Tag: author


New York Times Bestseller

May 20th, 2010 — 9:28pm

GIRL IN TRANSLATION has just hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #29!  I received the call from my editor, Sarah McGrath, last night!  I was also congratulated by my agent, publisher, and other members of the Penguin/Riverhead team.  Yet another thing I didn’t know before I became a published author was that Wednesday would become a very important day in my week.  This is because the BookScan numbers come out on Wednesday, which more or less tell you how many copies of your book sold the week before.  Your agent or editor will send those numbers to you.  Then, if you’re anything like me, you start to calculate furiously and fruitlessly to try to figure out if your numbers have set into motion something to do with the other Wednesday event, which is: in between 4pm and 6pm Eastern Standard Time, the New York Times Bestseller List gets sent to your publishing house, ten days before it appears on the Internet and in print.  So they get an early look at what everyone else will be reading a week and a half later. Although there are many other bestseller lists, the New York Times list is still the list.

At least I assume this because no one calls me for any other list.  GIRL IN TRANSLATION has only been available for two complete weeks now and has already made the ABA Indie (Independent Bookstores) Bestseller List, the Walmart Bestseller List, the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) Bestseller List, and now, the New York Times Bestseller list — all of which I am very happy about, but I only get called for the NY Times.  Of course, this may also be due to the little problem I have with telephones (see earlier blog entry on Trials of the Telephone) plus the fact that I now announce triumphantly whenever I pick up the phone and hear a voice at the other end, “I managed to answer the phone this time!”  This may not instill confidence.  And it is also close to midnight here in Holland by the time the Times list comes out.  Probably, no one DARES to phone me.

I did see something hopeful from my window, which was:

So since we’re getting a peek at the NY Times list in advance, it will actually be posted on the Internet on May 30, 2010.   I’m going to finish my blog posts on the end of my book tour, and all of the things I learned by then, as soon as I find the time.  I just got back to Holland and am dealing with a 9-hour time difference (can we spell JETLAG?), and have my two little and very active boys, plus phone calls with film people, and a live to tape national Dutch television program where I have to speak Dutch (NED 1 at 10:30AM on Sunday, May 23), and tomorrow I have two print interviews with two different photographers (for the TELEGRAAF and GROOT VOORSCHOTEN), and a phone interview with another television producer…  all of this within five days!  Not to mention the New York Times thing, which I am really completely THRILLED about, if I weren’t falling asleep here in front of the compu…

12 comments » | New York Times Bestseller, Writing

Tips for a Book Tour, Part 2

May 10th, 2010 — 7:18pm

Here’s the continuation of my tips for a book tour.  They may or may not work for you.

3. Be prepared for anything.

Your media schedule will tell you clearly if an event is voice only (radio) or video (television, video, etc.)  However, while this is important, I’ve realized that you need to be ready for all kinds of mixed media.  I’ve done live readings where they whisper to me a moment before I start talking that it will actually be recorded for a podcast.  Sometimes, you go to a radio interview but it turns out they’ll also film you as well.

I always try to look like an actual author when I go somewhere, but if I know I’ll be filmed, I will need to adjust my makeup.  While large studios like CNN will have their own makeup people, smaller ones won’t and you’ll need to do it yourself.  I’ve been done up by professional makeup artists several times by now and I’ve learned that I basically need to put on enough makeup to look scary.  When I have enough makeup on to frighten myself in the mirror, I know I’ve got enough on.

Here’s an example.  Yesterday, I was interviewed by “Literary News” with Chris McKenzie for Evergreen Radio, which will be broadcast on KUOW-FM:Seattle, KPBX-FM: Spokane, and KFAE-FM:Richmond.

Jean Kwok recording for Evergreen RadioJean Kwok with Chris McKenzie and John Pai

It’ll also be a podcast, but that’s all voice, right?  No visuals.  Wrong.  I was met by John Pai, the Producer, and he was holding a big ol’ camera.

Here’s another tip: if you wear makeup, be sure to always carry enough to make yourself look scary.  I ducked into the bathroom, frightened myself in the mirror, then came out.

Chris was so amazing hosting the interview, and we had a great time.

