Today Harlequin did a “Cover Reveal” on their Official Facebook Page. Many of you are familiar with the cover of my book Teatime for the Fireflybut they were from the ARC (Advance Readers Copy: the unproofed version). This is the final cover. Yay, yay, yay! The finish and creative detailing of the book is jaw-dropping gorgeous and I am pleased as punch! People I show this book to say “I would buy this book, just because of the cover,” and that makes me really happy! And folks, even if I had not written this book myself, this cover would have called out to me in a bookstore and I would have picked it up in a heartbeat. Seriously.
The art team at Mira Books really captured the essence in the cover of Teatime for the Firefly. We have the bone china English tea-cup alongside the Indian henna patterning and it gives the cover of a cross-cultural feel which is what the story is all about. I have a lovely endorsement from Shilpa Somaya Gowda (NY Bestselling author of The Secret Daughter) that has been exquisitely laid out along the curve of the saucer (so as not to clash with the layered script background). The thoughtfulness and care in putting this book together is the result of a massive team effort at Harlequin/Mira. Writing a book is the simple part: getting the book ready and to market is the bulk of the business. The process is involved, complicated and by and large goes unseen. All the public really sees is the finished book and the writer and not all the munchkins doing the grunt work. It is humbling and I feel lucky to be a part of it all.
There are several events and appearances in the pipeline leading up to the official launch of October 1st. I will be updating the Events tab (above) from time to time. I hope to see you all in person. Connecting with you is the most exciting part. I am always curious to know about you. What do you read? What do you drink? Did I hear you say COFEEE? Eeesh! I will probably try to convince every die-hard coffee drinker to try Assam Tea, failing which, you will still be my friend, simply because you love something so passionately. I admire that over and above my need to win you over.
And thanks for staying with me on this journey – for all your support, kind thoughts, memories and all the funny things you share with me. No, no, no, I am not riding off into the sunset – although I sound like I am, with all the talk of “thanks”, “journey” etc. This is just an important milestone in Teatime for the Firefly and I am happy to share it with you.
So here’s to tea and friendship. And I’ll see you around the corner, soon – yes?
On March 22nd, I was invited by Peg Hassinger, a dear friend, to speak at the Carriage Manor Writers Group in Mesa, Arizona. The group pitched in with a surprise tea party to honor my visit and a surprise indeed it was! I was deeply touched (I cry easily these days if you must know!) with all the thought and planning that had gone into creating such a delightful event. There’s more about that in Marlys Jensens’s writeup below.
The Carriage Manor Writers Group meets every Friday. Many members are snowbirds so the group is more active in the cooler months. Members pick a special topic to write about every week and on the day of my visit the topic was (you guessed it) TEA of course! I was fascinated by the variety of genres and different viewpoints shared on the same subject. The format is open so we had a nice smattering of short stories, essays and poems and some very educative, funny and soul-stirring writing. When it came to my turn, I shared about my writing journey and Assam Tea. Here is lovely recap of the event by Marlys Jenson, one of the writers in the group. I am reprinting it with her permission. Thanks Marlys!
A SPECIAL MEETING
By Marlys Jensen – March 28, 2013
There are always surprises as we travel along life’s pathway, some more pleasant than others. One such pleasing experience happened last Friday at the Writers Class. Coming to class, all members were looking forward to the usual good time sharing their personally penned stories about “Tea”. Also, the anticipation of being in the company of a soon to be published author was high on our bucket list.
At 10:00 a.m. class would be in session. When walking through the door the atmosphere was intoxicating. Looking around the room was like being in another time and place. The tables were decorated eloquently. Flowers and a silver tea service flanked the head table. At each place, a setting ready for a party. On a doily, a fine bone china plate, saucer, and tea-cup were placed ever so perfectly. Antique cloth napkins added a nice touch. The side tables displaying colorful tea pots looked beautiful. Writer’s member and party giver, Gretchen, and party lover, Lucy, were responsible for the festive decorations.
Gretchen was in charge of the tea. We got to choose a tea flavor and hot water was added to our cups, thus the brewing began. A wonderful aroma filled the air. Dainty treats were provided by our leader and tea lover, Peg. It was joyful time, with another one of our leaders, Mary Lynn, recovering from a broken pelvis, joining the group.
Yet another pleasant surprise was the entrance of a beautiful Indian Lady, who now resides in Arizona. Peg introduced her as Shona Patel, a dear friend of hers. They have enjoyed many tea parties together during their friendship. We were all captivated to hear the story of her life. She had grown up on a Tea plantation in India. Her father was appointed the first Indian manager of a tea farm, a fortunate event for the family. She had a good life and learned much about the harvesting and processing of tea during her growing up years.
