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CHARACTERS ON COVERS

March 8, 2017

Boy, I love the Science Fiction And Fantasy Facebook thread! The people there give me a wealth of inspiration.

Recently, someone started a thread and asked how people felt about having characters versus scenes (or other designs) on their book covers. In this context, they were referring to mainly fantasy and science fiction. I think that particular author is fantasy, if I remember correctly.

I’ve talked about covers before, how important they are, how I personally feel about them, and how they can influence your book sales.

Now, let’s look at both sides of the coin.

BOOK COVERS WITH CHARACTERS

THE GOOD

A great artist may be able to bring your character to life. If your main character is very good looking, or is an alien creature or fantastical beast, that image fills in the blanks for the reader. They see that image on the cover and picture him, her or it throughout the story. If, the rest of the artwork accompanying the image fits with that image, you may have a flashy cover that gives the reader a vivid idea of a particular scene in the story. That can be a great way to sell a book.

THE BAD

Ninety-nine percent of the time, not only does the character on the cover not look anything like the main character, but the scene depicted has nothing to do with any scene in the story! Let me repeat that. Ninety-nine percent of the time, not only does the character on the cover not look anything like the main character, but the scene depicted has nothing to do with any scene in the story!

It’s a well-known fact that publishers give their work over to cover artists and it’s up to these artists to “interpret” the story and come up with a cover. So, the artist does just that. They “interpret” their impression of something in the story, which hardly ever corresponds to an actual event in said story. That includes the actual main character. It is usually a composite at best.

The author rarely, if at all, has any input whatsoever, even if given “token” input.

Therefore, though the artwork may be super fantastic, it rarely has anything to do with the actual story. It might be “close enough for guv’mint work,” but if the reader gets the impression that that cover depicts an actual scene in the book, they may read and read and read, searching for that particular scene, only to be disappointed.

How do I know this?

Because I’ve done it countless times! I’ve seen a cover, read the book and come away disappointed.

What about self-published authors? Do they have more control over their artwork?

That’s an interesting question because maybe they do. However, in this case, since they have to fork out all the cash themselves, they have more of a budget and as a result, many many self-published works have a bad rep for less than stellar covers.

Why?

Bad artwork.

Do you want your reader to get the picture of a heroine that looks like Marty Feldman who’s supposed to be a female warrior out of their mind?

WHY FORCE AN IMAGE?

Now, for the other part of the bad, why force an image on your readers? Why force them to see any of your characters as anything other than what you paint as words? If you use words, give them just enough to guide them along. Then, let them fill in their own blanks. Even if you give them minute details, a lot of readers are going to lose interest and fill in their own blanks, anyway. If you force them into some image on the cover, whether good or bad, you take away that freedom.

This hazard comes with a price if your book is adapted to the movies. Once a certain star takes on the role (and this goes for side characters as well), it leaves those faces cemented in the consciousness of the readers. If the stars change from movie to movie, there can be a rebellion of sorts. Some people will stick with the original star, while others with either go with the flow, or once again, fill in the blanks. Guess what’ll happen with your book covers? There’s a pretty good bet the original covers will be replaced with revised artwork with the stars on them.

BOOK COVERS WITHOUT CHARACTERS

THE GOOD

Book covers without characters are quite common and are a far safer bet for you as a writer. Without a character (which includes beasts, icky bugs, monsters…whatever), you can now let the words you write drive those descriptions for the reader. You’re no longer at the mercy of an artist you have no control over to drive your impression of what your character (or icky bug) looks like. Now, it’s up to the reader to fill in their own blanks.

What about the artwork, the scene or image?

Now, this is a whole different realm. Especially for fantasy novels, they artwork tends to be more elaborate than other genres. It doesn’t have to be a scene from the book specifically, just the impression of something that could be from the book. Something to attract the eye. After all, that’s the whole point of the cover. To attract the eye.

That’s the way it is with any cover, to attract the eye. No matter the genre, the cover needs to attract the eye. Since this style has no character or figures on it, it’s a scene, a logo, or something along those lines.

Blank covers are the least interesting. Best-selling authors can get away with them better than new authors. They’re the most boring of all.

Random patterns are next.

Then repeated patterns.

Then logos, though they can be quite popular and effective.

The best are scenes of some kind, and should have some relation to the story but don’t need to be a specific one in the book. Then again, if it’s a fantasy story, the scene shouldn’t be from a shopping mall!

THE BAD

They key is the artwork, whatever is used, doesn’t look hokey or amateurish. That screams self-published.

However, that doesn’t mean all self-published books have bad artwork, or that conventionally published books have great artwork. There are self-published books out there that put the big six to shame. It’s a matter of effort and how much money you want to sink into your book, if you self-publish. If conventionally published, it’s all about lucking into a great marketing and art department!

SUMMARY

Whichever way you go, keep in mind that if you get conventionally published, you have little control over the artwork so if they decide to put a character on the cover, tough! If self-published, do you really want to cement the main character in the reader’s mind or let them paint their own picture? Most people will anyway.

