Category Archives: Publishing

There Is No Time; Let Me Sum Up

This one’s for A. And I am shocked – shocked, I tell you! – that I have never actually written about this before.

In a perhaps surprising turn of events, high school Lily – who was already aware of her destiny (determined to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy?) as a novelist and working toward amassing her writing toolkit – never made a perfect score on the verbal section of the SATs. She did on math. Why? Because math* has only one answer. (*Math at that level, obviously; I know when you get deeply into experimental/theoretical maths you can find ambiguity.) There is no personal bias in the answers, nothing but hard numbers and A-E to be selected from a binary system of “right/not right.” The verbal, however, at least when I was a teenager, included a section that very much was open to individual interpretation: the main idea questions. “What is the main theme of this piece?” “Which sentence best summarizes the selection?” Invariably, I got at least one of those wrong. And why? Because what I took away from the reading, coming to it with my biases and my experiences and my INTJ way of looking at the world, was different from what the person who wrote the question did.

Finding the main idea of a work is hard, because it isn’t obvious – and sometimes it has more than one “right” answer.

Common wisdom in writerly circles is that it’s often hardest for the person who is closest to a book (AKA the author) to accurately describe what it’s about. I understand the reasons why that is said, but I disagree with the premise that a writer cannot attain enough self-awareness to see their own work clearly.

I would compare it perhaps to trying to describe your own personality. You know your own strengths and weaknesses; you know your own intentions. What you don’t know is whether what you feel on the inside is what is reflected externally in your interactions with others. Having someone else describe you can be enlightening – and sometimes befuddling or even horrifying. So asking a reader to describe your work can also be helpful. For example, if you don’t read romance genre books you might not know whether your novel with strong romantic elements could be marketed as a romance. A friend who reads romance would be able to give you that answer.

But ultimately, as a writer you know what’s at the heart of your story. You know what it’s mostly about.

So how do you go about turning that knowledge into the back cover copy, the book description, the pitch, the blurb – whatever you want to call it – in order to find your target reader?

Here are the elements I think need to be considered:

1. Who is your target audience? Could be a subset of genre readers, or “a reader like me” – as long as you can define what you mean by “like me.” For example, I know my audience is fans of historical romance who want more realistic stories and loves built on a believable foundation. I am also aware that my current works would also appeal to fans of the traditional Regency novels (AKA the category romance), so I will keep them in mind as well.

2. What is the genre or category for your book? If it’s not a specific genre, think of what award category it might fit into (women’s fiction? Novel with strong romantic elements? Etc.).

3. What is the tone of your book? Light and frothy? Darkly funny? Tragic? Introspective?

All of these are going to affect the tone of your blurb. The voice of the blurb does NOT need to be the voice of the novel, but it should be in the same color palette. Think of the scene in Robin Hood: Men in Tights when the Sheriff of Rottingham is trying to deliver bad news in a good way. You don’t want there to be that kind of disparity between the tone of your description and the tone of the book.

Now you have to decide if your book is the kind of book where you lay out the main conflict in the description, or hold it back for dramatic effect and use only a premise hook to get readers to try it out. Once you decide that, you need to figure out what the selling point of the conflict is going to be.

Kat Sheridan has some really great pointers for writing back copy, and the one that’s stuck with me most is to focus on the external goals and impediments of the characters, and how their interactions will escalate the conflict.

You also have to decide if you are going to discuss all the protagonists or just one (assuming you have more than one). Most romances give equal time to heroine and hero on the back, but if the story is really one character’s journey (even if your book uses both as POV characters), the description can reflect that.

When you talk about your characters in the description, it’s important to focus on the parts of their characterization that actually affect their situation or the conflict. Stupid example, but I’ve seen this used – the only reason to mention eye color is if there is a prophecy about it or a death sentence on people of that eye color. Otherwise it’s wasted words to say “blue-eyed Cristabel had a hundred suitors” instead of…well, either nothing or any of a dozen personality characteristics (picky; vain; shy) that might either shed light on why she has that many suitors or why that many suitors is a good/bad thing for her.

