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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Off the Path Author Interview: Sasha Soren!

I'm pleased as punch to welcome Sasha Soren, author of Random Magic, back to What Book is That?!

Sasha is no stranger to these parts, having been a frequent visitor in the past (check out her last WBiT? interview, the Random Magic Halloween Tour, or the Winterlong Reading Circle) and I'm so glad she's joining us today!

Random Magic

WBit: First off, updates, updates, updates! What's gone on in the world of Random Magic since your last visit to What Book is That?

Sasha: Two adorable tours, and if someone happened to miss them, they should definitely check out the archived tours because there are some really interesting, informative reviews about the book, and some cool special features to enjoy:

Random Magic Tour: Winterlong - Dec. 10 - Dec. 23, 2010 (check out the tour archive here.)

Random Magic Halloween Tour - Oct. 24 - Oct. 31, 2010 (check out the tour archive here.)

Apart from reviews of the book, there were also all kinds of interesting features, performances and events which made the tours fun for everyone.

WBiT: How have book blogs influenced the way you publicize your work? How can book bloggers be better prepared to help with publicity for an indie title?

Sasha: Book blogs are really cool! Everyone has their own style and personality, and it's just interesting to see how someone handles a particular book. So, it's fun to work with bloggers because everything is so personalized, you can think of things that that person enjoys and try to find a way to share info about the book that's actually fun, instead of a chore.

For example, know it's hard sometimes for people to just keep writing review, review, review. I can totally understand and sympathize with blogger burnout.

Well, then - perhaps along with a review, you can do something fun, like a video or a quiz or some sort of feature about something they particularly enjoy.  If someone likes music, then you can come up with some music feature sparked by the storyline of the book. If they like movies, you can do a casting session of the characters in the book. If they like fashion, you can find some way to have a feature related to that topic.  It's more creative and engaging for everyone than just sending out a book and waiting for a review to show up, you can actually find ways to complement the review with other interesting features.

By the way, this really applies mostly to bloggers who’ve already reviewed the book. If someone’s doing a review, then I just try to stay out of their hair and let them get on with it.

But if they’ve already reviewed the book and there’s a tour or some other event coming up, then there’s a chance to work on some other special features related to the book, and that’s always fun.

But on the question of how book bloggers can be better prepared to help with publicity for an indie title - just feel welcome to be creative. Indie authors don't have a whole publicity juggernaut to handle their publicity, they have to be inventive and creative, and so might as well have fun with it.  That is, a book blog is an individualistic endeavor, in that the blog is a reflection of a blogger's personality, and they have much more freedom to be inventive, compared to media outlets, where there's some particular format.  That's totally familiar territory to an indie author. So if the author and the blogger are both open to coming up with some interesting feature, some cool things can happen.

To actually help a little with publicity, it's also nice when a blogger thinks up some smaller items that also mention the book.  Including an indie title in a weekly meme like Trailer Thursday or Teaser Tuesday is quite nice, and gives the book a little bump, apart from an actual review.  Including an indie title in any kind of round-up or reading challenge or themed feature, also helpful.

For example, if someone's doing a feature with their picks about kick-ass heroines or the most fantastical fantasy stories (fantasy stories that completely break the mold), then featuring Random Magic (http://tinyurl.com/yl26xwa) as a pick would be a natural fit, and more people would learn about the book, in the context of a list of titles they might also like.  By the way - anyone who’s thinking about doing a feature or event or reading challenge about kick-ass heroines or offbeat fantasy titles, feel free to give a shout, definitely interested.

Indie titles don't have huge publicity budgets, so it might be hard for people to even hear about the book, in the first place.  So, the more mentions that a blogger can make of a particular book, the more helpful and thoughtful that is, which is why including the book in memes or general-interest features is always appreciated (and, yes, will usually notice and try to link to that blogger's post on Twitter, by way of saying thank you for the mention).

