The last word: learning from your readers

I had another book club for A Deconstructed Heart and had a delightful afternoon with a great group of women. It always surprises me how different readers can interpret my book differently and come to wonderfully opposing points of view about the same characters. The whole experience was an interesting exchange, where I learned as much as I shared.

I was honored to be asked to name some of my favorite fiction (not my own) and to have those titles written down for future reference by one or two of the attendees. There’s nothing I love more than to share my love of really good writing, and I steered the reader towards Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall and David Mitchell‘s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

I told the group how much I personally don’t typically get into book clubs since I love to follow the meanderings of my own inclination (although I could make the Desi Lit Book Club an exception). One attendee told me how she loves book clubs because she would never normally pick up some of the books otherwise, and she loves to find the unexpected, to be shown a new perspective, and I realized what a great attitude that evinces. May we always be open to learning something new and having the humility to allow someone else to show us the way. This person is a remarkable example of living well, and the key clearly lies in her desire to always be open to new knowledge.

I was also asked what I learned from the process of writing my book and, until that moment, I had not reflected on what the act of writing had taught me. I realized how much I learned to appreciate my parents’ sacrifice to build a life for our family in England, and that the lesson was a gift. We take our existence and the facts of our upbringing for granted, and rarely acknowledge that there was a time and reality before us for our parents. Writing my book brought me to the understanding of just how much my parents’ immigrant generation had to let go, in order to give me the best chance in life. I’m glad I took the time to reflect on that sacrifice while I can still talk to my elders, and sharing my book with them has been deeply gratifying.

All in all, it was a really charming event and an afternoon I’ll remember fondly. Writing is a solitary act of arrogance, an omnipotent shaping of reality by the impulses of imagination. Readers make the act humane once more, through conversation, connection and communion with the book and with one another. It was a privilege to attend the process–a humbling and enlightening experience, a breaking of intellectual bread with other lively and insightful minds.

 

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Giving it away

I have taken a little time out of blogging over the past two weeks, but I have been working hard to get the word out about my books in different venues.

I’m currently running a giveaway for A Deconstructed Heart on Goodreads. It is a great way to drive up exposure for authors. So far, 173 people have signed up and the majority of them have added A Deconstructed Heart to their to-read lists, and I’m only in the 5th day of a month-long drive. I will be sending out two signed copies to the winners in either the UK or the US in mid-May.

It’s my first giveaway and I have to say I am enjoying the process. I did my research and learned some valuable tips before I waded in: I started my giveaway a few days after enrolling my book to take advantage of a surge of interest on the first day of the giveaway. I made sure my start and end dates did not coincide with the end of the month/national holidays. I emphasized that the copies would be autographed with my chicken scratch (because apparently that is desirable.)

I’m also continuing to give out copies to gather reviews: in the next day or so, I will send a few copies of my book to a nascent book club in Canada for the Masala Mommas blog. Last week I sent a copy to the Printers Row Journal, the Books section of the Chicago Tribune, for review. Fingers crossed on both counts.

In the meantime, my book has been chosen for two book clubs in the next few months. I feel very honored to be invited to provoke and/or participate in the conversations about A Deconstructed Heart, and I hope to come away having learned something new about it from different readers’ perspectives.

My heart is telling me to lose myself in a story again, however, and I’m beginning to feel writer’s withdrawal. I feel good about what I’ve been able to do in the last few weeks, but my first love is calling. I have three more stories in mind for The Purana Qila Stories, and then I will take a deep breath and explore options for another novel. I can’t wait.

Where the conversations never stop…

My promotion for A Deconstructed Heart wraps up in a few hours. It has been a fun and eventful week; heavily promoting my book brought me into a round of delightful conversations with readers and fellow authors. Many of my favorite moments were on Twitter: I received a gracious tweet from a sculptor and fellow author in England who thanked me for sharing the book and told me how much she was enjoying it. I had a meaningful exchange with an author about writing about England and deciding, as readers, at what point we give up on a book that has not made a connection with us. I had a lot of fun with the lively ladies at the Thirty Mommy blog, who had chosen A Deconstructed Heart for their book club of the month. It was fun to chat with them in real-time, having cross conversations with multiple people from various cultures. We discussed the role my character Amal plays with regards to being a caretaker for her uncle, Mirza, and how many of us have taken on unexpected family responsibilities in our lives.

I come away from this week with two thoughts: firstly, how art created in isolation ultimately calls for a shared experience, a human connection at the most fundamental level, and is a panacea for the ills of disconnection in modern life. You may not like the art, you may disagree with it, but hopefully, at the very least it has been thought-provoking and engaged you on some level. The only manner in which art can fail is when it has not succeeded in forming a connection with the reader/viewer/beholder.

