The Business of Writing
Today’s blog is courtesy of Jennifer Griffith, author of Big in Japan and member of the Jolly Fish Press ‘ohana. Her newest novel is a fish out of water story about a plus-sized Texan who goes to Japan on a quick business trip, but ends up living in a sumo stable fighting for his life and chasing after the girl of his dreams. At turns sweet, thrilling, and always hilarious, it’s a great read.
Thank you, Lehua, for allowing me to guest blog today. It’s an honor.
My latest novel, Big in Japan, has been out for just over a month now, and it’s amazing to see the reactions to it. The funniest one might be, “How the heck did you write that?”
Maybe they’re asking how a short, mom-type person wrote from the perspective of a … well, a giant. Who’s a 24 year-old man. That’s a valid question. I guess I channeled my inner sumo wrestler.
It’s been a lot of years since I lived in Japan. Like, almost 20. I wanted Big in Japan to be as authentic as possible—as much of a virtual trip to Tokyo as I could muster with the little details of sights and smells and the kitchy things that are Japan. Unfortunately, I’ve given birth five times since then, which is a veritable mind-wipe each time. So the most legitimate meaning of that question should actually be, “How did you write that and remember all that stuff?”
To which I reply, duh! In Japan you take your camera with you everywhere and you photodocument every single aspect of your day.
Cases in point: I have pictures of my bathtub; of my lunch of sliced cucumbers and barbecued squid and a pile of Kewpie mayonnaise; of mugi (wheat bran) muffins boiling over in my toaster-oven sized oven; of my clothes drying on the line; of myself going off a jump on my hot pink mountain bike wearing the kind of helmet only the mentally challenged Japanese people (and the American girls) wear; of my feet turned green and blue from the dyed leather in my blue oxford shoes after walking through the ankle-deep water after the August typhoon in Tokyo. I have pictures I took in the grocery store of bags of tiny round mochi balls in pink and green and white and of the narrowest house I’ve ever seen—just barely wider than my armspan from fingertip to fingertip.
But as a writer, the pics are not my only “external hard drive” source to remember details about beautiful Japan. I’ll be forever grateful I kept an almost-daily journal of my experiences.
I’ve got a record of “funny.” I have daily lists of the wacky English-language text on t-shirts, like the one with the tortoise at the top and the caption, “His mustache is so proud of him.” I’ve got stories about someone we lovingly referred to as “underwear man,” and the time I had to eat a stir-fried cricket on a dare. I also kept a record of the high cost of fresh fruit. Like the fact that a single watermelon cost upwards of $100!
Beyond that, when I was writing about Buck’s difficult transition into the Japanese culture, I had my own rocky emotional mess all bleeding out in hot pink pen all over my journal to draw from. And to write Buck’s final settling in, his acceptance of the country after some pretty significant culture shock, I had the feelings of catharsis I’d recorded as well.
Best of all, I’ve also got a whole cast of interesting and amazing people I met while I was there, and the heroine of the story is a conglomerate of the best of the Japanese women I met during my year and a half on the island.
When I first received my assignment to go to Japan, I was scared spitless. Then I told my grandpa, and he about jumped out of his skin. He’d lived there with my grandma and their six-or-so kids in the 1950s. He insisted I drive the half hour to his house because he was pulling out his slides. There were hundreds of pictures of the forests of Matsushima and the gardens at Nikko, and the ocean and houses and smiling people. His photodocumentation went great lengths toward calming my fears, and his love for Japan oozed its way into my heart, where it has lodged ever since.
I hope that love oozes into the hearts of the readers of Big in Japan.
Jennifer Griffith lives in Arizona with her husband and five kids. She lived in Japan for a year and a half during college and at 5’1” she is far too short to ever consider sumo as a career. This is her fourth published novel. Big in Japan is available as a hardback and ebook nationwide at purveyors of fine books such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Click here to see the book trailer. Trust me, you wanna see it.
Follow Jennifer’s adventures in writing at:
- Website: http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com/
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorJenniferGriffith
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/GriffithJen
To read my review of Big in Japan, click here.
