I started editing the first draft of Book 1 of Arabesque at the end of January, 2015. I went over the huge draft twice with a murderous instinct to kill that I didn’t know I possessed. I don’t use an outline for stories because I feel it’s an inorganic approach to something that should be utterly organic. I always have an idea of the entire story and where it will end up, but the twists and wiggles of the journey I leave up to the story itself. I let it go where it wishes, all tangents and rambles welcome. And then, when it’s come to a natural stopping point, I go back to the beginning and sharpen the kitchen knives.
Doing this with the first part of Arabesque was both therapeutic and heartbreaking. There’s an adage somewhere said by someone wise that goes “kill your darlings”. I think it was Mr. King who said that, actually. For a writer, that doesn’t just mean characters or their pets. It means whole chapters or phrases that you adore down to your socks, but that simply don’t move or serve the story. Those are the darlings that are the hardest to kill, but also those that most need to die.
I had a few funerals during those first two brutal passes, but I blew my nose and moved on with the greater task at hand. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the main obstacle I faced when I was trying to go the traditional publishing route was that no one (publishers, agents, anyone) would even look at a page of the story because of the word count. I kept thinking what would have happened to our literary world if that restriction had been applied to JK Rowling or George RR Martin. Granted, I’m not writing in the fantasy genre where epic, long books are far more common, but the blatant dismissal still seemed wasteful and irresponsible. How did they know I wasn’t the next big thing?
Well, they don’t. And now they will never get the chance to ride my coattails into the sunset of success. Frankly, I’m not bothered. I prefer to keep my coattails off the ground.
That brings me back to the crux of my problem during my first stages of editing: shortening this beast to its leanest possible form. There will be three books in the series and after that, the story will be complete. This isn’t an ongoing tale with no end—it’s already done in my head. I even know what the final line of Book 3 will be (no spoilers here, sorry).
Each of those three books, though, tells a very specific part of the bigger story. I went through Book 1 hundreds of times looking for a natural “break” point where I might split that book into two (thus making the series four books in the end, but I really don’t like even numbers—they seem like bad luck to me). But I never found it. None of my faithful reading helpers every found it. And when I finally hired a professional editor to do a fresh chop on the edits I’d already done, she couldn’t find that elusive break, either. Ergo, I had no choice but to go ahead with Book 1 in its still epic length—even after all that chopping the editor and I both did.
Yes, it’s a tome. Yes, it’s bloody long. Yes, the haters will have a field day with that; let ‘em. But I know without doubt that there’s nothing in Book 1 that doesn’t need to be there. It might seem like there are extraneous things, but once all three books are completed it will all make sense.
Okay, I admit to sparing the life of one darling that could have been killed without harming the story. It’s Chapter 49 which is called LAX and it doesn’t do much to move the plot, but it is—to this day—one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. It’s just a conversation between two friends driving back from the airport, but the relationship notes and the character reveals therein are magical to me. I love that moment and the dialogue/banter between them. The editor never mentioned that it should be cut, but I know deep down it could have been. I simply loved it too much to condemn it.
So, after the professional was done, I went through it again with that bloodless editing knife before I was finally ready to release it to the world. The process of converting it into the format needed for Kindle’s digital upload was complicated and stressful, but I managed it. There were services offering to format it for me for outrageous fees, but I’m not so much of a technotard that I couldn’t work it out. I had to reload it a few times, though, because I kept finding stupid things wrong (spacing, etc.). Finally, I was ready to hit that button that would begin the publishing process.
I can’t recall ever being so scared. Not even a little excited, mind—just scared. There is no greater exposure than to put yourself out in the world as an artist. You are utterly vulnerable and utterly revealed. I tried to wait for a day before I announced that the book was available for purchase because I wanted to buy it myself, test the upload speed, go through it on my Kindle screen, etc., to make sure as many bugs as I could find were out.
One of my oldest friends posted on Facebook that she’d seen it on Amazon in the UK. She accused me of holding out (teasingly, of course) so I had to “release” it officially a bit earlier than I wanted. Because of that, some people had technical issues with the upload that I probably could have solved given that day I planned to have. No new endeavors are without their fitful starts—mine was no exception.
But finally, it was all cleaned up, working properly and ready to be purchased. Except after my family and friends bought it, there were no more sales. I expected this, but it was still brutal to go through as I’d put the word out to absolutely everyone I could think of who might be interested to know I had a book out. Still . . . crickets.
So, the marketing madness began.
I’m in the process of this now so I’m still finding my feet. I’m trying several different social media blitzing services, but so far the Twitter blitzers are getting the least bang for my buck. I thought that would be a good venue, so that surprises me. I ran a Facebook ad from the author page that cost a ton and only resulted in two new page likes—no sales. I knew the FB page needed to be spiffed up, and I also knew I needed to create an author “image”, but that—like all the rest of this—takes a crap-ton of money.
In an effort to cut at least one corner, I asked my best friend and my godchild to help with some photos while we were away on vacation last week. They stepped up to that challenge so beautifully, it really amazed me. I have never been a girly-girl and don’t like to wear a lot of make-up, so I don’t really know how to apply it correctly. My godchild was my make-up guru and my best friend was the location/lighting scout. I did my own hair and brought a few different outfits and between the three of us, we got about six usable photos (from around 200 taken). I guess that’s not a bad average considering there was a lot of wine involved.
Here’s the ‘before’ picture:
I wanted a few different “looks” to choose from, but my intension was to try to portray the author persona in a way that made sense to the story I’m presenting. Ergo, I wanted to look a little vampy and sexy. This isn’t easy for a chubby middle-aged lady, but I gave it my best shot. I tinkered with the pictures through the filters on my blog because all those pictures have similar colors. I found one I like enough to use as my author persona picture, so I switched it up on my platforms. Here’s that pic (slightly altered color-wise for the blog):
Now, the same day I changed this on Twitter, I also went out with a tweet just to my followers (i.e., no hashtags yet): Have those fifty shades left you pale? Get your circulation moving again with something totally different. That was followed by the link to the book. I figure it’s time to stop messing around and just go for that British housewife’s readers. I mean, why not? There’s plenty of room for both of us in this genre. It won’t be any skin off her billionaire’s nose to share.
I took this same tactic on FB and started up another round of very expensive ads. This time, I’m targeting the Fifty Shades fans directly as well as generally reaching out to lovers of erotic romance novels. FB won’t let me specify “gay” romance as a target search, which I found totally bizarre. I’ll see how this goes, then try something else.
The new photo has garnered me six new followers so far—all of them men. I guess I can’t complain that someone still finds me attractive enough to follow my feed and see what I’m doing. You never know; one of those guys could be the person who starts the fire under my book. Welcome to all (except the haters—you will be ignored).
I wish we still lived in a time of town criers. I’d love to pay a guy to stand on a box in the town square and scream “come read this great, sexy new book!!!” That would be so much easier—and more effective because absolutely everyone in town would hear him. Natch. Going the social media way, I honestly feel like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs into a big, black hole. Anyone there? Hello?
That’s the update for now. Happy Independence Weekend, America.
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