Just the art facts, ma’am

I thought one of the benefits of selling a manuscript through a contest was that the manuscript had sold based on the story itself. I was patting myself on the back for not having to write the dreaded query letter.

Ha.

If you publish traditionally, you still have to explain the story to the people who are going to sell it. The people who design the cover need to know what themes are in the story. The distributors want to know what angles the story has that makes it stand out from all the other books that are coming out that month. The reviewers need to know why anyone should pick it up and read it in the first place. Your story, your word baby that you labored over with sweat and prayers, is special to you. Why should anyone else care? Well, it’s your job to tell them. Or, in this case, my job.

On the plus side, this is an opportunity for me to influence the process. For example, for the cover I was asked to write a brief description of three different scenes: the mood, the setting, how the characters were dressed and how I pictured them. I hear stories about other publishers, about authors who feel like they have no say in what the final product will look like. I think it reflects well on Harlequin that they ask for input.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 5.00.36 PM

 

I love Pinterest. I don’t know what authors did before the Internet. I can just point and say “There. That’s what Matthew looks like. That’s Liza’s claim. There’s Elijah, looking adorable.”

I still hate writing blurbs. And synopses. And catchy catch phrases. These are skills that I need to work on. But I’m getting better!

 

Becoming real

Cinderella
Not the cover, alas. A picture of Cinderella.

Matthew and Liza’s story not only has a publication date, it has a title. It’s almost like it’s a real book or something crazy like that.

His Forgotten Fiancée, coming soon to a retailer near you.

By soon, I mean January. Which is going to give me time to finish editing Geoff and Lia’s story and hopefully write another story that I have simmering.

A title by any other name

Roulette wheel
Looking for a title for a story? I was asked to provide a list of different titles for my story about Matthew and Liza. Google kindly pointed me toward some romance novel title generators:

Western Romance Title Generator

Romance Title Generator

Or this one, which came up with the catchy title, “The Greek Tycoon’s One-Night Plan for Tax Purposes.” I think that one’s my favorite.

If you need more than a title, you might try this one, which has generators for titles, plots, character flaws, and a horde of other novel elements.

Snow crystals on carWhile random generators might help spark the creative process, what works best is to find a title that expresses what is unique about this particular story. Finding the right title is not like playing a roulette wheel, more like picking a snowflake out of a blizzard.

Writing World has a useful article on finding the right title for your novel.

Signs of progress

"my way" (3363960572)

My story about Matthew and Liza needed some revising, and then more revising. And then some tweaking. And then re-tweaking. This is not a bad thing. Trust me when I say it needed the work. I am grateful that I had a kind editor who could point out the things that needed to be tweaked and revised.

Now it has a publication date. It should be coming out in January. This gives the production staff the time they need to work their magic on it.

But first, they need me to do more work. I need to think up some exciting titles that will tell the reader at a glance how fabulous, dazzling, and covered-in-glitter-amazing my story is. Or at least titles that will give them a hint what the story is about and rouse their curiosity so they have to click the link to see what it’s about.

Creating Tension

Ropetrailer2Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rope isn’t a movie that I like to re-watch because I always feel uncomfortable in a story where the murderer is the protagonist. But it’s a great example of how to create tension. In the picture above, the murderers are being confronted by the one person in the story smart enough to figure out what they’ve done, which is murder a man and hide his body in a trunk.

The murderers and the ‘detective’ are in the background. Hitchcock put the trunk with the dead body in the foreground of the shot. He always kept the tension right in front of the audience.

I have to resist the urge to keep everything secret from the reader until the Great Reveal. That doesn’t produce tension so much as it produces annoyance. It’s far more effective to use suspense instead of surprise.

Hitchcock had the right idea. if the audience can see the danger coming, the tension is high. You’ve caught their attention and they want to know what happens next.

Note to self: Twists in the story are great. But if given the choice, go with suspense every time.

Reviews: the good, the bad, the ugly

Isaac Asimov once listened to someone giving a lecture that explained in detail his personal theory of what one of Asimov’s stories meant. After the lecture, Asimov came up to the man and kindly pointed out that while the man’s theory was ingenious, it was also completely off base regarding the story. When the man asked why he was so sure, Asimov said “Because I wrote it.” I loved the man’s response.

“… tell me, what makes you think, just because you are the author of ‘Nightfall,’ that you have the slightest inkling of what is in it?”
-Gotthard Guenther

The other day, I read a blog written by an author who, some years back, wrote a critical review of a book. It wasn’t nasty, there was good and bad in the review, but now he is wondering if perhaps he should not leave the review up. Other authors chimed in to agree, saying less-than-positive reviews aren’t helpful for the author.

I have to say that I don’t agree with that point of view. I don’t think the point of a review is to be helpful or hurtful to a writer. It’s written by a reader and is helpful to other readers. Reviews are opinions and as such as wholly subjective and not designed to be anything else.

Reviews are not written about what the author put into the book; they’re about what the reader got out of the book. Just because I wrote a book doesn’t mean that I know what’s in it. Not, that is, from the reader’s point of view.

Reading a book is a joint effort between the author and the reader. What I get out of a book is not necessarily what the author put into the book, because my experience of reading it is shaped by the mood I’m in, my past experiences, etc.  There’s no point in an author getting upset about a review, arguing with the reviewer, saying “you just don’t understand.” What they got out of the book is their experience, not yours.

I have bought books based on one-star reviews that I read in Amazon, because the reviewers mentioned why they disliked the book, and the things they called out would not bother me. On the other hand, I’ve read five-star reviews that deterred me from buying the book. If the reader thinks the book is wonderful even though it’s riddled with grammatical errors, I know I will be too distracted by the poor writing to enjoy the book. That’s just me.

Note: when I’m talking about a review, I’m talking about someone’s honest opinion about what they liked and what they didn’t like. I am not talking about one of those reviewers who enjoys being witty at someone’s expense. That’s someone who enjoys being cruel. It’s got nothing to do with whether the book is good or bad, often I suspect the person skimmed the book if they read it at all.

I’m coming from the perspective of someone who’s spent the last 20+ years writing books. Granted, they were non-fiction and usually only reviewed by engineers, but I wrote ’em,  my livelihood depended on them, and I got the equivalent of some one-star reviews. Not fun. However. As a professional writer, I considered it part of the job not to get upset or argue with someone’s opinion. If I write a book, I will sweat over it, bleed over it, angst over it, but then I will let it go. If you don’t like it, that’s your prerogative. You probably love books that I can’t stand. And that’s okay.

P.S. Blog posts are also subjective. The above is my opinion. I won’t feel hurt if you give this post a one-star comment.