She loved writing and eventually was able to enroll in a writer’s class by a coveted professor at Scottsdale Community College. She learned much in his class about getting a manuscript ready for publishing. She started the process. She hired an agent and was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company. Her book “Teatime for the Firefly” will be out in October, 2013. It is a novel in which she was able to weave into the story many facts about tea and the plantations where it was processed. We are anticipating the book’s sale.
Shona is a lovely young lady, with many talents, and an outgoing personality. It was a fantastic class. I am sure all of the Writers feel the same as I….. A BIG thank-you is due to all who had a part in this most delightful time. It exceeded all expectations! Thanks again.
More about Marlys Jenson and the Carriage Manor Writers Group: My husband and I are retired and spend our winters in Carriage Manor Resort in Mesa, Arizona. It was there I was encouraged to join the Writers’ Group. I nervously started attending four years ago. The class has challenging topics and activities. It brought me to another level in writing. We have outstanding leaders. Here we learn to express ourselves through writing, reading, sharing, etc. When reading our stories during class time, we laugh and cry together; by this interaction we develop true friendships. I am looking forward to reading Shona Patel’s Book “Tea Time for the Firefly”. Her excellent writing ability and vibrant personality will be reflected in the book, I am sure.
Before I signed up with April Eberhardt, I was bursting with questions for literary agents. It’s not often a writer get to bat the breeze with one. Agents are rarefied beings who live in another stratosphere. Stereotypes about them as hope-dashers and dream-crushers persist among writers. Every alcoholic writer I know is sitting on a fat pile of rejected queries. We cling to crumbs of hope. We tell our friends, “That was the best reject I ever received. Agent La-di-da said …..” That’s like George Clooney saying, “You are pretty but your teeth need fixin and I’m sorry we can’t date.” It’s thanks-but-no-thanks, right? No date and no Clooney. So why am I insanely happy and why do I run around telling all my friends? I even begin to ponder the cost of orthodontics (teeth whitening or even false teeth – hmmm) now more determined than ever to bowl over George Clooney. Just wait till he sees the NEW ME. (Mr. Clooney, you may remember me *flash, flash, smile, smile*)
But here is the sad truth, Molly, so get your hard hat on: the reason why most agents are “not so nice” is because they get hounded by needy and persistent writers (like you and me) all the time: especially the ones they were nice to.
The publishing world is fast changing: if not by the day, by the week. Relationships between writers, agents, editors and publishers are all being redefined. So Chips Ahoy Molly girl, your little boat may set sail after all. The big blue sea is waiting, the sky is limitless and there are fish a-plenty.
Here is a small Q&A with my literary agent, April Eberhardt, who is embracing the challenges in the publishing industry and exploring new alternatives for her writers. She is a front runner in this game.
Shona: Hi April, many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions on TeaBuddy.
April Eberhardt: Hi, Shona—Thanks for inviting me to be your guest! Let’s have a cup of tea and chat.
Shona: You gave a very insightful interview on writeitsideways recently regarding the current scenario of the publishing industry. I want this Q&A to focus mainly on writers and your role as an agent, so let’s cut to the chase.
My first question: Where do you find your writers? What is the best way for them to approach you?
April Eberhardt: I find writers in three ways: through referrals by my current list of authors; via literary conferences; and as unsolicited submissions e-mailed to me.
Shona: How many queries do you get in a year, of which how many do you accept?
April Eberhardt: I receive several thousand queries a year, of which I’m able to represent around 20.
Shona: Most writers, I know, are terrified of pitching in person to an agent at a conference. Why is it important for you to meet your writers face-to-face?
April Eberhardt: Meeting an author in person gives us each a sense of chemistry, as well as a chance to discuss approach and values. Like any relationship, business or personal, compatibility and “fit” are critical to making it work long-term.
Shona: What grabs you in a pitch/story? What do you look for in a writer?
April Eberhardt: In a pitch or manuscript, I like to see an original premise, a strong, fast start, and a sense of where the story’s going, as well as a compelling reason why I’ll want to stay with it—i.e. character, plot, sheer beauty of the language.In an author I like to see a good understanding of how the business works, or a willingness to learn about it. Maturity, patience, trust, and a mentally healthy outlook on things also are important.
Shona: What are the common mistakes a new writer makes?
