Post #144: So, What’s Your Book About?

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With my debut novel set to come out on July 22nd, it’s time to start telling you a little bit about it. I thought I’d start with the back cover blurb/teaser that I recently wrote. Have you ever tried to write one of these? I don’t recommend it. It’s really hard. When you write an entire book and then you sit down to try to summarize that book in a compelling way that piques someone’s interest, but in a way that doesn’t oversell or tell them too much, but also somewhat fits the tone and feel of the book inside, but without seeming too casual or annoying, it feels like someone has just asked you to juggle some flaming unicycles.

And yet, I’m proud of this blurb, and of the way it introduces my main character, Rainey Cobb, the girl on the cover. Readers, after all, will experience the blurb in conjunction with the cover art, and I wanted the teaser to establish Rainey as a person and bring her world and dilemmas to life in harmony with the cover. I love this character so much, and I hope readers love her too.

Fifteen-year-old Rainey Cobb never thought meeting someone could actually change her life. But, then again, she’s never met anyone like Juliet.

It’s 1995 and The Cobb Family Band, led by Rainey’s rock star parents, has arrived for a week-long gig at the Midwestern resort owned by Juliet’s family. Dazzled by Juliet’s carpe diem attitude, DIY tattoos, and passion for grunge, Rainey falls hard. And when Juliet gives Rainey a mixtape that unlocks her heart’s secret yearnings, Rainey starts seeing herself—and her vagabond, show-biz life—through new eyes.

If Rainey quits the band, her parents’ fading career might never recover. But if she doesn’t leap now, she might be stuck forever in a life she didn’t choose… and always wonder who she could have been.

Does that make you want to buy the book? Damn, I hope so. Pre-order links coming SOON!

Post #54: The Path to Publication, Part 2

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THE GREAT FREELANCE EDITOR ROUND-UP (guest post by author Ron Dionne)

So I had accepted the offer from Delabarre Publishing to publish my novel SAD JINGO as an ebook, and had withdrawn it from consideration at Akashic Books.

I had chosen the Wild West that book publishing had suddenly become, over the gentler precincts of traditional publishing.

Did that mean I just handed over the manuscript to Delabarre for formatting and slapping on a “cover” and posting to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the iBookstore an hour later?

It could have. We’ve all seen it done. I, for one, often cringe at the results.

No, my publisher and I decided that we did not want to rush a sloppy product out there. Yes, we’d almost sold the book (back when I was operating fully under the traditional publishing model, with an agent, and a well-regarded editor at a big publishing house on the hook), but that did not mean it wouldn’t take some work after the sale, if that sale had occurred.  (See my previous guest post for details on how the book almost sold, once upon a time, to HarperCollins.)

One of the drawbacks of taking the bracing, inspiring plunge with an entrepreneurial new publisher operating on a shoestring budget is that you can’t pay editors with shoestrings. Delabarre had no paid editors on staff. It was up to me, if I wanted to sleep nights, to hire professional editing done.

It sort of is, in a comfortable armchair way, like setting out into the frontier in search of that one quirky gunslinger that has just the right skills to catch the bad guy who’s made your life a shambles.  In this case, I needed a wily master of plot, pacing, and taste to help me sort out which of the two versions of my book was better, which revisions were improvements and which were not.  I needed someone to help me find the best Jingo there could be. And, as it turns out, to save me from myself.

How do you find such a person? Unfortunately, you can’t put on dusty boots and a cool-looking duster and saddle up a quirky horse for a ride through gorgeous back country that would look great shot with the Libatique lens and Blanko Freedom film in the Hipstamatic app on your iPhone.  No, you need to research developmental editors, freelance editors, and book doctors, most likely on the internet. You have to talk to as many people as you can, and listen hard. Some folks you like and want to agree with. Others you’re not too crazy about but you respect their opinion and you have to guard against dismissing any wisdom they might impart because, say, they voted for the other guy in the last election.

You kind of have to drive blind, and trust your horse sense.

I talked to folks I knew who had published. I studied web pages. I queried folks with fancy web sites. I queried folks who did not seem to be all that on-line at all, ironically enough since I was embarking on an ebook-only (for starters) adventure.

And that bit about horse sense? Hey, I’m the writer who had a serviceably good book almost sold to an editor so beloved by the industry they named an award after him when he passed. I’m the writer who, despite that pinnacle of near-achievement, decided I needed to revise the thing and make major changes to it. “Update” it.  Horse sense? Not my forté.

But it was all I had to rely on.

Eventually, I narrowed down my choices of prospective plot wranglers — I mean freelance editors, to two.  I sent the book to both.

One was an eminent West Coast editor with an impressive web site and lots of videos on Youtube of presentations he had given at writers’ conferences. I sent him my revised, updated version. He told me my book had potential but wasn’t ready for submitting to publishers yet because it had some plot issues and, “you must admit, lacks a satisfying denouement.”

I consulted the ghost of Mr. Ashmead and imagined a friendly scowl. Not really. I don’t truck with ghosts, but I thought about it. And I thought about sometimes folks needing to hear what they didn’t want to hear, that strong, evil-tasting medicine can sometimes be just what you need.

The other editor had actually worked with Larry Ashmead at HarperCollins, the editor to whom my now publisher had almost sold the book in the 1990s. I found her through Publishers Marketplace, where a testimonial quote from Mr. Ashmead on her member page caught my eye.  I sent her my original version, and explained I was unable to judge the merits of the revisions in my updated version.

