Authors: Don’t Rush; Revise

These days, every “how to succeed in as an author” blog you read advises you to release as many books as you can as quickly you can. All successful indie authors (that I know) have multiple books–or series–on the market, and several have parlayed their methodology into side businesses focused on telling other indie authors how to write, publish, and sell indie books–advice that boils down to, “write a lot of books and bring them to market fast.”

This strategy isn’t unique to indie authors. Many traditionally published authors, both famous and obscure, push work out quickly too, especially if they’re writing series. Being prolific works if you want to sell books, and if you can produce a page-turner in six months or less, you’re awesome.

But…

An awful lot of authors can’t really produce a gripping story as a first draft, or a second. When they try, the work ends up being substandard, or not as good as it could have been if the author had taken the time to look critically at the work and address the narrative shortcomings. You especially see this a lot with series, where the first book might be mind-blowingly good, and then the quality drops off.

Exhibit A: the Hunger Games Series

51zkheo7x8LSo, Suzanne Collins wrote this dystopian page-turner called The Hunger Games. It was action-packed, suspenseful, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking–pretty close to a perfect book, in my view. Catching Fire, the sequel published by Scholastic a year later, suffered a bit as a segue story with a cliffhanger ending, but was nearly as suspenseful and action-packed as its predecessor. The following year, Scholastic released Mockingjay. Alas, Mockingjay was loaded with characters talking instead of doing. In the first two books, Katniss, the protagonist, lives at the center of the action, but in the third book, Katniss only hears about many important events during the planning or aftermath stages. Frankly, this read as lazy writing. Collins could have (and should have) rejiggered her plot to keep Katniss in the center of the action; instead Katniss spends many chapters sitting around waiting for news of other characters’ doings. As a result, the third Hunger Games book was the opposite of the first–instead of devouring page-turning suspense, I slogged through a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes. Now, I don’t know whether the published Mockingjay text was the first draft or the twentieth (and it still sold a bajillion copies), but I suspect it was an early draft and that deadline pressure from Scholastic, or perhaps just Collins’s own desire to release the book quickly, led to a substandard novel.

Authors: Please Put Narrow Escapes and Important Discoveries in the Book

How many times have you read a story where the protagonist slips into a safe space, breathes a sigh of relief, then discusses that close call with a companion–and the close call itself isn’t in the book! I have seen this reliance on dialogue to convey action a lot, especially in books by fellow indie authors which I know to be produced quickly. All too often, the author releases what is essentially his or her first draft, with only minimal revisions. It pisses me off when I see good writers do this, because I know they can do better, if they’d only invest the time in revisions.

Monkeyyawn

See, I often describe an event through dialogue in my first draft of a scene, and then I have to check myself: “God, that’s boring! Don’t have them talk about that fight–back up and write the fight!” Backstory action can be described through dialogue, but if the event is important and occurs within the timeframe of the story, the author should take the time to craft the scene and weave it into the book. Sometimes this means rewriting the lead-up scenes, so that the main characters remain in the center of the action. Sometimes it means simply taking the time to backfill an action sequence instead of just plowing forward with the plot and getting the book done. Sure, an indie author’s success depends on having multiple books on the market. But if your first book (or your third) is just a bunch of dull conversations leading to a series of irritating anticlimaxes, your readers won’t be likely to pick up your next book, and that defeats the purpose of having all those books out there.

Advertisements

Preparing for the Breach

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” —Henry V, Shakespeare

2016-07-22 15.14.16Anyone who follows my Instagram feed can see I’ve been in Europe the past two weeks. We toured London, Paris, and Venice. The last stop rekindled my desire to return to my long-neglected historical novel, Galileo’s Doctor, part of which takes place in Venice. I abandoned family to tiptoe through silent churches, taking panoramic shots of the art and architecture. While they shopped for souvenirs, I peaked through windows in warren-like alleys and wondered how on earth Venetian women managed to walk on those rough cobbles in their 12-inch platform heels.

