Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Queen on the Slab

When I woke up (always a good thing!) and discovered there were no scribes serenading me at my window and I still had insufficient follicular coverage, it looked as though launch day would indeed be just another day. I tried to maintain my equanimity as I proceeded to do all the things I usually do: take my dog out for her walk, eat breakfast, shower, dress, get to work.

But I found as I sat on the bus heading for downtown that I was . . . well, excited. I mean, it took years of hard work to reach this moment and I wanted to "feel" it as much as possible. Even if it felt like another day, it wasn't, and I wanted to make it special. When I opened my e-mail, I found a happy launch day e-mail from my lovely publicist Lisa at Ballantine, which was very cheering.

After lunch, my partner Erik and I went to peruse a few local bookstores and there it was! It's truly an amazing feeling to walk into a bookstore (we actually went to three) and find your book there. The store personnel were all quite friendly when I approached them and let me autograph the copies. Then my brother called from Boston, where he was staying for a few days, and told me he called the local Borders to reserve a copy of the book. When the staff person said he had one copy and asked under what name my brother wanted it reserved, my brother said, "Gortner; my brother wrote it." The staff person then told him they'd had 10 or 12 copies in stock and had sold all but one out by that morning. "We need to order more," he added. "It's popular."
Suddenly, it felt like a very good day, indeed. It might just have been that one store; it might be a fluke, and hey, it's just 10 or 12 copies - but it's what every writer wants to hear on launch day. That wierd anxiety I'd been carrying with me dissipated. I realized that like everything else in life that is fleeting, I needed to savor this moment. For no matter how well or badly I do as a writer, one thing is for certain:

A day like this never comes again. Like your first love, you only get one first launch day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

An author's tic

So, tomorrow is Launch Day, and I've been warned by my fellow writers not to take it too much to heart if the Day ends up being . . . well, pretty much like any other. The book is officially released, yes, but preorders are by and large already being fulfilled and it's not as if fireworks displays are going to go off (except, as my partner remarked, perhaps inside my own head!). I'm not going on tour and I'm not doing any book-related events that day, except treking downtown on my lunch hour to see if the book is on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Some blogs that interviewed me will post those interviews and some reviewers will, as well; others will come later. So, while I've worked so hard to reach this Day, it can be, I'm told, a bit anticlimatic.

I figure it's just as well, because I came down with a nasty head cold this weekend. It's actually one of the worst summer colds, congestion-wise, I've had in years and so my energy level is lousy. If I had events planned, I'd be thinking of ways to postpone them :) But one authorial tic of mine that doesn't seem to be surpressed even by heavy doses of decongestant is checking my amazon ranking.

Yes, it's a well known secret among us writers -- particularly, newly published by big NY houses-- that we are obsessed with our amazon sales ranking. It's that deceptively small number in the product details section on the book's page that allegedly demonstrates how well the book is selling vis-a vis other books in the category on amazon: the smaller the number, as in #1 to 700, the better; the larger, as in #200,000 and so-on, not so good. It's of course not a very reliable measure. It can fluctuate by the hour, i.e., it goes up when a book is sold, and thus shouldn't be taken as a complete barometer of a book's sales. Authors should, if not ignore, then view the ranking with serious detachment, because: 1) amazon is one of many outlets where books are sold; and 2) trying to get that ranking to rise to ease your anxiety will eventually cause insanity.

I mean it. I know writers who literally catapult into despair over their amazon ranking; I even know of one writer in particular who went so far as to purchase multiple copies of his book over a course of a day just to increase its ranking. He succeeded, but then, the moment he stopped buying 5 copies at a time every hour for 24 hours, it dropped once more. Poor man, he ended up with over 60 copies of his novel that he paid for, including shipping, which of course negated whatever royalties he stood to make (as he spent more per book than his royalty percentage on each book sold) and a terrible depression - and all to satisfy an uncontrollable need to see his ranking rise.

I'm not saying the ranking is completely bogus. It can give you an idea of how your book is doing at a given time. For example, one day three weeks ago I got an urgent e-mail from one of my ranking-obsessed friends that my first novel THE SECRET LION was #11 in the Fiction>Mystery>Historical subcategory. I went online and there it was: #11. Ah, what a delightful feeling! I copied the page and e-mailed it with frenetic delight to my agent (who didn't reply, and rightly so). I then checked back often, like an addict, and it stayed at #11 for an entire 25 minutes! Then, when I checked for the last time, it had slipped to #177. Not such a delightful feeling. That high can be so cruelly cut short. Still, I consoled myself, those plum 25 minutes at #11 had to be good news, right?

Just how good is an enigma I've never quite managed to solve. THE SECRET LION's ranking has in fact varied so much over the past four years, it's almost impossible to say. All I've ever been able to learn from watching the ranking is that it goes up and it goes down. I get the actual number of copies sold on my sales statements every quarter, and, while almost always gratifying in of themselves, these numbers never seem to quite equate with whatever random ranking I obsessed over that month.

You'd think I'd learn my lesson and stop it. I mean, there are plenty of other ways I can occupy my time and even if I wanted to check my sales ranking every, say, 10 minutes, what good would it do? If the ranking was decent, I'd be relieved. If it wasn't, I'd fret. And I could do absolutely nothing about it either way.

Still, while I was laid up this weekend doing revisions to my next manuscript and sneezing out my brains, I found myself checking THE LAST QUEEN's ranking every hour, sometimes twice an hour - a dubious accomplishment facilitated by the new wireless system I've installed in my house, where checking the web can now occur at the speed of light. I rationalized my obsession this time with the excuse that's almost the launch date and the ranking should be high, right? It's a new book; there's been all this publicity, giveaways, reviews, etc. In the four hours I managed to compulsively click on the book's page on amazon, the ranking skittered from #124,560 to #67,054 to #33, 457, to #88,795. How many books were pre-ordered in that time? Who knows? But I bet, I lost several pounds sitting there sweating it out and hearing that evil little voice in my head saying: "Oh, it's not doing as well as you hoped. Why, just look at Philippa Gregory's latest; it's not even coming out until September 16 and it's already #71, while you . . .[FILL IN BLANK WITH NEGATIVE THOUGHT]."

Not pretty, is it? It's a tic - an authorial tic, unique to our species. God forbid we should just bask in the moment, in the lovely people we've met along the way and the readers we know love our work, when we could be otherwise stoking up the stress levels over how we think our book is selling on amazon.

Well, I'm done with it. I'm not looking at my amazon ranking again, I swear it.
At least, not today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Hi all,

Coming up for a brief gulp of air before I return to Planet Catherine. 150 pages cut and counting. THE LAST QUEEN is coming out in seven days and it's been a bit mad at my house:) Lots of blog interviews and reviews coming in, which is terrific, as this apparently demonstrates there's interest in the book. I'm getting nervous and excited, though I'm told a book launch day can be the most eerily silent day an author will experience. I can see that: I mean, books appear at stores but I'm not there - though I do plan to hit my local stores just to see it on the shelves.

Also, here's the book video trailer I shot in LA. It's now on YouTube. I think it turned out great:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ARC Giveaway!!

Hi all, I just found out that a promotion being run by my publisher, Ballantine Books, at offers 10 free ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) to give away to readers who want to read the book and comment about it. Here's the link:

The deadline to fill out the form to enter the giveaway ends July 11, so there's not a lot of time left, but it would be terrific if one of you lucked out. I'll post more later but for now, here's to winning one of those ARCs. If you do win one, please let us know.

Twenty days left before the official release date!