So, you have a story you are writing, and it is set in an exotic setting with foreign cultures, and you’re scratching your head, asking yourself: How do I go about telling my readers about this place or culture that they may not understand or know? The answer is simple: Show, don’t tell.
One of the biggest mistakes that writers do when they write a story based on a foreign setting is telling the reader everything–much of this mistake comes from a legitimate concern: I’m afraid my readers will be lost if I don’t tell them what’s going on. Well, not quite. As writers, we cannot underestimate our readers’ ability to comprehend. Now, that’s if we write clearly, and well enough to not confuse them. Ultimately, it is up to us.
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club dwells heavily in the traditions and cultures of China, old and new. But not once in the entire book does she tell us any textbook-facts regarding her setting and the traditional practices of her characters. But yet we, as readers, understand every single aspect of the book. At the end of the book, her readers will have lived and experienced life as Chinese in China and America. How does Tan masterfully explain a foreign culture without explaining? Well, she doesn’t. Her characters do what they need to do to move the plot along. They say what they are supposed to say. They wear what they should be appropriately wearing.
By painting her setting with words, Tan’s narrative takes off beautifully without effort. There is no need to explain. Tan merely shows you how Chinese eat, how they talk, what they think, and how they react to things. And before long, we, as readers, will have learned a culture without being explained to.
The same can be said of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings volumes. He does not need to explain a culture to us, he merely shows us how things are done, from Gollum’s speech patterns to the Hobbits’s eating habits. He does not need to explain what elevenses are or the fact that the Hobbits’s calendar starts on a Saturday and ends on a Friday. But readers know this culture as much as they know their own. Why? Because Tolkien describes everything through dialogues and idiosyncrasies.
Perhaps the biggest example of the perfect explaining of cultures without explaining is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Believe it or not, this series is heavy on British culture and traditions, from school regulations to casual conversations. For example, Rowling throws out the word prefects without having to explain what they are. She doesn’t tell you, she shows you.
As writers we should let our readers discover and explore everything themselves. The correct way is to show our readers the world and culture in our books and let them find out for themselves. Give them the opportunity to ask important questions, and let them answer those questions themselves. Don’t worry about explaining everything; focus on telling your story instead, and trust me, your story will be 110% much stronger and powerful if you do.
Christopher Loke, Executive Editor for Jolly Fish Press, has made a splash in the writing world with his powerful and touching novel, The Housekeeper’s Son. This novel explores how far a mother can go for love. The answer? Murder. The Housekeeper’s Son is available as a hardcover and e-book through all major online retailers near you. Follow Chris on Twitter and Facebook for updates on his signings and events.
Writing is a reiterative process and creating the cover for a book is no different. The very talented Corey Egbert is the illustrator for the Niuhi Shark Saga and along with myself and the Jolly Fish Press team developed what eventually became the fantastic cover for One Boy, No Water. Surprisingly, our largest creative disagreement was over footwear.
Originally, Zader was going to be portrayed as wearing over-sized old-fashioned hip waders, the kind pineapple pickers used to wear. It’s not as odd as it sounds; it’s actually a plot point in the book. But when we saw the first draft, Christopher Loke, Executive Editor, didn’t like it. He thought it too clunky and wanted something more sleek and modern.
Corey’s next version was what Chris asked for, but I hated it. To my eye it was too girly. After some discussion, we decided to scrap the hip waders and a few other elements in our original design because we felt they were getting in the way of the emotion we wanted a potential reader to feel when he saw the cover.
Excited about the new direction, Chris asked, “What’s on Zader’s feet?”
“Slippahs or bare feet,” I said.
“On a reef?” He looked at me like I was crazy.
“It’s what kids wear,” I said.
“No, not Zader. It’s too dangerous for him to wear that. He wouldn’t do it.”
“He does in one part of the book,” said Kirk Cunningham, Head Publicist for Jolly Fish Press.
“Yeah, he does,” I said. “It’s in the climax.”
“No, it’s not right,” said Chris. “It’s not believable.”
We thought for a minute. I mentally flipped through images, trying to think of the kinds of footwear I’d seen around lava outcrops.
