Friday, August 27, 2021

Getting the Word Out

Long-time readers may have noticed that I don’t write too many social media or marketing posts. That’s because I’m actually terrible at marketing. Between work and my novels and the blog and my podcast, I don’t have a lot of free time. But if I’m to be completely honest, I also don’t choose to spend much of the little free time I do have on marketing, even though I know from other people’s experience that it would help me sell books. As a result, I don’t have a lot of surefire tips to share with other aspiring writers.

Another discouraging reality is the speed at which the Internet Age changes: Facebook is hot, then it’s everywhere, then it’s passé and replaced by TikTok, which next year will no doubt give way to something else. It’s a full-time job just keeping up, never mind leaping ahead of the curve. And the more entrenched a writer becomes in one community, the harder it is to pick up and move to another, where the old relationships must be rebuilt.

That said, after nine years of publishing fiction, I have learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t. Since this blog goes beyond interviews with other authors (enjoyable as those are), news about my ongoing projects, and historical tidbits to include publishing, media, and marketing, I thought I would take today to mention some of the insights I’ve acquired.

1. Produce a good book.

Without this step, you have nothing to sell, yet it’s the one budding writers pay the least attention to. The joy of finishing is extreme, and I revel in it as much as the next person, but it’s a rare book that succeeds without extensive critiquing and rewriting. This is as true of novels being sent to a literary agent for representation as for those destined for self-publication in any form. Be prepared to write draft after draft before a first novel is done. After that, the process gets easier, but multiple revisions are still required to make a book sing.

Once you finish the writing, your project will need competent copy editing (and yes, most of the time, you get what you pay for), production, cover design, and e-book formatting. Only then should the question of marketing even arise.

2. Make use of existing contacts.

Sad but true: nothing beats a built-in audience. The journal I edit has acquired 2,500+ followers on Facebook and Twitter with posts that rarely exceed one per month. Why? Because people already knew about it. It took a decade to build that audience outside of social media, but once built, it transferred without so much as a hiccup.

For writers starting out, that means emphasizing local events, like-minded friends, neighbors, and relatives. I know authors who have sold books through their hairdressers, and more power to them. I had some luck with my local libraries and the Rotary Club, although my best audience is other scholars in my field (the ones who rightly assume I don’t distort history in the service of fiction, although I have encountered a few skeptics). The advantage of the Internet Age is that everything is international, but that means billions of people trying to connect at the same time. The noise level alone tends to drown those starting out, although worldwide availability pays off in the end.

3. Focus your efforts.

This extends from the point raised above: that social media change faster than haute couture fashion. There’s no hope of remaining on top of everything, but if you avoid social media altogether, you’re unlikely to get out of your own local box.

The solution is to pick one or two things you can commit to on a regular basis. For me, it’s my blog (steady, every week), Facebook (3–5 times a week with selected groups), and Twitter (same as Facebook with the addition of #1linewed—a group effort that invites writers to share one line of a work-in-progress that includes a word set by the coordinator each week; search for the hashtag to see it in operation). And, of course, my podcast interviews, which post 1–2 times a month and which I lucked into back in 2012, when podcasting was up-and-coming. Alas for others, podcasting is everywhere now, so if you pursue it, go with an established group like the New Books Network rather than starting out on your own.

For you, it may be TikTok videos or Instagram or something entirely new. The point is to try out various options until you find a half-dozen or so you like enough to keep up with them, then go for it.

4. Forget about e-mail lists.

I don’t mean this literally. If you have a group of trusted friends or avid readers who want to find out when each of your books sees the light of day, by all means let them know! That’s part of point 2, using the connections you have. My publisher sends press releases to people who sign up for them, and I forward those to friends and neighbors who have said they want to stay informed.

But I no longer bother with newsletters myself. Instead, I contribute to the group posts my writers’ coop produces. I can’t tell you how many times a week I’m inundated with unwanted “news” because someone got hold of my e-mail address and signed me up without my permission (which is illegal, by the way). I usually don’t bother to unsubscribe, because I prefer not to upset authors I may want to interview one day. I don’t read the newsletters, though, and seeing them irritates me. You’ll still see advice to keep lists of e-mail addresses in various author marketing venues, but think about it: who under 50 even checks their e-mail regularly these days?


