Tag Archives: writing

Decisions, decisions–can you help?

I’m having a problem.  My problem is that I can’t make a decision.

Well, that’s a little misleading.  In truth, my problem is nailed very accurately by the commenters over at Cover Art Review today, where the subject of discussion is the cover for my novel Concerto.

I agree with them; the current cover is lovely.  Gorgeous.  It grabbed me the minute I designed it, and I never really considered any other cover afterward.

The problem?  The current cover screams Literary Fiction to all who see it.  Concerto is either romantic suspense or suspense–I’ve heard different opinions from different readers on where it falls–but it is clearly not literary fiction.

I know this is a problem.  I’m not sure how big of a problem.  Would a romantic suspense reader take a chance on a book with a cover like that?  I’ve no idea.

Music is crucial to Concerto, though–I think it really does need to be reflected in the cover design somehow.

With that in mind, I have three other candidates.  I even have printed proofs of each of these covers, and I still can’t seem to decide which would be best.

What do you think? The four contenders are below.  Which cover works best for a romantic suspense about music and musicians?

The Current Cover:


 

Prospective Cover #1–Red Satin:

 

Prospective Cover #2–Violinist, script font:

 

Prospective Cover #3–Violinist, casual font:

The New Cover

I do apologize for my silence lately; I’ve been head-down and working on The Lost Concerto.  Something about writing a suspense novel…they refuse to wait quietly in the corner while you have other things to do.  They nag at you and take over your mind and give you no peace unless you are actively putting words on the page.

It can be maddening, but it does tend to get the book done.  My fantasy stories take much longer, overall, than my suspense work.

Today I wanted to drop in to announce something that’s been needed for a long time–Crystal Cave has a new cover!

I’ve never really been happy with the original cover.  I think at the time I just didn’t know how to do any better.  The original cover is a charming combination of brown and orange, and depicts rocks.

Doesn’t really give you much of an idea what the story is about at all, except that it must involve a cave, which we already knew from the title.  You can see it above, in thumbnail form.

Unveiling for go live officially today, Crystal Cave’s new cover:

I hope you agree that it’s a beautiful improvement!

Retailer as Publisher -or- How Amazon Took Over the World

I worry about the future of big traditional publishing houses, I really do.  They are behemoths, giant corporate entities owned by giant conglomerates.  Change comes slowly, when it comes at all.

For decades these groups have had a stranglehold on readers, and therefore also on writers, of books.  A kind of monopoly of their own–you couldn’t get into the major distribution channels without them, and you couldn’t get into bookstores without the distribution channels.  Certainly self-publishing, or even vanity publishing, were always options.

They just weren’t options that were very likely to succeed.

Along came the POD press.  Along came the eBook.  On their own, these didn’t cause any revolution–eBooks tied you to a computer and were inconvenient.  POD books were pricey and of substandard quality.  Even when good POD services came along–like Lulu, one of my favorites–their prices were still high enough to make it difficult to be competitive, and the lag time between ordering and receiving a book could cause a customer to drop your book and look elsewhere for more immediate entertainment.

This is all just my view, of course.  But I credit Amazon with cracking open the status quo.  Amazon and Big Publishing have gone to the mat several times–you may remember their recent squabble over agency pricing.

Big Publishing always regarded eBooks as a passing fad that would never catch on, much like that new-fangled television set.  As I recall, when the Kindle first appeared on the scene, most big publishers weren’t exactly beating down the door to get their content on the device.  I wonder how things might be different now if they had.

Amazon dealt a 1-2 punch combo that has pretty much assured everything must change.  They started CreateSpace, and they opened up their Kindle platform to everyone.

CreateSpace, on the surface, seems like just another POD.  When I look at CreateSpace, though, I see two distinct advantages–distinct enough that other publishing services have not been able to convince me to switch.  First, CreateSpace’s pricing models are more competitive than other services I’ve seen.  Especially if you use their Pro Plan.  Concerto is over 300 pages, it’s in trade paperback format–which falls somewhere between mass market paperback and hardback on the price & quality scale–and it retails for $7.60.  Granted, I see about a quarter of that, but I’m totally stoked to be able to get prices that low.  I have trade paperbacks from traditional publishers that I’ve bought in bookstores.  Their cover prices are at least double my price.  That is, to me, pretty cool.

CreateSpace’s second advantage is in your listing on Amazon.  If you publish through any other service, your book will show “Usually ships in XX days” next to the price.  As a reader, I hate seeing that.  I’m spoiled, I’m used to instant gratification, and I hate waiting for things to ship.  If I’m going to order it, I’d at least like it to be in stock so it can ship right away.