“What about deck shoes?” I asked.
“I LOVE deck shoes,” Chris exclaimed. “You mean the canvas-type shoes?”
“Deck shoes?” Corey asked.
“The kind from places like Landsend and LL Bean. I’ll send you some pictures,” I said.
“It’s deck shoes!” pronounced Chris, and we moved on.
But something about it bugged me and when I saw next draft, I realized why.
In Hawaii, I’ve never seen a local wear deck shoes to the beach or anywhere near water. It’s exclusively a tourist thing. The reason is simple: no matter how carefully you walk around reef, lava rocks, and the ocean, you’re still guaranteed to get your feet wet by either a rogue wave, bigger than expected splash, or unseen tide pool. In Hawaii, deck shoes, even the canvas ones, get ruined if they get ocean water in them—they never really dry out in the humidity and, well, can stink to high heaven if they’re worn again. Since you never, ever wear your shoes in a house in Hawaii (it’s considered very rude) the last thing you want to wear is stinky shoes you’ll have to take off in public.
I’m not sure why so many tourists wear them to the beach–if it’s because tourists get used to seeing these kinds of images in catalogs or because they think these kinds of shoes will protect their feet better or if they just wear shoes more often than locals–but our house was near a blow hole you could access by walking along lava rocks and tide pools and there wasn’t a day we didn’t see a tourist limping back to his car to nurse the blisters he got where the sand and saltwater’d rubbed his feet raw in his deck shoes.
As a local kid, Zader would never wear deck shoes on a reef.
My hunch was confirmed when I showed the latest image to my kids and husband individually. After “wow” then very next thing each of them said was, “What’s he wearing on his feet?”
JFP’s initial response was no, the deck shoes are great. Slippahs or bare feet would not be as elegant, especially with the heel toward the audience. But then the point was raised that one of our goals for the series was to be true to the local Hawaiian culture, even if that was counter-intuitive to the rest of the world. Corey was green-lighted to change it to slippahs.
I knew it was the right decision when I showed the final version of the cover to my Dad, Mr. Aloha himself, who’d never seen any of the other versions. The first thing he said wasn’t wow or that’s amazing or you’re going to sell a bazillion books with that cover. He said, “Oh, good. He’s in slippers.”
“Really, Dad? That’s the first thing you see? Fo’real?”
“The ghost shark thing is cool. Very sci-fi fantasy. It’s just that when you told me it was a reef scene I was a afraid he’d be in god-awful deck shoes or something.”
New press release for One Boy, No Water
OF SHARKS AND MEN
When old Uncle Kahana and his poi dog ‘Ilima find a newborn with a funny birthmark abandoned on a reef in Hawaii, he soon finds out just how special the child is: the boy is allergic to water. One drop on his skin and it’s like water on a white hot skillet; his allergies also make eating anything raw from the sea or rare meat impossible, which is simply absurd for an island dweller. Strangely, the boy’s peculiar allergies lead Uncle Kahana to believe this child is ‘ohana—family—and doesn’t have to work too hard to convince his niece and her family to adopt and give him a name—Alexander Kanoakai Westin, or “Zader” for short.
If only the rest of Zader’s life were so easy!
On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is.
One Boy, No Water, Lehua Parker’s debut novel, is the first exciting installment in The Niuhi Shark Saga and is set to release September 29, 2012. Utilizing both Pidgin and English in her narrative, Parker accurately paints the vibrant culture and lifestyle of Hawaii, transporting her reader to the heart of the island where legend and tradition is as much a part of life as eating and drinking.
Parker, aka “Aunty Lehua,” is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. As an advocate of Hawaiian culture and literature, her writings often feature her island heritage and the unique Hawaiian Pidgin. So far, Parker has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, an author, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, five cats, two dogs, seven horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy winters she dreams about the beach.
One Boy, No Water is illustrated by award-winning illustrator, Corey Egbert.
For more details on One Boy, No Water, or to review the novel, please contact Kirk Cunningham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to visit the official site.