When she and I talked, it became clear right away that the book needed a comparative read of the two versions. The elephant in the room was the fact that I’d revised a finished work finished long enough ago that the writer I was then was a significantly different person that the writer I am now.

How to decide? One editor said the book had merit but needed significant change. The other said the book had merit but she wanted to see how I had changed it and take the measure of those changes with the original spirit of the book in mind.

The first had more novels under his belt, as displayed on his web page. The second had more nonfiction listed among her credentials, but she also had the Ashmead connection.

I went with the second editor, Alice Rosengard. And I am not sorry. She read the original carefully. She took her time, spotting some things that needed fixing. Then she read the revised version, noting a few improvements but more importantly some changes that marred the original intent of the book, and detracted from the strengths that almost got it published in the first place.

I am convinced she helped me make the book the best that it could be. For me, the editing of it was validation. Validation by a stranger with whom I developed a rapport based solely on the content of a piece of writing I sent her. That means a lot to me.

I realize this is inside shop-talk before reality hits. Now it’s up to readers to decide if they like the book. And me to promote it. More on that later.

Post #50: The Path to Publication, Part 1



Thanks, Benjamin, for inviting me to post on The Almost Right Words about the publication of my book, SAD JINGO. It’s an honor and a privilege, and I’m grateful.

You mentioned in an earlier post that my book took a nontraditional path to publication. You are right. But also wrong. Let me explain (don’t worry, I hate riddles, too).

I wrote the book in the late 1990s and with it was able at last to secure an agent. The agent was an eager young fellow named Jeff Rutherford, who at the time was a junior member of the Denise Marcil Literary Agency. He repped the book long and hard, and nearly sold it to HarperCollins, where Larry Ashmead, an eminent editor who has since passed away and has had an annual editing award named after him, wanted to buy it for the hardcover side. But HarperCollins at the time had a strict “hard/soft” policy, meaning it only bought books for hardcover that it also was willing to reprint later in paperback, thereby foregoing what could become expensive crapshoot auctions for reprint rights (not that I’m presuming anything for JINGO, honest). Unfortunately for Jeff and me, Mr. Ashmead’s counterpart on the softcover side didn’t like the book so much, so there was no deal.

Some time passed. I wrote another book that Jeff didn’t like as much, and neither did editors. I got discouraged. My wife and I had two kids. I stood on a street corner across the street from the World Trade Center one September morning and watched the world change. Time passed.

I guess you could call it a midlife crisis, or maybe the kids got old enough that I could no longer blame them for not having the time to write, but eventually I got back in the writing saddle and began working again, on novels and short pieces. And in the background, SAD JINGO still loomed, sort of a 65,000-word version of The One That Got Away.

Fortunes changed for my former agent, but still friend, Jeff Rutherford, too. Agenting didn’t pan out, and he moved on to form his own PR agency, and kept in touch.

And then the ebook revolution happened.

My erstwhile agent Jeff Rutherford started up an ebook publishing company. He asked me if he could publish SAD JINGO.  I demurred for a while, fearing it was a friend feeling sorry for another friend and doing him a favor. He insisted that was not the case. I tried Two Dollar Radio. No luck. Hard Case Crime — Charles Ardai said send it in, but I decided not to, as it really isn’t crime and I don’t want to waste people’s time (I know, I’m nuts). I went to the Algonkian Pitch and Shop and heard lots of feedback about the book. The instructor wanted me to change the title to SYMPATHY FOR A PSYCHOPATH. The nice folks who wrote YA books and urban fantasy smiled politely and endured my turns in the discussion groups. The editors invited to hear the pitch all passed, but one.

I sent my sample and synopsis to Akashic Books at that kind editor’s request.

Months passed.

Jeff called. How’s it going, he asked. Fine, I told him. Still interested in publishing SAD JINGO, you know, he said. Thanks, I said, but you’re not just doing me a favor, are you? No, man, I think it’s good.

So after the third or fourth email correspondence with Akashic about how the editor still hadn’t gotten to the book, I decided to join the revolution and withdraw the book from a traditional publisher in favor of going with my gut and the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit of my friend, former agent, and now publisher, Jeff Rutherford and his company, Delabarre Publishing.

But there was one issue: How to make the book professional. Which means editing. Copy editing.

And there was another rub. In the decade since almost selling it, I’d revised it. “Updated” it. I now had two versions. One of the two main characters was significantly different in the later version.

What to do?

In my next post, I’ll talk about hiring a freelance editor.

Post #49: Sad Jingo

ebooks, New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

Good news.  My friend Ron Dionne’s novel Sad Jingo is finally available as an ebook from Delabarre publishing.  Ron and I met at the NY Pitch and Shop a few years ago and since I first heard the premise for Sad Jingo, I’ve been dying to get my hands on it.  The wait is over and I’m loving the book so far.  It’s edgy and dark and full of suspense.  You can buy yourself a copy and read more about the book here. Sad Jingo took a rather circuitous and somewhat nontraditional route to publication and in the coming weeks, I’m hoping to get Ron to join us for some guest posts about his experiences in publishing and how he eventually brought his novel to readers.  So be on the lookout.  For now, treat yourself to a new book!