Tids and bits

A couple of cool things happened this week:

CBS Local (all 24 CBS markets!) did a roundup of "Dark and Twisted Thrillers for Fans of GONE GIRL", and THE BUTCHER was one of the six they selected!



and...

My post on the Insecure Writer's Support Group went live today! I talk about writer's conferences and why they intimidate me.

Happy Wednesday!

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Nothing like the first time

The most fun I ever had writing a book was before I was published. And I'm not referring to CREEP, which was my debut novel. I'm talking about the book I wrote before CREEP. The really, really bad one. The trunk novel.

I started writing it in July 2007. I finished it in October 2007. It was over 400 pages long and something like 128,000 words. It was completely shitty. Everything about it was shitty. Even the title was shitty. It was about a guy who buys an old house and discovers it's haunted, and oh, guess what, the whole neighborhood's haunted, too.

I made every mistake a newbie novelist makes. Characters were waking up from dreams constantly. I head-hopped. I switched between past and present tense, sometimes in the same paragraph. I used terrible, unnecessary dialogue tags. ("Stop," he croaked. "Make me," she purred). There were long chapters where absolutely nothing happened. 

But oh, was it ever fun to write.

I had no expectations going into it. I wasn't worried about deadlines. I wasn't worried about anybody reading it. I wasn't even thinking about getting published - I knew next to nothing about the publishing industry. All I had was an idea and a lot of time (nothing much was happening in my life at all during that period), and my only goal was to prove to myself that I could commit to finishing a novel-length story. In the past, I had started countless novels that I'd never come close to finishing. I wanted to finish this one. And so I wrote, every day, without fear or judgement. Without panic. Without thinking, even a little bit, about where it might end up.

I haven't written that way since. It's a luxury I'm pretty sure I'll never have again. Why? Because I want more. I expect more. And people expect more from me. Which is not a complaint, it's just the way it is.

It will never be like it was the first time.

Mind you, is anything ever like it was the first time?

Life has been CRAZY lately. Sometimes I just stop and look around, and I can't believe everything that's changed in the past two and half years. Since early 2012, I've been on fifteen trips, moved three times, gotten divorced, gotten married, lost two cats, gained one cat, and had major surgery. Somewhere in there I released two books (FREAK and THE BUTCHER), and now I'm working on the next one.

And now this is happening:

This was a month ago. I'm bigger now. And way more tired.

I'm due the third week of November with our first (and probably only) child. It was a complete surprise, totally unplanned, and now life is about to get even crazier! I can't wait.

And somehow, between now and then, I hope to finish the book I'm working on. And then, at some point, I hope to write another. I have no idea how I'll do that with a baby in the house, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. And then I'll write another. And then another. Because, you know, that's what writers do. Life is a constantly shifting balancing act.

But it's filled with things that make me so happy. I'm very, very blessed.

I can't pretend, though, on the days when I'm writing and life feels extra swirly, that I don't miss how it felt the first time. When there was zero pressure, no deadlines, and no crazy life made crazier by hormones and pregnancy fatigue... when I had nothing but time. When it didn't matter if the book was shitty.

Yeah... those were the days.

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Thoughts on book promotion, tours, and the non-writing stuff that writers have to do

It's been almost a month since THE BUTCHER was released, and little by little, life is returning to some semblance of normal.

I've engaged in a lot of discussion recently with other authors about book promotion. Across the board, it's all something we have to do, and the general consensus is, nobody exactly loves it. Some of us don't mind it, and some of us downright hate it, but nobody really loves it, and the main reason is because it takes a lot of time away from doing what we really love to do, which is write books.

Thoughts on social media:

Like most published authors, I have a professional website, I'm on Facebook (both a regular account and an author page), I tweet, I Instagram, I'm on LinkedIn, and I have this blog. To keep up with all of it is time-consuming, and I know I don't keep up with any of it nearly as well as I should.

So when I get to talking with other writers (which I had the pleasure of doing at last month's ThrillerFest), the big question we always ask each other is, "What are you doing that's working?"

