There is an old line, oft-spoken in the book world, about publicists or publishers pulling a fake quote from a bad review. It doesn’t happen much any more, that I know of, though it is still fairly common in the film industry.

I’m talking about where a reviewer wrote, “The awkwardness of the language here is remarkable.” and the book jacket shows: “Remarkable!”

As I say, not too common these days, best I can tell. But there is an art of sorts to pulling short quotes from long reviews and I enjoy watching what publicists do it, and playing the game with them, sometimes. The phrase an author likes most may not be what a publisher judges will appeal most to possible buyers.

Which is all a back door way in to saying that the last few days – and the week ahead – are very much about the earliest responses to River of Stars, pending ‘official’ release on Tuesday. I will confess to a personal awkwardness (‘Remarkable!’) in relaying reviews, here or elsewhere. If they are negative (gods forfend!) why would I post them? If they are positive, even though the nature of the process suggests I broadcast them widely, I feel self-conscious. I’m proud of the novel, and truly delighted (sometimes moved) by an intelligent response to it, but I’m happiest when the publishers do most of the heavy-lifting on getting word out as to reactions. And they do, and will.

At the same time, this Journal is supposed to be about the process of a book coming into the world, and – as the header here suggests – reviews are a big part. So I will say that the early assessments this week online, and this morning’s Globe and Mail (which remains Canada’s pre-eminent books page) have been wonderful.

I am not going to do full links here (forgive me!), I just don’t like it. But you can chase a few down at, Fantasy Book Critic,, Fantasy Literature, a website called Beauty in Ruins, and the Globe and Mail website. The Globe review is by the novelist Robert Wiersema, someone whose careful reading through many reviews over the years I greatly admire – which makes a strong review even more rewarding, obviously.

What I will do, after hesitating for awhile (I admit), is show here what has been ‘pulled’ in anticipation from a few of these by the publicists. Quotes like these go out right away to other media, to the sales force (gives them ammunition and motivation to have strong reviews in hand). They also end up in ads, and on later editions of the book – or other books by the author.

How much do reviews matter? Really big, unresolved discussion topic in the industry. One study suggested that the main two elements affecting sales are word-of-mouth (friends recommendations, mainly, but that may be shifting to sites like GoodReads) and book covers. (Covers do matter, it seems.) Price has an impact (that’s why bestsellers stay bestsellers – they are often discounted.) And reviews do for some readers. My instinct (feel free to comment on all this, by the way!) is that a lot of good reviews, 2-3-4 pages of them inside a paperback have a cumulative impact on a possible buyer. A single quote saying ‘Terrific!’ (‘The pleasure I derived from throwing this across the room was terrific.’) may not mean much, unless, perhaps, if written by a superstar figure. The discussion continues, all the time, as publishers try to sort out how to get word of a book out to the world. (Hint: social media is it, these days.)

In any case, here are some quotes that have been circulating among the Team River of Stars (as Elena named them) this week. You can chase the original reviews down and see if you’d have chosen differently.

‘River of Stars is the sort of novel one disappears into, emerging shaken, if not outright changed. A novel of destiny, and the role of individuals within the march of history, it is touched with magic and graced with a keen humanity.’ (Globe and Mail)

‘I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Kay is the greatest fantasist of our generation… I’m still reveling in the post-read trance, but I think even with time this will prove to be among my favorites of his works…’ (Fantasy Book Critic)

‘…graceful, lyrical prose, beautifully drawn characters, moments that stab the heart, a masterful sense of structure and pace, and an overall elegance and skill that denotes a novelist in complete control of his creation.’ (Fantasy Literature)

‘Kay on a bad day remains many times more absorbing than the vast majority of other genre authors, and I dare say River of Stars chronicles him on a great day. This is stunning stuff from one of fantasy fiction’s finest. From one of fiction’s finest, frankly.’ (

‘Kay has the uncanny ability to depict the grand sweep of historical events through the eyes of those living through them…What’s even more amazing is how through his careful rendering of character and environments we are drawn into this history…River Of Stars is an exceptional piece of work.’ (

Honestly, I look at these and feel immensely grateful. After a number of years, each time, I send a novel into the world, and it is deeply rewarding to see it responded to in this way. Too early for another drink, but …



Wile E. Kayote

I am willing to accept that I am the only one who laughs at the header. (I have made the joke before, I confess.)

