move on to the next city. It wasn't until Seattle, the last leg of the tour, that I finally had an afternoon to play tourist. And since I hadn't been to Seattle since 1978 (yes: ouch), I loved it. (Thank you, Sabena!)

My hosts ranged from New Orleans' own Garden District Bookstore and Houston's Murder by the Book, both old friends; to the amazingly huge Powell's in Portland (it really says something about the readers of Portland that they support not one, but multiple independent bookstores of that size); to the cozy and charming specialty bookstore, Seattle Mystery Bookshop; to Poisoned Pen, which is a truly awe-inspiring operation. A huge thank you to each and every one of my readers who came out to see me and helped make the tour not just a success, but fun.

And I even managed to snap a photo of Idaho's snow covered mountains and wave as I flew home.

CAUTION: There are spoilers in the comments, so if you haven't finished WHO BURIES THE DEAD, don't read them!

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Published on March 16, 2015 08:42

March 13, 2015

Sunlight on Ripened Grain

Indie's gone. We were hoping for weeks, maybe even months. Instead, we had hours. He's left a yawning hole in our lives and in our hearts.

Do not stand on my grave and weep;I am not there. I do not sleep.I am a thousand winds that blow.I am the diamond glints on snow.I am the sunlight on ripened grain.I am the gentle autumn's rain.When you awaken in the morning's hush,I am the swift uplifting rushOf quiet birds in the circled flight.I am the soft stars that shine at night.Do not stand at my gave and cry.I am not there. I did not die.by Mary Elizabeth Frye

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Published on March 13, 2015 11:28