5. Try book teasers instead.

This advice assumes you have an artistic sense, an understanding of fonts and copyrighted images, experience with publishing software, and an ability to write dramatic lines. If you don’t, find someone who does. But if you do, these are a lot of fun to create and give readers a sense of your book. They pull people in without being a hard sell, which is the secret to marketing in general. And you can rerun them on social media in sequences, providing useful memory joggers for those who may be interested but distracted by the many other calls for their attention.

A similar approach—although I’ve never tried them—involves video trailers. My sense is that these work best if you already have an online presence and want to expand it. The technical demands are higher than those of book teasers, and there is more competition for eyes on a site like YouTube, whereas on Twitter and Facebook things flash past too quickly for anything with motion in it. YouTube also switches from one video to another in ways that make it hard to stay in touch with a single author even if you know who to look for. But other sites may be easier. If your mind naturally turns toward short videos, it would be worth experimenting to see what works for you.

6. Help other writers.

There is, of course, a danger in being caught up in social contexts made up solely of authors shouting their wares to other authors. But authors are also readers, and they have high standards for what they embrace. They can leave wonderful reviews, tout you on their sites, interview you, endorse your books—in return for sharing the publicity, which helps them too. And in my experience, most authors are wonderful people. Sure, some refuse to help, but many love to assist those starting out. If nothing else, it’s good karma, and we can all use a bit of that.

7. Keep writing.

It takes time to establish a reputation for producing good work, as noted above, as well as time to master the craft of writing. Once you do find readers, they will hope for more than one book. And with so many other prospects out there, you want to hook their attention while you can, so they will come back again and again. The only way to ensure that is to keep producing great books for them to read. Or, to paraphrase a well-known saying, “a writer’s greatest asset is her backlist.” So whatever happens, don’t give up. 

In the last nine years, I have published eleven well-regarded novels, produced well over 100 podcast interviews, written 400+ blog posts, and seen my blog readership go from 100 to 11,000 a month. Even so, I’m still waiting for my annual book sales to get out of the triple digits.

Some people would probably advise me to quit, but why would I? I don’t write to sell books; I write because I love watching and recording the developments in my fictional world. Sharing the results with others is just the icing on the cake. And if anything I’ve written here helps you, so much the better. 

There are other avenues to get the word out that I haven’t mentioned, of course. Feel free to share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.

Images from various sources, many previously published on this blog (and attributed in the original posts) and all either purchased via subscription, copyrighted by myself, or sent to me for distribution (the blog award).

Friday, August 20, 2021

Interview with Michelle Gable

It’s probably fair to say that Nancy Mitford and her sisters are not quite the household names in the United States that they are in the United Kingdom—and were, even during my childhood there. Too bad, because they were a fascinating family who participated (on all sides) of the twentieth century’s two great conflicts—the rise of communism and the Second World War.

Michelle Gable knows all about them, and they star in her latest novel, The Bookseller’s Secret. Nancy, in particular, emerges from her period working in the Heywood Hill bookstore with experiences that will no doubt surprise many readers, as well as a manuscript that will launch her into literary celebrity. Read on to find out more.


You mention in your Author’s Note that you have long wanted to write a novel about Nancy Mitford. What is it about her and her family that made you yearn to fictionalize their story?

I’ve adored Nancy Mitford since reading The Pursuit of Love … probably back when I was in college! I knew the novel was based on her family but didn’t fully appreciate the full breadth of the Mitford craziness until I picked up The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell about twenty years ago.

I could yammer for hours about the mind-boggling Mitford girls but, in short, Nancy was one of six beautiful sisters (and one lonely brother): Nancy the novelist, Pamela the countrywoman, Diana the Fascist (and “most hated woman in England”), Unity the Hitler confidante, Jessica the Communist, and Deborah the Duchess. The Mitford girls were so notorious that their mom often “joked” she got nervous whenever a headline began, “Peer’s daughter…”

This book focuses on a specific time in Nancy’s life, between 1942 and 1945 (although you do tell us what happens to her beyond that). Why zoom in on that period of her life?