Then that evening, I had an interview with Larissa Min for the INTERNATIONAL EXAMINER right before my reading at the Elliot Bay Book Company, which is a legend among independent bookstores.

Jean Kwok and Larissa Min for THE INTERNATIONAL EXAMINER

Again, lots of photos were taken of me for the interview.  The reading was great as well:

Jean Kwok at Elliot Bay Book CompanyJean Kwok with her youngest fan

And I got to pose with my youngest fan, my old friend Rich Louie’s son, Keon, who is adorable!

So my point is, while we wouldn’t want to frighten the neighbors, do be prepared to look presentable at all times on your tour.

4. Say thank you.

A lot of people have done a lot of work to finalize all of the details for your tour, and I think it’s really important to thank everyone you meet.

I personally also make sure to be nice to my media escorts.  You can always recognize them because I get carsick like a five-year-old and the only way to address this is to have the air on at maximum the whole time I’m in the car, so my media escorts are the ones who look like they’ve just escaped from a tornado, because they have.

Another thing I’ve realized since this book tour is that hotels are very nice to authors.  You’ll find the funniest things in your room, like:

Goldfish in hotel room

Much as I enjoyed the company, I find myself worrying about the fish.  There doesn’t seem to be anything more vulnerable than being a goldfish named Debbie in a hotel room, and I also didn’t know if she liked the light on or off.

And hotels will give you stuff, like bottles of wine and extra flowers and chocolates.  At one hotel, I found a copy of my book.

‘That’s a strange gift,’ I thought, ‘I already have a copy of my book.’

I was about to pack it in my suitcase when I finally read the accompanying letter, which asked me to sign the book and give it back.  Good thing I read it.  At times, hotels will also write you handwritten notes, welcoming you – I always feel sorry for the staff person who was forced to do that.  And sometimes the manager even waits for you in the lobby to shake your hand.

In any case, since I can’t really get sloshed every night on the bottles of wine they give me, I always pass them on to my media escorts.

5. Things to have with you at all times.

There are certain things I always keep with me now.

Makeup, as mentioned earlier.

A copy of my book, because an interviewer for television or radio can suddenly ask you to read a passage from it.

Sharpies, for signing books.  I never knew this before, but most authors sign with Sharpies, and it seems that bookstores and readers like that as well.  I’m not sure why, but it certainly makes your little signature look really big and black.

A small blank notebook, for taking notes on the road or during an interview.  Sometimes during a radio interview, I’ll think of something I want to come back to later and I can quickly scribble down a note for myself instead of stuttering like crazy because my head is overloaded.

Camera.  I like giving it to my incredibly windblown media escorts, so they can get some photos while I do events.  That way, I have a record of the tour.

Laptop.  I’d thought about trying to just bring an Iphone or Blackberry instead, and I’m so glad I have my little pink netbook with me.

Jean's pink netbook

It allows me to stay up-to-date with things like my blog, and I could never have written that article for the NY DAILY NEWS (see earlier entry) otherwise.  And don’t knock its pinkness.  Most security guards at airports, which you’ll be seeing a lot of, are too busy saying, “Awwww, what a cute laptop” to send you to the Possible Terrorist room.

Your media schedule.  I actually bought a bag that was big enough to carry all of these things, and it was essential that it could hold my unfolded media schedule (so, the size of an unfolded sheet of paper).  Why unfolded?  Because chances are, your schedule will be too thick to fold.

Jean's handbag

You must keep your media schedule with you every waking moment of the day because it will tell you where you are, where you’re supposed to be, who’s going to meet you, and who you need to call when things go wrong. If you’re anything like me, you can lose track of where you are.

I was waiting at the airport yesterday, and the nice lady sitting next to me asked me where I was going.

“One moment,” I said, pulled out my schedule, and then announced, “Denver.”

She looked at me strangely, then decided to give me the benefit of the doubt and asked, “Where are you coming from, dear?”

I thought a second, then had to search my schedule again.  “Seattle.”

That was when she got up and changed seats.

BTW, I’ll be reading at The Tattered Cover in Denver tonight (I know this because I just checked my schedule).