When you book is done through CreateSpace, it will show up on Amazon as “In Stock, Ready to Ship”.  That, to me, is a pretty big advantage.  As far as price and shipping, I can be on equal footing with big publishing.

Opening up the Kindle to independent content was a huge move–one I’m not sure Big Publishing saw coming.  I know I didn’t see it coming.  Suddenly talented authors could put their work out there on their own, and sell it for $4.99, $2.99, or even $.99–and still make a profit.  Big Publishing can’t compete on those terms.  They have too much overhead.

And now, Amazon has started their own publishing imprints.  They have hired big guns to run them, and they are aggressively pursuing books–some of the same ones Big Publishing is after.  Their contracts, from what I have heard, are more author-friendly than traditional contracts.

What would it mean for all of us if the next Stephen King, or Nora Roberts, or Dean Koontz novel came to us through an Amazon imprint?

What does this mean for Big Publishing?  I don’t know.  I wish I did.  The only thing I’m certain of at this moment is that things are not going to stay the same.  With the opening of the Kindle and like devices, Big Publishing cannot compete.  So they have two options: face extinction, or change the rules so that they can compete again.

Given the history of publishing, I think I know which one of those options I would bet on.  The only question is how successful they will be with their attempt, and I think Amazon will be a large determining factor in that.

Pantsing vs Plotting – a more personal view

 If you’ve read To Plot or Not To Plot or To Plot or Not To Plot Part II, you have a feel for my general view on plotting vs pantsing.

However, the reasons I give in those posts tend to be generic arguments that apply to most people, the kind of thing you will probably hear a lot whenever this debate comes up.

Today I’d like to add one more reason I’m in favor of plotting, a more personal reason that may not apply to anyone else in the world but me.  🙂

First, know that I would pay good money *not* to be a main character in one of my novels.  My main characters never have an easy go of it.  They lose people they cherish, they get beat down and have to get back up again…and again…and again…  I don’t know if I have ever written a story that I would actually want to be in.

Second, I get pretty involved when I write.  I was working on a scene for The Lost Concerto last night that drove this home to me.  This particular event had been planned since before my pen ever touched the paper for the first word of this book.  I had known it was coming since the very beginning, no surprises here.

And yet, when I wrote the scene, I got totally worked up.  My main character was freaking out, completely losing it over this thing that had happened–and I found that by the time I put my pen down, so was I.  Whoever believes writing is easy doesn’t write like I do.  For my characters to feel anything, I have to feel it first.  That can put a person through the wringer.

And that is why I prefer plotting.  My characters walk through hell, and that means I have to walk through hell with them.  I don’t know if I would stick through that, without knowing for certain that in the end there would be a resolution that would make everything worth it.  And for me, the best way to be certain is to find that resolution up-front, before I even start writing, and hang on to it like a talisman while I ride the rocket-sled to hell with my characters.

That doesn’t always mean the resolution I had in mind will be what actually happens at the end–even with the best plotting, things will change while you’re writing.  But for me, it serves its purpose–which is getting me through to the end to find out what the resolution really will be.

Crystal Cave broke the top 100 in the UK today!

Forgive my enthusiasm, but this is my first trip into the top 100 bestseller lists on Amazon of any flavor.

My novella The Crystal Cave broke into the top 100 bestseller list on Amazon UK today for fantasy short stories.

Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,784 Paid in Kindle Store

  • #62 in Books > Fantasy > Short Stories
If you think I’m happy now, wait until something of mine breaks an Amazon.com bestseller list 🙂

Announcing the New Arrival

If you hang around here very often, you may have noticed that I sneaked a change into my works in progress list.  I hadn’t said anything to anyone because I wasn’t sure how plausible my new project was–I’ve been spending a lot of time kicking around ideas and possible plots.

But I’ve invested enough time in it now, and I’ve gotten far enough along in the process…and the product I’m seeing developing is solid enough…it’s time to formally announce the new arrival I kind of slipped in.

My newest work in progress is…

The Lost Concerto follows the continuing adventures of Alexis Brooks and Chrispen Marnett.  It takes places almost one year after the end of Concerto.  The storyline features more of the same nail-biting suspense that made the first book a favorite with readers.

To be honest, I did not originally envision Concerto as the beginning of a series.  One of the early reviews on Concerto included this line:

Concerto would be a good first book in an ongoing series; it is an easy read that grabs the reader’s attention and holds it to the very last page.

At the time, I have to admit, I focused more on the grabbing attention and holding it to the last page part–that seemed to me pretty high praise for a suspense novel, or any novel, for that matter.  Besides, how could Concerto possibly be part of a series?  The story was done, right?

