I noticed something the other day, and now that I’ve noticed it, I can’t stop noticing it.
There’s a tendency, when asked about our favorite authors, to reach for the big names. The names people will recognize. Is that why we do it? What I mean is, whenever an author is asked something like, “Who do you like to read?” or “Who influences your work?” we go straight to Stephen King or Neil Gaiman or whatever big author applies. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
But here’s the thing: as indie authors (or, in my case, hybrid), shouldn’t we at least try to include our fellows on that list? Stephen King doesn’t need any exposure, but if we were to mention someone else—another indie author, for example—mightn’t we perhaps cause readers of the article or interview to be curious and go look them up?
I’m not suggesting we do this as a marketing ploy. I want, honestly, to know which indie authors, or lesser-known authors, people read. It’s far more interesting than hearing you, like a billion other people, read Anne Rice or whatever. At the very least, mention a couple big names and follow with a couple smaller ones? (There are no small names, just small authors?)
I was reading this article, in which six authors answered questions about covers and blurbs, and I thought, Why don’t I answer those questions too? Because, you know, it might be interesting to do so.
How important are covers in terms of selling a book?
Very, I think. My Regency romance Brynnde has sold very well, and it has also won a cover art award. I don’t think the two are unrelated. That said, I love the cover to The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, but that didn’t sell as well. I think it’s important that a cover convey the story, and maybe that one was a little too artsy for readers to understand what’s inside the book. I’ve always said a cover is a promise made to the reader, and readers are angry if they feel lied to. So a cover is really important, not only in getting someone to pick up the book—though that is the chief function of the cover, to act as an advertisement—but in accurately reflecting the contents.
Have your publishers asked you for your opinion or “input” on your covers, and to what extent do you think they listened? Did you ever meet with the designer? How important was “marketing” in making decisions about the cover of your book(s)?
I’ve had two publishers thus far; the rest of my work is self-published. One publisher used the cover I’d already had designed. The other had a designer do the cover, but she was in contact with me about it, running things by me. I don’t think we talked about “marketing” at all. Again, it was more about making sure the cover matched the story.
Did you ever receive a cover that made you unhappy and if so, what did you do about it? Did you ultimately end up with a cover that made you happier?
My early covers for my self-published work weren’t terrible, but they weren’t great either. I can’t say I was “unhappy” about them, though. I did a new cover for one, and I’m planning to do a new cover for another one at some point.
How important are blurbs, particularly for a first-time author?
Probably very important! Alas, I’ve never received any, at least not pre-publication. I do manage to get many good pull quotes from reviews after the fact, though, and I do believe they help in continuing to sell the books.
How did you go about getting your blurbs? Did your agent or editor help, or did you rely more on personal connections?
As per above, I don’t really go hunting for blurbs. I probably should, but I wouldn’t even know where to start! Advice, anyone?
Have you ever offered someone else a blurb?
I’ve never been asked. I’d be flattered if someone did ask. Then again, I’m so busy. It might be difficult to find the time to read a book and blurb it. Maybe if the author gave me very early notice.
Some of you know that I’ve been shopping my YA contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Since beta readers seem to enjoy it but agents keep passing on it, I decided to submit to BookLife’s Prize for a bit of objective feedback. I’m overall pretty pleased with the results.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10 Originality: 8 out of 10 Prose: 9 out of 10 Character/Execution: 8 out of 10 Overall: 8.50 out of 10
Plot: Langlinais artfully mirrors without overly mimicking the play-within-a-play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a storyline that is fast-paced and engagingly plotted.
Prose: The author’s prose crackles with rhythmic writing and colorful similes, ably capturing young voices while gently mocking the weirdness of adults.
Originality: Though the book’s plot tracks the classic play Hamlet, it does so with a great deal of fluidity and flair.
Character Development: Langlinais takes familiar YA types and invests them with refreshing resonance.
I think the lowish marks for originality stem from the fact I’m adapting a known property. I might need to key up some of the character/execution, though. It’s nice to have something to focus on if/when I go back to it. For now Faebourne has all my attention.
This morning on an online writing group someone asked for advice. He was halfway through writing his first chapter and wanted to make a change to his protagonist without having to go back and rewrite anything.
Oh, sweetie. I have some terrible news for you.
Most writing—good writing, anyway—is rewriting. Just because you wrote it or typed it doesn’t make it sacrosanct. If anything, having written it down is exactly what makes it malleable. Which is as it should be.
We’re a world of instant gratification. Rapid technology makes us increasingly impatient. We want to write the thing and be done. You can do that. You can write it and publish it and never look at it again. That’s the dubious wonder of self-publishing. But if you want to write the best possible book, you’re going to need to 1. take your time, and 2. rewrite, get feedback, revise, hire an editor . . . Basically, you need to work the book like you would work dough, pulling and pushing and folding and rolling until it’s right for baking. (There’s a reason some rushed books are called “half-baked” yeah?)
If I were writing something and realized halfway through the first chapter that I needed to tweak, well, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be so glad that I hadn’t gotten too far in before needing to rewrite that bit to pull it through the rest of the story. Better now, at the start, than to get halfway through writing your book before realizing you want to make a major change. Not that you can’t do that. I’ve dismantled and rewritten big chunks of books. I rewrote the entire first half of The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller and the entire back ends of Manifesting Destiny and Brynnde. They are all better books now than they were.