Nancy lived a long and often complicated life, so it was necessary to zero in on one time period. When tossing around ideas for this book, my agent suggested I write about Nancy’s time at the Heywood Hill bookshop in London, in the 1940s. I love any novel set in a bookstore, as well as new “takes” on the World War II genre, so this seemed like a perfect fit. Even better that I was struggling with my fifth novel, and Nancy was struggling with her fifth while she was working at the shop. She ended up publishing The Pursuit of Love shortly after the war ended up, and it made her a star.

The Bookseller’s Secret is not, however, only a tale of the 1940s. Tell us about Katharine Cabot and why you decided to tell her story in parallel with Nancy’s partially fictional one.

All my books have dual timelines—I like the challenge! Also, I’m forever intrigued by the connections and similarities between past and present.

Unlike the characters in the historical portions of the novel, Katie is entirely fictional. While we have vastly different backgrounds, Katie does share much of my writerly angst. Through Katie, I worked out many of my own career frustrations, to the point my agent and editor asked me to please tone it down!

In the book, Katie is a struggling writer who takes a break from her tumultuous personal life to visit her college roommate in London. She’s also hoping for some writerly inspiration. Katie’s friend lives in Mayfair, around the corner from the famed Heywood Hill bookshop, where, as I mentioned, Nancy Mitford worked during the war. People think of Nancy Mitford as being from a titled, upper crust family, which she very much was, but she was constantly in need of money. The Mitfords were a crumbling sort of gentry. In the novel, Katie is shocked to discover this tidbit and it’s the bookshop that unites these disparate characters and time periods.

Katharine, when we first encounter her, is recovering from one of those dinner parties that are excruciating to participate in but funny to read about later. What do we find out about her and her issues in this early scene?

That she has a lot of them! To name a few: she and her fiancé have broken up, she’s struggling with her writing career, and she has a deep inferiority complex about her sister and is vaguely “scared” of several family members. Basically, she’s looking to fly under the radar at Thanksgiving dinner but is instead thrown into the spotlight.

She’s also getting over a long relationship with Armie. She flees to London and soon runs into Simon Bailey. How would you compare and contrast these two guys?

Armie is a striver and very competitive. He comes from an immigrant family and feels added pressure to “succeed.” Despite their competitiveness, there’s a huge amount of comfort and respect between Katie and Armie because they’ve known each other for so long.

Simon is the sexy new thing but, compared to Armie, he’s a bit more laidback, at times awkward, despite his good looks. Unlike Armie, Simon pursued a career he was passionate about, without much thought to income, even though he certainly did not grow up with a lot of money. Armie comes from a tight-knit family, whereas Simon was raised by a single mom who has many personal problems.

The two men are pretty dissimilar, and I think this is what wakes Katie up to the idea that perhaps breaking up with Armie wasn’t only the right thing for him, but also for her. He was the literal boy next door, and she viewed him as an ideal partner, mostly because she didn’t really allow herself to consider otherwise.

It’s through Simon—and a chance encounter with the bookseller of your title, recommended to Katharine by her friend JoJo—that the past and present threads intertwine. Can you tell us a bit about those connections?

Because I made Katie Nancy-Mitford-obsessed, it was so easy to have her stumble into that shop and want to dig deeper. I would’ve done the same! Writers are notorious for going down research rabbit holes, and this innate desire helps connect Katie to the past.

Do you already have another novel underway?

Though I vowed no more WWII novels, I couldn’t help myself! My next book will take place in Rome, near the end of the war. It’s based on a woman who created propaganda to feed to the Germans and is an exploration of female friendship as well as how misinformation not only affects those receiving it, but those creating it.

Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Michelle Gable is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Paris Apartment, I’ll See You in Paris, The Book of Summer, and The Summer I Met Jack. Her latest novel, The Bookseller’s Secret, came out with Graydon House on August 17, 2021. Find out more about her and her books at

Photograph © Joanna DeGeneres. Reproduced with permission.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Happily Ever After

At one point late in Zara Raheem’s lovely debut novel, The Marriage Clock, the heroine’s father explains: “Leila, if you want to be happy, you must realize that there is no such thing as love before marriage. True love exists only after marriage. Simple as that.”

