I love where Deranged Doctor Design is going with this cover. What do you think? I’m having such fun re-birthing my first novel. The newly named and highly edited new version will be out in late January and I can’t wait.
Category Archives: x0
What prompts an author to kill her own book?
On December 1, 2018 my firstborn novel will die. I admit the prospect makes me sad. This book has been part of my life for a while.
I wrote the first draft in just six months in 2011. After several rewrites, professional editing, and more feedback and corrections, x0 became available on Kindle in 2012. The paperback version followed.
I’ve never totaled up the sales, because it’s not easy to separate a sale from a give-away. I guess I’ve been paid for about four hundred copies, and gifted at least as many more. I’d hope for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.
Times change. Sales of x0 have gone from small to nearly zero.
A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This guy pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.
I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I do need a new ISBN number (no problem). I also need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 800 humans who already read this story.)
And …. I need to kill x0. That is, I must take it off the market completely. No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.
Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I have. The original x0 came in at just under 119,000 words. The leaner new version is under 96,000. I’ve broken the chapters into smaller chunks. I’ve given more attention to point of view. I’ve taken the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’ve done my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.
I’m pleased with the result.
So while x0 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel. I’ll be blogging all about it soon.
I have been told that the two things you have no control over with a traditional publisher are the title of your book and the cover. It’s one of the many reasons that I knew before I began to write x0 that it would be a self-published book. In fact, I doubt that I’d ever have written a novel if the world of self-publishing didn’t exist. The whole 46. Ascending collection was kind of an art and philosophy project for me as well as a story I was compelled to tell, and I cared more about doing it my way than I cared about striving for that traditional debut as an author.
But wanting to do something and knowing how to do it well are two different things, as you can tell by looking at my first version of the cover to the right. I knew my book needed to be red, and because much of the story takes place in Nigeria, I wanted Africa to figure prominently in the final result. I had been directed to Shutterstock, an affordable online service for leasing the right to use images, and I was delighted with the world map I found.
But I didn’t have clue of where to go from there. I wanted to use the rest of the space to convey something about empathy and telepathy, and to me shoes were a symbol for this. You know “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and all that. Red shoe images turned out to mostly be women’s heels, which seemed fine. But when I sent my proud new cover off to family and friends, I didn’t get the expected response. The most typical was “What’s with the ‘have sex with me’ shoes on the cover?” Oh. Back to the drawing board.
My next idea was to find an image of Lola, my main character, and put her on the cover. I wasn’t pleased with the choices I found, but finally settled on this one. She sort of looked to me like she was having a telepathic experience. That’s when my son called.
“You cover has only one purpose, mom. It is to make people want to read your book.” I hadn’t viewed it quite that way, but I had to admit he had a point and the lady on the cover didn’t particularly make me want to read the book either.
Then I found the lotus lady and she was perfect. She was so perfect that I tried using her twice, to symbolize the strong psychic connection between two different women who were highly alike on the inside. Not only did I feel good about this improvement, but my informal focus group gave it a big thumbs up.
I decided that I needed a better font for my unusual title. After experimenting with every font that came with Microsoft’s PowerPoint, and after playing around with the positioning, I ended up with the cover below and was quite pleased. It was a huge improvement over where I had started. I released x0 for kindle with this cover in February of 2012.
Over the next couple of months I began to lurk in chat rooms and on websites frequented by other self-published authors and I learned quite a bit. One thing was that I could make my electronic novel available on sites other than Amazon by submitting it to Smashwords.com. That sounded good. Another was that I could actually produce a paperback version at no extra cost using Amazon’s Create Space. Even better.
If I was going to take this self-publishing thing all the way to making a real book, it seemed worth revisiting whether I had the best cover I could have. I had assumed from the beginning that any professional touch was well out of my budget, but I was learning otherwise. Graphic artists out there were willing to take an author’s best attempt and make it more professional, for a relatively modest fee. I contacted a few that came well recommended by others.
One was called Mother Spider, and the first thing they came back to me with was perfect. It was exactly the cover I had wanted all along. The title jumped off the page, the map blended, the lotus ladies glowed and new little bulbs of telepathic thoughts shone. I tried putting my glitzy new cover on one of those websites that critiques book covers and got high praise for it. My informal focus group of cover critics was equally pleased.