When you talk about the conflict, avoid both cliches and overly broad statements. I have lost track of the number of blurbs I’ve read with a conflict described something like this: “…but when a dark secret from her past threatens to come out, she has to make a choice that could change her life forever.” Um. So what’s it about? Obviously in that case the author didn’t want to give away the dark secret because that reveal is part of the book’s narrative tension. Fine. The conflict can still be described in concrete terms.

There are a few other description do not’s in a post I ran ages ago about free books and why I don’t download them even though they are free.

I actually really enjoy writing summaries of my stories. In some ways it’s probably easy for me because I write in romance, which is a genre with a pretty easy formula for back copy:

DESCRIPTION OF HEROINE

Sum up her situation in life, goal and obstacle.

DESCRIPTION OF HERO

Sum up his situation in life, goal and obstacle.

HOW THEY RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER

Are they the answer to or author of one another’s problems?

DRAMATICALLY REITERATE THE TITLE OF THE BOOK.

I really enjoy distilling my characters and stories into sound bites. Sometimes doing so helps me clarify what is really the most important theme of a story, or what the real conflict is. (This is helpful when I have started a story that I don’t really know where it’s going. NaNo 2013 book is one such, where I wrote the heroine’s back copy in order to figure out her point of view on the world.)

One exercise I’ve tried, that doesn’t necessarily help with the back copy, is trying to sum up the themes of your novel in a word or two. After my post about that, I decided the themes for the never-ending revision project are split loyalties and choice. Decide for yourself if much of that ended up in my first attempt at back copy for Anything But a Gentleman:

A Resourceful Ex-Debutante

After two years of exile from the ton, Lauren Stevens has decided to reclaim her life.  1818 is a new year, and within a month she manages to lose her virginity at a masquerade, win a fortune in fabric on a wager, and set up shop as London’s hottest new modiste.  Her new life is exceeding her wildest dreams, until a devil’s bargain puts her repeatedly in company with her gentleman landlord. He makes her finally regret the future her scandalous past has made impossible.

A Reluctant Businessman

Lysander St. James can’t afford to make any mistakes.  His father has beggared the family, his sister still needs to be presented to society, and the only thing standing between his family and debtor’s goal are the rents his properties accrue.  He is dumbstruck to discover the woman he mistook for a courtesan at a masquerade is now his best tenant.

An Inconvenient Attraction

Lauren Stevens has disgraced herself in every possible way–she is the last woman Lysander could ever consider marrying, no matter how much he wants her. Fate seems bent on thrusting Miss Stevens into his path, however, and he finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his distance. Lauren is not the lady he needs, but she makes him want to be…

Anything But a Gentleman

This covers maybe the first third of the book in terms of plot, and just sort of skims over the details about why she’s scandalous and in exile from society, why his family dynamic is the way it is, and so on. It doesn’t get into the fact that as the book progresses, her personal situation changes, which affects his willingness to walk away from her. This is a book where the hook conflict is not the entire conflict, but it is more than just the inciting incident. However, I could probably also write a back copy that only deals with the first 10% of the book. I’ll give it a go right now.

A MYSTERIOUS LADY

Lysander St. James is delighted to find a courtesan waiting for him at a masquerade. He’s spent the last year in abstinence in order to win his sister a dowry. His friends owe him more recompense than just the money, and a woman who might literally be a fallen angel seems like just their kind of lagniappe. He is only too happy to let her lead him from the ballroom and under her skirts.

A MISTAKEN IDENTITY

Lauren Stevens is a woman on a mission: find the man who ruined her in society, seduce him, and by so doing ruin his marriage to the lady for whom he abandoned her. She executes her plan without a hitch, until its fatal flaw is revealed: The wrong man was behind the mask.

A MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

When Lysander’s friends swear they hired no such female, he fears he has dishonored a young lady of his own class, to whom he now owes a marriage proposal. But his desperate search of the party turns up no lady and no leads. How can he offer her his name when he doesn’t even know hers? She might have run from him, but his honor demands he find her, or forever know himself to be ANYTHING BUT A GENTLEMAN….

Meh. I like the first one better, but the second isn’t bad. If he spent more of the book not knowing who she was, I might prefer it – but he finds out within a few days what her name is, and the real conflict is that he can’t be associated with someone of her reputation, so using a description that focuses so much on the inciting incident might give a prospective reader a bit of misdirection in terms of what the book is *mostly*  about.

In both cases I think the tone of this particular book is captured. ABAG is a serious but not melodramatic/super-angsty historical romance novel. It’s not light and fluffy and funny, but neither is it an epic hurricane of crazysauce or adventures. It deals with class anxieties, social expectations, and duty to family. The descriptions are straightforward (rather than funny or melodramatic), and they touch on at least some of those themes. No one is going to feel like they got sold a false bill of goods if they buy the book based on either description.

Writing different descriptions for the same book can help identify the most compelling parts of it. Focusing on different parts of the conflict helps winnow out the irrelevant details and red herring obstacles. The back copy is your chance to highlight the thing about your story that would make YOU want to read it – since, presumably, you are part of your own intended audience. Most importantly, send your cover copy to friends you can trust to give you a straight answer with the subject line, “Would you want to read this?”

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Filed under Publishing, Writing

How To Not Sell Me Your Free Book

One might think making a book free will net oneself as many readers as encounter said book. Not so! Below are a few ways to convince Lily not to download your free book and waste her precious time attempting to read it.

Put any of the following plot elements in your novel:

  • Time travel (certain SF scenarios excepted)
  • Love triangle*
  • Real historical persons
  • Famous fictional persons (e.g., Holmes, Darcy, King Arthur, etc.)
  • Deities or their divine representatives (such as angels) as essentially human characters
  • Unrealistic gaps in station in a setting where such things matter
  • Patently anachronistic behavior or attitudes for no clear reason
  • A do-gooder hero or heroine, or one whose attitude feels politically correct
  • Any sort of secret society responsible for keeping order in secret (historical spy societies and paranormal hero councils equally despised!)**

*I don’t consider obviously false love interests to be triangles. But actual triangles are a deal-breaker.

**One of my friends is convinced I am destined to get propositioned by just such an order because I find them so insufferable in fiction.

Alternatively, you can present your story in one of these ways:

  • Spell a character’s name two different ways in the description
  • In fact, have any sort of typo or grammatical faux pas in your description
  • Have a description longer than 300 words
  • Use so many generalities in your description that I have no real notion what the conflict is
  • Use so many details in your description that I have no idea what the real conflict is (or feel like I have now read your entire book)
  • Fail to clarify by cover and summary when your novel is set
  • Give your characters ridiculous names vis a vis their time period
  • Employ gratuitous diacritical marks (especially random apostrophes!) in the names of people and places – looking at you, epic fantasy

I suppose this is also a list of deal-breakers for books NOT listed for free, as well, but the more salient point is that I don’t make exceptions to my taste just because a book is free. I make exceptions only when a book sounds truly extraordinary.

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Filed under Publishing, Ramblings, Reflections on Romance

The positive side to bad reviews

One topic that comes up pretty frequently in author/reader/reviewer circles is the negative review. Are they a social good or ill? Should a writer ever acknowledge them? Are they a violation of mama’s rule not to say anything if you can’t say anything nice? Etc., etc.

I’ve stated before that I welcome negative reviews as long as they articulate textual problems, for two reasons. The first is simple dedication to my craft – a valid criticism can open my eyes to a quirk of my writing that I had not seen for myself and lead me to improve as a creator. The second reason is more commercial: one person’a deal-breaker is another’s deal-maker.

