New York Times Sunday Book Review!

No need to wait until Sunday!  The New York Times Sunday Book Review was published online this afternoon, and (I still cannot believe it) my book, SOMETHING MISSING, was included! 

My book.  My name.  In the Sunday Book Review. 

The review is short but very positive, and it’s the third book listed. 

I still can’t believe it.   

In good company

The Hartford Courant published a blurb about my appearance tonight at RJ Julia entitled “Mathew Dicks and Dr. Ruth.”  Surprisingly, I received considerably more attention than the famed sex therapist in the short piece.

Never could I have ever envisioned my name being published alongside that of Dr. Ruth.

Matthew Dicks and a world renowned German sex therapist. 

Let the jokes begin.

Uncles can apparently sell books, too.

Not to be outdone by my mother-in-law

My Uncle Bob recently sent me some copies of SOMETHING MISSING to sign and return to him so that he could give them out as gifts.  He also provided me with a FedEx shipping label to cover the cost of their return, and I assumed that his address and other information was contained within the barcode.  It was not, and so the package went out without an address.

Fortunately, the FedEx label did contain the name and contact information of the purchaser, so the company contacted Uncle Bob to retrieve his address.  In the midst of the conversation with the representative, he said, “It’s very important that the package arrive safely.  My nephew wrote a book and he signed some copies and was sending them back to me.”

The representative assured Uncle Bob that the package would arrive by tomorrow and the they concluded their conversation.  Five minutes later, his phone rang. 

“Hi, this is Claire from FedEx.  What’s the name of the book that you mentioned?”

Uncle Bob told her the title and the premise of the story. 

“I’m going to buy that book!” she said.  “It sounds really interesting!”

It’s nice to have such enthusiastic, persuasive family members.

The best of all booksellers

I have some amazing people working to promote my book: my agent, my editor, my publicist, and all of the booksellers working for my publisher and staffing fine bookstores everywhere.   

But sometimes I wonder if my mother-in-law might not be the best of the bunch.  I received this email today:

So I went into Posner's Bookstore at Grand Central Station and asked why the book was not on the front table of the store. The man looked it up and discovered that they had one copy.

"So where is it?" I asked.

"In the mystery section."

"OK.  Let's check it out."  I found it on the shelf tucked ALL THE WAY in the back of the store on the next to lowest shelf of the mystery department.  I explained that my son-in-law had been written up on the FRONT PAGE of the Sunday Courant, written about in the Boston Globe, and written about in USA Today, and how could they possibly sell this one measly book if they have it in the section that it doesn't even belong in?  I was outraged.

"Well, I will look into this and peruse the book," said the poor chap!

"Yes, and talk to your boss about ordering more copies for all of your Connecticut shoppers.  They will be looking for the book."  I explained that both Barnes and Noble and Borders has the book displayed prominently in ALL of their stores and that they are doing themselves a disservice by having only one copy hidden away. I told him that I will be back in two weeks and that hopefully it will be on the front table (at least six of them) then.

He laughed and said that he will do his best. He is going to look through the book and then talk to his boss.

I'm doing my best to promote and sell the book. On the lower shelf in the back of the store in the mystery department?  Damn!  We can't have that!

Is SOMETHING MISSING a bestseller yet?

A lot of people, friends and strangers, via email, Facebook, Twitter, and in person, have been asking me how the book is doing in the bookstores.  Unsure myself, I asked my editor, who explained it to me that it can take a while to find out how a book is doing.  “Right now we’re very happy with the number in-print and out to stores, but it’s sort of in the consumer’s hands at this point.”

As the book sells, she explained, bookstores will place reorders, and if the book does not sell, the bookstores will return the books to the publisher.  Through this process, we will eventually get a sense of how the book is selling. 

She also told me that it can take a while for a book like SOMETHING MISSING to reach its audience (I’m no James Patterson), but that the work of the marketing department and my publicist will go a long way in spreading the word and building enthusiasm.  So tell your friends, your neighbors and complete strangers about the book whenever you can, and remind them that it makes a great gift and that I’m happy to sign any copy placed before me! 

My wife does this especially well.   

So in answer to all of you who have been kind enough to ask about the sales thus far, the short and honest answer is that we have no idea how the book is doing and won’t know for a while. 

On an anecdotal basis, I can tell you that most of the bookstores in my area are sold out and many of the reorders have already been claimed by people who were placed on a waiting list, but I have lots of friends in the area, so this isn’t too much of a surprise.   

Friends and relatives have also reported that the book is sold-out in stores in New Jersey, Florida and Massachusetts, but again, there’s no telling if the stores in question ordered one book or twenty books, so these reports are difficult to rely upon.

Amazon gives every book a sales rank based upon sales conducted through their site, and I have a friend who has been watching my sales rank closely and reporting it to me, but even this data is difficult to understand.  On Tuesday, the release day, SOMETHING MISSING jumped from #68,000 to #25,000, and by Wednesday afternoon it was at #8,000 and had cracked the top 100 in the humorous category. 