My good friend Hilary Davidson wrote an article not long ago for the National Post (a national Canadian newspaper) called "Sorry, but social media won't sell your book." She said:

"When I talk about social media, I emphasize the social part. It’s about connecting, not selling."

And I wholeheartedly agree. Nobody likes being barked at, either in person or online, and that's exactly what it feels like when an author tweets about their book twenty times a day, and constantly posts links and quotes to it on Facebook. When you do this, you turn into a marketing bot, and it's boring. And annoying. And people tune you out. And eventually they hide you, or unfollow you. You know why? Because they already know you wrote a book. You're telling the same people the same thing over and over again. So in terms of increasing sales, that doesn't really work.

A big-name author I recently met in New York said that while he has over 150,000 "likes" on his Facebook page, those "likes" don't actually translate to sales. A hundred people may "like" and comment on any one of his Facebook posts promoting his new book, but those same hundred people won't necessarily buy that new book.

So what does work? Using social media to actually socialize with other people. Social media works best when you talk about yourself, and things people can relate to, and when you feel accessible and real to others. The majority of retweets I get are not from the tweets where I talk about my books, but when I tweet interesting articles I've come across online. When I talk about movies, TV shows, or other people's books, I usually end up engaging in interesting discussions, and inevitably, I "meet" new people and gain new followers. And it's these NEW followers who could become new book buyers, which of course, helps my sales.

In fact, my biggest crop of new followers happened after I tweeted something that had ZERO to do with writing. And this tweet, with the hashtag #WorstSummerJob, actually ended up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (it's the last one Jimmy reads, but they're all funny!):




Thoughts on book tours:

It was interesting to learn that a lot of bestselling authors no longer go on book tours. I was part of a panel at ThrillerFest last month called "Going Out or Going Online?", which debated whether book tours or social media was better at selling books. The general consensus was: neither work perfectly well. Book tours are expensive. As marketing budgets get tighter for publishers, it's becoming less profitable for them to send authors on these multi-city book tours, because the majority of readers who show up to these events have already bought the ebook. And you can't really autograph an ebook. Which means that the bookstore hosting the event doesn't sell a lot of books, and if they're not able to sell a lot of books, what's the incentive for the bookstore or the publisher to have an author there?

Times are changing, indeed.

So what can authors do to promote their stuff?

I'm in no way an expert at any of this, having only put out three books so far. But I've been saying this since the beginning, and I still stick by it: The best thing a writer can do to promote their books is to write the next book.

Over the past couple of months, with the pending and subsequent release of THE BUTCHER, I noticed a spike in my sales for CREEP and FREAK. CREEP was released in 2011, and FREAK in 2012, so these are now my backlist titles. Why, suddenly, did I sell a whole bunch of copies in the past couple of months? Because of THE BUTCHER. The hype (if you can call it that) for the new book reminded readers that I have two other books already out, and so THE BUTCHER sold more copies of CREEP and FREAK for me this past month than any amount of social media or book events did for those two titles in the past year.


My best advice:

To my fellow writers who are overwhelmed about online promotion and books tours: Keep writing. Tweet and Facebook and do all that social media stuff, yes, and be accessible and real while you do it. Attend as many book events in person as your time and budget allow, because it's always a good thing to connect with readers and network with other writers.

But first and foremost? Always, ALWAYS be working on the next book.


* * *

I'm a professional writer, not a professional reader

Which is why it's good that someone else was hired to read THE BUTCHER!

Don't you love audio books? I do. There's nothing like being on a really long drive and listening to a really good story. The right narrator can make or break a book, I think.

In my case, I think they picked the right narrator for THE BUTCHER. You can listen to a quick audio sample here:

http://amblingbooks.com/books/view/the_butcher_1#.U9_kt3l0yUk



Have a great day!

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Blog radio, podcasts, and on-camera interviews, oh my

One of the weirdest things about listening to myself give an interview is how I sound in an interview. I mean, is that really my voice? Do I really talk like that? Clearly I do, but it's completely different than how I sound in my head!