For example…as part of my pregnancy-running Steampunk reading kick, I have seen the name Lindsay Burowker (sorry, spelling may be off and I am on my phone, too hard to fact-check) pop up. I’ve looked at…her (? I think it’s her) books but never been able to pull the trigger on a purchase, because they seemed more Steampunk than romance, and I’ve been wanting a balance of the two. Then I saw two reviews of Balanced on the Blade’s Edge (see caveat above about to-the-letter accuracy) that included kvetching about the book having too much focus on the romance and a too-graphic sex scene. Ding, ding, ding! Just what I had been waiting for. I picked up a copy. Haven’t started reading yet, but the author has my money now regardless. And all because of the negative reviews.

***

Addendum: I read it, and it was awesome. A well-selected purchase. I will definitely buy more in the series if she writes them…and all because of the person who chose to articulate a particular disappointment.

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Filed under Digital Revolution, Publishing

A Christmastide Courtship Now Available!

courtship with title

Short pitch:

When his brother breaks a longstanding betrothal with their father’s ward, Piers agrees to court Catherine in his brother’s stead. Will twelve days be long enough for two old friends to fall in love?

Click here for the proper back cover description if you missed it a few days ago!

…on Amazon and Smashwords

I expect it will be a couple weeks before the book ends up in extended distribution from Smashwords, and I might possibly have to restructure the file because of where I put the copyright statements (back matter and not front) before it will get distributed. I will update the book’s page with links to other retailers as they become available, including a print edition hopefully within a few weeks.

But for today, you can buy the book on Smashwords in any format or on Amazon for your Kindle (app). If you have found valuable advice in my blog and want to thank me, pick up a copy if you think you’d like it or send a copy to someone you know who reads romance. If you know you’re not the audience for the book, then thank me by continuing to leave intelligent and engaging comments!

Smashwords page (adult filter must be off…the book isn’t erotica; the romance standard would be “spicy” which goes up to heavy petting, but there’s a few cuss words and explicit references to sex, so I didn’t want to take any chances): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/392736

Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HL6P2UE

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On the Fourth Day of Christmas, Myself Gave to Me:

A pretty title page

title page

… and a proper back cover description*.

*I had the description written, this was just the presentation. It is going to go at the front of the ebook, because one thing that has come to annoy the hell out of me as an ebook reader is not having the description of the book that made me buy it in the first place anywhere inside the ebook itself. Sometimes I will download a sample, or buy something because it’s on sale or temporarily free, even though I won’t read it right away, and later won’t be able to remember the hook that made me want to read it at all. I don’t tend to do well with books or movies I know nothing about. Not sure why, but I need some idea where the story is going before I will have the patience to let it get there on its own. Yes, I could go look at Amazon, but…that’s an extra step I would not have to take with a physical book that would have the description on the back, which makes me less likely to read that book versus picking one I remember why I downloaded. Ergo…my ebooks will have the description from the sales site at the front, so that someone who bought it months ago and is only now reading can remember why they wanted it in the first place.

description

Doesn’t it look like the back of a physical book? I figured if I was putting it in, I might as well make it part of the visual interest elements while I was at it.

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Filed under Digital Revolution, Publishing, Rants and Storms

Now THIS Is a DIY Cover

So…after nearly 11 hours of work, off and on, what I have under my metaphorical Christmas tree is a book cover.

Yes, I just spent my entire day fiddling with the effing cover. A lot of this was the learning curve of not just Gimp but also how Gimp-created images do (or do not) play well with other programs. Next time I will know how to render these graphic elements a lot more quickly.