But a day later it had shot back up to #42,000, and today the book ranks #6,152 as I write this post. 

So who knows?  I assume that my book is so new that the numbers will remain volatile for some time, but I have no idea how Amazon’s sales rank works or what the data even represents.

But when I hear some news, good or otherwise, I’ll be sure to share it here with all of you!

Book clubs: A good use of my time? Or just plain fun?

As a first time novelist, the publishing process is new to me, and so I’m not quite sure what typical authors do to promote their books, communicate with readers, and make themselves available to the general public. I have wonderful people at Broadway working with me, but I’m also trying to do my part, using Twitter, Facebook, and this blog to reach out to potential readers.

Recently, a new opportunity for outreach and promotion has arisen: book clubs. In the past month, I’ve received requests to attend the meetings of about half a dozen book clubs, all of which plan on discussing SOMETHING MISSING, and the book isn’t even out yet!

Since the book has already been chosen as a Border’s Book Club pick, my participation in these book clubs seems to make a lot of sense, and to be honest, I love book clubs. I love talking about stories and authors and writing in general. And to think that I will not be required to read some potentially terrible choice from a fellow book club member (usually my wife, who chooses books using a bizarre and indecipherable process of Internet searches and obscure recommendations that seems to inevitably yield a week of painful reading) is just an added bonus.

My question, though, for the authors, publishers, booksellers, and publicists in the world is this: Is this something that authors routinely do, and is it a good use of my time? Sure, these meetings will be fun, but will they generate sales, buzz, and the like? I’m not sure. Would I be better off spending an evening in a library or a bookstore, promoting my book, or could the time spent with these book clubs be worth the effort?

Product placement

In reading some of my Amazon reviews (I know I shouldn’t, but they’re still very good), I noticed that two people commented on the specificity to which I wrote about certain brand names in SOMETHING MISSING, wondering if I received money from the companies mentioned as a form of product placement.

Certainly a fascinating idea, and one that I wouldn’t mind pursuing in the future, but the reason behind my specificity is two-fold:

Martin, the protagonist in SOMETHING MISSING, is more detail-oriented than anyone I know, and though he doesn’t tell the story first-person, I attempted to imbue the omniscient narrator of the story (me, I guess) with his characteristic obsession for detail as a means of enhancing and infusing the story with his character. My friend, Shep, referred to it as Martin-speak, and he heartily approved of the decision. So the use of brand names (Subaru Outback instead of station wagon, for example) was an attempt to do just this.

Also, I like to think that the reference to a Subaru Outback paints a different and far more specific picture in the reader’s mind than the word station wagon. Having grown up in the 1980s in the “way back” of a long, wide, wood-paneled station wagon, the word station wagon paints a very different picture than a station wagon of today.

But the idea of product placement in a novel is an interesting one. Would advertisers be intrigued by this idea at all? Unlike commercials, the references to specific products in a book could not be skipped over, but then again, if taken to the extreme, stories might become a morass of brand names and commercialism.

But it might be something worth exploring. For example, in my current manuscript, my protagonist, Wyatt, will eventually be driving a car. Probably a pick-up truck. If Ford would like to pay me to make that truck an F-150, with at least six specific references to it in the book, why not? As long as it fit the context and original intent of the story, would this be bad?

The businessman in me says no, but the writer and artist in me is beginning to wonder…

Trade paper

The decision has been made to publish SOMETHING MISSING as a trade paperback original rather than as a hardback. Doubleday’s marketing department believes that the book will do better in trade paper. My agent explained it to me this way:

The price point would be lower (paperbacks sell for about $14 while hardbacks sell for $22). This means more people can afford to buy the book, which is particularly important in today’s economy.

Advanced orders from bookstores like Barnes and Noble would more than double if the book was published in trade paper, because trade paper sells better, especially in this economic climate.

Big retailers like Target will sell trade paper, and we want the book in the big retailers.

Most book clubs wait for the trade paperback edition to come out, so their members can afford the book. Trade paper eliminates this problem, which is especially good considering SOMETHING MISSING will be a Book of the Month at Borders.

For a first-time author, trade paper can be an excellent way to start a career by putting more books in more hands immediately and generating more buzz. Also, publishers typically divide marketing budgets between the hardcover and trade paperback releases of a book, which can be bad if the hardcover copy does not initially sell well. By coming out initially in trade paper, more marketing dollars can be invested in the book’s initial launch, which can be very good for a first-time author.

It is becoming more common for authors to publish initially in trade paper.

My editor also informed me that since this decision was made, small bookshops have increased their orders of the book significantly.

On the con side, trade paper doesn’t get as much review attention, so our hope is that the marketing department can find a way to mitigate this loss. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears.