Secondly, I was struck this week by how the internet, Twitter in particular, reminded me of what I loved about Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children: in his book, every child born at midnight at the time of India’s Partition is given two magical gifts, the first is unique to that child: it might be strength, or the ability to become invisible… the second is the ability to connect telepathically with all other children born at that moment in history… to meet in the rooms of each others’ minds and hang out together. Twitter was that room for me this week.

Here’s to many more conversations about the human experience sparked by a book, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music. We need that connection because we need one another. As Desmond Tutu said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.

A Deconstructed Heart is free for the Kindle, 2/27-3/31

A Deconstructed Heart cover

I’m sending my baby out into the wide world again, but this time with a new marketing strategy. The free promotion is over the next five days, which I plan to follow up with a placement as a Hot Title at the World Literary Cafe. On April 10, I go big with an ad at the Frugal EReader. I’m interested to see how this layered marketing approach works.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to see that A Deconstructed Heart has garnered some fantastic reviews from The Kindle Book Review and eBook Review Gal.

Here’s a choice excerpt from the latter’s website, which Susan Barton also kindly placed on my Amazon site:

“Let me start by saying that I loved A Deconstructed Heart! It was a sweetly poetic, easy read. Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed’s writing style has a soothing, melodic quality that invites readers to be drawn into her stories easily. I was hooked from the beginning and immediately found myself looking forward to what would happen next. I would highly recommend A Deconstructed Heart be put on anyone’s must read list.”

If you get a chance to read A Deconstructed Heart, please add your own reviews. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

The Kindle Book Review: a review of A Deconstructed Heart that brought tears to my eyes…

Every now and then a reviewer totally ‘gets’ it. This is evidenced, not by a five star review or a thumbs up from the cheering section populated by friends and family, but by a deep and thoughtful analysis from an individual who is knowledgeable about the genre in which you write. When you write literary fiction, these reviewers are like pearls and their words validate your stubborn conviction to write what you believe in.

I was honored to get one such thoughtful review by Leila Smith from The Kindle Book Review (Top 1000 Reviewer) on Amazon US and UK and at her blog, www.literaryleila.wordpress.com.

If you have read A Deconstructed Heart and agree with her, please like her review on Amazon. If you haven’t read the book… well, what are you waiting for? I know I could not come up with a better argument to persuade you.

A Deconstructed Heart reviewed at Books Are Cool

I’m honored that Stephanie over at Booksarecool.com posted a great review of my book at her blog. Please check it out if you have a moment. Stephanie is an editor, so I was particularly chuffed that she thought A Deconstructed Heart is “a very professional product.” All that tearing my hair out over fixing typos and reformatting did not go unnoticed!

A Deconstructed Heart in print

English: Download from paper book to kindle (o...

Finally, after hours and hours of editing, proofreading and just generally being a fussbudget, I have a print edition of A Deconstructed Heart available at Amazon. I think it looks pretty faithful to the Kindle edition, which came out in October last year. The first order of the day as soon as the print edition was available was to let my mother know. I asked her to tell the 90-something lady who has lived across the road from my parents in England for the past 30 years. She is a former journalist and still incredibly sharp; her reading list puts mine to shame. She doesn’t have an e-reader and has been asking how to get a copy of my book. Guess who’s getting a belated Christmas present via US mail?

Climbing the Amazon rankings…

Denali - Mountain Landscape from Alaska

Denali – Mountain Landscape from Alaska (Photo credit: blmiers2)

My second free promotion for A Deconstructed Heart is wrapping up this evening, with over 600 downloads. It’s an awe-inspiring moment, to realize your hard work is in the hands of six hundred people you have never met, many of whom live thousands of miles away across the globe. What a fantastic time in which to be an author. A Deconstructed Heart is currently at #22 for free literary fiction books for the Kindle and, for some unfathomable reason, #22 also for historical fiction (not a setting I would have chosen for A Deconstructed Heart; for A Change in the Weather and The Dust Beneath Her Feet… well, sure). I’ll keep you updated on the latest when the promotion ends.

Well, that’s a wrap

My first book promotion for A Deconstructed Heart is over. The whole process appeals to the OCD in me; I was constantly hitting refresh on my browser to see those download numbers go up. At the end of the day, over 100 people decided to give my book a try. No big deal for genre writers, who regularly clock up thousands of downloads and sales, but, of course, I am drawn to read and write the most uncommercial section of writing: literary fiction, where, as I have read somewhere, “good books go to die”. I started at 12am yesterday and I’m surprised smoke wasn’t emerging from my laptop when I finally shut it down at 10:30 pm. By day’s end, my ebook was ranked #35 for Amazon’s 100 bestselling free ebooks  in Literary Fiction. It was certainly strange to go from the mouse-in-the-wall life of a writer to the “in your face” bravado of a trumpeting marketing executive, but self-publishing will draw on all your talents (or remind you where you’re lacking). Today is my day off, and then I begin the process again for my short story, A Change in the Weather, which I am promoting on Sunday. When that’s over, I might actually get around to doing that thing I used to like to do… what was it? Oh yes. Writing.