Title: One Boy, No Water
Author: Lehua Parker
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press, LLC
Trim: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
Format: Hardcover, Trade Paperback
(HC) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-2-6
(TPB) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-7-1
(E-Book) ISBN-13: 978-0-9848801-8-8
Genre: Middle-Grade, Young Adult
Region: US, CAN, UK, AU
Publication Date: September 29, 2012
Sitting in the dark with the dogs under my feet, kids sleeping upstairs, and husband zonked out on the couch, I take a moment to think about each of my characters in ways that never appear in the novels. How one of them sleeps with a flashlight. How meatloaf reminds another of cat food. The way a character holds a pencil, eats breakfast cereal, or sings along to the radio. More importantly, I think about what each of them desires most, holding fast to the knowledge that for them I can, unlike for my kids upstairs, really make all their dreams come true.
In the middle of the night I want to play fairy godmother and send Cinderella to the ball. She’s had a miserable life, but wait! There’s beauty under the ashes and soot. She dances with the prince, loses a shoe, but in the end he finds her and they live happily ever after in a big palace, dinning on sumptuous calorie-free chocolates with their children who never ever do things like throw up on the carpet or scatter Lego shrapnel down the stairs. Cinderella, eternally blissful in her big poofy sleeved dress, minuscule waist, and tiny glass heels. Sigh. Such a happy, happy life.
Oh, gag. I’m doing it again.
Too often burgeoning authors treat their characters like pampered privileged children, skipping right to the happy ending and bypassing the juicy details of the journey. In these stories dangers lurk in the shadows, something vaguely bad guys in black hats, but it’s all okay; everybody’s wearing a safety helmet and a lifeguard’s on duty; the sharks have teeth, but are vegan and just wanna be friends. These kinds of stories are full of quirky, loveable characters and stirring descriptions of conversations over cups of tea, but usually lack that vital spark called plot.
The real point, Constant Reader, is that as an author I have to love you more and my characters less. I have to find ways to make you fall in love with them and then take you both on a journey that thrills and chills, pausing just long enough to warm you back to your safe zone before plunging you down, down, down to despair and disbelief. Rather than the maudlin fairy godmother paving Cinderella’s path to happiness, I have to be Murphy’s Law, the minefield under the playground, the shark in the idyllic lagoon.
Cup of tea, anyone?
There’s been a lot of debate in the blogosphere lately about the future of digital books. Most of the debates center around price point, format, and distribution channels. Traditional publishers are bemoaning the self-publishing frenzy as the death of good, quality fiction that has at least kissed an editor and proofreader’s desks, and big eBook distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are fighting over formats, traditional vs. wholesale pricing models, and proprietary content. Small imprints and large publishing houses alike are clamoring that Amazon is trying to seduce authors away from them and into the brave, new world of self-publishing, while authors are busy running numbers, looking for the magic option that allows them to make rent next month. It’s all about getting a bigger slice of the digital book pie.
From what I’ve seen, most industry players think of eBooks as digital versions of print on a page. Out of all the work they do to create a print book—from editing, book design, and marketing—most simply take the final text file and tweak it so it looks good on various eReaders and add a jpeg of the book cover. There are several easy to use and inexpensive software programs that do a reasonable job of creating digital books from text files; it’s no wonder that many authors are now choosing to self-publish. Unfortunately, based on the thousand or so eBooks I’ve read on a variety of devices, “reasonable” is really all you get with a digital book, regardless if published by self-starters or the big boys.
Did I mention most people think in terms of simply translating print on a page to print on a screen?
But as an author and former interactive instructional designer, I think the industry is missing a huge opportunity. While the vast majority of adult and young adult fiction works well as Print on a Screen, I think there is a market in the middle grade, chapter, picture, and non-fiction book arenas for what I call Enhanced Interactive versions.