But the feeling is there. You know those scenes in the Roadrunner cartoons where the legs are spinning like mad before the character gets moving? That’s my mental image sometimes these days. So far, no sense that I have run over the edge of the cliff, but then Wile never does know that till he looks down, does he?

Basically, have been running at the desk for days now, since New York trip (which was its own run-run). There are times in the writing process when it is intense and draining, and also when editing to a deadline, but this is different,

The pre-release phase for a novel, with marketing and promotion well underway, and the launch and then touring to come (and be planned) is a different kind of energy. Some love it, some loathe and avoid it. I ‘get’ why this is important, why it is part of a writer’s job, working with publishers who have invested in him or her. I try to make it as much fun as I can, for me, for readers. That may include bad puns. (Have you checked out the first few entries in the #riverofstars 50 Shades contest on Twitter? Have you entered?)

Reviews have started to arrive, too. There are some authors who say they don’t read their reviews. I am never sure if I believe them. Part of why most of us do what we do is to share our creativity and our thoughts with others, and a sense of how and if that is taking place seems a part of that process. Otherwise, why publish? (Well, yes, to pay the rent or mortgage, but…)

I do understand the writers who have a spouse or friend read the reviews first and only pass on the good ones (I know people who do that) … the process of writing a book can be so difficult, so lengthy, so exposed, that to have someone be glib and uncomprehending in a throwaway paragraph can be a horrific feeling. It isn’t just the thin-skinned who can be afraid of that.

I am really, really pleased by the early responses to River of Stars, some comments leave me feeling profoundly rewarded. It can go the other way, of course. The great Richard Ford (and his wife) put bullets through a book by Alice Hoffman when that novelist gave him a bad review – then sent the book to her. Google the story. This is from Gawker: “Well my wife shot it first,” says Ford, rather proudly. “She took the book out into the back yard, and shot it. But people make such a big deal out of it – shooting a book – it’s not like I shot her.” Enough to make someone give up reviewing. And, with respect to a very fine writer, shooting a book is kind of a big deal.

A wise writer friend once commented that the very best reviews are ‘intelligent good ones’ and the worst are ‘intelligent bad ones’ because the unintelligent bad can be dismissed and the unintelligent good don’t nourish. There’s more to the process than nourishing creativity, of course. What remains uncertain is how much reviews matter these days. Or even what counts as a review? A short bit on Goodreads or Amazon? Those can actually be places for some really thoughtful writing. There are, for example, two long pieces on Goodreads I was sent to, about Tigana, that are as generous and perceptive as anything written anywhere. And major papers can run rushed, lazy commentary. The venue may make a difference as to impact, but doesn’t automatically imply quality.

It is all kind of interesting actually, another aspect of the cyber-age and how we are all adapting to it.

I gave an essay, “On Rereading” to and the discussion in various places was smart. A few interviews came online this week, too, including a fun/funny one on There are more in the pipeline. One of the running in place things has been doing so many conversations with people (some of them really sharp) while just sitting here. As I said, running in place.

Books are getting into stores now. On-sale date is officially Tuesday, which is when online pre-orders will ship. Worldwide launch event in Toronto is Thursday.


“Fifty Shades of Kay”: The Contest

I have no one to blame but myself, and I know it.

Some time ago I made a pretty obvious joke among friends and then online about Fifty Shades of Kay. People were amused, I suppose for pretty obvious reasons.

Months passed, as they do.

On Twitter very recently someone posted a photo of their copy The Fionavar Tapestry on the breakfast table beside the pancakes or eggs and a fruit smoothie. Made me smile, as I really like battered (no pun intended), well-loved copies of my books. Just after that, a couple of other people (reviewers, booksellers, authors) happened to post photos of their early copies of River of Stars.

An idea entered what I am pleased to call my mind.

What if we run a contest, I wrote my publicists, marketing people, editors. Do it in the first week after books start arriving in bookstores, give a prize to the cleverest or funniest or most creative photo of a copy of River of Stars in a bookstore.

Fabulous idea, word came hurtling back. (They flatter me when they aren’t harassing me.) But, asked Charidy Johnston, one of the senior marketing people, why limit it to bookstores? Let people have more room to be creative.

She was right. So we all agreed the photos could be taken anywhere. I made a joke or two (I do that) about maybe getting more creativity than we bargained for. After further emails back and forth Nicole Winstanley, President and Publisher of Penguin Canada, editor and friend, agreed to judge this with me.

