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Beta Readers, Book Covers, Early Readers, Featured, Writing, Writing Style

Judging a Book…

July 15, 2018

It is not true that readers don’t judge a book by its cover. We do. Sometimes we buy a book because the cover is intriguing, exciting, mysterious. I have often bought a book because I liked the front cover and the back blurb. And as a writer, I know how hard it is to write the blurb to attract readers and not mislead them.

So, we are about to go to school on my psychological suspense novel, Eyes Without a Face.  I worked with a boutique publisher who has a cast of professionals on speed dial. I’m one of his editors, so I work with some of his authors to polish manuscripts.

I selected one of his cover designers to help give Eyes a spooky look and feel. We came up with this. I think we achieved spooky. The dark brown color wash added a hint of danger without being overt. We chose the hoodie because the killer often wears one when she kills. We went with yellow on brown in keeping with that color palette. So far, so good.

We needed a face in the hoodie. After adding a host of different images using PhotoShop, we came up with nothing that worked. Last summer, my DIL, who is a photographer, suggested we take a pic of her husband, black out the face, and drop in a set of creepy female eyes we’d found in open source photo galleries.

We thought we had a winner. The book came out to solid reviews. All but one. That one focused on the cover. The reader would have given me 5 stars had the cover been different. About the same time, I did a series of book signings and talks. I sent out 100 postcards with the eyes themselves on the front. Sales were good but not great.

Three events in a row taught me that the cover was wildly misleading. Not only did the cover not reinforce the salient fact that the main character, who is also the first person narrator, is a bloody female. Pun intended. She’s a serial killer. She tells the story her way. She’s unreliable. She lies. And the cover lies as well.

People asked what the book was about. I did a bit of research to see what readers thought. They gave me three different ideas about the connotation of the image.

OMG! No, the book is not about the Unabomber. No, the book is not about Jihadi John, the Brit who became the public executioner for ISIS. And no, the book is not about Trayvon Martin. I don’t feel qualified to write about any of these three, particularly not Trayvon, whose tragic death touched me deeply.

Oh, what to do? Hire a different cover designer, of course. And, true to wanting a build up for the reveal, you’ll have to wait until my next post. Yup, teaser that I am, you’ll have to curb your inquiring mind for another few days. Giggle. I hope you like it.

Beta Readers, Early Readers, Editing, Empty Words, Featured, First Paragraph, Writing, Writing Challenge, Writing Habits, Writing Life, Writing Style

If Writing Is An Art,

May 21, 2018

then editing is a craft. For me, writing the initial draft of any work brings me a freedom to put anything, and I do mean anything, down on paper. I love getting out of my characters’ way and let them have free rein. That first draft may be full of purple prose, misnamed characters, characters whose physical features change from sentence to sentence. I don’t worry.

Once I’ve finished the first draft, I sit back and think about the characters first. What do they look like? How do they speak? What do they carry in their pockets or purses? I make a list of all these things, so that when I begin crafting a story, I have a reference point. Notice I do this AFTER I’ve written the first draft. Nothing can restrain the initial gush of story.

I then return to each chapter. Is it necessary? Does it move the story along? Does it have or need conflict? What happens in it? If I can’t see the chapter moving the story forward, I cut it out of the longer manuscript and copy it into a file called [Working Book Title] Parking Lot. I may need it again. I may not, but at least it’s not lost.

That done, the fun begins. I mean it. Editing is fun, painful at times, but fun, because that’s when I shape the story. Think of a potter at her wheel. She slaps a blob of wet clay in the center and begins spinning the wheel. Gradually, through a deft touch and no small amount of luck, she shapes the clay into a vase or bowl or whatever the clay wants to become. Words are like clay. Story is like the wheel. My hands are merely a means to revealing a story, much like the hands of the potter pulling a shape from the blob.

Editing is plain hard work. Early drafts are, for me, broad brush strokes to see where the story falls apart. It will, because it hasn’t been finessed at all. Secondary drafts are where I look at every word in every sentence. Is it the right word to convey what I want? Is it a cliche that has to die a rapid death by Delete key? Is it trite, original, fresh, stale? Sometimes, it takes several drafts before I can set a chapter aside. After a few weeks, after I’ve finished all the other chapters, I sit back and reread from page one to “the end.”

Oh what was I thinking? What drivel? No one will ever want to read this. It sucks. Oh, wait, what? That chapter is really pretty good. So is the next one. I think about what makes each chapter sing. I try to replicate it.

And then I ask my loyal beta readers to dive in. Usually, this leads to more revelations about what needs to be fixed. Some are such good readers they can suggest what they expected to read. After a few more edits, I’m finally ready. I put the book out into the world. I cross my fingers in hopes people like it. I read reviews, even the one-star reviews. I engage with readers on social media or old school by phone, in person, or email. Each interaction, each engagement, helps me become a better writer.

I’m in the midst of the secondary draft stage of a book called Out of the Desert, a novel in stories. So far, one chapter of fourteen sings on key. The others are still slightly off key. More work to be done. Bye for now.

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