Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Book That Broke the Camel's Back

So, I set the goal for myself to have my novel, "Into the Furnace," available on Amazon.com by the time CAPTAIN AMERICA 3 comes out, and I was well on my way.

Then I hit a snag.

I either had forgotten to type up a particular chapter, or (even scarier) had never written it at all, resulting in a missing section and a fairly-glaring plothole.

Which reminds me: I'm kind of struggling with how to present this book.  I have friends who are writers, and have enjoyed asking them about the marketing and promotion of their work, and always come out of the conversation with the thought that I need to accurately describe the book so that those who would (possibly) enjoy it will seek it out.  But there's a couple of ways to go about that.  The first is a sort of J.J. Abrams "only reveal what you want the audience to know" strategy, in which case, I just describe my book as "a Mystery set in the old West."  Or maybe give a summary of the first chapter, which sets the situation, and let the reader choose for him/herself whether to make the purchase.

That's how I intended to put out the book and talk about it.  But another strategy--perhaps a wiser one--is to simply give away the central conceit of the story, put it front and center, and hope that that hooks readers.

For example, I've always planned to have the cover be three buttes in the American Southwest, and let people know the genre by the font I use for the title and byline.  I realized that this is a pretty dull cover, though, and thought maybe it would help to put skulls and/or bones at the bottom right of the cover, thus hinting at danger or violence, or at least death.

But that's not as dynamic a cover as simply depicting the central conflict of the book, which a) shows exactly what the genre is, and b) would sell a lot more copies.

I even started to ask my artist friend yesterday if he might prefer to do a cover like that, because they always say you've gotta have a catchy, flashy, exciting, illuminating cover in order to sell this kind of indie stuff.  And if done right, it'd be a heck of a cover.

Not that I've ever cared about such things.

I'm not a numbers man.  I don't give a fig about how many people listen to my podcast or come read my blog or purchase copies of "The Minnesota Diarrhea Ghost" or like my Sean Connery impression.  And I don't even eat figs.

But I like to hear Big Anklevich tell me that there are many fans who like (if not love) the Dunesteef, or that he's gonna send people a link to my blog so more people hear my solo stuff, or that he's got a pretty, blind country cousin who thought it was the real Sean Connery we'd gotten on our show. 

Oh, and "Minnesota Diarrhea Ghost" has never been purchased.  It's free.

But right now, in April 2016, with about seventy-five percent of the book finalized and recorded, and more than half of it edited and ready to make available, I still don't know that I want to give everything away through a summary or illustration, such as the following:

"The Sixth Sense, a novel by M. Night Nolastname.  Doctor Crowe, a child psychologist, meets a disturbed child, Cole Sear, who can see and speak to ghosts.  He helps the boy deal with his fears, enables Cole to find out the ghosts' motivations, and ultimately discovers the truth about himself."

This is a perfectly cromulent entry for that non-existent novel (though who knows, maybe there's a novelization), but it does a disservice to the story, which doesn't reveal those pertinent details until pretty far into the tale.  Or worse, think of how ROSEMARY'S BABY was promoted, and that that information is actually revealed, narratively, in the closing three or four minutes of the film.

At the same time, if I tipped my hand with the art and/or synopsis, doesn't it make the central mystery of the book a bit boring, as the reader would have to slog through fourteen chapters before finally getting that scene depicted on the more-dynamic cover?

So, back to the beat, y'all.

I reached this segment of the book, and worried about what to do about it.  I went through my notebooks, looking for the lost chapter, and it wasn't there.*  It was possible I wrote that part on my laptop and then somehow saved over it (this has happened on several occasions, because laptops notoriously hate me because of the great Powerbook Holocaust back in the Nineties. 

I was only a guard, doing what I was told!

So, I had no choice but to sit down and try to write that missing chapter, to fill in the information that it needed, and to make it fit with the rest of the text.  But it wasn't as easy as that.  There was no easy way to create a new chapter in between Chapters 25 and 27 that said the things I had not previously said in the book.  And if I did just create a Chapter 26 that says, "And then Will thought back to a conversation he had had a few days before, which was not mentioned before . . ." it would have been worse than not addressing the plothole at all.