That line was a great blurb quote, the kind of thing you use all over the place.  And the more I saw it, the more that bit about a series stuck in my mind.  It took me a while to decide to seriously think about it, and see what I could come up with.  I never planned it to be a series, but I adore the characters.  The chance to write more about them was too good to pass up.

And the story that had developed–and is still developing–out of all of this is good.  I can’t wait to find out if readers agree.

Telegraphing to Your Reader -or- How to Shout Without Making a Sound

Have you read the kind of book where there are two men in the storyline; one who was a bit shady or aggressive or otherwise off-putting, and one who seemed totally awesomely perfect?

And at the end the totally awesomely perfect fellow turned out to be the twisted psychopath we were looking for all along?

I have to admit I sort of hated that.  I never really liked getting attached to a really cool character, only to find out that they were never really cool to begin with.

So I was actually inclined to be pleased when one of my readers commented that she knew from very early on who the twisted psychopath was in my novel Concerto.  It was done that way deliberately.  Today I’m going to talk a little bit about how.

It’s also going to be a bit spoiler-ish, so if you’re thinking about reading Concerto and don’t want any hint of what’s going to happen before you read it, you probably don’t want to continue.

All set?  Okay.  Here we go.

There are two main male characters in Concerto.  One is Alexis Brooks, and one is Dwight Richards.  Our protagonist does not know a whole lot about either of these characters when they are first introduced.  But I wanted the reader to be able to get a feel for them right away, and what type of role they might play going forward.  Then through the first half of the story, I’m going to test that instinct, because neither of them immediately seem to conform to the impression the reader generated.  The trick, though, is to get the reader to generate the proper impressions up front.

How do you do that?  There are lots of ways.  Let’s look at the ones I used.  First, let’s look at the very first appearance of Alexis Brooks.  Our protagonist is in the concert hall’s Green Room–presumably alone, until she hears voices approaching down a nearby hall.

Nobody was likely to be in the Green Room restrooms at six-thirty in the morning. It had to be the conductor then–Darren Johnson must have been having a meeting.

“I’m sorry, Darren, I cannot discuss this any further.”

Well, now I knew who Darren was meeting so early. That particular voice always made my knees a little weak. Alexis Brooks, international superstar, accused murderer, and concertmaster of the Newton Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.

And an ongoing fangirl crush of mine since I was sixteen, but I was pretty sure this was not a good time to be thinking about that. The voices were getting louder now, and I was about to be involved in a confrontation between the conductor and the concertmaster of the symphony I worked for.

Not a pretty place to be. Pacing the house was not looking so bad right now.

“Alexis, stop.” I couldn’t tell if Darren was trying to plead or command. “You aren’t being reasonable, you have to see that.”

“I don’t care, I–” Alexis came around the corner and stopped short, staring at me. I could feel my face start burning. Terrific.

I tried to think of something to say to him, anything that wouldn’t make me look like a psycho eavesdropper. But I was drawing a total blank, and so I was still standing there like a red-faced idiot when Darren came barreling around the corner after Alexis and nearly ran right into him.   

Okay.  Now gather your impressions from that, but before we discuss it, let’s take a look at the first entrance of Dwight Richards.

A few minutes later, Dwight Richards came in. For some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I always felt tense when he was around. Dwight was the symphony’s principal second violinist. He was dark-haired and dark-eyed and really a handsome man. He’d been asking me out pretty consistently since I came to town six months ago, but I just couldn’t feel comfortable enough around him to say yes. We were pretty good friends though. He dumped his violin case in a chair, stretched, looked around, and saw me.

Uh-oh. I knew that look, and I didn’t feel like having the same conversation, ending with the same no, this early this morning. I picked up my styrofoam coffee cup and headed for the sink farther down the counter, hoping to discourage him.

No such luck. “And how is Ms. Assistant-Concertmaster today?” demanded a cheerful, deep voice at my shoulder as I turned the water on.

“Oh, you know, could be better, could be worse,” I said evasively, rinsing the cup and lid. “I didn’t sleep well. But I’m still here, which is a plus. And you?”

He didn’t answer. He stood there silently at my shoulder until I threw away the cup and turned around, and I saw he was frowning.

“What?” His scrutiny unnerved me. I looked away and saw principal violist Daniella Lewis walk in, scowl at us, and cross the room to sit down.

“I knew it,” he said quietly. “You look terrible. What happened?”

