Jeannie Lin

Marketing, Trading and Having Fun

Today I’m talking to Jeannie Lin (author of Butterfly Swords and The Taming of Mei Lin) about a new marketing tool she’s using: Romance Trading Cards.

Jeannie, thanks for agreeing to chat about this fun tool.

You mentioned in your newsletter that there’s a “Community at Romancelandia.” Please excuse my romance-genre-ignorance.  Is “Romancelandia” an actual community title or just a term, like “blogosphere.” If it is a place, where is it?

Jeannie: Romancelandia is a term which incorporates the writers, publishers, agents, readers & bloggers of the romance community. I think the romance world is much more connected than other fiction genres. As a result, there actually is a “place”. It’s a combined sphere of the physical realm: booksignings, fan events, romance reader/writer conventions such as Romantic Times and RWA national conference. Then mix that all in with the blogosphere, Facebook, the Twitterverse. Soon it feels like everyone knows everybody.

Victoria: Now, about the cards, were they invented as a fun way for authors to meet and greet at conferences or what?! It’s such a neat idea, but I’m curious about its beginnings.

Jeannie: I think the reason why it took off was there were already a few authors doing them independently. I had spoken to a few authors previously about them since I wanted to do character cards. Then I caught wind of another Twitter conversation about doing romance hero cards. It felt like there was some potential there and all it took was the first handful saying, “Hey, if I do it, will you do it?”

Soon, we started hashtagging #romancetradingcards on Twitter and asking “Who’s in?” By the end of the first several hours, the number had grown over a modest ten authors. I sensed something would tip if we just nudged it so I put it on my website and started listing names. From there, other authors chimed in and it got to the point where authors and readers were asking each other, “Are you in on this #romancetradingcards craze?”

In less than five days, we created a pink RTC logo, authors Amanda Berry and Shawntelle Madison put up http://www.romancetradingcards.com , I ran and posted online tutorials, and more than a hundred authors had said they were IN.

It was the collective excitement about it that got the whole thing rolling. The beauty of the idea is it’s so simple and cheap to join. It allows authors to be creative and provide a way for readers to get something special and collectible that’s unique to each book—and it all hinges on the strong sense of community within the romance genre.

Victoria: What does it take to join the club? I’m assuming you need to have a published book, but what are the other rules? What information does each card need?

Jeannie: There are no rules. J The only requirement is that the author create and print the card and make them available to readers. The design is completely up to them. There are templates to provide people a starting point, but those are just suggestions. I think it’s wonderful to leave it completely open and I think that’s another reason why people are so excited about this. They can customize it and really make the cards reflect them, their books and their readers.

Victoria: Is there any talk of making these things into playing cards? That’s what I thought they were at first, to be honest and I can see where that concept could also be fun, though perhaps more for the fantasy market than Romance. (You mentioned Dragon.com and I can see EITHER form going like hotcakes there.)

Jeannie: Other people have thought the same. Everyone kept on asking me if they could still join. Some thought that after we hit 52 authors, no one else could come in. That’s not the case at all. There’s no reason why people can’t do playing cards if they wish. (See previous note about “No rules”) They can package cards together and give them away with gum. They can create a role-playing game around it in Pokemon/Yu-gi-oh style if they want.

That’s why I refer to this as grassroots/guerilla marketing. It’s growing organically and the experience evolves based on all the people participating.
And regarding DragonCon: I’m going this year. Who else is in? J
Victoria: To your knowledge, are there other genres adopting either approach (trading or gaming cards)?

Jeannie: I think the potential is there. I’m sure fantasy and paranormal authors have independently created these as promotions. All it takes is a little interest to get the ball rolling.
Victoria: Where did you go to get your cards made and how much did they cost? (If you don’t mind sharing the latter data.)


Jeannie: Many of us are using GotPrint.com simply because we’d used them before for other promotional materials like bookmarks and postcards. The cost is relatively cheap. 100 cards will cost you about $17 and 1000 is only a bump up to about $25. That’s not including shipping.

Where it can get more expensive is artwork and graphic design. Many authors are using stock images as well which can cost around $10-$20 each for nice ones. Some are hiring graphic designers to do the work, which makes sense because they’re job is to write and graphics programs can be time consuming. I designed and created my own, but I had previously commissioned character artwork for Butterfly Swords from an artist I liked on deviantArt.com. So in truth my Ai Li and Ryam cards are a bit expensive.

But you really can be in for about $20 and create a great card with a little computer savvy (see the Tutorials page on http://www.romancetradingcards.com) and a really nice cover.
Victoria: Thanks so much The whole concept has me stoked.