Sadly, Venice faces many threats, from climate change to a dwindling population (thanks to foreigners pricing Venetians out of their homes). I hope ingenuity saves this gem of a city, but I’m glad I could share it with my daughter and see it again myself, making more memories, and I hope, a great story whenever I finally finish Galileo’s Doctor.

AWFscreenshot

My new website: amjusticeauthor.com

In the meantime, I am gearing up to launch A Wizard’s Forge. Look for more regular posts here, including from other authors. Also, my new author’s website is up, and it is amazing, thanks to RockdotVoss (and be sure to check out Jennifer and Mike’s awesome and totally relatable office farce, B.S. Incorporated). And praise for AWF is starting to trickle in on NetGalley and Goodreads (thank you, reviewers!). I’m really excited for this launch, but also nervous. I’d rather write than market. But no author can succeed these days without it, so I’ll try to gain some inspiration from the Bard:

…Imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height.
The game’s afoot.

Somebody Is Reading My Book!

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALI don’t know about you, but nothing turns on my OCD more than releasing a new book. A Wizard’s Forge won’t be released until September (although you can preorder it now), but my publishing partner (Wise Ink Creative Publishing)  posted an advance review copy on NetGalley, a site where book reviewers and bloggers can download free Ebooks. AWF has been posted for about a week and it seems to be doing well. The cover has garnered several dozen thumbs-up signs, and there have been roughly twice as many review copy requests. That should make me happy.

I’m a wreck.

Grace Kelly—or her modern day incarnation, Eva Green—would file this information away and let the chips fall over the next several weeks and months. Neither would betray the slightest concern at that

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!

GraceBag

Grace Kelly reveals the contents of her valise to Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He’s confused; I’m awed.

I adore both actresses because I aspire to their consummate cool (I also desperately wish I was as lovely—something as a feminist I’m not supposed to admit, but which I still feel). Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film because of Grace and her overnight bag (when those slippers pop out of all that chiffon, be still my heart!), and Eva…well, if I ever met her, I’d probably lose more than my cool, kinda like this lady meeting the late great Heath Ledger.

 

I’ve certainly lost my cool now, because

Oh my God somebody in the world is reading my book!

 

and it’s interfering with my life. I can’t help thinking, what passage is this stranger reading? Has she reached the part where Vic escapes from Lornk? Chapter 7, “Asylum,” may be my favorite in the book. What does he think of the chapter where Ashel decides to join the war effort? That chapter is such a turning point for Ashel, where he becomes a deep thinker full of conflicting emotions. Has anyone posted a progress report on Goodreads or, good heavens, a review yet? (A couple speedy readers have already posted reviews on Goodreads: 4 and 5 stars!)  I have a jam-packed week at the day job and a big trip coming up. I’m supposed to be contacting other authors and book bloggers to set up a blog tour. My new website requires attention as Jennifer and Mike at RockdotVoss finish its fine-tuning. And oh, yeah, I have a sequel to rework, which is turning out to be a bigger job than I anticipated. But I can’t stop checking on the status!

Confident authors are supposed to release their books on the world and never read reviews or, indeed, look back. I can’t do that (after all, I rewrote the damn series). The bottom line is, as much as I wish I were Grace Kelly or Eva Green, I’m really Sally Field. I write first for me, and I write what I like, but I sooo want you to like it too. My fingers are crossed that you will.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released to the general reading public September 19, 2016. You can preorder your copy now on Amazon.

Crafting Back Cover Copy: Don’t Try It Alone

First of all, let’s clarify some terms. The text that appears on the back cover of a printed book and on any webpage offering the book for sale is not called a blurb, it’s called back cover copy or book description. A blurb is a quote from another author or celebrity touting the book. Blurbs also go on the cover (front or back, depending on the fame of the blurb source) and are awesome marketing tools (and anyone wishing to blurb my book, please contact me!), but after the cover art, the first taste of a book most readers see and attend to is the back cover copy. Thus, getting it right is essential.