Beyond the current standard of linking to internal dictionaries, providing the capability for user-specific notes, highlights, and bookmarks, and simple chapter-based menu structures, Enhanced Interactive versions elevate the reading experience to a whole new level. For example, an EI version of a book that explores a foreign culture or science concepts could link to additional information embedded in the digital book (but not included in the print version—differentiating and driving more people to the digital version) or maintained on external websites. In picture or chapter books, young readers could color or embellish illustrations, watch characters come to life through animation, or even add their own drawings to stories or new words to pictures—everything from writing an entirely original narrative to the existing illustrations to adding their own wacky nouns, adverbs, and verbs á la mad libs. Cookbooks linked to the internet could provide an outlet for home cooks to share their adaptations, tips, and photos. EI books could even take a cue from social media to create virtual book clubs filled with all the minutiae an author knows about his characters, plots, and backstories, along with all the things he writes that never (and often for good reason) make it into the book. For the rabid fan, too much is never enough.
The possibilities are endless; I could write 20 blogs on how Enhanced Interactive versions of various book types could function and the markets they’d appeal to. In a nutshell, simply think of all the ways we game, learn, communicate, and interact with digital media and embed these features in digital text through icons, color cues, menus, tabs—whatever you can imagine. That’s my vision of Enhanced Interactive digital books.
Of course, not all digital books would make great EI books. But designed, targeted, and marketed to the right audiences, EI books have the potential to revolutionize the publishing industry in ways as profound as Gutenberg’s wonderful moveable type and the Kindle’s digital format.
All of which should be good news to traditional publishers. Since creating versions of digital books that go beyond print on a screen requires skill sets and deeper pockets most self-publishers possess, this EI market fits squarely into the bailiwick of imprint and large publication houses. Properly managed, publishers could turn their versions of EI digital books into virtual seals of approval, allowing them to quietly reassume their self-appointed gate-keeper roles as guardians of good writing and purveyors of quality product. The crowd goes wild.
I know just the series to start.
Among my bibliophile friends, I’m the only one who loves eBooks. When you read as many and as fast as I do, being able to keep a stack of novels on hand without hauling a small trailer around is a definite plus. So is packing an eReader or smart phone into a purse instead of a 700+ page hardback the size of a loaf of bread. I also like being able to change the size of the font with a flick of the thumb so I can read without my glasses. There are still many nights when I read far longer than I should, but the side table light no longer shines in my husband’s eyes when he’s trying to sleep. He probably considers that a plus, too.
Unlike most digital gadget owners, in those odd moments of waiting for piano or soccer practice to end, I’d rather pick up my phone and lose myself in a novel instead of playing another round of Angry Birds. In our house book apps in all their forms are on everything—smart phones, Kindles, IPads, IPods, laptops, desktops, and Nooks. Our four family members share accounts and content, so it’s not unusual for two of us to be reading the same digital book. It works well if everyone disables auto-sync and uses a virtual bookmark. The kids also like having the literature they’re studying in school available on their IPods, so they can tell me they’re studying when they’re probably doing something else. I especially like that most of the classics they’re studying can be downloaded for free and don’t result in overdue library fines.
I made the switch to mostly eBooks when the first Kindle came out. Back then new releases were about half the cost of a hardback, a significant savings for someone who devours new fiction like potato chips, and while I did miss passing around books I’d finished, I no longer had to worry about where I was going to put them all if I got them back.
As an adult I’ve found most books are like a box of tissues; I read them once then toss. It’s the same with movies; I almost never want to watch a movie twice, even ones I really like. For me, knowing what’s going to happen seems to suck the joy right out of the experience, like a balloon minus the helium or a wrapper minus the candy.
But things were different when I was a kid. You could argue that books and movies were rarer back then and that would be true. However, I’ve seen this with my own and other kids who grew up with over-flowing cornucopias of books. Favorite children’s books are read and re-read. They’re treasured.
Over the years almost all of my adult books have migrated to the local library or thrift shop. However, through the years I’ve kept the books I owned as a child along with most of my kids’ children’s books. Packed away in waterproof boxes in the basement are Dr. Seuss, the Magic Tree House, Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and friends, all patiently waiting for the next generation of young readers to discover their words and worlds. I find a sense of peace in knowing that regardless of changing digital formats, battery life, screen glare, and economic upswings and downturns someday some little kid will get to hold a well-loved and often read book. He or she will get to turn the pages and step into the story, stray crayon marks, peanut butter-jelly thumbprints, and all.