April Eberhardt: Not editing their manuscript thoroughly before submitting it; thinking their agent will sell it quickly (sometimes it happens, but rarely.)
Shona: You are a very hands-on agent. You rolled up your sleeves and got down in the trenches to help me straighten out my manuscript. Your editorial inputs were invaluable. How often are you involved in editing a manuscript to make it submission-ready?
April Eberhardt: Thank you. I do a lot of editing on virtually every manuscript I agree to represent, some more than others. If I see high potential in a manuscript, and in its author, I’m willing to go the distance with her or him to get it just right. I actually love editing—it’s a thrill to see a story with hidden potential really blossom!
Shona: You are known for representing high-quality women’s fiction suitable for book clubs. What kind of books work best for book clubs? Can you give specific examples? What makes these books popular with book club readers?
April Eberhardt: Book club books are those that prompt lively discussion among book club members! Typically they present a situation or dilemma that readers have strong feelings about, and are eager to discuss with others to get their views and approaches to dealing with it. A couple of examples are The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McLain, and Still Alice by Lisa Genova. In both books, the writing was fabulous—gripping and fast-moving, with astonishing twists and turns of plot and character. In the case of The Paris Wife, I think readers liked the reimagining of what Hemingway’s first wife’s experiences and feelings were, and gaining insight into what it is like to be the wife (and the first of many) of a famous person—and in this case, of a particularly larger-than-life and admired figure–and in Paris. Who doesn’t love reading (and talking) about Paris? In Still Alice, this was a story that conceivably could happen to anyone—and among midlife readers who find themselves juggling lots, and forgetting little things, there seems to be an unspoken concern that their forgetfulness isn’t just preoccupation, but the sign of something more ominous. These are the things we as women think about, and welcome the chance to talk about with others.
Shona: You have often told me you are “besotted” with Teatime for the Firefly and the world needs to read this novel. What was it that attracted you to my manuscript? ?
April Eberhardt: The characters, the setting, the plot, the writing—all at once! It is a beautiful rendering of a young woman’s coming-of-age in an exotic culture and at an alluring time in history. I could not put it down—and that’s rare for me, as I always have a pressing to-do list scrolling away in the back of my mind, distracting me from the task at hand. Teatime for the Firefly is one of those rare stories thatcaused me to lose track of where I was and what else I needed to do. I came away feeling as if I had just been on a marvelous journey to a magical place, and had made wonderful new friends there. I missed them when it was over.
Shona: Thank you for your kind words, April! But these are challenging times, don’t you think? I see so many serious writers losing heart and getting increasingly frustrated with the crisis and confusion in the publishing industry. What is the best encouragement you can offer them?
April Eberhardt: Self-publish your work in the highest-quality way possible, and then do your best to promote it. If you have the means, or can save to hire experts in the field, by all means do so. People must be able to read your book in order to love it. Given the industry’s limited ability to publish all the authors out there, you must so some of this yourself if you want your work to be read. Self-publishing won’t preclude your being published by a mainstream publisher—if anything, market-testing your book yourself will demonstrate its salability to you and others, and will underscore your willingness to be a good marketing partner. Plus it could be a lot of fun, and might make you some money as well.
Shona: What is your advice for writers who are not social-media savvy? Are they doomed? What would Stephen King do today?
April Eberhardt: Social media is one effective way to get word out about your book. Emailing friends and acquaintances is another. When your book is released, email everyone you know letting them know it’s available, asking them to consider buying (and reading) it, and, if they like it, letting two or three other people know about it—and consider reviewing it on goodreads.com or another site where readers go to find good new books. Word of mouth is still the best sales tool! As for Stephen King, it’s hard for me to envision what’s inside of his head. I’d ask him!
Shona: Anything else you would like to add about writing or publishing?
April Eberhardt: Quality—quality—quality. And don’t be shy (or if you are, enlist the help of trusted others to blow your horn.)
Shona: Last question, tea or coffee: what do you drink? I promise I won’t hold this against you!
April Eberhardt: Both! Coffee first thing in the morning—one strong cup of Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend. Then tea in the afternoon, accompanied by watercress sandwiches and crumpets 😉
Shona: Many thanks April! I am lucky to have you as my trusty agent on the road less traveled. I look forward to our ongoing journey together.
April Eberhardt: Thanks, Shona! The feeling is mutual.
UPDATE: Following this interview, April Eberhardt sold my novel Teatime for the Firefly in a 3-book deal to Mira Books. Wooohooo!