Cut to New York last Thursday, a day of meetings. Over lunch with a trio of Wunderkind PR publicists, finalizing plans for the photo contest came up and I joked (see the ‘foolish author motif’ emerging?), ‘Given that these are photos, I guess it’ll be like Fifty Shades of Kay after all.’

Laughter, then a sudden, intense, extreme silence around the table. So profound that other diners looked over at us. I felt the first sadly belated premonitions of doom.

‘You realize we have to call the contest that!’ Tanya said. ‘It is too perfect.’

‘Of course it is,’ said Elena. ‘That is what we are calling it!’

See? No one to blame but myself.

So, here we go. Here’s the deal:

The first copies of River of Stars shipped from warehouses this past Friday. Should be arriving in bookstores any day. So, from today to April 7th, the Sunday after the official on-sale date of April 2, readers are invited to post to Twitter their best photos of the books ‘in the wild’. And to be egalitarian, this includes e-book versions, if you can get a good photo of one – which means the UK can play too, as e-books should be out there on the 2nd. (Hardcovers not till July.)

Post your picture with the hashtag we’ve been using: #riverofstars. That’s so we can find them.

People are invited to comment (politely?) on each other’s photos, that’s part of the fun, I hope. After April 7th, Nicole and I will have a drink and look at what’s come in, and pick a winner.

Prize is an extra, signed hardcover of River of Stars, shipped to wherever the winner is and, as a bonus, a double-signed CD of my absurdly talented friend Martin Springett’s just released (this past weekend) “River of Stars Suite” – music inspired by the book.

The music can sampled at

 River Of Stars CD cover



So there you have it. Start your cameras. Enjoy the book, enjoy the game. Behave.

“How did it go?”

Interviews are endlessly different. I am always asked, by publicists, family, editors, ‘How did it go?’ And I almost always answer, ‘We’ll know when we see it.’

The thing is, an interview is always in the editing. You can talk to someone for an hour, and their space allowed is 500 words. Or five minutes on air. (Or 90 seconds if it is television, sometimes.) That means you will sound either witty, thoughtful, or cretinous, depending on whether they kept the moment when you sneezed and mispronounced their name at the same time, or not.

So I’ve learned to wait before deciding how a given interview will appear. This is even true of e-interviews, since answers can be trimmed or cut there, too. The truth is, you really don’t know. What you can know, is if someone has done their preparation (starting point: reading the book), if they are genuinely interested in the conversation, and if there’s any kind of vibe between you. (Laughter is often a key, unless it is during that sneeze I mentioned.)

There is also a real range of skills in interviewing, and these are different for print, radio, television, email, or on stage (that last is entirely different). There are also different ways of being excellent. (Just as there are for writing, or acting, or pitching.) I have vivid memories from early in my career of being on air with Peter Gzowski, the late, great titan of Canadian radio. Gzowski was legendary; stories were told of people stopping their cars outside bookstores, running in and saying, ‘I want the book by the guy Gzowski’s talking to right now.’

He had many strengths – warm voice, laughter – but for me the key just about leaped out as we talked the first time. He listened to what his guest was saying. Simple as that, and as hard. Peter was superbly briefed by his producer and staff, but he also reacted to what he was hearing in the studio. He didn’t just move on the next question on his cheat sheet, he responded to what you told him. It became a conversation, not a pre-fabricated q&a. It was a pleasure, actually, and because he was live to air, for those interviews I was able to say, and know: that went well.

Nancy Pearl, the ‘Rockstar Librarian’, with whom I’m talking in Seattle late in April, is also fabulous. We’ve done three sessions together, and her secret is something else. Nancy’s passion for books, for the world of books, for talking about books, sometimes for your book, is irresistible. She pumps you up because her delight is infectious. It is easy to see, five minutes into a conversation with her, on stage or on camera, why she is such an ambassador, worldwide (she just came back from talking books in Bosnia), why people go charging off to buy the books she’s praising.

What’s fun, especially on a book tour when repetition becomes the usual name of the game, is when you get a question that stops you, makes you raise a figurative or even literal eyebrow and, like an ungrammatical Apple fanboy: think different.