I’m now working on the cover for book six. In every case I’ve started the process myself, struggling to gather together my own vision for the face I want my book to present to the world. Time and experience have taught me a lot. I’m back at Shutterstock sorting through images for a book that I know will be purple and sparkly and once again about telepathy. I’ve decided that the basic background will likely be forged from the Shutterstock image below. Other than that, I’m open to most anything, although I’m pretty sure there won’t be any shoes on this cover either.
Writing books makes you aware of the many things for which we don’t have word, or even a particularly good phrase. My online thesaurus gives me twelve pretty useful synonyms for “worry” but it struggles to provide a single adequate one for peace.
One problem is that we stick this poor five letter word with so many meanings. There is lack of armed conflict (armistice). There is quiet (silence), there is inner peace (enlightenment), there is lack of argument (agreement) and there is actually getting along (harmony). Do we all want peace. Of course we do. What kind?
When I first crafted the 46. Ascending collection in my head, I knew that the first book was going to be about peace, and I knew just what sort of peace I had in mind. I was building something, a concept of the pull and tug of life that tied to colors in my head. (I think in color a lot, sometimes to the point where I suspect I have some sort of mental disorder associated with it.) It looked like this picture below, but without the Microsoft Office Chart feel to it.Yes, my first book was red, the color of war, and it was going to be about peace. It made perfect sense to me because red is the color of blood, the color of heart, and the starting color. You know, red for Aries, the first sign of the zodiac and red for the base chakra and all that.
I knew that the sort of peace I had in mind was tied to empathy, that wonderful quality of being able to put oneself in the shoes of another and feel their fears and pains. Microsoft Office also struggles with words for empathy, suggesting compassion, sympathy and identification, none of which quite do the job.
The word I needed meant this.
A lack of armed conflict or even argument due to the kind of deep understanding that we all would have if we could see into the hearts and minds of others.
Needles to say, I could not find a word or a succinct phrase that came close to capturing the concept.
I’d gotten to this odd place because I was determined to write a book about telepathy, which to me is just empathy on steroids, an actual ability to wear the shoes of another. I was, and still am, fascinated by questions such as: could you harm another person if you were a telepath? Hate them? Kill them? Remember, you’re not just hearing their thoughts; you are feeling their feelings.
There are, of course, some quandaries. What about those doing things so heinous that they must be stopped, no matter what the internal rational? Do real humans do such awful things? Yes, we know that they do, though not nearly as often as entertainment, the news and feuding politicians would have you believe. But yes, I do know that there is a time to fight.
That would become the subject of another book, on the other side of the color wheel. For me, green would become the color of courage, another word which is harder to define than one would think.
I’m talking a close look at my older blogs, making sure that they are up to date and that they represent my earlier novels well. I’ve added my latest book synopsis and placed a few of my favorite excerpts on a page for permanent reference, and thought I would post these improvements as a blog post as well. Enjoy!
x0 is the first novel in the loosely interrelated collection known as 46. Ascending. Each novel tells the tale of an otherwise normal person coming to terms with having unusual abilities. This page contains a short description of the book x0 followed by three of my favorite excerpts from the first part of the novel. To read more, please purchase x0 at smashwords.com, at amazon.com, or at Barnes and Noble.
The ancient group x0 hides in the shadows until a young
Nigerian beauty forces them to emerge. Thinking that her telepathic abilities
are perfectly normal, this Igbo woman draws upon her powers to seek an ally to
rescue her captive sister. Unfortunately, the telepath she finds is cranky
Texan lady who doesn’t believe in nonsense and who insists that the disturbing
phenomenon in her own mind isn’t there.
Realizing that her sister has become a strategic pawn in a
dangerous game of international politics, she vows to do anything to get the
attention of this uncooperative fellow psychic. As the women struggle with each
other, common links begin to forge these two radically different women together
in ways that even x0 does not understand. They could intervene, but should
Somadina awoke with the wonderful feeling that the lady was coming physically closer. At first Somadina was confused. Then she realized. Of course. The lady was not Nigerian. That possibility had not occurred to her. But it made sense. And for some reason the lady was actually coming to Nigeria. At least to West Africa. Somadina was sure of it and so she sent thoughts over and over to tell the woman that she was now exactly where she needed to be. Somadina then spent two happy days feeling even closer to the woman, working to make her feel happy to be in Nigeria, and trying to find a way to better connect.