I survived the slush pile by finding a good agent, then sat back thinking life was going to be all hunky-dory, but guess what?I find myself in the second circle of hell. In other words I am agented but not signed up (yet) with a publisher. And it’s a waiting game (*zzz-zzz—*). Take a peak at this thread on Absolute Write Water Cooler. All these writers are in the same boat as me and some have bithchin and moanin for over three years.
Before I signed up with my agent April Eberhardt, I told her , “I would rather throw this manuscript down the toilet before I even think of self publishing.” I now reflect on the arrogance my words and God only knows I may be forced to eat them.
So is it out of the slush pile, straight into the landfill? After all self publishing is nothing more than a garbage dump, face it. Chances are my fine literary novel will not float to the top like cream, rather I risk drowning in the porn, waste and filth of bad writers. And the sad chances are, I may never be heard of again.
Before you think you can Smashword the easy way to stardom, wait: here’s news for you. It’s from a reliable industry source so take heed. “PayPal has ordered Smashwords to remove nearly 2,000 ebooks due to what PayPal considers outright obscenity and filth. A LOT of titles on Smashwords are plain old fashioned erotica, to the point that it’s kind of an inside joke: If you write filthy sex, put it on Smashwords and it will sell. Anyway, the outcry is over the fact that Smashwords agreed to remove the books in order to continue offering PayPal as a payment option, basically saying, “The money is more important than the books.” I don’t fault Smashwords at all…last month they uploaded their 100,000th title to their catalog, so losing 2K titles of trashy lit in order to keep their business open to readers and writers is a good trade off. But a lot of writers are pissed that they would back down so easily. Plus, a lot of people roll their eyes at Smashwords…”Oh, your book is on Smashwords? How many orgasms does your MC have? Ha ha ha…Since you’re looking for book exposure to lead to credibility in the industry, just be aware of it.”
Literary writers are typically squeamish. They are not the loudest screamers. Tweeting makes them cringe and some have only three friends on their Facebook: two of them, cats. Most literary writers bloom unseen and wait patiently for a keen-eyed editor to swoop down with a cry of joy (“Oh, gifted one, where have you been all this time?”) But instead editors shake their heads. Why I cry, why after you write two whole paragraphs telling me what a gifted writer I am, and how awesomely fantabulous my manuscript is? The reasons are economics, Molly. Acquisition Editors have had their beaks smacked and their wings clipped. They are allowed to accept one (okay maybe two) books in a year, and guess who is going to pay their bills faster? Amanda Knox, the new Stephanie Myers or you? So get a grip on yourself. The halcyon days may be over but don’t throw yourself down the Grand Canyon, yet.
Eberhardt gets 10,000 submissions a year. Ten thousand. “Of those, I find 15 to 20 that I think are exceptional,” she said. “I work hard for my authors. I’m in service to my authors, but it’s tough.” She currently represents about 20 writers, mostly first-time authors of women’s literary and book club fiction.
…Too many good authors are not being published,” she said. “It’s not the story, it’s the industry that’s broken. You can spend years shopping your manuscript to traditional publishers only to find yourself not published. I want to link the author to the reader. It’s a mindset, not just technology.”
Just before we spoke, Eberhardt decided to join forces with several other major literary agencies as part of the Argo Navis Author Services program of The Perseus Books Group. This represents the agent-curated model of self-publishing that she had envisioned when she started five years ago. “I had to wait for the timing to catch up to the vision.” According to Eberhardt, some tiny fraction of writers are published by traditional publishers, and even then, it doesn’t always live up to a writer’s expectations. “Among my authors who have been published by big houses, it can be a huge disappointment,” said Eberhardt. “It’s heartbreaking—to see the promises made and then broken is crushing.”
Are you comfortable flying solo? I hate to admit it, but I am a big scaredy cat. I need my agent for moral support, as a sounding board, as somebody who will remind me how good I am especially when I get discouraged and start diminishing my work. A good agent is your seeing-eye dog. Let’s say you self publish, and your novel does indeed rise like cream, those old vultures (publishers) will start circling you. You will need an agent to negotiate your contract, so rather than scramble for one why not stick with the person who believed in you in the first place? And now that you a hotshot writer (of course you will be–never doubt that for a second!) there will be foreign rights, movie rights, coffee mug rights and God knows what other rights to negotiate. It’s bad enough having to do your own marketing but the very thought of legalities and paperwork makes me want to throw up. Thanks but no thanks.
What are your thought on agent-curated self publishing? It’s an untrodden path and who knows where it might lead? Please share!