So even though I really love the practicality of eBooks, when Jolly Fish Press said they wanted to publish One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Adventure Series as hardback children’s books, I was thrilled. After all, it’s tough pack an eBook in the basement for the grandkids.
I admit it. I’m not a scrapbooker. I have boxes and files of my children’s lives stashed in random places in my office and in directories on my computer because I know this stuff is too important to throw away, but the thought of sorting through it all to create a meaningful tapestry gives me hives. So when I started getting invites from friends to join Pinterest, the image sharing social networking site, I ignored them. After all, did I really need to spend more time looking at cute bedroom designs I’d never use or read recipes for dishes I’d never cook? Did I mention I’m not the scrapbooking type?
But a couple of days ago, Kirk Cunningham, my publicist at Jolly Fish Press, sent me an email detailing what he wanted me to do with social media to promote my book One Boy, No Water and The Niuhi Shark Adventure Series. Pinterest was on his list, although he listed it only as an option rather than a must do like Facebook and Twitter. Thinking perhaps someday some bored tech savvy tween or teen might check out Pinterest, I half-flippantly wrote back that I was thinking about creating some Pinterest boards based on the main characters. I set up an account and started playing around, first looking for images of food I describe in the book. You know us Hawaiians; it’s all about the food.
Oh. My. Pinterest.
A few clicks and suddenly all of the images in my head about my characters’ likes and dislikes exploded onto the screen. I realized I could pin images about places, food, activities, music—everything from hula halaus to old pineapple plantation hip waders to custom surfboard art—to create complete character profiles and share them with anybody who wanted to know more about the people in my books, more than I could ever write in a novel. Characters who were already living and breathing in my own head could come alive in ways I didn’t anticipate.
Holy cow. What a way to blow an afternoon!
Pinterest as a character design tool is not perfect. Many of the images I wanted to pin to a character didn’t work, probably due to an issue with the originating site not wanting to share images. I get it, but it’s frustrating. I also have to remind myself not to switch back and forth in my descriptions from author to character. I finally decided to create these boards as if they were done by the characters themselves to keep the descriptions from feeling a little schizophrenic. Besides, if a picture is really worth a thousand words, I don’t think I really need to add much, which is probably why most of my pins are labeled in caveman speak.
Still, I gotta admit, it’s a lot more fun than I ever imagined. Maybe someday I will get those scrapbooks organized. (Don’t hold your breath!)
To see how the character profiles are evolving, check out Lehua Parker on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/lehuaparker/
No problem, I thought. An hour, tops.
The days went by and I didn’t even think about it. No need to rush. I’ve got a week.
And suddenly, I didn’t. It was DUE. I sat down at the computer and cracked my fingers, holding them poised over the keys, waiting for inspiration to strike.
I blinked. I wrote 50,000 words for book one, often writing 5,000 or more words in a day. It can’t be this hard to write a couple of summary paragraphs. Get a grip, I thought. It’s like cleaning the bathroom or doing the laundry. No matter how much you don’t want to do it, you just gotta. Rip the bandage already.
But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? A blurb is not just a couple of paragraphs that summarize a book. It’s all about marketing, all about teasing, tantalizing, enticing someone who liked the cover enough to pick up the book (or to click on a link) to now open a wallet and spend hard-earned money to buy the book.
Now I’ve bought a lot of bad books based on fantastic blurbs, but I can’t remember buying a fantastic book with a bad blurb. Suddenly, the whole success of my book, of my series, of my life as an author is coming down to a couple of paragraphs.
Ai ka pressah!
Before I completely psyched myself out and started avoiding writing by doing the unthinkable–housework–I looked up ‘how to write a blurb’ on the internet. Here’s what I gleaned.
- The purpose of a blurb is to convince someone to buy the book. (Duh. If it were to convince someone eat chocolate, I wouldn’t be having a panic attack.)
- Don’t fall back on overused phrases or get stuck on awesome adjectives.
- The most frustrating blurbs are a simple selection of quotes from reviews. (No worries there.)
- Blurbs are usually about 100 words.