2 comments » | National Book Tour, Publishing

How to go from complete unknown to published author

February 25th, 2010 — 10:37pm

First of all, you probably shouldn’t listen to me.  The only reason you might even consider listening is because I was pulled out of the slush pile, without any connections, for the two most important moments in my professional career: my first publication and when my agent found me.  I’m going to tell you the twelve things I would tell my best writer friends.  (It seemed like a nice number.)

1)  Stop.  If you can stop writing, do it.  Or at least if you can stop hoping to become a professional writer, go do something else.  Why?  Because it is hands down the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, creatively and business-wise, and pretty much the only people left in the book business at all are those poor (and glorious) suckers who can’t let go of their love of books.  Otherwise they’d be making millions doing other stuff.

2)  Are you still reading?  OK.  If you can’t stop writing, if you’re one of those people who will obsess about writing or not-writing for the rest of their lives, then I urge you to show your work to some other people.  Preferably people you are neither related to nor sleeping with.  Yes, there are solitary geniuses who absolutely need to work alone, but I find it very helpful to get some feedback.  Even if they completely misunderstand what you’re trying to do, you can use that information to deliberately mislead your readers, who will also no doubt misunderstand what you’re trying to do.  Think of it as a breath of fresh air for your work.

3)  Make sure the structure works before you fine-tune the language.  I know I’m going in the face of a lot of popular wisdom here and don’t get me wrong – I LOVE to work on the language.  I’m a voice-driven author myself and I can’t set a word on paper until I hear the right voice in my head.  However, for me, the voice is not enough.  I need to know that the whole foundation is basically right before I build the house.  Otherwise, I can throw away hundred of (beautifully written!) pages later that don’t work.  I know this because I did.

4)  Remember in fiction that there are two timelines: 1) the actual order in which your events happened and 2) the order in which you chose to reveal them to the reader for maximum impact.  Write down the first for yourself and figure out the second one as a part of the structure of your piece.

5)  When you sit down to work, don’t set a time limit for yourself – set a word limit.  For me, that’s 1200 words a day, although when I’m under a deadline, I can write many times that.  I can sit in the chair and fill an entire morning doing something else if I don’t have a word limit.  However, when I know I can’t leave until I’ve produced a certain number of words, I’m motivated to get it done.

6)  If you tend to procrastinate (and who doesn’t), set a kitchen timer for five minutes.  Promise yourself that if you work non-stop and seriously for those five minutes, you’re allowed to stretch and take a break.  This is usually not-scary enough for most people to get going.  And once those five minutes are up, take a break, and then reset for another five minutes.  You can try ten or fifteen minutes if you’re up to it but keep it short.  You can write a whole book in fifteen minute spurts.

7)  For your first draft, don’t worry about making it good.  Just get it done.  Get the whole thing down on paper in the crappiest way possible.

8)  On your second and subsequent passes through the work, now is the time to make it as good as you possibly can.  Show it to people.  Don’t let it out into the professional world until it’s ready.

9)  If you have anyone who is incredibly generous enough to introduce you to their agent, make sure you’re ready before you submit.  You only have one shot.  Don’t fire off a submission because you’re bored or want to set a deadline for yourself or because it’s easier to work on the business angle than the writing itself.  If you need incentive, go buy yourself some diamonds instead.  Because diamonds are worth less than a good agent’s serious consideration.

10)  If you have someone who knows an editor in publishing who might be willing to look at your un-agented submission, don’t do it.  Get an agent first.  Again, I know I’m going against popular wisdom here.  I mean, who would turn down the chance to have a real editor read their work?  The thing is, your work can be brilliant but in my humble opinion, that editor is not going to read it with the same positive expectations as they would if it had been submitted to them by a reputable agent.  I think chances are high they’ll turn it down.  (Of course, there are exceptions, but in general, this is what I believe.)  Then, when you finally get that reputable agent, the first thing she’ll ask you is, “Where has this been sent?”  If you got turned down by some editor at Norton, for example, your agent can’t resubmit there, while she may well know a Norton editor who would have loved it.

11)  Believe in yourself and your work.  When my friend, a fierce dancer, goes to an audition and doesn’t get the job, she says, “It’s not that they didn’t like me.  They didn’t even SEE me.”  And that’s almost always what it is.  She just dyes her hair a different color and goes back in again the next time they have auditions.  In writing, you can’t resubmit to the same person but just keep going.  Don’t let the rejections knock you down.  Take a look at my FAQ page for more details on what happened to me.