If there's a tour or special event for the book, it's really helpful if a blogger can quickly mention the tour or event on Twitter, with a link for info.  People might not notice the event the first time, or the second time, or the third time, but then suddenly, they notice it and might check it out or share a link.

So, yes, definitely, if you're a book blogger and want to help publicize indie books, or a particular indie book you love, then definitely quantity is as important as quality.  If you really enjoyed such-and-such book, then definitely say something, and it's even better if you say it a few times, although not to the point that everyone is sick of hearing about the book.

WBiT: As an author, what do you consider to be a good interaction between a blogger and an author?

Sasha: Probably the same between any two people, really. I tend to have a distinct preference for smart, nice people who are also trustworthy and efficient.  So, if there's a smart person who's also very nice, polite, courteous, and so on, I would consider that blogger to be good company, and if some event or tour idea comes up, I will automatically think of him or her and potentially extend an invite, because it's just nice to spend time with interesting and pleasant people.

That’s just common sense. Who’d actually want to hang out with stupid and mean people? That doesn’t sound like a good time at all.

So, maybe the short answer to the question, 'What would you consider to be a good interaction between an author and a blogger?' would be:

* Mutual respect and courtesy
* Mutual inventiveness and creativity
* Mutual attention to craftsmanship
* Mutual reliability and dependability
* Mutual frankness and integrity
* Mutual lookout for details and deadlines

And, finally, just be good company. Then of course it will be much easier to run up some cool ideas and suggestions or observations or invitations.  They don’t necessarily even have to be Random Magic-related, just something that might be useful or fun, because I can definitely appreciate quality craftsmanship. If you care about your blog, then so do I.

WBiT: Have you encountered negative viewpoints from people regarding indie books?  If so, how do you address these viewpoints?

Sasha: Not really. Well, not in relation to Random Magic anyway. People don't usually even realize that Random Magic is an indie title, the reaction's more like, 'Oh, cool. How’ve I never heard of this book before? It sounds like fun!'  You know, like they just assume it's a book published by a mainstream publisher, just maybe a smaller imprint, so there isn't a big publicity push behind it.

I can definitely see why a lot of people are attracted by independent projects of all kinds, though.  I do tend to prefer indie music and movies, also, because I've noticed that they're usually much better than mainstream music or movies.

This makes sense, if you think about it - mainstream music and movies are typically uninventive and pretty bland, because they're geared to appeal to everyone, they have to be predictable.  Whereas with indie music and movies, anything goes. There’s no committee to make decisions, so it’s a much more individualistic and creative type of endeavor.  A mainstream project is like an assembly line, whereas an indie project is more like a talented but temperamental chef. Unexpected things can happen and often do.

Also, with an indie movie, the producer can't rely on a $60 million budget to hire well-known actors and have lots of special effects.  So, the script has to be good. The actors have to be good. The cinematography has to be good. There's just nothing to hide behind; in a big budget film, maybe you can cover a bad script with a lot of car chases and explosions and so on.

In an indie film, if the dialogue is atrocious, there's nothing else to distract the viewer. The movie has to stand alone and deliver a good story, good performances, good sound quality and music and inventive cinematography.  Maybe it's due to getting around the restrictions of budget, or maybe it's just because quite a few stories told by indie filmmakers are too offbeat to appeal to mainstream sensibilities in the first place, but there are some really inventive and kick-ass indie films out there.  You do have to look for them, though, they're not just going to show up being advertised on television or radio or in a trailer at the latest cineplex.

Of course, there are some indie films that are just as bad as mainstream films, because they're like bad imitations of a low-quality product. Just because a film is an independent film, that doesn't guarantee that it's going to be a good film.  But the odds are much greater that you're going to be in for a treat if it's an indie film, vs. a mainstream film, because indie films can take more gambles with story, character, even the way they shoot the actual film.  They just tend to be much more creative, unexpected, honest, poetic, hilarious, thoughtful, all kinds of things that you just can't find in a summer blockbuster.

