Thursday, March 20, 2014

"Catch Me Falling" Advances in ABNA 2014

Another year, another Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award entry, this time with Catch Me Falling. The novel made the first cut and is on to the second round. This marks the third year in a row that I managed to get a novel through the pitch stage, but the previous entries did not advance to the quarterfinals. The quarterfinal round judging considers only the first 5000 words (15 - 20 pages). To make the next cut, the story must be attention-grabbing and very well written - particularly as compared to many other well-written entries. This year's submission is my best work in terms of tone, so I'm hoping that might be enough to move it along. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Independent Publishing: Getting the Cover Right

I love my cover for Catch Me Falling, an original commissioned work of art from Mark Bulahao. It captures the poignancy of the story perfectly. See for yourself, and tell me the picture does pique a sense of wistful sadness within you.


However, there is always a however. I typically dislike howevers. However ... I received feedback from two unrelated sources that the cover was not reflective of the novel's genre and target audience. One response was, "lovely cover, and intriguing, but looks like a novel from the 70's or 80's." The other comment was similar, but not as friendly. Hurtful words, indeed. But after careful consideration, I found that I could not vigorously disagree. My emotional push back to the comments peaked at pathetic. So, back to the drawing board. Literally.

Based on a Wattpad experience of posting the first portion of the story, I know that the market for this novel are females under the age of thirty and over the age of fifty. Strange, I know, but the vast majority of the thirty fans of the Wattpad excerpt fell into those two categories. A little research told me that the first group (under-thirty women) are looking for bodice-ripper romance in imaginative forms - paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. The second group craves the same, but in gentler forms, as if seen through the lens of nostalgic memory. Covers for such novels have certain hallmarks, including:
  • A woman and a man with obscured or semi-obscured faces
  • Photo realistic renderings of the woman and man (not drawings)
  • Hot guys with bare chests
  • Women ignoring said hot guys, or playing hard-to-get
  • Women physically assaulting said hot guys with lips, arms, and legs
  • Visible emotional or sexual tension between the two
Catch Me Falling is not overtly sexual, so the physical assault style is not right. However, the novel is emotionally wringing, so every other hallmark is appropriate. So, I sifted through several thousand photos on Shutterstock.com in search of the picture in my head. The result was the following cover, which I created from three intriguing photos using GIMP (a free but difficult-to-use tool that mimics PhotoShop without the $600 price tag). I think it kind of pops. What say you?



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Titling A Novel: What's in a Name?

The hardest part of any given activity is not always what you predict before starting. The hardest part of riding a bike? The pavement, as you smack into it repeatedly. The hardest part of climbing a mountain? Coming back down, because you can't see your feet and your knees have ceased to function. The hardest part about rasing children? Uh, never mind. That's all hard.

When I began writing, I never imagined the degree of difficulty in titling my novels. I just wrote 80,000 words. A few works of title should be a piece of cake, right? Not so much, it seems. When writing, I typically have a working title. Only once has the working title stuck all the way through publication ("The Shore of Monsters"). In every other case, I spent a ridiculous amount of time inventing and discarding candidate titles. Having gone through this process for a whopping four novels and two study guides, I am far from expert. However, my awareness of the challenges has grown, and my understanding of strategy has increased. A little. Below is a list of my hard-earned wisdom to date. Which isn't much. But whatever.

- Good titles concisely capture the primary content. Better titles capture the tone as well. Case in point: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. He could have used a more descriptive title, but he opted for short and sweet. On the short-and-sweet front, he opted to use a loaded word in "road". That word implies many things: a journey, a destination, a challenge, a grind, a way out. The use of a word with so many implications to the general readership allows him to speak volumes about the nature and tone of the novel with a two-word title. Another example is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The title implies a tone of gung-ho upbeatness. However, the reader quickly realizes that the title is a satire of the content, which describes a new world that is anything but brave or desirable. In general, you should consider using loaded words or terms, or words that evoke strong emotion.