Today, in New York, I had an interview with César Torres of Ars Technica, and it was a lot of fun. But what I’ll remember, and discuss with friends, is a question he asked about a scene late in River of Stars when one person ‘betrays’ someone dear to them by releasing something they wanted kept private. César got us going on privacy and the internet and oversharing, and I mentioned Kafka’s executor and dear friend who ‘betrayed’ him by releasing works Kafka asked him (ordered him) to burn. That had actually crossed my mind when I wrote the scene, but I never expected to be asked about that small moment, or have it connected to issues of the current cyberworld. It was, in other words, a terrific question from someone who had read the book, thought about it, and connected it to his own world and interests (César is the Social Editor for Ars Technica).

In other words, a novelist’s dream question.

That one went well. I’ll go out on a limb and say it.


Backlist promotion

Starting tomorrow, the 19th, Penguin Canada are starting a 3 week ebook promotion on their entire backlist of my work. $6.99 for all titles.

I think targeted promotions of this sort are a smart idea. It has always been seen as intelligent to make sure that backlist books are in print and available in stores as a new title appears. The idea is to let the ‘coattails’ of the new book generate sales of older titles, as new readers discover a writer and the new one generates (one hopes) some media.

Something like this is a fine tuning of the same idea for ebooks. The backlist ebooks will be on sale for the week or so prior to the release of River of Stars and for the week following.

If any of the other markets do something similar, I’ll get the word out. Note that in UK, the actual books for River aren’t till July (I should see their cover ‘roughs’ tomorrow, apparently) but ebooks will be on sale on April 2, same as the US and Canada.

Have brainstormed a fun idea with marketing and PR teams, as to getting readers involved in something, and will announce it at end of week. (Yes, that’s a tease. And your point is?)

Oh. And got my boxes of author copies from New York Friday. None of them were A History of World Whaling. In joke.


So there is a Publication Date, and publishers talk about a Release Date and an On-Sale Date and a Shipping Date. It gets blurred, and I admit to being amused when people in the business a long time look harried when you ask them when a book will actually be available.

Publication day for River of Stars is April 2 in Canada and the States and for the e-book in the UK. (Physical books in UK are July, but they’ll be in Australia well before that, which is unusual … this is all about Australia’s laws requiring physical books to be in their territory within 6 weeks of appearance anywhere else. The UK is designing its own cover for later, but I gather they’ll use the blue North American one for Australia, New Zealand…)

But ‘publication date’ has always been a bit of a fiction. With exceptions like the later Harry Potter titles, books are usually on sale in stores some days before that date, depending on proximity to the warehouses. The underlying idea is that a pub date (not to be confused with authors celebrating over many, many beers) is the day when books may be safely expected to be fully distributed across a territory (Canada, the U.S.).

That, traditionally, is the first day that reviews were supposed to appear. The rule is mostly on a courtesy basis, but almost all newspapers and other media respected it. (Again, Harry Potter level ‘events’ are more formal, with embargoes of sales and reviews enforced by large men and threats of kneecapping.)

The idea is that someone reading (or listening) to a review of a book should be able to go, well, buy the book. The fear is distraction and forgetfulness. If it can’t be found for another week or two, the impulse to get it might disappear.

In the internet society some different rules have evolved, as I’ve discussed here before. And pre-orders online, often at major discounts, have become a big part of the bookselling process for major books, too. For example, Canada has already reprinted River before release (always good news) based partly on pre-orders.

I had lunch today with my publisher/editor. I gather from Nicole that books will ship late next week, which means they should start appearing in bookstores a few days after. I suspect the same timing will apply in the States. We know they are in the warehouses.

I have a copy of each country’s edition. (Identical, except for the logos, the quote on the front and the shading of the map on the endpapers. Oh, and the Americans used an embossed effect for the title and my name, and the Canadians have them flat. I didn’t even notice at first.)

I’ve spoken to younger writers often (everyone seems to be a younger writer these days) about how many stages there are for a book, but there’s no question that one of the biggest is actually seeing them on sale somewhere, and then spotting someone reading a copy.

When I started out, for years I never saw anyone reading one of my books in public. Friends would report sightings of Readers in the Wild: on subways, streetcars, in waiting rooms, a maternity ward (!) … but I never saw one. Took the wrong streetcars? I was convinced, I said, that my kind friends and family and publishers were sheltering me from the grim, dark truth that no one, ever, anywhere actually read me.

I am a little more confident now. Saw someone on a plane, once…

Scribble, scribble…

When Edward Gibbon presented the 2nd volume of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the Duke of Gloucester (the king’s brother) the legendary, cheerful comment from royalty was, “Another damn’d thick, square book! Always, scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?”