Jeannie: I’m glad to hear you’re stoked. The excitement I’ve seen from authors and readers has been quite uplifting. It’s so good to see people gather around and get excited about something positive. The beauty of it is we’re really seeing how fast the Internet and a community can mobilize and I’m just thrilled to see something positive go viral. Okay, maybe not quite viral, but at least feverish!  I hope it will be a great experience.

Interview with Jeannie Lin

Today, we’re talking with Jeannie Lin, author of “Butterfly Swords.” Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my ten thousand question interview! (For the REST of this interview, go to the Historical Novel Review site!)


I’ve read in a recent interview (http://sosaloha.blogspot.com/2010/10/super-tuesday-ocotber-5-celebrates.html) that you became a teacher and a writer because of your mom’s influence.  I’m assuming she also influenced your interest in Asian settings, but why the Tang Dynasty?

J.L:The very first exposure I got to the Tang Dynasty was through a Hong Kong series about Wu Zetian (Empress Wu) and then a sequel about her daughter, Princess Tai Ping. The series portrayed these women both as human and legend. I became fascinated with what it would take to be a woman of power in these times. The more I studied about the period, the more fascinated I became with the art, accomplishments, and social nuances of the time.

What research resources did you find most helpful? Library, Internet, travel, personal contacts?

J.L:All of the above. Though I’ve only traveled to China once and it was long before I realized I’d be writing a book. My dream is to go and take a Silk Road tour some day. I have books and books and books. (see picture) The internet, of course, has been fabulous. In recent years, more has been published about the Tang Dynasty. I’ve also made numerous connections with sword practitioners, travel writers, and other China history enthusiasts like yourself.

About how long did it take to write “Butterfly Swords” from your initial idea through research, writing, polishing, etc?    (And for additional points to help those of us still dreaming, how much time passed between your agent’s representation offer and publication?)
J.L: Butterfly Swords took I’d say about a year to write, including all the polishing and such. It was a finished manuscript after three months, but there were many rounds of revisions after that. Once my agent offered, it was sort of in end game. I had the Golden Heart nomination and editors were reading. My agent offered in April of 2009 and I sold July 2009. 

This is something I like to ask just about every writer I talk to because I find the varied responses fascinating: Every author works in a different way – would you share how you approach writing a novel? The way you set out the plot, your workplace, anything that contributes to the process.           
             J.L: I start out by plot-dreaming. (Hey, that’s the first time I’ve used that word.) Like right now, I’m    
            spinning ideas about two characters in my head. It’s a Romeo and Juliet type story where they  
            actually had to get married.  But their families are still at war with each other. So since they do start
            the care 
for each other, it actually keeps them apart because they know their respective families will
            try to exploit that. So I’m stirring ideas around. I see how they meet, I see some conflicted moments
            they have. I see vague shadows of the other characters.
There’s no plot there yet, but eventually I’ll sit down and do a general outline. Twenty-four chapters, three scenes each. Ha! Writers never say anything that concrete, do they? I’ll write the first three to five chapters without pressure. Then I’ll set aside two weeks and Fast Draft through most of the rest of the book. Then I slow down a bit at the end again. With this process, it takes me about two to three months to complete a manuscript. But then I revise like crazy. Writing is revising for me.   
Obviously you have “Butterfly Swords,” and “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I read in one of your other interviews that you do have other stories in this mileu. Are you working on them now? (Pleasepleaseplease.)
            J.L: The two other manuscripts are actually contracted and finished, except for editorial revisions.              
            There are also two more short stories coming. One is complete and one is in progress. 
If not, what are you planning for your next book?
J.L: Well, there’s that Romeo and Juliet story. There’s also a paranormal series in the works. Fingers crossed.

In addition to your writing, you are an author of several blogs and participate in several writing groups. How do you balance your writing with other pursuits?
             J.L:From my teaching and professional experience, I’ve learned how to schedule things in. I also type
             REALLY fast. After all that, I ask myself, “How much do you want this?”
J

You’ve been all over the place marketing Butterfly Swords , do you have any fun marketing suggestions that have worked well?
J.L: Fun suggestion…keep it fun for you! Remember that you are writing a book that most likely people similar to you will want to read. So I just dug inside myself – if I was my own super fan, what sort of things would make me excited about this book? For me it was the nostalgia of wuxia, the promise of romance and adventure. And the swords. If you see the launch celebration prizes, they’re all based on the ultimate geekery that went into Butterfly Swords.  
You mentioned in other reviews and a recent newsletter that Butterfly Swords will only be available in stores through the end of this month. After that, we’ll be ordering copies through Amazon. Why is that?
J.L: The reason the book only has one month in bookstores is that it’s part of a category line: Harlequin Historical. These books have multiple releases a month and are only in the bookstores for one month before they’re moved off to make room for the new month. 