Anyway, I am quite proud of the cover I put together, especially considering just how do-it-myself it was:

  • I made the clothing seen in the picture, the jacket specifically for the purpose of Regency novel covers…from an original pattern based only loosely on Jean Hunniset’s costuming book for the period
  • I had to rearrange the furniture in my house to get a suitable set-up
  • I took the photo OF MYSELF with a delay on my digital camera
  • I spliced together three different photos to make a “scene’ (the couch and figure, the baseboard, the wallpaper) and rendered it into something closer to a painting than a digital photograph using a free program I’d never used before
  • I created the cover graphic (“a Regency novel”) and had to create a separate graphic for the title in order to achieve the text depth and orientation I wanted
  • I put the cover layout together myself using three different programs because none of them alone would quite do what I wanted (Powerpoint, MS Paint, and Gimp)

I am sad I am not hitting publish tonight but, y’all, I am bushed. And in the end the only person I’m letting down with my publication schedule for this book is myself. I can look myself in the eye and say “I did the best I could” without cringing and knowing the words for a lie. Maybe if I go to bed sooner than later I’ll be up for a little coding in the morning and submit this beast before work. If nothing else, after wrestling with Gimp for so long, a series of MS Word hoops are going to feel laughably easy.

In the meantime, I present you with the cover to my newest novel, A Christmastide Courtship.

courtship with title

 

Thursday morning postscript:

Reading back over my post from last night, I feel I should clarify my out-of-pocket expenses for this.

(1) $35 (approximately) for the jacket – 2 yards of fabric, thread, buttons. (Part of me doesn’t even want to count this since I know have a cute little jacket I can wear out and about!)

(2) $59 for the font, which is “Respective” by Mans Greback, from http://www.aringtypeface.com/ (which I plan to use as the cover font for all my historical novels, so the per-cover use will drop with every book I publish. Right now it’s about $20 because I’m about to re-make my covers for the Twelfth Night books).

That’s it. Everything else was just time. (Soooo much time, lol.)

Granted, I made a lot of use of items I had to hand for other reasons. If you don’t cosplay…if you don’t have a good digital camera…if you don’t have old-school furniture to pose with and a fabric stash to make wallpaper out of…then you might have a higher expense list. But for me, it was <$100 which is a pretty nice price tag. I can spend that on myself for Christmas since hubs & I don’t do gifts so much as time and food. 🙂

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Filed under Artwork, Publishing

If There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way, Trust Me to Find the Hard Way

My Christmas present to myself this year is publishing my Christmas novel. The one I’ve had ready to go, textually speaking, since October. I haven’t sat down to make it into a proper ebook with all the bells and whistles before now because I both haven’t had all the elements ready and also haven’t had both time and mental energy to sink into that type of thought for long enough to get a book ready to go. Somehow, it seems the sort of project (to me, at least) that should be done in one fell swoop rather than in pieces, probably because I don’t know the whole process well enough to be sure I’m doing everything if I stop and come back to it later.

As the title of this post alludes to, I am also making this job extremely hard on myself. What can I say; I don’t do anything by half-measures. I could have put a plain and unadorned book with a plain cover out back in October. I chose not to, because I would rather have a professional quality book with hoops and adornments. I have been somewhat constrained by a lack of money here…many of the websites that offer graphic and visual elements require a licensing fee for commercial use that is not worth the minuscule effect they would have on the book as a whole, which left me at ask a friend or do it myself. Same with the cover art.

For…reasons…I find myself in the position of having to do it for myself if I want it done at all.

I spent an hour on Saturday cutting graphic elements out of black card stock and photographing them so that I could have my mistletoe (versus holly, which apparently 95% of graphic designers don’t know are different things) adornments. While I was at it, I made holly just in case, and a masquerade mask for my Twelfth Night novellas, which are about to get an upgrade to my new standard for ebooks. I hauled out my old calligraphy pens – both the marker-like pens and the old-school type that gets dipped in an inkpot – and spent an hour practicing forming letters before I made the “calling cards” for the new Twelfth Night covers. I played dress-up with my spencer jacket (finally finished it, will post on the end of construction later) and various skirts I have made for other costumes until I found a combination I liked, and took test shots with various gloves and without any at all. I stopped in at the plant nursery a few blocks from me and scored a huge stalk of mistletoe for free because they were 5 minutes past closing and the whole wheelbarrow full of it was already wilting.

