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Friday, January 30, 2009

Genres and Sub-genres

For you aspiring writers: Here is an interesting post from agent Lucienne Diver about fantasy/sf and romance subgenres.

And, it's good info. Not just because she lists me alongside George RR Martin. Read more of this post!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cover Input

I don't want to design my book covers. I love writing, but I just don't have the visual skills to design covers or the marketing skills to know what sells (lots of writers who do design their own covers don't know this part either, I fear!)

That being said, I DO want to have a say in my covers. I know what I don't like. And I certainly know what fits the book - even if it doesn't represent the exact image I had in my mind.

Take the Restoration cover, done by the marvelous Matt Stawicki. The characters look nothing like the images of Seyonne and Aleksander that live in my head, but when I pulled that cover out of the envelope, I went, "Wow!" It is gorgeous. It will draw a reader's eye and make readers wonder about the book - which is the entire reason for cover art, of course. The Stawicki Revelation cover was actually more beautiful than I had envisioned the ice palace in Kir'Vagonoth. I also love the Luis Royo covers for the Lighthouse books, but, sorry folks, he isn't quite Valen and the beauifully rendered masks are wrong - they should be vertical half masks. But I think the covers are gorgeous and feel very fortunate.

So the time has come (already?) and my editor, bless her, is asking for my ideas for what should be on the cover of the [as yet untitled] new book.

Probably not an action scene. They are not "stylish" for trade paperback originals. So, there's more thinking to do. I've got three investigators, a burning ship, ghosts, horribly-- Well I can't tell all, can I? I need to send them several ideas to explore - and pages for my editor to read, but they're not ready yet...yoiks.

And then there is the matter of cover copy - the ubiquitous back cover blurb that may be even more important than the cover, and is likely the second thing a prospective reader looks at. I don't get to write it, but thanks to some cooperative behavior (I think!) I get to make suggestions. Hooray. This part has to be done accurately, as far as I'm concerned. No revelation of secrets. No cliches. Vivid words. OK, I tend to get too wordy, but at least I get to contribute. I was really happy with the Lighthouse cover copy.

Something else to be working on in the next week or so.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's in a Title?

So my editor wants to talk about titles for the new series. Titles are sometimes easy - Transformation, Song of the Beast, Flesh and Spirit. They can bubble up early out of the story, sometimes before I know what they really mean - The Soul Weaver, Daughter of Ancients.

Some titles are just hard - Son of Avonar. That one took me a while because I had to step back and see that the core of the story, the prime motivator, the piece that changed EVERYthing, was the "son" in question, even though the protagonist and narrator was Seri. His fate was the driver and the Bridge was the arc that spanned the four books.

Out of my ten books, only two titles have changed since the book went under contract. They happen to be two of my favorite titles. They are...

Revelation - changed from the original because my UK publisher feared the original title evoked the "horror" genre rather than fantasy. He was right. I searched for the right -tion word for weeks.

Breath and Bone - changed because my first pass was too close to another book being released from Roc in 2008. I was so unhappy, until I happened to use the phrase breath and bone one day in the text and I knew it was perfect.

Both of the new titles were infinitely better than the originals.

So my editor didn't say exactly why marketing doesn't care for Unholy Alliance, but I suspect because there are about five hundred titles (search Amazon!) that incorporate the phrase - and most of them are history or psychology. Fortunately, I am not wedded to this particular title - I had to call the book something when I was proposing it. And because of my previous experience with the changes, I'm hoping that I can come up with something I like much better.

There are so many words out there that apply to this story - and lots of them are SO cliched in fantasy titles. Blood is significant - but I don't want people to think vampires or urban fantasy. Shades, shadows, ghosts, spectres...getting into horror territory...and triteness. If I get too far into the secret agent aspect, I'll have people thinking "thriller" and risk losing the fantasy association. Tough.

What do you think are words that are overused in fantasy titles?
I'll keep you posted.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Concert Celebration

Just caught the Lincoln Memorial pre-inaugural concert on the HBO website. It was great fun. My favorite part?

I think it was Herbie Hancock, Sheryl Crow, and Will.I.Am singing Bob Marley's One Love. Some of the other combinations of singers were great, too. If you missed it (we were at a birthday party, and we don't get HBO anyway) you might be able to catch a rebroadcast on the HBO website. We routed it through our TV and stereo, so we got good sound. Enjoy! Celebrate! Read more of this post!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting Published

Just got an email from a reader/aspiring writer asking some fundamental questions about this writing business. As she said, there is so much information on the internet, she doesn't know where to start. So let's cover a few of Cindey's questions:

What's the best thing to do in order to get published?