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been pushing so hard for this month. Afterward, the book can only be ordered online.


So, if you want a free copy of Jeannie Lin’s book, please leave a comment either here or on the Historical Novel Review site. If you want to enter into Jeannie’s competitions, please got to her site for the launch celebration rules.


Addendum: If you haven’t read Jeannie’s prequel novelette to “Butterfly Swords,” you can buy “The Taming of Mei Lin” wherever e-books are sold: Amazon, Kobo, Harlequin. Stay tuned! The winner of our giveaway will be announced this evening.

Butterfly Swords Review

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)    Butterfly Swords is not the sort of book I think of when I look at Harlequin Romances.  I expect lots of hot and heavy breathing, but no whistling blades arcing into flesh. I certainly don’t expect Tang dynasty China. Yet Butterfly Swords carries itself with all the confidence of its warrior class heroine through scenes both sensual and blood-stirring, and all of it set within a tumultuous period of China’s history: the later Tang Dynasty (760s). The story does tweak history a bit in that the rebellion described is loosely based on the An Lushan rebellion, but the book’s events are fictional. In that sense, Butterfly Swords is an historical romantic fantasy.
     I read most of the book in one sitting, enjoying the flow and power of the author’s language. Then I decided I had read it too quickly to do it justice in a review, so I sat down a few days later and picked it up again. Darned if I didn’t get halfway through before remembering why I had decided to re-read it! It grabs and pulls in ways I can’t begin to describe. I can only appreciate the skill used.
     Consider the following scene where the heroine Ailey has agreed to a friendly duel with Ryam, the hero. If he wins, he will receive one kiss. If she wins, he has to take her to her family home in Changan.
     Ryam couldn’t resist the promise of a kiss to keep him company on the cold journey back to the frontier. It  might even be worth the risk of facing Imperial soldiers again – not that he intended to lose.
     Ailey stood across from him, poised and still. She shook the hair from her eyes with a slight toss of her head and her braid whipped over her shoulder. When she focused again on him, the young woman disappeared and a warrior stood in her place.
     The fight started here, at the moment of decision, long before his sword ever reached striking distance. Ailey radiated more determination than many a seasoned fighter. She bowed formally, bending slightly at the waist with her eyes trained on him. He considered, for a brief moment, whether Ailey had been bluffing all along.
     ‘Ready?’ he murmured.
     She flew at him.
     In a flash of silver, the butterfly swords cut tight lines through the air. He deflected in two sharp clashes of steel, surprised by the strength of the attack.
     ‘I thought this was a friendly match – ‘
     The next swipe of her blade whistled by his throat.
     Ailey pushed inside his defense without fear, without caution. For a second she darted within arm’s reach. He considered simply grabbing her and wrestling her to the ground. Pin her beneath him. The image lingered dangerously. Definitely not honourable.
     He had to jump back to avoid her knee as she drove it upwards.
     ‘I can’t take you to Changan if you kill me.’
     He twisted her next attack aside only to have her spring back, eyes dark with intent, a hint of green sparking within them. She left no room, no time to recover. His heart pumped hard as instinct took hold of him. According to her rules, he could only defend and not attack. He side-stepped and angled the strikes away. Ailey knew what she was doing, keeping him close so he couldn’t use his reach against her. She danced around him with deadly elegance, matching him toe to toe. The rhythm of it almost sexual.
     Better than sexual.
     ‘Ten,’ he announced.
     ‘Show me what you have,’ she retorted.
    
     The book had one surprising moment for me. The heroine’s first goal is to return to her family and reveal the treachery of her fiance, the treacherous General Tao. With the hero’s help, Ailey meets with her father and discovers that he’s aware of the General’s political ambitions. Her father requires her to marry Tao anyway and for some reason, the book’s path from then on took me to unexpected places. Not that I minded; I was simply surprised. The plot does move a little slowly as the hero debates whether he can have the life he wants with Ailey. After he concludes that he can’t, the villain captures Ailey.
     After a book’s length of errors, our hero decides to stand up for himself and what he wants. The actions he takes at that point moved me and fulfilled what I want from a book. Since this is a romance, you know you get a happy ever after. I won’t tell you how, but I can tell you a border guard’s love and desire for an imperial princess is satisfied in a realistic, but unsappy fashion.
     Make no mistake, this is not your mother’s Harlequin. This is the sort of romance that has crossover appeal  (potentially) to both sexes,  to readers of straightforward history and to the fantasy crowd who tend to love history.

