A Poetic Pause

I rarely write poetry, but once in a while, a poem bursts forth.  This is such a moment.

The Dancer

In the scarlet light of an abandoned dance hall at sundown
The woman dances alone, twirling as though led by a partner.
She dances alone to a tune only her ears can hear.
She dances alone but there’s no way to tell
If she’s happy or sad, or simply nostalgic.
For a moment in time only her mind remembers,
And the room echoes foot falls softened by slippers,
The kind that one wears from bedroom to bathroom and back again.
But here in this room she moves step by step
Dancing alone to music unheard by anyone other than her.

Ah, the stories her lightness of foot must enfold,
Wrapped up like presents strewn under a tree,
Awaiting an opening, but she keeps them hidden
So she can dance alone, dance alone,
Dance alone like a once-spry ballerina.
The music plays away in her mind.
The music guides her every step on the dance floor.
A wall with no gate fully surrounds her
To keep out the prying ones, the questions
She’s never been able to answer.

She’ll dance alone till the questions stop coming
And the dancing evolves into the only, the lonely, her sole occupation.

Craft versus Crap

Last week I made the mistake of critiquing something online that was written by someone I hardly know.  This person didn’t ask me to critique it; it was only a general call for comment on a small opening paragraph in first draft.  Now, personally, I think sharing a first draft is like sharing an uncooked pie—hard to cut and even harder to get out of the pie tin.  In addition, the person didn’t know me or my work—I don’t have a “name” or reputation—and had no reason to trust a word that I wrote.  And I wrote plenty.  (When will I learn?)

But this is not about my woeful and misbegotten critique.  It’s about respect for the craft.  Any craft—painting, acting, architecture, dancing, singing, writing, whatever—anything that requires experience, practice, time and the input of others who know what they’re talking about.  Shortly after I posted my lengthy critique, encouraging this person to get some more practice in, get input from a writing group, etc., before attempting to publish, I got slapped hard (my name wasn’t mentioned, but unlike my private critique, this was public) for being “mean and vicious.”  Condescending and arrogant I’ll accept, but mean and vicious?

Anyway, I swore off critiquing online where my tone of voice and my facial expressions can’t be included in the picture and where they don’t know me from Eve so who am I to say anything negative.  Then I moved on with my life.

Last night on American Idol, I watched as three very talented, very experienced and very committed judges (Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban) gave magic golden tickets for the next stage of the competition to contestants they felt had a chance and denied the same to those they felt either needed to practice more to try in another year or needed to reconsider their life choices.  They rejected these people (the ones the show followed through the process) in as gentle a way as they could while still being honest.  Most of the rejects came out of the audition room in tears, hugged their friends and family and appeared to pretty much get on with it, some vowing to work on improving and then return to try again.

A couple, however, got pissed.  The following are not direct quotes, but they capture the essence.  “That Harry Connick is stupid.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  “I’m the best American Idol contestant ever.  They’re idiots for turning me down.”  The gist was that these people hadn’t been listening.  They didn’t care about craft; they cared about fame.  And that’s the stupidest way to approach the creative life where fame is rare and fleeting and the work and the process should be the real reward that you seek.

My advice to this person I insulted badly was to learn the craft and then finish the book (with all the hard work that entails, not to mention the writing) and only then to consider getting it published.  I see too many books shot up to the magical place in the sky where electronic books go to live that haven’t been rewritten once, nor have they been proofread or edited by anyone other than the author.  This gives all of us indies a bad reputation.  Yeah, what you, the unwilling-to-trust-the-process author, do is screw it up for those of us who struggle with commas and “just” and “only” and why-would-the-character-do-that-when-they’ve-never-done-it-before dilemmas.

So please, I beg of you, do this one thing when you choose any creative endeavor.  Give a shit.  It matters.

A Cover, A Cover–My Kingdom for a Cover

When I set out on the journey to share Lisen of Solsta’s journey with anyone who would listen, I really had no idea what I was in for. All I could see was that independent publishing meant I didn’t have to write any more query letters, that no agent or publisher would send me one of those one-size-fits-all rejection letters ever again, and that the control was all in my hands.