12)  Don’t listen to anything here or anywhere else that doesn’t work for you.  Trust yourself and your own gut feelings.

16 comments » | Publishing, Writing

Scandinavian rights

February 3rd, 2010 — 9:49am

I just got great news this morning from Tracy Fisher, director of international rights at William Morris Endeavor:  foreign rights to Girl in Translation have been sold to Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark!  Very exciting!

My fantastic web designer, Ilsa Brink, has already started building the Dutch version of my website, which will be at www.jeankwok.nl

This means that I need to get her the Dutch translation as soon as possible.  Sigh.  I worked as a Dutch-English translator for a long time but I always go from Dutch to English.  From English to Dutch is a whole other kettle of fish.  I’m calling on the help of native speakers but it’s going to take some time and a lot of head-scratching.  And Ilsa is so unbelievably fast, I call her Octopus Ilsa because she must be doing eight things at once.

And I’ve just been told that I should really submit all my receipts and bookkeeping from last year to the person who does my taxes (my long-suffering father-in-law) by this weekend!  So that means I have to sort through the bag of wrinkled, tea-stained receipts and try to make some sense of it all.  Hmmm, where did all those bank statements go?

Comment » | Publishing

Home again after pre-publicity tour

February 1st, 2010 — 9:30am

So now I’m back home in Holland again and incredibly jetlagged.  Although my last stop was in Ohio, I spent almost a week on the west coast so I’m actually dealing with a nine-hour time difference.  Of course, my two little boys woke me up at 6AM as usual today.

Speaking of Ohio, I am so glad I dragged my down coat and boots through half of America because I needed them there!  I’d gotten up at 3:30AM in Los Angeles so I could catch a flight to Ohio that would get me there in time for an event that evening.  Couldn’t really sleep on the plane.  I was feeling pretty tired by the time I got to my hotel and I needed to prepare for a telephone interview with Publishers Weekly in a few hours.  Then I saw the shower.  It was HUGE, with two rain heads, two shower heads and two rain bars.  I got in.  It was basically like a wild rapids water ride and by the time I managed to find the exit (did I mention it was huge?), I was wide awake.

Good thing too, because Laura Castellano, who did the PW interview, was really well-prepared and insightful.  And then another meeting that evening with some people who were warm enough to compensate for the freezing weather outside.

Finally, the long plane ride back to Holland.  It’s great to be back but it was also some trip.  I had so much fun and can’t wait until May 4, when the national book tour begins.  The novel will actually go into the world then and real people who aren’t professional book people will be able to read it.  How about that!

2 comments » | Pre-publicity Tour

Starr King Elementary School

January 27th, 2010 — 5:17pm

It’s been so great meeting booksellers and other book people at dinners across the country.  The best part of becoming a published writer for me is getting to meet so many people who genuinely love books, whether they’re readers or work as writers, booksellers, journalists, in book sales or publicity or marketing or whatever.

This morning, however, I did something a bit different and went to visit Starr King Elementary School in San Francisco, where my old friend Chris Rosenberg is the principal.  I visited several different classes and talked to the kids about writing, choices, and who we were in terms of race, gender or cultural identity.  They were so smart and thoughtful, and so far ahead of what I knew at their age.  The school has a very diverse population and has implemented a Mandarin Immersion Program.  Believe me, it is impressive to see those little kids chatting away in Chinese.  And the ones who weren’t in that program were equally wonderful, talking about use of detail, conflict, and the five senses in their writing.

My only problem was that I kept forgetting to call Chris “Principal Rosenberg.”  Sorry, Chris.  I mean, Principal Rosenberg.

Comment » | Pre-publicity Tour

Media lunch at the MOMA and mad cow joke

January 21st, 2010 — 10:40pm

When I was first told that NY journalists would be invited to a media lunch at the restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art to meet an author and that that author would be me, I was just a little nervous.  Actually, I was terrified.  However, something happened recently which changed everything: my brother Kwan died.  The heroine of my novel, Kimberly Chang, is also partly based upon him and his life, and his death helped put everything into perspective.  I was still nervous but I was also glad to be able to talk about my book, why I wrote it, and how Kwan was a part of it.