- Before writing a blurb, try to identify who the audience is, what the book is about, and what makes it special. (I’m beginning to think that not all how to blurb bloggers are geniuses at what they do. Maybe that’s why they have time to blog about blurb writing.)
- Boil it all down to a clear message, but at the same time give enough detail to tantalize. (For example…?)
- Start the copy in an arresting way that leaves the reader wanting more. (Ditto…?)
- Write a lot then cut, cut, cut.
- It’s a good idea to double-check that the names and plot-lines described in the blurb are actually in the book.
Given such cracker jack advice, which also included “try to at least skim the book,” I’m beginning to see why JFP asked me to write it. Besides being the cheapest option, at least they could be sure I actually knew the story and characters.
After pouring soda over ice and watching it fizz, then getting up to let the dogs out, I sat back down and stared at the monitor. This is Zader’s story, I thought. What does he want readers to know? Why should they listen to what he has to say? This is what he said.
Call me Zader. 11 years ago Uncle Kahana found me abandoned on a reef and gave me to the Westin family to raise. He says I can blame my allergies on the Hohonukai side of the family.
I can’t get wet.
I’m allergic to water, fresh or salt. One drop on my skin and it’s like a snake venom nuclear bomb. In an instant, my skin blisters and cracks until it finally turns gray and scaly and flakes off like a bad sunburn.
Don’t get me started on the other weirdness in my life, like the man with too many teeth, the trouble with ‘Ālika, or that my could-go-pro surfing brother Jay is afraid of sharks.
Sometimes life in paradise really sucks.
That’s it, at least until the editor’s red pen hits it.
For an author, once a debut novel has a publication date it’s no longer about writing, it’s about marketing. A large amount of time and energy is spent by publishers on getting the book in front of People Who Matter, begging them to first read it and then, cross your fingers, positively review it in blogs, book reviews, online services, catalogs–anywhere, really, where people who buy books might find out about your book and want to pick it up.
As a debut author, one thing I’ve been asked to do by Jolly Fish Press is to develop relationships within the middle grade/young adult authors’ community. They suggested I join various readers’ and writers’ online groups, read and review books for other authors, and generally play nice with others. It’s a lot like fourth grade where you get invited to birthday parties based on who you invited to yours.
No problem, I thought. As much as I read, I can easily knock out a couple of book reviews a week. Glad to help other writers.
So I started reading and reviewing books on websites for debut and often self-published authors, the ones most willing to share their work and hungry for the buzz.
Words fail. After a few weeks and a couple dozen books later, it wasn’t just the grammar or misspelling or unintentional malaprop or errors with homophones throughout the texts–those can be easily fixed. The problems in these books were larger and more fundamental. Often there was no plot or even characters that made me care about what happened to them. There was no story. Reading those books was like having a conversation with my autistic nephew, perfectly clear in his mind and utterly confused in mine.
I wanted to be supportive; I really did. I tried to find good things to say about the novels, but when all I could honestly say is “I liked the cover” I knew I had to take a time out. I didn’t want to discourage people from writing, but I also didn’t want to say something was good when I couldn’t honestly recommend it to anyone.
I’m having a hard time figuring out my role here. I’m not the author’s editor, mother, or cheerleader. I’m not a credentialed book reviewer with followers hanging on my every word, which should make my opinion rather unimportant. However, I’ve seen “bad” reviews on some of these websites turn into ugly name-calling fests involving the reviewer, the author, the best friend, the mother, and sometimes even the publisher–reminding me again of fourth grade. I believe if you publish you should be grown-up enough to realize not everyone is going to like your work and that arguing, explaining, and name-calling never changes anyone’s opinion. It’s obvious that not everyone feels this way.
If I could only publish reviews about books that I liked, it would be much simpler. Unfortunately, these burgeoning author websites insist that if you get a free copy–e-book or print–you basically have to publicly review it or you’ll get kicked out of the club.
Be nice or else.
Which is unfortunate for everybody–readers, authors, and reviewers. If every indie, self-published, or small press book is four or five stars and fantastic, the reviews are meaningless and we’re back to relying on the opinions of the People Who Matter.