Well, not quite.  Self-publication requires a multitude of skills beyond just writing.  Here are a few of them:

  1. More-than-amazing proofreading skills and the patience to do it just one more time.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to proofread it for you, someone you trust or someone a friend knows and trusts.
  2. A knowledge of what Word can do and the willingness to follow the suggestions on your print-on-demand (POD) publisher’s web site in order to make the print copy look professional.
    Or…the money to pay someone else to format it for you, after which you must make sure they formatted it to your specific instructions and it looks the way you expected it to look (unless they have a logical explanation for why they did it differently, of course).
  3. An average intelligence in order to fill out the forms for the POD publisher, making sure the name of the book is correct, you’ve included all pertinent authors and contributors, and have chosen tags that will call others to your book when they search.  (And don’t forget your cover artist as one of those contributors—see #4 below).
  4. The artistic expertise to create a stunning and seductive cover.
    Or…the money to hire someone to collaborate with you, listen to your ideas and then bring them to life.

It is this last item I have opened up Word today to address.

I wrote my first book, Fractured, with a great deal of care. I rewrote it and rewrote it, submitting it over and over to the writing workshop I trust with my life, and when I’d reached the magic moment of READY, I did everything listed above.  Except for the cover.  I used a template from my POD publisher and a painting that was in public domain.  It wasn’t a bad cover; I did a fairly good job at it.  But it wasn’t the sort of cover that attracts young people, and my book was YA fantasy.

And it bombed.  Big time.  Fractured was named an IndieReader.com Best Indie Book of 2013, but I think I sold no more than a dozen copies.  I did get 5-star reviews from everybody who read it, but they were all friends and family, save for that IndieReader.com review (also 5 stars).

There was a disconnect.  Great book, no response from potential readers.  What was the problem?  I’ve written before about how even the larger details of marketing elude me, but I do keep getting myself and my books out there.  No, the disconnect was that adequate-but-uninspiring cover.

So…I hired a cover artist—a good one.  I had her start on book 2 (Tainted) so I could get that one published.  She did a wonderful job.  See?

 Image

A couple of weeks after Tainted’s publication, my artist, Aidana WillowRaven, asked how we were doing in sales.  Nowhere.  I hadn’t wanted to look because I knew it wasn’t doing that well.  Who’s going to buy the second book in a series if they haven’t read the first one, and clearly few people had read the first one.  I came clean with Aidana and said that things might go much better if we got the first cover done and out there.

So now I’m on the line.  The new cover for Fractured is finished and available on Kindle.

Image

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

The paperback is another story.  Between typos in the back cover copy due in part (only in part) to making modifications too quickly to proof it properly and my dear POD publisher’s digital proofer somehow making the cover look like a printer somewhere had run out of ink, I’ve had to submit the thing, so far, a total of three times.  Aidana remained loyal and committed to getting it right and spent most of an entire day on my project when she could have been moving on to other work.  Heaven and the Goddess bless her.

Here’s my point.  Spend the money on a cover artist.  Find someone you can work with, someone who cares, someone who will put their arm on your shoulder and tell you they are your collaborator and they want it to be perfect as badly as you do.  In the beginning, I couldn’t afford this, and many who read this won’t be able to afford it either.  But spend as much as you possibly can.  Go as high as you can to get the best you can afford.  Look for sales, look for discounts, whatever it takes.  Because a book is like a beloved child, and first impressions do count.  If it’s truly good enough to publish, it deserves the very best you can give it.

A Young Woman of Consequnce

Hadassah has a problem.  She’s a vampire who fell in love with a human, but all we learn about that in this first book of the series is that her father intervened and killed the young man a year ago.  Now Haddie learns that her vampire brother, Damian, loves Madelyn, a human, and Haddie decides not to let the same thing happen to her that happened to her beloved Fletcher.  What follows is a chase between Devin, Haddie and Damian’s uncle, and the vampire siblings with their human.  Haddie even enlists the help of the Huntsmen whose primary goal is to eradicate the world of vampires, an interesting alliance which will undoubtedly grow ever more testy in future volumes.

Fanged Princess by Elisabeth Wheatley is a remarkable novella.  Written by a young woman, still a senior in high school at the time of its publication, the book excels at not only telling an exciting, riveting story but also at providing the reader with insights into the characters that few girls of Ms. Wheatley’s age can achieve.  Her writing style impressed me, and her care and attention to punctuation and grammar as well as her well-honed narrative style raises her work to a professional level not often seen in self-published work.  All I can say is that in the case of this Texas gal, home schooling worked.  Both Hadassah and Elisabeth are young women of consequence, and I highly recommend Fanged Princess to anyone seeking a quick paranormal diversion.