Then, two mornings later, she awoke just as sure that the woman was already leaving. What? Yes, she was heading to an airport. But she had just arrived! Who spends only two days in a country?
You’re leaving? You just got here. You can’t go! Somadina knew that she was being immature, but she could not help feeling anger, and disappointment. In the strength of her own emotional outburst, she received the worst kind of confirmation that the mysterious woman had been hearing her all along.
With an evening flight home on Wednesday that required a late afternoon departure from the hotel, Lola had decided to sleep in as late as she liked, to spend a few hours by the pool relaxing (no solo adventures into town, she had promised) and to just have an easy day before the nineteen-hour sojourn home. Sleep came and went that night, with an odd blurry feeling of nervousness but nothing upsetting. It wasn’t until morning, when she woke up naturally with no alarm clock, that she felt the sense of turmoil.
You’re leaving? You just got here. You can’t go! It was an unmistakable thought, as clear as if it had come from a distraught lover, needy parent, clingy friend. Anger and disappointment. Even a bit of panic. Who the hell cared if she stayed in Nigeria?
Impatiently, she got out of bed, began to gather together her toiletries. Leave me alone, she thought with vehemence. I do not want to hear from you. Whoever you are. Get out of my head. And then to herself. Stop thinking this is real. It is not. You have a thirteen-year-old daughter and two other kids counting heavily on you and this is absolutely no time in your life to have mental issues. You are fine. Get a grip. Act like a normal person.
She took a moment and sat in the uncomfortable easy chair and forced herself to use the simple mental imagery she had learned in Lamaze classes so very long ago. But instead of picturing a beautiful lake at sunset like they had taught her to do in order to relax, this time she pictured the giant steel doors to a vault, glimmering in a cold artificial light, clanking closed in her head. The doors seemed to work. She got out of the chair feeling better. As she finished packing and headed poolside for lunch with her email and her internet, she felt fine, although strangely alone.
In the days that followed, Djimon discovered how extraordinarily fortunate his choice in a second wife had been. Throughout the drive southwest toward Lagos, sometimes over major highways and twice over bad roads as he detoured for “business meetings,” Nwanyi was not only timid, she asked for almost nothing and did not even seem to expect kindness from him. She stopped her attempts at conversation early on when they were met with stony silence, only asking twice to use his cell phone to call her sister. He informed her curtly that his charger worked poorly and he was saving the battery for important calls. After the second time she did not ask again.
She appeared to be fearful about sex, or at least shy enough about it that although they slept in the same bed at night, she never brought up his lack of interest. As they traveled he saw to it that she stayed covered and had whatever meager food and water she required, and in return she did not complain to him. He figured with satisfaction that she was scared of him and vowed to see that useful condition continue throughout what he had come to think of as “phase two.” Phase one, of course, had been finding and procuring her.
Four days later they arrived at his home, where Mairo, his true and beloved wife with her beautiful Fulani features, dutifully got Nwanyi settled into a particularly cramped and poorly ventilated room in the rear of the house, and promptly assigned her a sizable share of the less desirable household chores that would normally have fallen to the servants. Djimon had to smile. Even though Mairo understood all too well how important Nwanyi was to their plans, and what little husbandly interest Djimon actually had in the woman, Mairo was apparently not inspired to exhibit the least bit of kindness to the Igbo. Now that Djimon thought about it, that was just as well. He would let Mairo inflict all the petty insults that she wanted.
For part of each evening, Lola allowed herself to just sit on the porch and imagine the sound of rushing water and to think about how she now had trouble washing her hair without cringing. This puzzled and even intrigued her a little. She would never have guessed a brief experience like the one she had, which ended perfectly well with no harm done, at least once all the minor cuts and bruises had healed, could linger on in her mind with such intensity.