What resulted was three new scenes that I had to retroactively place earlier in the book, as well as a couple of references to that information later on, so that when you get to Chapter 27, it's all perfectly natural.  It ended up adding almost two thousand words to the manuscript (which is nice, since I keep worrying it's barely a novel, not when my contemporaries are writing 150,000 word epics).

What's more, because I had already recorded all the previous chapters--and edited some of them--I had to go back and record all the newly-revised bits, then hope I could seamlessly edit in the new segments.  Which I was mostly able to do, despite it taking a while to get done.

Honestly, even though the book itself was written rather painlessly last year (as just a very long short story), this has been the hardest part of the whole thing.  And on more than one occasion this week, I did ask myself, "Is this worth it?  Do other writers try this hard to make their work--which is never going to be perfect to begin with--better?  Should I have sent all this out to friends or strangers, hoping they'd find the inconsistencies themselves and provide me with suggested changes to make it a little more historically accurate**?  Would it have been wiser to do several drafts of this thing, ensuring that each version is a little more complete, a little more satisfying, a little closer to a debut novel that doesn't suck?"

All good questions, no?

But Big Anklevich gave me some advice, and I'm gonna try to follow it.  He said, "Just put the book out there.  Publish it and mention it on your blog and on Facebook, and let me promote it in a couple other places.  Make it available and move on to the next thing.  And whatever you do, don't ever, ever read the comments section on Amazon."

So, we'll see how that goes.


*There was a two or three sentence summary of what happened there in my notes, which I had written during one of those stretches where I get stuck and say, "Okay, and then what happens?"  And I spitball ideas onto the page, hoping they kick-start me back into productivity.  What, you don't do the same thing?

**For example, I changed "lightbulb" to "arc lamp" having spent a few minutes researching the invention of the electric light.  Which is probably unimportant, since there are many more glaring inaccuracies in the book, and I've been told on more than one occasion that the Old West of popular entertainment didn't even exist.


Abigail Hilton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abigail Hilton said...

We've had a few conversations about this, and we'll probably have a few more, but I really think you should make it clear that this book is a Weird Western. That's a recognized sub-genre, and it doesn't give away your punch line. Weird Western could be anything from aliens to talking horses to magic lassos to zombies. It just means there's a paranormal element in your western. If I were you, I would mention this in the description, I would try to get something paranormal onto the cover, and I would make sure that "weird western" is one of your keywords in KDP for Amazon.

If you don't do this, I predict that a helpful reviewer will do it for you. You'll get a 1-star, spoilerific review, in which the person announces, "I thought this was a western, but it had an f*cking ___ in it!"

You want to get ahead of that guy. Ideally, you want him to be turned off by your cover and description and never read the book. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who won't touch traditional westerns who love weird westerns. You want to subtly attract those people. You can do it without giving away the punch line.

AspiR said...

I'm going to disagree with Big here. Your deadline is (as you yourself have admitted) arbitrary. It's purpose is to motivate you so that you work on the project and don't slack off. It seems to me like you're busting your ass, so the deadline did its job. But don't put out a novel you know you didn't do justice to because you rushed it. If you do that the deadline is negatively impacting it.

Make a second deadline to keep yourself on track, and give the best story you know how to write. The one that you feel satisfied putting your name on. The fact that you're going back and changing things means you aren't satisfied. It won't ever be perfect, but it can be better than if you rushed it.

Rish Outfield said...

Thanks for the comments. Abbie, I don't know if that idea came from me or from you, but I remember when Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE was coming out, and everything was really secretive except for what he wanted the audience to know. But somebody either knew or guessed what the twist was, and started a large "It's a fucking BULLDOZER" internet campaign (and I remember that on the IMDB, they bleeped the f-word, but not the more important word).

Just like Vader's revelation, I was not ready for it, could not unhear it, and the Force told me it was true. I'll never know if my enjoyment of that film would have been different without that guy's campaign. If I just put an effing bulldozer on the cover, it would tell the reader everything he needed to know, and it could draw new potential readers, who might enjoy seeing a man make love to a bulldozer.

Of course, I could just take your advice and write "Weird Western" somewhere on the cover.