Interview with Sara Wilson Etienne, author of Harbinger

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.

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.

About Harbinger

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 ( 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! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


45 Responses to Interview with Sara Wilson Etienne, author of Harbinger

  1. Carl Mar 14 2012 at 12:37 am #

    Favorite artist – I had the opportunity to visit an exhibition of the sculptures of Auguste Rodin a few years ago, that was great. I also admire the work of the French surrealist painter Rene Magritte. There are many others as well but let’s stick with those two for now.

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 14 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      Musee Rodin in Paris is probably my favorite place in the city. And YES to Magritte!

  2. Jenelle R. Mar 14 2012 at 3:49 am #

    Huh, I don’t really have one… But I love the drawings of the person who drew the Avalon High manga! 😛

  3. Laura Hughes Mar 14 2012 at 4:54 am #

    I don’t know how I missed hearing about this book until now. It sounds INCREDIBLE. My favourite artist is Vincent Van Gogh. I’ve dragged a print of ”the Cafe Terrace” to every apartment I’ve lived in the past 10 years 🙂

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 14 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      I should check out Avalon High. I’m rather late to manga.

      Cafe Terrace is lovely. Isn’t it amazing the way a painting can get its hooks into you?

  4. Julie Mar 14 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Such a cool launch day story! Thanks for the great interview, Leigh and Sara!

  5. Amie Mar 14 2012 at 7:31 am #

    Oh, get out of town, imagine having a is-this-you moment on launch day! Usually I’d say ‘the only thing that could have improved that was cake’, but there was EVEN CAKE. I’m surprised the universe didn’t just stop then and there. Can’t top that!

  6. Christina Kit. Mar 14 2012 at 7:39 am #

    I LOVED how the launch and promo included fan art!

    The website is awesome – and it’s great when you can really see a place that’s been described. It was such a unique and value-added way of promoting, and it really brought something more to the readers. It wasn’t just fluff. Plus it tied in with the heroine.

    I haven’t read the book but I did go to the website and WOW!

    • Christina Kit. Mar 14 2012 at 7:40 am #

      I don’t have a favorite illustrator (which is really sad, actually) but I do love some of the book cover designers.

  7. Gwen Cole Mar 14 2012 at 11:01 am #

    I really liked Jim Kay, the illustrator from A Monster Calls. I can’t think of any others right now 😛

  8. Lori M. Lee Mar 14 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Favorite artist, at the moment, might be a toss up between Linda Berkgvist and Jason Chan. Both do stunning digital work (and real media as well).

    Great interview!

  9. Erin Bowman Mar 14 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Great interview, ladies! Promotion totally overwhelms me, but I love Sara’s advice about playing to your strengths. *starts brainstorming*

  10. Sarah J. Maas Mar 14 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    Fab, fab, FABBBB interview, you guys!!! And such a great launch day story!!!!! <3

  11. Jennifer McCoy Mar 14 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    I love this cover!!!! Great interview!

  12. Krispy Mar 14 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Thanks for the great interview! Loved how the art tied into the promotion of Harbinger! As for favorite artist/illustrator, I have no idea! But I did enjoy the spectacular work Keith Thompson did for the Leviathan trilogy!

  13. katherine S Mar 14 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    I think Mark A. Hicks is a great illustrator. Great interview!

  14. Vivien Mar 14 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    Keith THOMPSON!!!!

    genius…..nuff said…right?

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 14 2012 at 11:06 pm #


  15. Sooz Mar 14 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Ah, GREAT interview! I really love this advice: “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.” It seems so obvious, but I hadn’t thought of it…and you’ve shown us just how unique the promotion can turn out by playing to your strengths! I LOVE the whole art gallery on the Holbrook Academy site–SO CLEVER.

    Anyway, thank you so much for stopping by, Sara!

  16. Lexie B. Mar 14 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Favorite artist is probably Van Gogh, though I may be slightly influenced by a certain Doctor Who episode . . .

  17. Kelly Mills Mar 14 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    My 2 faves are Maxfield Parish & Edward Gorey.

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 14 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      LOVE both of those. I think a lot of people write Parish off because his style was so idealized/commercial, but DUDE, no one does light like he does. And Gorey is, of course, the awesome.

  18. Judit_K Mar 15 2012 at 7:21 am #

    My favourite illustrator is Bálint Mariann, who makes children’s book wonderful! (You can visit her website at

  19. Claire Frith Mar 15 2012 at 9:54 am #

    Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino & Gurihiru – Between these three, they illustrated “The Last Airbender” series, and I love it 😀

  20. A.J. Mar 16 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    I love Alphonse Mucha’s artwork! 🙂

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 17 2012 at 5:03 am #

      Testify. And if you don’t believe it, check my avatar 😀

  21. Soumi Roy Mar 16 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    My favorite artist is Maqbool Fida Husain, one of the most famous artist of modern day, I also admire Frederic Leighton, artist of The return of Persephone.
    My favorite illustrator is Emma Vieceli, who illustrated The Vampire Academy Manga

  22. roro @roro is readin Mar 18 2012 at 1:00 am #

    I don’t really have one… but love the art of the last airbender

  23. Maria Mar 19 2012 at 4:45 am #

    I love the artist Mahmoud Farshchian’s work. And I really love Mi-kyung Yoon’s illustrations for her manhwa (Korean manga) series – The Bride of the Water God, you should totally check it out I love the series! 🙂

    • Leigh Bardugo Mar 19 2012 at 9:42 pm #

      Will definitely check this out! So many good recs.

  24. Maria Mar 19 2012 at 4:48 am #

    ooh, and I forgot Quentin Blake! I love his illustrations for Roald Dhal’s children series! 🙂

  25. Priya Mar 19 2012 at 5:50 am #

    I don’t have any such particular favorite artist or something but i love the work of the Guilty Crown manga illustrator and some of Van Gogh’s work has been inspiring.

  26. Teresa Mar 19 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Monet, Monet. Always Monet. 🙂

  27. kati Mar 19 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Hiromu Arakawa! 😀

  28. Best Tan Mar 20 2012 at 6:29 am #

    My favorite illustrator has to be Brian Selznick! 🙂 He’s also an author!

  29. Tiffany M. Mar 20 2012 at 8:46 am #

    I am sorry to say that I don’t have one. Horrible answer I know but it’s honest… There is a lot of artists I enjoy but none of them I favor :S

  30. Llehn Mar 20 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Maggie Stiefvater!

  31. Cortney Mar 20 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Great interview. Off to check out this artwork.

  32. Kristie M Mar 20 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    I can’t really say that i have a favorite. Sorry

  33. Giselle Mar 20 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    I have to say Audrey Kawasaki at the moment. She paints on wood, and I can’t wait to get one of her prints so I can frame them on the wall.

  34. Crystal G Mar 20 2012 at 6:59 pm #

    my fave illustrator is Nakamura Yoshiki who wrote and drew skipbeat 🙂

  35. Petra Mar 21 2012 at 12:02 am #

    Great interview! I loved seeing all the art Harbinger inspired.

    There are so many great artist/illustrators. One of my favorites is Johanna Basford. She did the illustration on the Amy Plum’s Die for Me cover.

  36. Oct 24 2020 at 8:14 pm #

    I have read several just right stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how a lot effort you set to make such a fantastic informative web site.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.