Everyone was extremely kind and I actually enjoyed myself.  I was pretty thrilled to meet the people who write for publications I admire, like USA Today, Publishers Weekly, Time, Reuters, Salon.com, Bloomberg News, and Good Housekeeping.   For example, I got to sit next to Sara Nelson (O, The Oprah Magazine), whose work I’ve read religiously for years.

Afterward, I went back to Riverhead/Penguin headquarters to meet with people from the academic publishing department and the Penguin Speakers Bureau, and then to shoot a video.  The two very nice and very skinny guys doing the filming swore they’d make me look good, somehow, because I was pretty convinced I looked just like a rabbit.  Then another meeting with publicity to go over my schedule because I start flying out tomorrow, and finally, I got back into the car to be driven back home.

Mo, my driver who happens to be built like a tank, told me 1) I didn’t look like a rabbit; and 2) a mad cow joke.  Here’s the joke:

So one cow says to another, “Hey, I’m pretty worried about that mad cow disease that’s going around.”

The second cow says, “I’m not worried.”

“Why not?  I heard my neighbor just got it.”

“Naw, it doesn’t affect me.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I just know, that’s all.”

“How come?  It can happen to any of us cows.”

“Because I’m not a cow, I’m a rabbit.”

I think this is really funny.  Maybe Mo tells it better.

Comment » | Pre-publicity Tour

The Amazing Mustafa

January 20th, 2010 — 8:41am

It’s been so great to be in NYC again!  There’s so much art and music here.  I love the street musicians in the subway.

My incredible publicity team sent me a huge basket from Zabar’s — not only chocolate and salmon but real bagels!  I’d just missed lunch that day because I was holed up preparing for everything that’s coming up this week, so it was wonderful to open the door and find a messenger with that basket filled with goodies.

When you’re 5’0″ and live in Holland, home to the tallest people in the world, you can’t do a lot of shopping there.  Before I arrived in the US, I’d ordered some clothing on the Internet to be sent to my mother’s house in NY.  I needed something more formal for the media lunch that would be given for me at the Museum of Modern Art.   After I got here, I tried them on:  nothing worked!  So I ran to the department stores.

Nothing fit that I liked.  However, I’d just found this fantastic tailor in the Lower East Side, Mustafa of the shop Laura & Melinda.  And I was desperate.  So I grabbed two outfits that were much too large (they don’t make them any smaller) and brought them to him with my fingers crossed.

I put the first one on and it basically looked like I was wearing a bag.  When I stepped out of the dressing room, the other people who were waiting had to giggle.  Mustafa started to yank his hair.

“They are SO BIG,” he said.  “Everything has to be completely remade. There are six separate pieces.   And there is embroidery.  And zippers.  And lining.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said, genuinely contrite.  I tugged at the skirt, which hung down almost to my ankles.  “How long will it take?”

“I require at least 14 days.”

I winced.  “I only have 4 days…  really really sorry.”

Somehow, he did it for me.  He phoned me at 11pm the evening before I needed them and I raced downtown in a taxi.  It was incredible.  Everything fit like a glove.  Except for one piece, which he couldn’t cut because the entire hem was embroidered.  I tried it on again and again while he made adjustments.  When he finally solved the problem, it was after midnight.  But both outfits looked like they’d been made for me, which they actually had been.

That’s my story of The Amazing Mustafa.

Comment » | Pre-publicity Tour

Leaving for pre-publicity tour

January 13th, 2010 — 7:39am

Getting ready to fly to the US today for the pre-publicity tour for my novel, Girl in Translation, which comes out in May.  Very excited but nervous too.  I’m still wondering if I should bring the big down coat and snow boots or if I should simply be cold….

Got good news today from my editor, Sarah McGrath:  the book’s just been chosen as a Blue Ribbon feature selection in all of the following clubs: Book of the Month, Doubleday, Literary Guild, Large Print, the Lifestyle Clubs, Rhapsody and Book of the Month Club 2!  It’ll be in their April catalogs.

Need to leave and am just going to bring all of the warm stuff.  The last stop of the tour is in Cincinnati, OH, which is at this moment 9 degrees F.

1 comment » | Pre-publicity Tour

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