- Good titles are meaningful to the reader. Better titles are meaningful to readers of the target genre. For example, if you hear the title with the word "Sword" in it? Without knowing the content of the novel, what would you say the genre is? Fantasy? Historical Fiction? Probably. And you certainly wouldn't think is was primarily a romance novel. The first two elements that capture a reader's attention are the cover and the title. If your title strays too far from what is normal for your genre, it may not get a second look. You should be familiar with the use of titles within your target genre, and make some attempt to fit the mold.

- Good titles sound good when spoken. Better titles stick in the brain. For example, every one of John Green's titles. The Fault in Our Stars. Looking for Alaska. An Abundance of Katherines. All of these titles flow when spoken. All are intriguing enough to stick in the brain. And ultimately, all describe the content very concisely using loaded or emotional words that appeal to his young adult audience.

Yep. Developing a title can be very difficult. And in the end, there is no magic formula, only rules of thumb and things to consider. After all, the title of Moby Dick didn't hold it back.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cage of Skin and Bone: Published (as "Catch Me Falling")

After a lengthy delay, I decided to self-publish Cage of Skin and Bone. But not before changing the title to Catch Me Falling. I think it fits better with the story's primary category of "romantic fantasy".

In the past year, I more than satisfied my rejection quota as agent after agent either said "No, thanks" or did not bother to respond. Sure, I get that there are umpty-million aspiring authors and about thirty-seven agents. I understand that many fine stories never see the light of day through traditional publishing as a result. And I realize that self-publishing confines a novel to a life of limited upside. Yah, I get it. But dang it, I like this story, and would rather a few hundred people read it than none. So this is me shaking my fist at the universe once again and flinging my story into the readership void.

The 300-page novel is available on amazon.com, smashwords.com, itunes, nook, createspace, and a number of other outlets. Now begins the long, trudging march of marketing and selling it. Here. We. Go.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cage of Skin and Bone: Change of Plans

At the strong advisement of two folks whose literary opinions I greatly respect, I have been contacting publishing houses for interest in taking on the novel as a publishing project. No luck yet. Going in without an agent is about like crossing Cuba without a boat: I'm in for a tough swim.


Still, success is remotely possible, especially with smaller publishing houses who still consider quality over mass appeal. The difficulty with contacting publishers is this: most frown upon simultaneous submissions, take longer to respond to submissions than do agents, and often do not respond at all. The result is a slow process that threatens to break my will.


Because I don't know how long this process will take before a) success, or b) raging impatience, I have started on the sequel to Cage of Skin and Bone. Nothing like writing to take my mind off of ... err ... um ... writing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Going Forward with Publication: Cage of Skin and Bone

In early January I promised a valiant effort to find representation for the novel Cage of Skin and Bone. Today I reached the 5 month mark of that attempt after having contacted 21 prospective agents. Three agents requested part or all of the manuscript before politely declining. Eight more declined the query outright, again very politely. Ten never responded. The response / no response split is typical of what I've encountered before.

Let me just say this: I very much appreciate those who took the time to respond. I know agents are slammed by a million queries on top of the time they must spend serving their existing client base, so anyone taking the time to respond, no matter how briefly, has my undying respect!

Anyway, having exhausted my pool of patience for this particular work, I am proceeding with self-publication. The last round of copy editing is nearly complete and the cover is ready to go. Expect to see the novel in publication by the end of June.

One positive side effect of the five month hiatus is the time it provided me to outline the rest of the series. Crissa's story will go on! For three novels, anyway. A mammoth undertaking, but I am ready! (A mammoth undertaking ... get it? Mammoth? Undertaking? And with the image of a mammoth? You see how I did that? Pretty clever, huh!)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Run is Over for Cage of Skin and Bone

Alas, my new novel failed to advance to the quarter-final round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I can only assume that the judges lost my entry. How else could you explain the lack of inclusion?

Actually, I'm certain that the remaining novels are mind-numbing miracles of literature and worthy of advancement. In the meantime I take heart in history. Einstein's theories were originally mocked, President Truman failed at business, and Edison made one thousand failed light bulb designs before inventing one that worked. And Jennifer Hudson did not win American Idol, for crying out loud. You go, girl!

Back to the old pen and inkwell!