When traditional publishers release a book, they rarely allow the author to write the novel’s back cover copy; usually someone in the marketing department crafts it. Back in the last century, when I trained for a career in publishing, we were taught that the person writing the back cover copy will frequently not have read the book—you can chalk up every misleading book description you’ve ever read to that practice. Despite the risk of inaccuracies, however, there’s value in having someone else write the book description. As authors we can be blinded by our own vision, where another person can see through the forest to the particular trees that will hook readers’ interest.

I recently went through this process with the back cover copy for my upcoming novel A Wizard’s Forge. As I’ve already described here, AWF is a reboot of a previously published novel, which had this description:

BladeofAmber_final_sized for SWScorned by her teenage peers, Victoria studies the ship’s logs of her spacefaring ancestors and dreams of other lands. She regrets her wish the day slavers arrive. Sold as a concubine to a cruel sovereign, Vic escapes and finds refuge with his enemies, among whom she learns the art of war. In time, she becomes the Blade, a soldier-assassin renowned for cunning and daring, and the woman who captures the heart of the charming Prince Ashel. When the sovereign who once owned her imprisons the prince who loves her, Vic undertakes a quest to rescue Ashel and wreak her vengeance. Along the way, she meets mysterious creatures who make a strange offer: drink the Waters of the Dead and become a wizard. As Vic’s powers manifest, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

I worked and reworked that description over months, including running it past other writer friends and working hard to find the essence of the novel. I didn’t anticipate a substantial revision to this copy for AWF, but when I sent it into Wise Ink, my publishing partners for the rebooted novel, my project manager Patrick came back with this alternative suggestion:

Scholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

Victoria of Ourtown has been a lot of things.

On a planet far from Earth, the descendants of marooned space travelers are fighting a decades-long war. Vic is dragged from her peaceful homeland and sold to a sadistic warlord who keeps her locked in a tower and naked. After months of psychological torture, she seizes an opportunity to escape—and uses her newfound freedom to join the fight against her former captor. As new powers manifest in Vic, she realizes she has been forged into a weapon—but for what purpose?

My eyes popped and heart raced when I read this, and my first reaction was denial—I couldn’t put that on the cover! You see, even though I wrote a novel about a woman seeking revenge for sexual and psychological abuse she endured as a teen, I’m pretty discomfited by the content of my own story, and I previously hid the details of the plot’s driving force behind the relatively genteel concubine. However, once I caught my breath and my heart rate slowed down, I decided to build from Patrick’s more provocative version. He had, after all, found the trees that would likely draw readers into my forest.

Patrick and I passed the description back and forth for several more rounds, getting input from writing and publishing colleagues. Altogether, the description went through half a dozen rounds of revision. I’m thrilled with the final product:

A_Wizards_Forge_cover_Text_FINALScholar. Slave. Warrior. Wizard.

On a planet far from Earth, descendants of marooned space travelers fight a decades-long war. Shy scholar Victoria knows nothing of this conflict until pirates kidnap and sell her to the sadistic tyrant behind it. He keeps her naked and locked in a tower, subjecting her to months of psychological torture. After seizing an opportunity to escape, Vic joins the fight against her former captor and begins walking a bloody path toward revenge.

As the Blade, Vic gains glory raiding her enemy’s forces, but the ordeal in his tower haunts her. Bitter memories keep her from returning the love of the kindhearted Prince Ashel, whose family has fended off the tyrant’s invading army for a generation. When enemy soldiers capture Ashel, Vic embarks on a quest to rescue him and, on the journey, discovers a source of spectacular power. With wizardry, Vic can rescue the prince, end the war, and wreak the vengeance she craves, but she might also destroy her only chance for peace.

A Wizard’s Forge will be released September 19, 2016. I can’t wait, and I hope you’re as excited as I am.