The sense of panic could be set off by sunlight glistening on a liquid the way it had glistened through the water on the unreachable other side of the canoe, or even by just feeling trapped by riding in the back seat of a two-door car. To a woman who, for most of her forty-nine years had reacted to the idea of mild mental problems and syndromes of all types with “why don’t you just get over it?” it was, well, informative to discover that some things were surprisingly difficult to get over.
When all those doubts and fears would no longer keep her mind busy, Lola’s thoughts would invariably wander off to the strange woman with whom Lola had agreed, bizarre as it seemed, to listen. In spite of that, she had not acquired much more useful information. The woman seemed to be younger, less educated, and probably more superstitious. She also seemed foreign and based on her not wanting Lola to leave Lagos, Lola was assuming she was Nigerian.
She had a younger sister, of that Lola was certain. She was very worried for the sister and lacked the means to help her. Lola supposed that meant resources, maybe money, but also the woman seemed to lack the knowledge to help as well. Was the sister lost? Kidnapped? Had she run-away from home? Certainly she was gone and could not be found.
Sometimes Lola tried to sort of mutter comforting things back to the woman in her head, but that never seemed to help. Lola had not a clue what else she could do.
Other times she just sat and thought about nothing at all. It was one of those times, when her mind was sort of on water and sort of on nothing, when she heard an elderly gentleman’s voice clearly in her head.
Lola? Little Lola Conroy? Good heavens dear, is that you?
Lola searched her mind for knowledge of any older man who might have known her by her maiden name.
It’s okay honey. You’re fine. I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s okay. She could almost see an elderly man backing out of her mind with great care.
Good grief, she thought. Now what?
We all balance a lot of identities as we make our way through an ordinary day. I’ve managed girl, nerd, daughter, cook, wife, manager, mother, PTA president (seriously) and irritable neighbor all in the course of single afternoon. Adding an extra persona like “writer” into my normal mix has challenged me, even more so because it seems to require several distinct pieces of head gear.
There is the wild creative hat that yields stories at traffic lights and helps me type with a manic fury when the ideas just won’t stop coming long after I should have gone to bed. I love that hat, and I wear it whenever I can.
Then there is the careful, tidy little headpiece that I wear when I proofread, edit, rewrite, add links, check everything and check it twice again. What? The font for the chapter five title is twelve not fourteen point? How did this happen? It is a nit picky little hat, but I have to admit that there is a lot of satisfaction to getting something perfect. At least I think it is perfect until the next time I proofread it.
It’s the third writer’s hat that just doesn’t seem to fit me very well. It feels to me like a loud gaudy thing and I hate to put it on. It is the hat of sales. Writers of all sorts, whether they produce self-published works, short stories, or trade novels found in the front racks of brick bookstores, all have to get out there and sell their wares. Fiction is a product. If you want to be read, and I do, then you need to convince people to read your work.
Now that d4 is off to my real editor and I have promised my family and myself that I will pause and breathe before starting the next book, I decided to play with this awkward hat for awhile. I returned to scouring writer’s forums for ideas to increase purchases and I finally let myself take a long hard look at my sales statistics. Yes, this area could use a little more work..
Turns out I sell books in places I have never heard of. Thanks to my opting in for everything at Smashwords, the ebook distributor I use, I can be found at a cool new online store called Inktera. You can also find me at Scribd, this great new service where for only $8.99/month you can read all the ebooks you want. I have got to get out more.
Even better, I made a list of thirteen new ideas to try to increase the visibility of my books. The first was to do an interview at Smashwords. Please check it out, I think it turned out pretty well. The second was to make my first novel free for awhile, ideally to generate sales of my other books. I decided to give this a try, and you can now grab x0 FOR FREE at Smashwords, or at another surprising site called Kobo.
How is this free thing working out for me? Well, when I posted on my Facebook page that x0 would be free for a short time, 915 people liked it. 915! That is probably a record for me for number of people ever liking anything I have ever done. However, how many have downloaded it? Zero. That’s right. Not one, so far.
As I look at this post, I think I see the problem. If I was better at wearing that sales hat, this post would have started off with FREE BOOK in big bold letters at the top. Instead I started it out by writing what I thought was more interesting. Oh well, I’ve still got eleven more ideas to go. I’ll try to do better with the next one.