Same thing with indie music. The best music is nearly always something you'll find way off the radio dial. Because the artists are working on their own, and don't have to appeal to everyone and are usually rebellious and won't conform just to get music deals, you're guaranteed something much more personal.  Now, it might still be a boring track or album, because someone is trying to mimic mainstream music. But if someone is genuinely talented and just out there doing their thing, and you take the time to hunt around and see what's out there, you'll find some amazing music.

It's all out there waiting for you, right now. You only have to get sick of being spoon-fed the same stuff on the charts, and do a little peeking, here and there.  Music blogs can spot some really good music artists, or you can sort of hunt around on YouTube or check out music streaming sites, or just ask around - there are lots of interesting people making good music out there, but you won't hear them on a local or national radio station.

Actually, interestingly enough, on the Winterlong tour there was a blog hop featuring music, and, come to think of it, I would say more than half of the tracks featured are actually by indie artists! If you have a listen, fairly sure you'll like most, or at least, many, of these songs.

I kind of feel the same way about indie books, also - I'm willing to go out of the way to find something cool and interesting. If it's a good book, I'll read it.  There is a bias against indie books, but I can see why that's so. Sometimes people who have no experience in writing at all will put together a book, with absolutely no thought about quality, and the results are disappointing - typos and grammatical errors and unnatural dialogue, indecipherable fonts and so on.

That's not to say that just because someone spells words incorrectly, they can't spin a good story - everyone knows at least one good raconteur who can stand up at a pub or party and keep everyone entertained.  Telling a good story on paper takes a separate set of important skills, though. You have to acquire the correct tools and learn how to use them properly.

To illustrate, we can compare writing to another creative art - some craft that requires natural creativity but also technical proficiency and patiently acquired expertise.  Pottery, for example. You can’t just hurl a batch of clay at a wheel and poke and prod and expect to come up with a priceless vase.  You might have a natural aptitude for shaping clay, but you’ll also have to work day in and day out to acquire exactly the right technique needed to make a vase, a plate, a cup, a series of ornaments. It doesn’t just happen. Even if the natural gift is there, it’s useless without the supporting framework, like a flame without a candle.

So, just like there are indie films that are poor quality, there's indie music that's poor quality, and the same goes for indie books. Every element has to be there - creativity, craftsmanship, originality, and so on. If something is lacking, then the experience won't be a satisfying one.  If every element is there, though, the experience can be really wonderful. As with indie films and indie music, you just have to have a look around.  There are some nice indie books out there, though - you just might not have heard of them, so it's worth asking around. There are only a handful of bloggers who actively review indie authors, but they might be able to help you find some fantastic reads. 

WBiT: 2011 has just begun! What are your plans for the new year?

Sasha: Oho!

Er, that is - one never knows, does one? Let's say that a new year is a new opportunity to make mischief in the most delightful way, and the odds are good there might very well quite possibly be a bit of random magic about this year.

Any new bit of frivolity is always announced first at http://tinyurl.com/2597jl8> @RandomMagicTour, so please feel free to visit (or can just click 'follow,' if you like, which is the easiest option, since the info will just show up on your screen without having to make any effort to go look it up).

All Random Magic tidbits show up there, first, and I also try to mention other interesting events on book blogs, so it's a nice daily read, in any case, and everyone is certainly welcome to come chill out there if they find the atmosphere agreeable.

If you're a blogger who enjoys indie titles, or are planning an indie author event, please feel free to link up or leave a comment - word of mouth is usually the best way to find good indie films or indie music, and the same is true for indie books.  So if you have some interesting indie feature or meme or title you'd like people to know about, feel free to share, and I will check it out if it sounds interesting.

In the meantime, here's a cute and innovative blend of indie music-indie book-indie film - a nice video performance of a charming song, inspired by the book Random Magic!:


Is your mind blown?  My mind is blown. Check back on Thursday for a further education from Sasha, who has more knowledge, expertise, and insight to share!
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