And of course, there’s a certain prestige to a hardback copy of your book, which will be lost with this decision. To be honest, this didn’t mean as much to me as it did to my wife and some of my friends (understandably), but in the end, I trust Doubleday and Broadway and simply want to put as many books in as many readers’ hands as possible. If trade paper is the way to make this happen, I’m all for it.

More kind words

Another blurb for SOMETHING MISSING came in yesterday, this one from David Rosen, author of I JUST WANT MY PANTS BACK.  He writes:

“A funny, suspenseful and thoroughly original debut that will keep you up to the wee hours flipping pages, having to explain your bloodshot eyes the next day.  Damn you, Matthew Dicks -- now everyone thinks I've been crying.”

I've already ordered Mr. Rosen's book.  He blurb struck me as amusing, so I'm hoping that the book will do the same.

More on the Border's Book Club selection

As a Border’s book club pick, SOMETHING MISSING will get three face-outs in a bay at the front of the store and will have 20% discounting. 

It also appears that I will have the opportunity to appear on Border’s book club channel, and that a Q&A, reading guide, and an excerpt of the book will also be posted on their site.


Border's Book Club selection

Good news! SOMETHING MISSING is going to be a Book Club selection at Borders!

Naturally I had no idea what this meant when I was first told by my editor via email, but based upon Melissa’s level of enthusiasm and the number of exclamation points that she used in the email told me that this was very good.

Though we don’t have any details yet, Taryn explained that this means that Borders likes me book and wants to help sell copies. “Having a huge chain on your team is GREAT news,” she says, and this means that the book will be featured on the book club portion of their website.

After forgetting to set my alarm, jumping out of bed two hours late, losing a chunk of prime writing time, and leaving the house without kissing my sleeping daughter goodbye lest she wake up, this was a much needed piece of good news.

Literary and humorous

Each day, Something Missing seems to pop up on another bookselling website, and each time Google Alert informs me of this, it’s just as exciting as the first time.

Though admittedly the book’s appearance on places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble were a little more breathtaking than the others.

What I’ve found most interesting of late is the categories under which the book is listed:

Fiction- Literary; Fiction- Humorous.

The Literary tag simply implies that the book is of a serious nature, focusing more on style, psychological depth, and character, whereas mainstream commercial fiction (the page-turner) focuses more on narrative and plot (this definition from Wikipedia).

I like this distinction. Though I actually think that the book is a bit of a page turner and has strong mass appeal, the English major in me would like to think that the book is more than just a paperback suspense novel about a thief. It certainly focuses more on character than plot (I started writing with the character in mind and no plot whatsoever) and I like to think that the attention I paid to stylistic elements have been noticed and appreciated.

But it’s the Humorous tag that has me especially intrigued.

You see, I cannot remember a single moment in the writing of the book when I tried to be funny. In fact, had you asked me if the book was humorous while I was writing it, I would’ve said, “No. No way. Not a chance in the world, buster.” In my mind, I was writing a story about an unusual and quirky guy and the life that he had created for himself, but never did I think the book would be considered humorous.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the humorous tag (what writer doesn’t want to be thought of as funny?), and in rereading the book, I saw the humor in the story, discovered it really, and found myself laughing out loud at my own words from time to time. But in some vomit-inducing, artsy-granola way, it wasn’t me being funny.

It was Martin.

Martin’s life; his thoughts and ideas, the way in which he lives, and the principles that guide him turned out to be funny. I didn’t try to make them funny, nor was I even aware of the humor in his life during the writing process. I only found it later. Once I had stopped whapping on keys.

So I find the tag quite surprising. When asked to describe the genre of my book, I have great difficulty. People seem to think that all fiction falls into one of four categories: Suspense, horror, political thriller and chick lit. Though Something Missing certainly has a good deal of suspense, it’s not a suspense novel. Taryn, my agent, has described the book as quirky fiction, and I think this is an apt description, though it often leaves people scratching their heads, wondering what the hell quirky fiction is.

In the future, perhaps I’ll add the word humorous to my mangled description.

It will at least make me feel good.

Inappropriate language

This evening, I attempted to open an Amazon Connect account, which would allow me to link this blog to the Amazon page where SOMETHING MISSING will be sold. It sounds like a great program. Not only will it link to the blog, but it will list my last three posts right on the Amazon page.

Step 2 of the registration process asks me to choose a name. Naturally, I typed my own name, Matthew Dicks, into the field.

After clicking Continue, I received this message:

ERROR: Your name cannot include inappropriate language.

I called Amazon to resolve the problem, and Kevin, the customer service representative, danced around the issue a bit before saying, “It may be your last name that’s causing the problem sir, as sophomoric as that may sound.”

You think, Kevin?

Long ago, I accepted the reality of my last name, and on the bright side, it certainly toughened me up. But when it costs me time and energy, as it has here, it’s still damn frustrating.

Amusing, too.