Write great stories. This is not facetious. Many people can think of a great story. But to write one, you have to learn the craft of writing: how to write dialogue, how to write great openings, how to vary your sentence structure, how to avoid common pitfalls like "telling" instead of revealing character and plot through action and dialogue. There's a long list. Reading good stories, reading articles or blogs about writing, going to workshops, getting together with other aspiring writers and learning together, and writing, writing, writing - those are all good ways to learn the craft (reading and writing being the most important!)

I read somewhere that getting an agent could help better than not having one.

This is an age-old argument. A first time author can sell novel length work without an agent, but it is hard, and in today's tightening publishing market, it's probably going to get harder. Yes, "selling" your work to an agent is just as hard as selling your work to a publisher, but you will probably want an agent to negotiate a contract offer for you anyway. And if you can't interest an agent in your work, you'll have difficulty interesting a publisher. Opinions do vary on this. I actually got an editor interested first and then submitted through an agent. I was glad I had her to help me through it. You don't need an agent for short stories, just a source of markets (see ralan.com for an example) and a lot of stamps, envelopes, and cover letters. (Learn how to write a professional cover letter.)

I also read that I could send in a proposal first & not have the book written just yet. Then if there was interest in the book, the publisher would then want the book written.

This can work for non-fiction. You can structure a book proposal by writing a chapter-by-chapter outline and a query letter, explaining your qualifications for writing the book. You would also need to write the first few chapters to include in your proposal. There are many good descriptions of non-fiction book proposals out there. Look at books like Writers' Market or How to Get Happily Published, or the websites of reputable writers and agents. (See Pub Rants link in the margin.)

For fiction and a first time writer, a book proposal is not going to fly. Editors want to see not only that you can write, but that you can finish a whole book. Ideas, sad to say, really are a dime a dozen. Once you've been published you may be able to sell books on proposal, but not (OK, never say never) as a first time writer.

Where do you start?

Write the book. Revise it. Revise it again, until it is the best it can be.

Once you think your book is ready (and this means you've had serious writers and readers - not just your friends - read it and give you feedback) start looking at Preditors and Editors, and Writer Beware to learn about the pitfalls waiting for naive writers. (I've got links in the margin here.) Read the articles in Writers' Market and do research at places like Agent Query (link in the margin, too.) Find some online communities for writers - Absolute Write, Making Light, and the sff.net forums. And I highly recommend agent Kristin Nelson's well-written blog Pub Rants. Read her archives about what agents look at, what makes them stop reading, how to write queries, and so forth.

Hope this helps, Cindey, and all of you!
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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Can't quite believe it's been a year since I started up this blog - until I look at my calendar and realize I've got about six weeks until this book is due to my editor. Nope, it's not done yet. But we had a lovely holiday, with the entire immediate family here at the house - and my mom, too, and visits from a niece and her kids. Safe travels for all. All good. But December evaporated and here I am trying to marshal my brains and pages for the final assault...

Task 1 - remember what the heck I'm doing here. It feels like time for a complete read of What's Happened So Far. Why? Partly because I want to make sure I'm steeped in the story before I move into the final chapters. Partly because I've got some timing changes to make. And partly because I've some clarifications to weave in and I might as well do it now as later.

Timing: On the last day I got substantial work done before Christmas, I decided I had made my timeframe too short. My heroes were running out of time - which is always a good thing for tension - but in this case the work they have to do just can't be squeezed in before their "drop dead date." [Just a euphemism. Uh-huh.] I don't have a "magical cheat" in place to speed up their traveling. If they are going to visit Michel de Vernase's home, and still return to Merona before the grand finale of this story, I've got to build in travel time. So annoying.

Changes to weave in: a little more precise magic (now that I understand it), some peculiarities of Portier's past (not all of which are alliterative!), and some cultural details like the Cult of the Reborn and the differences between spectres (the energies left behind by a dead person), ghosts (souls that cannot cross the Veil), and engasi (those actually returned from the dead).

This kind of reread and revise takes much long than I'd like. I've done only about three chapters a day, which means I'm about 2/3 of the way so far after five days. (My active writing is currently at Chapter 26.) But I am finding, as always in revision, that the later chapters are smoother and need less attention, so maybe I have a hope of finishing up the reread quickly. Meanwhile I'd really like to get Chapter 26 finished for the critique group tomorrow. Yoiks - I don't like to think how few group meetings are left before MY deadline.

More on this tomorrow!
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