As someone who at this point has been married far longer than she was single, I understand exactly what Leila’s father means—although she, at twenty-six, cannot. It’s the philosophy that powers my novels—especially the Legends of the Five Directions series, where all the major characters either endure or benefit from arranged marriages. Yet it runs counter to the belief system of modern romance literature in all its forms, including the Bollywood films that are Leila’s life guides of choice.

My point is not to endorse arranged marriage per se. Zara Raheem does a wonderful job of exposing the downsides of such contracts even as she reveals their upsides through the story of Leila’s parents. In my novels, too, some arranged marriages work well, but others are torture—in the cases of Maria and Solomonida leaving residues of fear and self-doubt that haunt them for years. Maria’s story comes out in The Vermilion Bird. How Solomonida handles that legacy is the topic of next year’s Song of the Sinner, now in the final stages. The matching character in Raheem’s novel is Tania, who married to please her parents at eighteen and divorced four months later, only to discover that no family in her ethnic/religious community will accept a divorced woman as a bride, whatever her story.


But the deeper point made by Leila’s father is, I think, worth highlighting. Whatever we read in romance novels, see in films or on TV or social media, getting a proposal of marriage is not, in fact, the Happily Ever After ending portrayed in the media. A wedding marks not the end but the beginning of a relationship, the long and difficult but oh-so-rewarding journey toward a shared future with another person who will become more knowable over time yet never completely predictable. That’s half the excitement of marriage: that even after fifty years a spouse can surprise you. Set that against the comfort of being with someone who still sees you as you were at 20 or 25 or 30—whenever you first met.

That’s what I want for my characters. That’s why I love to write about marriage, which is so much more interesting to me than hormones and often silly arguments that could be resolved if one person just said what s/he thought to another. That’s why I put them through hoops, force them to grow, before I reward them with love from a partner who has also made an effort to deal with his or her weaknesses. That, too, doesn’t mark the end but only a stage in the process—one reason, perhaps, why my characters appear again and again.

But, you may ask, where’s the conflict? Conflict is, as others have noted, the life blood of fiction. Think about it, though. If characters are well rounded, conflict between them naturally occurs. Put two fully formed human beings in a room, give them a reason to care passionately about a joint enterprise, and conflict is inevitable. The issues are how well a couple handles its differences, how quickly each partner recovers, and how stubbornly they fight on. The last often reflects personality and commitment, but the others can be learned. And by the time your characters have made some progress, they’ll have reached the end of the book.

Fiction thrives on drama, and an arranged marriage definitely ups the ante on a relationship. That’s another reason, besides historical authenticity—most marriages in the sixteenth century were arranged—that I imposed it on my characters in the Legends series. Although few of my Songs of Steppe & Forest heroines end up in arranged marriages, fighting the expectation or overcoming the results of such a connection drives most of them, one way or another.


It’s clear that Zara Raheem uses the threat of an arranged marriage to push her heroine forward for similar reasons. And the results are hilarious, from the Muslim speed-dating event (improbably hosted in a bar) to the tone-deaf prospect who launches into Bollywood songs in the middle of a café and the uniquely twenty-first-century problem of finally falling for a guy only to be ghosted the next day. Leila’s mother, desperate to secure her daughter’s happiness as she understands it but also to spare herself the agony of accusations that she has failed as a mother; the helpful but competitive aunties; the perfect cousin and hapless would-be grooms; the matchmaker who picks just the wrong match; the supportive if often clueless college friends; the trip back to the homeland and a large family of strangers with different views on just about everything; and Leila’s growing understanding of herself and what she really wants in life and, eventually, a partner—the novel is filled with entertaining encounters, evocative descriptions, and sympathetic portrayals. 

But when all is said and done, The Marriage Clock is not really about marriage. It’s about blending cultures, weighing the demands of family against the needs of self, understanding the meaning of love, and learning how to take a stand without offending people you care about. And those are problems every one of us can relate to, whatever we think of Happily Ever After. 