Stay tuned tomorrow as I’ll have a free copy available!

Jeannie Lin – Guest Blogger: Deep Culture versus Surface Culture

I feel like I’m introducing a star and am just a wee bit giddy. By now you’re all familiar with “The Taming of Mei Lin.” I’m delighted that the author, Jeannie Lin, has agreed to do a guest blog today!

Victoria and I belong in a group that she started for authors of Asian novels and we often discuss issues specific to writing Asian characters and subject matter for an English language audience. One of the tricky challenges is how to represent the cultural background of the characters authentically.
Something I always keep in mind when writing any character is the idea of deep culture versus surface culture. It was something first pointed out to me in my teaching program and it’s a good way of deconstructing what really makes a culture distinct.
Surface culture refers to the things that are outwardly visible and more easily identified by observing people from the culture. The clothing, the food, and the customs. These are the immediate things that come to mind when we think of other cultures. For Tang Dynasty culture, examples would include the silk clothing and hair styles. It would include etiquette such as bowing. Even folklore and mythology are part of surface culture.
Deep culture is harder to detect. These aspects go down to the belief systems that members of the culture hold common. You may start to get a feel for it after spending an extended period of time within a culture. Examples of this would be ideas about death and family. In Asian culture, it’s not uncommon to speak about previous lives or next lives. We even do this in everyday conversation of a non-spiritual nature. 
It can be as subtle as the concept of time. For example, it’s understood among Asians that if you get invited to a wedding at 5pm, everyone knows not to show up until 7pm and, if lucky, you’ll eat around 8. Westerners have a very different concept of time. In Western culture, it’s respectful to be on time if not early.

Of course there are individuals within each culture. People who go against the grain know they are going against the grain, and it should show in their character. When I got married, my mother specifically told guests to observe “American time”. Mom is a business woman and hates it when people don’t respect schedules, but she also understands this cultural aspect, as shown by how she admonished my wedding guests!

When it comes to writing a historical novel, surface culture is easy to throw out there. We can dress them in embroidered silk robes. Put carvings of dragons in bas relief over temple walls. We can have our characters bow and observe proper status.
Deep culture is how writers truly create authenticity. If we describe these beliefs explicitly, then it feels unnatural, as if the book is lecturing rather than storytelling. The challenge is subtly weaving details of deep culture into the characters’ internal thoughts and emotions as we create their world view. No matter what your character’s ethnic background, this infusion of deep culture is what convinces readers that they are living, breathing people. This is true of Regency England, or the American West, or Tang Dynasty China.
When I’m reading a historical, this infusion of deep culture is more convincing than clothes or dates or facts and ultimately—way more satisfying.
Jeannie Lin writes historical romantic adventures set in Tang Dynasty China. Her short story, The Taming of Mei Lin from Harlequin Historical Undone is available September 1. Her award-winning debut novel, Butterfly Swords, will be released October 1, also from Harlequin Historical. Join the launch celebration at http://www.butterfly-swords.com for giveaways and special features. Visit Jeannie online at: http://www.jeannielin.com

The Taming of Mei Lin – Outtakes

Last post I promised to share one of the many points in this story that had me chuckling, so without further ado, I’ve chosen a scene that follows closely on the last one. Mei Lin comes to see Shen Leung, but she doesn’t have a strong plan in mind:
  
     The scent of her hair assailed him. Orange blossoms mixed with something mysterious and feminine.
     “You smell nice,” he said dully.
     She said nothing. All he did was turn his face the slightest bit and his cheek brushed inadvertently against hers. Smooth, cool skin.
     He inhaled. “You wore perfume to come and kill me?”
     A ribbon of tension rippled through her, but nothing for him to be alarmed at. Yet. She took a long, shuddering breath before she spoke.
     “I wasn’t coming here to kill you at first.”
     “No?” He couldn’t help himself. He burrowed into the space above her shoulder.  His lips brushed her neck. Just enough to still be accidental. He hoped.
     “I first thought I would…I came her to…” She let out a sigh, defeated. “I thought I would seduce you.”
     Fierce, hot lust slammed into him. He stiffened and hoped that the quilt was strategically wedged between them.
     “But when I saw you, I realized I had no idea how to seduce a man. So I thought it would just be easier to kill you.”
     Laughter erupted out of him.

Me, too.