My versions are many, but I’ll never forget the morning national tv host (no, I won’t name him, though he deserves it) who started our interview on Lions of Al-Rassan by chortling, ‘This is a big book! This is a really big book! How do you even write such big books?’ I wanted to say, ‘In the time I spend not murdering you.’


The scribbling I’m doing lately is quite different. In the New World Order, a lot of the marketing for a book is online and that means quite a few e-interviews. I really don’t mind them, and people are often smart and generous. But it is absolutely inevitable that some questions are repeated over and again … and I can’t change the answers. It looks too strange, as if I’m playing with them, and I’m not. So if someone asks, ‘What drew you to the Song Dynasty?’ or ‘What books have influenced you?’ or ‘What comes next?’ … all perfectly legitimate queries, my fear is that anyone surfing to more than one of these will be bored cross-eyed by me!

I spend my life trying not to be boring. (And failing, my younger son advises. I let him live, too.)

The publicists analogize to a politician. They make the same speech in Peoria that they do in Pasadena. Some people may hear both, but the idea is to get your core thoughts out to as many people as possible and most do not catch you more than once. I get it, but I don’t really like it. So I’m happiest when someone throws a curveball question at me, one I haven’t heard and need to think about.

(I have been warned by Laurie Grassi, Books Editor for Chatelaine Magazine, who is doing the on stage interview here in Toronto at the launch on April 4 that if she has a couple of drinks at the reception beforehand it could get very interesting. I have said (recklessly?) that she doesn’t scare me.

All the advance trade reviews for River of Stars so far have been really good. I told one of my editors this makes me nervous. She laughed (has heard this before). Replied, ‘Would you be less nervous if they weren’t?’ (I have heard that before, too.) My film agent said, ‘You always get good reviews.’ I said ‘Bite your tongue! And go sell us a good movie to classy people.’ (He has heard that from me before, too. See? Repetition keeps kicking in around now in this business!)

The tour dates for April are firming up, I’ve tweeted a few of them. I expect I’ll have something complete from Penguin soon and we can put it all in one place. I’ve agreed to do an AMA on Reddit on April 9th, before I go on the road. I did one last fall and it was a lot of fun, though I needed much faster fingers.

And, before I go for now, a birthday shout-out to Deborah Meghnagi, who created Bright Weavings thirteen years ago. Hard to believe it was that far back.


Auction Wrap

I suppose all eBay veterans will have called this, but the auction of the first book of River of Stars picked up very strongly in the last hour or so, shot way past our previous high for one of these, and ended up at $1025 CDN this afternoon. May I say ‘wow’?

I’m really pleased, obviously, both because people wanted it so much as a collectible, and because the fundamentally empowering nature of literacy and education is something I really do feel strongly about and the Love of Reading charity from Indigo taps into that.

Hope everyone who bid, everyone who followed and supported or relayed info, will take a couple of thumbs-up from me. My sincere congratulations and thanks to the high bidder – I don’t know the name tonight, and sometimes winners prefer anonymity. Penguin will be in touch and find out any details they want to share, and if they want the book personalized to them from me, or just signed.

Also, I was in touch today with the splendid Nicole Winstanley, President of Penguin Canada, my editor and friend, and she was absolutely on-board with the idea of myself and Penguin getting together to match the winning bid, so the donation will be over $2000 for the book.

I’m not especially sentimental about these matters, but I do like the idea that the launch, the celebration, of a new novel can mean good things in a wider way. Today’s auction did that.


Tickets for the launch event

A short but important heads-up for those in the Toronto area who might want to attend the worldwide launch for River of Stars. I’ll be reading and then interviewed on stage by Laurie Grassi, Books Editor of Chatelaine Magazine.

The library website has made tickets available online (two a customer) as of today, March 7th.

Tickets are free but because of that they will oversubscribe (since people sometimes book and don’t show when events are free, obviously). On the library website linked below they warn of this – it is probably a good idea to arrive early.

Doors open at either 5:30 or 6:00 — depending on which of their two webpages you believe! (I suspect it’ll be clarified soon – I’ll ask Penguin to get on that with them!)

Because it is a celebration there will also be a cash bar. I am perfectly fine with signing books for people who have had a glass or two of wine!

Here’s the main link (click on the ticket link to get to that page):