In short, you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be willing to expend the effort and the energy.
You have to be willing to rewrite.
Your words are not written in stone. Not yet. If you want them to be lasting and have impact, you must make your story the best it can be. And your first draft should never be your final draft.
It’s part Regency romance, part fairy tale. To tide you over, here is a little excerpt:
“May I suggest, Miss Odette, that walking alone through dark forests is perhaps not the safest way to spend your evening?”
She pursed her perfectly rose pink lips at him. “I’m entirely safe barring any strange men carrying iron cauldrons. I’d say, in fact, I’m more safe alone with myself than alone with you.”
Duncan was tempted to point out that being with him meant she wasn’t alone but chose to pursue the greater point. “I promise I am no threat to you, Miss Odette.”
“Then why do you have that?” She pointed at the pot.
He grimaced, feeling foolish. The errand, after all, defied explanation, but he tried anyway. “I’m supposed to catch a—oh,” he said, realizing. “You’re… a song?”
“I’m always a song, and I’m sometimes a person,” she told him.
“You look remarkably like someone I know,” Duncan said. She was just Adelia’s height, too, and had her hair piled and curled in the same way. Odette’s movements and voice, however, were utterly different.
“All songs look like someone you know,” said Odette. “Or places. Some days I’m whole fields of flowers.” She gaze became distant and unfocused, her face alight and wistful. “Those are nice days.”
It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.
This month I’m mostly insecure about finishing this project in time for the August 7 release date!
Question of the Month: What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?
Oh, I’d say they’re equally difficult but not at the same time. I either have the title and the names become a challenge, or I have the characters and can’t think of a title. It never seems to be that both are easy or both are hard. I wonder why that is?
Though I’m focusing on Faebourne at the moment, I wanted to share this piece from The Great Divide (the sequel to Manifesting Destiny), given that it’s Pride Month:
Marcus shrugged, giving the impression of someone trying to find comfort in ill-fitting clothes. “Do you remember when we were thirteen? That’s when it changed.”
“That’s when you changed, you mean.” Cee gasped at her own words. She hadn’t meant to say them aloud.
“I never changed, Cee.” Marcus’s tone was dull, resigned, as though he’d had this argument with himself many times before. “It just never mattered until then. Until you decided it mattered. That day at the play.”
Cee opened her mouth to protest but couldn’t. He wasn’t wrong. She snapped her mouth shut and nodded.
They’d gone to see a play at the local theatre—Nitid Ink it had been called—and afterward gone for ice cream. While they ate, Cee gushed about how cute one of the actors had been, and without hesitation Marcus picked up the thread and enthused along with her. It had taken Cee by surprise, and afterward she could not help but notice which way Marcus’s eyes turned whenever they went out. Usually they were on their work, or trained on a book, but Cee couldn’t fail to miss the way those green eyes followed the male tennis team whenever they walked by, or how they lingered on magazine photos of good-looking young men.
After that, Cee had quit mentioning any guys she found attractive.
It only occurred to her as they stood there in the sun how unfair it had been of her to tacitly require Marcus to hide himself. She should have been there for him if it was something he wanted to discuss. Even if all he wanted to talk about were handsome actors, letting him do that—better yet, doing it with him—would have shown him she accepted him.
But she hadn’t accepted him, had she? Not really. She’d refused to accept that Marcus was gay because she wanted so badly for it to be otherwise. She wanted to pretend it wasn’t true.
Marcus’s voice broke through her epiphany. Cee blinked and discovered her cheeks were wet with tears. “Sorry,” she said, swiping at her face with her fingertips. “This isn’t—it’s not because you’re…” Her throat tried to close over the word but she made herself say it. “Gay. It’s because I’ve been such a bad friend. That day—I was so startled when you agreed with me about that actor I just pretended it never happened. And that wasn’t fair to you.”
I’ve been to a number of writing events of various kinds, and every year I find myself having to decide which one(s), if any, I want to attend—either return to, or try new. I’m on a number of email lists, and I’m constantly realizing: “Oh, yeah, that one. I want to go to there.” For my own sake, I’ve decided to create a list. Conferences I’ve attended in previous years are in blue.
San Francisco Writers Conference Writer’s Digest Conference
Digital Book World
Grub Street (The Muse and the Marketplace)
BookExpo/BookCon DFW Conference InD’Scribe
Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Willamette Writers Conference
London Book Fair
San Miguel Writers’ Conference
Historical Romance Retreat
Independent Authors Conference Austin Film Festival
I also attended the Bay Area Book Fair one year but didn’t find it to my liking. Maybe I’ll try it again some time; at least it’s local and relatively inexpensive. Also local, the biennial Tri-Valley Writers Conference, which I may attend again when it comes back next year.
I’ve been to SFWC three times, but next year they’re changing venue, so I have to admit being pretty curious about that. Still, it’s one of the most expensive conferences, so I may try something new instead. Then again, I’d love to go back to DFW Con, too. Santa Barbara looks amazing, but it’s a week, and I don’t know if I can get away for that long. Maybe if they put me on a panel . . . 😉
I’m sure there are many more wonderful options than just these, but these are the ones that keep appearing in my email inbox. If you know of a great conference or convention, I’d love to hear about it!
Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.
I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.
First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.
I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.
Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.
Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.
Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.
And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.
It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.
There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.