I've had the opportunity to do a few interviews in the past few weeks to help promote THE BUTCHER (out now!), so if you've got a few minutes and want to hear me talk, here they are:

Audio interview with Red Carpet Clash (sorry for the poor sound quality on my end – I was on my cell phone). Also, warning, I giggled A LOT:

http://redcarpetcrash.com/interview-author-jennifer-hillier-talks-new-book-butcher/


Podcast interview with Cary Barbor from BooksAndAuthors (done in NYC at her studio):

http://www.bksandauthors.com/episode/jennifer-hillier-the-butcher



On-camera interview with Jessica Mazo from Martini Productions (done in NYC at ThrillerFest):




Fun fun!

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Reader emails (99% awesome, 1% waaah, leave me alone)

So my new book, THE BUTCHER, came out last Tuesday (yay!) and among the many awesome things that happen when a book is released are the lovely emails I get from people I've never met.

It's out now! This would make a lovely gift for someone, yes? *hint hint*

Obviously I'm not talking about those spam emails for sexual dysfunction pills or online dating sites (which I get anyway, and have nothing to do with releasing a book). The emails I'm referring to are from folks who, from somewhere in the world, have read my book and liked it (or were annoyed by it!) enough to send me an email about it.

99% of the reader emails I get are absolutely delightful. I make a point to respond to every single one, though I may not always be timely (and I'm sorry about that, as writing and that pesky thing called life can sometimes steal all my energy for the day). But I do always reply, and usually quite joyfully. I love talking to readers! Hell, I would love talking to readers even if I wasn't a writer. We're a unique little club, we are.

Here are a few examples of the delightful emails I receive:

Dear Jennifer,

I loved your book FREAK! You kept me up way too late last night reading, but it was worth it! I have to know, what happens to Abby?

Sincerely,
Reader

*delightful*

AND

Dear Jennifer,

My mom lent me her copy of CREEP, and I loved it and have passed it along to my friend Myrna, who said she'll finish it by tomorrow, and then lend it to her coworker Alan, who loves thrillers.

Yours truly,
Reader

*extremely delightful*

AND

Dear Jennifer,

I'm such a fan of your work and can't wait to dive into THE BUTCHER! I've just ordered it and so did everyone in my family and social circle, and everyone in their families and social circles as well. You're just that amazing.

Love and adoration,
Reader

*ridiculously delightful* *and also a total fantasy, this has never been emailed to me* *but one can hope*

But not every email is delightful. I would say a full 1% of the emails I get are decidedly non-delightful.

Here are a few examples of the non-delightful emails I get:

Dear Ms. Hillier,

I have read your novel CREEP and while I thought it was okay, I counted and you used the word 'fuck' 96 times. I get that your book is about a sex addict and a serial killer, but why so much profanity? For that reason I can't recommend this novel to anyone and I highly recommend that you refrain from using such harsh language in your future books.

Sincerely,
Reader

*well, fuck*

AND

Dear Jennifer Hillier,

I just finished reading FREAK. I used to be an inmate at a maximum security prison and I did not think your prison scenes were realistic. If you want to hire me as a consultant for your next book, I would be happy to make sure you get your facts straight. We can discuss payment at a later date. What's your home address?

Yours truly,
Reader

*what the hell*

AND

Dear Jennifer,

I enjoyed your book, but couldn't help but notice the following errors/typos/inaccuracies:

p. 43 - error
p. 92 - error
p. 101 - typo
p. 289 - inaccurate - did you get this from Google?

Regards,
Reader

*waaah* *curls up into fetal position, sucks thumb*

Non-delightful emails instantly remind me that what I do is creative and subject to public opinion. Everybody who reads a book is absolutely entitled to say what they think about it, and not everybody will like it, for lots of reasons. And that can be hard for someone like me, who's a "people-pleaser" by nature. But if you want to publish a book, then feedback in all its forms are part of the package that publishing comes with.

Also, mistakes in a novel will still slip through to the finished product, despite the fact that the book has been revised at least four times by me, and worked on with an editor (usually twice), and then a copy editor, and then edited again using the professionally typeset pages another two more times. Mistakes suck, but they happen (and I still want to stamp my feet in frustration when they do).

But then a delightful email pops into my inbox, and all is right with the world again.

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