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Interview with Sara Wilson Etienne, author of <i>Harbinger</i>
[box type="note"]Sara Wilson Etienne's novel Harbinger debuted on February 2nd. Today, we'll be talking to her about life leading up to and after launch.[/box]
A bit about Sara in her own words
I used to dream of being a marine biologist but quickly realized that I love fantasy more than fact. Now I enjoy combining both to create stories that ask “What if?” I write in sunny California alongside my artist husband and my two dogs.
My favorite days are spent disappearing into different universes, whether it’s traveling with Dr. Who, popping into a parallel world with Diana Wynne Jones, writing my own stories, or just taking a nap.
When sixteen-year-old Faye arrives at Holbrook Academy, she doesn't expect to find herself exactly where she needs to be. After years of strange waking visions and nightmares, her only comfort the bones of dead animals, Faye is afraid she's going crazy. Fast.
But her first night at Holbrook, she feels strangely connected to the school and the island it sits on, like she's come home. She's even made her first real friends, but odd things keep happening to them. Every morning they wake on the floors of their dorm rooms with their hands stained red.
Faye knows she's the reason, but what does it all mean? The handsome Kel tries to help her unravel the mystery, but Faye is certain she can't trust him; in fact, he may be trying to kill her—and the rest of the world too.
First, congratulations on the release of your debut! Now, take us back... You've written your book. You've sold it. How did you approach promoting it?
Well, it turns out that promotion can be pretty daunting. Everyone tells you that you have to do this and that and this! But the truth is, you can’t do everything. So I tried to find things that inspired me, like the Harbinger book trailer or the art reveals, hoping those promotions would inspire other people too.
How did your attitude toward promotion change as you got closer to launch?
I created frameworks for promotions that would snowball as the launch came closer. In theory, this is exactly what you want. In actuality, it means that things get CRAZY as you get close to launch date.
It was a really unique lead-up that featured a huge number of talented illustrators. How did you come up with the idea?
Yeah, the Harbinger art gallery was a lot of fun. It all started with the Holbrook Academy page (www.holbrookacademy.com). My husband and I had the idea of creating a website for Harbinger’s fictional school. But we needed a reason for people to keep coming back to the site and I was stumped by what my on-going content should be. Then one of my friends asked for an ARC of Harbinger so that he could make my first piece of fan art and a light bulb exploded over my head. What if artists read early copies of Harbinger and created art inspired by it?
The idea evolved from there...leading to an online gallery, a twist on the traditional blog tour, interviews with the artists on my own blog, and best of all, a real-life gallery show featuring the twenty-five artists at The Hive Gallery in downtown LA!
The gallery show was amazing. I was so glad to get to go. One of my favorite pieces was by your husband Tony Etienne, and I know he created the beautiful maps and illustrations for Harbinger. Frankly, I find you guys adorable. Did you ever disagree about the way something should be depicted?
Shucks. No, surprisingly, we didn’t really disagree, but some fun things happened in the process. Like, when Tony drew Holbrook’s campus map for the endpapers, we labeled all the locations. Then those labels ended up working their way into the book and making Holbrook even creepier. Likewise, as Tony designed the tarot cards, I had to adjust the book. We worked hard to get the tarot illustrations and Faye’s understanding of the prophecy to really strengthen and clarify each other. It was a pretty cool way to work.
Very cool, and I do love those tarot cards. What was the biggest challenge in the final weeks before launch?
I had four reveals scheduled for the week Harbinger came out, and each reveal was combined with a blog tour visit and an artist interview. Not to mention, I was doing about fifteen separate interviews and giveaways with other bloggers. On top of that, I was crazy nervous! I had a very difficult time keeping all the balls in the air!
For what it's worth, you seemed totally on top of everything. So, the big day has arrived. Harbinger is unleashed upon the world. Were there any surprises?
Yes! This story is going to sound totally made up, but I swear it happened! I went out to tea with a few friends and one of them had made little Harbinger decorations to put on our cakes. They were little toothpicks with the Harbinger book cover glued onto them. Well, as I started to leave, the woman at the next table turned her ipad towards me so I could see it and asked, “Is this your book?”
She was on the Barnes and Noble website and Harbinger was up on the screen. Confused, I nodded.
She explained that she’d recognized the cover from our decorations and that she’d been waiting for the book to come out for months! She’d seen reviews of it online and was dying to read it. When I told her that it’d come out today, she downloaded it on the spot! Talk about instant launch-day gratification! I was so thrilled!
I love that! What are the chances? With the launch behind you and Harbinger on shelves, are you continuing to promote? How have your days changed since the release?
I am continuing my promotion...I’ve been doing signings, interviews, the gallery show, and I still have a few art reveals left. But I’m working on a new book and it’s definitely a struggle to balance the two things. Much harder than I thought it’d be.
I can imagine. What is the new book like?
My new book is completely different. Different characters, different story, and that’s exciting. And scary. I lived inside the world of Harbinger for so long...it’s hard to step into a new world. But it’s been thrilling too.
What do you think you'll do differently when promoting your next book?
Well, I have a hunch that each book requires its own approach. Art reveals worked for Harbinger because my main character, Faye, was an artist. It made sense on a lot of levels. I just hope I’ll find inspiration for my new book that fits it as well!
Any bits of wisdom or lessons to impart to debut authors?
Well, on the topic of promotion, I’d say: Play to your strengths. Look at what resources you already have at your disposal and try to capitalize on those.
As for the launch, be kind to yourself. It’s a stressful time and no matter how wonderfully it goes, you are going to have mixed feelings about your book being out in the world. Remember to enjoy the fact that your story is roaming free in the wild and that’s why you became a writer. So you could share your stories!
Great advice that I will try to keep in mind this summer. And finally... Pub brawl! A fight breaks out, fists are flying, bottles breaking, what's your weapon of choice?
A whip... à la Indiana Jones!
Very Indy. Very Izzy. And easy to pack!
Harbinger is available now, but you can also enter to win a copy!