Sunday I rearranged my living room to show only the oriental rug and chesterfield couch, with a sheet hung behind  it so I would have a blank backdrop, and spent about 3 hours taking photographs of myself in costume on the couch and then standing against the sheet. Let me tell you, figuring out how to balance a little hand-held digital camera on top of 5 books on top of a chair on top of your coffee table is not easy. I ended up having to pin the wrist-strap into the front of a writing journal as a bracer. But it worked. I got some really awesome shots, at least a couple of which could almost be slapped onto a cover as-is. When I see the thumbnails I have to do a double-take to be sure it’s not a picture of a book cover. Unfortunately, the wrinkled green sheet in the background just doesn’t look like wallpaper, so I have to manipulate the image (original plan was to have someone photograph me in an historic hotel with appropriate decor and then just run the picture through an oil painting filter in Photoshop…you know, an hour and an hour and done sort of thing; plans change).

Alas, poor Lily, for the rest of Sunday’s project time did not go so smoothly (“smoothly”) as the picture-taking. I don’t have Photoshop, and I don’t have access to it this week, so I am stuck using a freeware program. I chose Gimp because I have a friend who uses it (unfortunately, it’s a guy I work with so not someone I can just outsource fixing the cover to), and several places online claim that it’s actually more powerful than Photoshop…once you learn how to use it. That caveat needs to be 10 inches high and in red, because Gimp is NOT an MS-based program (I know Adobe is a different company but they mimic the “logic” of MS commands, which is probably part of why they have become/stayed ubiquitous as the go-to photo-manipulation program). I had to find a tutorial merely to open a picture in the program!, and I do not consider myself either stupid or ignorant of computers in general. I spent another 3 hours trying to change the background color and just figuring out a little of how Gimp works in hopes that I might be able to get a working knowledge of it. No such luck, on either count. I finally put my computer aside in abject frustration, resigned to the fact that I would be using tutorials specifically and only for the tasks I needed, and therefore there was no point until I had the pictures all taken (I still needed my “wallpaper” – fabric out of my sewing stash for the win!- and the Twelfth Night pictures, which I needed to take outdoors in daylight) and could just work on the actual cover instead of a practice picture. This was the point where I looked up and realized it was 9:30 and I hadn’t eaten anything since about 11 that morning, and, oh, yeah, I’m not just feeding myself right now.

Monday was a long day at work, and I came home too tired to do anything. Yesterday I got home around 3 and took my Twelfth Night pictures, had Christmas Eve cocktails with my husband, and went to bed early.  He’s back at work today, and I am blessedly off, and so today I embark on the following tasks:

  • take my fabric pictures
  • load all three sets of pictures to my husband’s computer (I don’t have our camera reader installed on mine) and transfer them to my own via Dropbox or email
  • crop out the ugly green curtain from around the couch and replace it with proper wallpaper
  • run the manipulated picture through a filter to make it look more like art than photography
  • add the title/attribution
  • make proper graphic elements out of the mistletoe, holly, and mask .jpegs
  • buy a license for the font I’ve settled on for all my historical romance title needs
  • create graphics for my title page and chapter headings with the font (bc otherwise I have to fool with embedding it in the file and…just no)
  • learn how to hyperlink inside an ebook
  • copy the novel into a new document with appropriate style sheets
  • add the front and back matter
  • add the chapter headings, first line treatments, and graphics section dividers (if I decide to use one instead of the traditional  * * *)
  • make my table of contents
  • do any other html code fiddling (such as defining the size of graphics if necessary, etc.)
  • convert into .mobi and .epub files
  • load to my distributors

I am not in a rush to do this by a certain time today. It’s the only project I have to do, and I doubt anything is showing up in an online store for a day or two after Christmas. Just a hunch, somehow, if any human element whatsoever is needed to make files live.

So there it is. As presents go, it’s kind of a doozy, even if it’s a helluva lot of work to get to the point of presenting it to myself with a nice little bow on top. 🙂

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Filed under Housekeeping, Publishing