Let me note that when I say “marriage,” I have in mind any lifetime commitment. It is true that proclaiming said commitment to all and sundry, in addition to the legal ramifications of tying the knot, do impart a certain sense of finality that both supports the couple in its efforts and spotlights problems as they arise (leaving socks around the room for a week is cute, but “forever” feels very different). But I recognize that not everyone everywhere has that option, and those relationships can be just as interesting and as complex as any other.

Images purchased through subscription from

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Necklace That Brought Down a Monarchy

A few years ago, Martha Hoffman, founder and owner of Cuidono Press, sent me Precious Pawn, one of her historical fiction titles set in prerevolutionary France. The topic interests me, so I had every intention of reading it, but life got in the way and I never quite got around to it—until the author’s next book came out a few months ago. Then I did read Precious Pawn, a fictional rendition of an actual eighteenth-century memoir discovered by the author, Mary Martin Devlin, in an archive. In this novel, Diane de Fautrière, the young (as in fourteen-year-old) and beautiful daughter of an ambitious but impoverished nobleman, catches the eye of King Louis XV of France before losing out to Madame de Pompadour. I won’t say more, except that this painting of a court ball in 1745 captures the moment when her fate takes an unexpected turn.


Diane is in every way a young woman of her times, and that setting—the luxurious and often scandalous court at Versailles—is fascinating. Even more fascinating from this reviewer’s perspective is the novel that follows, The La Motte Woman. Its heroine, born only about twenty years after Diane, couldn’t be more different. As I read Jeanne’s fantastical but mostly true story (Jeanne, it soon becomes clear, is not a reliable narrator of her own life), I kept thinking of Becky Sharp, the anti-heroine of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair—only to discover during my interview with the author for New Books in Historical Fiction that indeed, Thackeray based his character on the real-life Jeanne de la Motte. Read on to find out more about the story—and do listen to the interview, which is a lot of fun and includes a discussion of the first book. But the most fun comes from reading the novel: Jeanne is a character for the ages, and I guarantee that by the time you reach the end, you—like her former lover, Beugnot—will rejoice that she managed to escape the debacle she created.

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Jeanne de St.-Rémy has a grudge against the world. Born into the French royal family—if admittedly by a somewhat labyrinthine route—she spends years of her childhood so disinherited and ignored that at the age of six, she is begging in the streets of Paris. A lucky accident brings her to the attention of the Marquise de Boulainvilliers, who adopts the little waif, raises her as a daughter, and helps her prove her claim to be considered a relative of King Louis XV through a legitimized descendant of the previous royal family, the Valois. The marquise even helps Jeanne secure a pension, but Jeanne remains unsatisfied. She will settle for nothing less than full acceptance into the court at Versailles.

Through a series of affairs and a forced marriage to Nicolas de La Motte, who becomes Jeanne’s loyal partner if not the husband of her heart, Jeanne ploughs through all obstacles on her path. Her greatest conquest is the Cardinal-Prince Louis de Rohan, a high-ranking aristocrat whose campaign to regain his influence with the new king, Louis XVI, is repeatedly challenged by a hostile Marie Antoinette. When Jeanne learns of a magnificent diamond necklace, a creation so elaborate and enormous that its purchase price would bankrupt a nation, the stage is set for a scandal that will bring down the very monarchy Jeanne is so desperate to enter.

With a keen eye and a vivid appreciation for detail, Mary Martin Devlin creates, in The La Motte Woman (Cuidono Press, 2021), an indelible picture of how three clashing obsessions—Jeanne’s quest for the validation of her heritage, Rohan’s yearning for his appointment as prime minister, and the jewelers’ determination to produce a unique and, in their minds, perfect work of art—intersected to destroy the reputation of Queen Marie Antoinette, with catastrophic results for the French monarchy as a whole.

Images: Charles-Nicolas Cochin, A Masked Ball Given to Mark the Marriage of the Dauphin (1745); The Queen’s Necklace (Reconstructed), photograph © Jebulon—both public domain via Wikimedia Commons.