I sighed. I didn’t really want to talk about this with Dwight–he was insanely jealous of Alexis Brooks. Just the mention of our concertmaster’s name could sour a conversation. But it wasn’t like this one had been going so well anyway. “There was some excitement this morning. Alexis was pretty upset. But I think it all worked out alright in the end–it sounds like you’re going to play the Bach Double with him next week. Pretty cool, right?”

Dwight didn’t appear to think so. He stared at me a moment longer, like he was trying to hear everything I hadn’t said. “That’s it? Our high-and-mighty concertmaster was upset?” He paused. “And that upset you?”

“Well, he sounded to me like he might leave the symphony for awhile there.”

Dwight snorted. “And that would be a Terrible, Bad Thing, right?” He looked like he was thinking about stomping off. “Look, there was a Newton Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra before Alexis Brooks came here. I’m sure we’d survive if he left.”

I shook my head. “It wasn’t the same, Dwight. You were here before Alexis came, you must know that. I just got here six months ago and I can tell. Newton’s too small a town, and the symphony is too new to compete with the big East Coast orchestras. You’d never get the talent you have now without him. People don’t go to Juilliard to play in little mid-west symphonies.”

“People don’t…wait, Ms. I-Went-To-Juilliard, why did you move out here, then?”

I could feel my face turn red. “For the opportunity to work with Alexis Brooks, of course. The greatest violinist of our age–some say the greatest violinist who ever lived. And I get to share the first stand of the symphony with him. I’d have to be crazy to pass that up, right?”

Dwight was staring at me like I was sprouting horns. “And the fact that he was the prime suspect in his wife’s murder–that he stood trial for it, and only got off on a technicality–that doesn’t bother you at all?”

There now.  We’ve officially met both of our main male characters.  And I’m betting you could tell from a mile away that Alexis is awesome and Dwight is trouble, right?

First, Alexis.  I’m not quite as blunt with his introduction as I am with Dwight’s, but the signals are still there.  Chrispen is attracted to Alexis, which is evident in the “ongoing fangirl crush” line, and her remark about his voice.  Also, you’ll notice the nervous way she jumps out of her chair when she hears him coming, the blushing and the blank mind.  We learn more from her reactions to him than from anything she says.  Because of her attraction to him, we are sympathetic to him, even with “accused murderer” thrown in there.

Now that we get to it, that’s quite a line.  “Alexis Brooks, international superstar, accused murderer, and concertmaster of the Newton Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.”  I’ve just introduced a character, using not only his first and last name, but three different subtitles, and a couple of adjectives.  Why does that matter?  Because whether I meant to or not, I just made a promise to you.  I just drew your attention to this character, highlighted him in a way you could not ignore.  Lots of people come in and out of a storyline, without a red carpet like that rolled in front of them.

I just promised you that this character is important.  He’d better turn out to be important, too, because readers do not like it when you make promises you don’t keep.

What about Dwight?  If I did my job right, he gives you a bad taste in your mouth the first time you meet him.  Why?

Dwight does a lot of things that, in combination, are very off-putting.  He invades Chrispen’s personal space.  He’s pushy.  He gives people disparaging nicknames.

I also use a bit of dialog to establish that what Dwight says can’t always be trusted.  In this scene, he tells Chrispen that Alexis got off on a technicality.  Later on, we will discover that there was a mistrial, declared for prosecutorial misconduct.  The prosecution had falsified evidence.  Most people would probably not summarize falsified evidence as a technicality–we’ve learned that Dwight will skew things to make Alexis appear as bad as possible.

But the cincher–the one thing about Dwight’s introduction that raises the red flag high into the wind, the one line that sums up this character more than any other–is this one:

 For some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I always felt tense when he was around.

She just said it all.  It’s obvious she feels bad about feeling this way; she spends the rest of the paragraph trying to soften her own unconscious judgment of him, telling us how good-looking he is and what friends they are.  It doesn’t matter.  We’ve already heard the truth.

These are the kinds of ways you can give your readers impressions about your characters–even if your viewpoint character doesn’t necessarily share the impression.  The kind of stories I started off talking about use these signals too, and use them very, very well.  The difference is that those stories build these kinds of impressions in order to turn them around.  I use them to follow through on at the end, after spending some story time challenging them.  We feel Dwight is a jerk, but for the most part, he does not behave that way in the first half of the story.  How strongly do we believe our first impression of him?  Will we hold on to it through the first half, or will we be shocked when it turns out to be true?  We feel Alexis to be a good guy, but how strongly will we hold on to that when everyone in the story world is telling us the opposite?

Either approach is valid.  Just be sure you know up front which your is, and that you are telegraphing the signals you mean to send.