If you do it for them, they may not like what they see and it may bias them against you or your story. It’s better to leave a little to their imagination.

Happy writing!

REVIEWS

February 22, 2017

I’ve talked about reviews before, but it’s time to go into them again, especially since I have a few under my belt.

When it comes to marketing your book, one of the most difficult things to obtain are independent reviews. When you’re a total unknown, one of those brass rings you have to grab for are independent reviews. I’m not talking about “paid” ha ha “independent” reviews. I’m talking about legitimate and honest independent reviews by people you don’t know who actually read the book and either like it or think it sucks. Or…somewhere in-between.

The whole point is to get independent feedback from the real world. You want that feedback, hopefully good, of course, to help sell your book. After all, “word of mouth” is one of the best ways to sell something.

PAID REVIEWS

To me, there’s something inherently dishonest about paid reviews. Okay, the “reviewers” can go ahead and say they’re a business and they have to eat. On the other hand, you’re paying them for a supposedly “unbiased” review of your book.

Ahem.

Have you ever actually looked at one of those paid reviews?

I have and it wasn’t pretty.

Does the phrase boiler plate ring a bell?

A couple of them, who I won’t name, were so boiler plate, they almost mimicked a certain blatant paid reviewer I used to rail about on Amazon, one I warned you about that was an obvious fake reviewer. This “lady” if she really existed, used to take the back cover blurb, use that as her review and give the book either four or five stars. That was her review. She had like 100K reviews on Amazon and every one of them was exactly the same format. They were all on books I wasn’t particularly happy with, by the way.

Back to the paid review sites. You go to their submission pages and they’re full of warnings and “no guarantees” and all the usual bla bla bla stuff about how you could be throwing your money away, could lose your book in the slush pile and may never see your review. Or, if you did, it may be up to a year before it ever shows. Also, there would be no guarantee of a good review.

Ahem…once again, go right to the boiler plate. I looked and looked and of all the boiler plates, there might be a single sentence attached to the standard boiler plates that varied to tell the truth about the book. Those single sentences didn’t vary much. So, if the book really sucked, I guess it never made publication and was culled. Those are the ones that got “lost” in the shuffle or never made the “no guarantee” cut.

Only the good reviews or at least the better ones made the cut.

Now, you may ask, what was the boiler plate the review was based on? I can’t give you the exact words without giving the web sites away, but they were all customized to each genre, let’s just say that. If it was fantasy, it was about the beasts and wizardry. If it was western, it was about the boots and cows and so forth. If it was romance, it was about the whatever romance is about. Every review on each genre page was the same except for one sentence that actually applied to the book!

So much for paid reviews.

NON-PAID REVIEWS – INDEPENDENT

These are the gold, especially to the new and struggling writers. Unfortunately, to the new and struggling writer, these non-paid review sites can be just as struggling and unknown as you are and their viewership can be a few to non-existent.

However, you’re more than likely to get a more specific and honest review. The good with the bad?

Obtaining a meatier review on a web site that nobody sees doesn’t get much promotion potential does it?

Well…it depends.

Who says that review has to sit there in obscurity?

What about you?

There’s always your own publicity machine, however small and limited you might be, starting out the gate. If you’re any kind of marketer, whether you get out there in the trenches, or do everything from a computer, you should at least have a few sources. How about a web site, Facebook page, forums for your genre? All of these present an avenue to trumpet your new review.

How about Twitter as well?

All of these are potential sources to repeat that review, provide a link to it, spread the word. Not only are you helping yourself, but you’re drawing more traffic to that web site. Maybe, just maybe that’ll draw more of an audience to that site and multiply exposure to both of you. The reviewer’s site gets bigger, more prominent, your review becomes more important in the big picture.

Ever think of that?

How about adding that review to a list of reviews for a publicity sheet?

One day, you may want to accumulate all these independent reviews into a consolidated package, maybe to be used for a re-print of the book.

RETAILER REVIEWS

We mustn’t forget the retailer reviews like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Goodreads etc. Of course, you can’t copy them directly, but maybe quote lines. I did a bad review of a monster movie and the produces took one line from my review and used it out of context to tout their movie. I saw that and go what??? If they can get away with it, why not you?

Whether all of your reviews are good or bad, copping the best lines from your reviews may be a thing to do. It may be a bit shady, but you can also go the high road and just pick the best of the best of the best. Keep it true and use it to your best advantage.

Whatever it takes.

Happy writing!

PREPPING LUSITANIA GOLD

February 15, 2017

Wow! After 21 years of writing, one book under my belt, I’m deep into the stages of gearing up for the publication of my second book…that’s second book! In many ways, I have to blink just to get over the shock, but at the same time, I can feel and recall every moment of struggle it took to get to this point. It comes as no surprise at all.

On the other hand, I’m also counting my lucky stars. There are so many writers out there who aren’t authors yet. I differentiate the terms as writers haven’t been published yet. Nothing derogatory or superior between either term, just a definition. I was, after all, a writer for a loooong time!

Since I’m lucky enough to be in the author category, not only with a second full book coming out, but because I’ve published numerous short stories and articles, plus technical publications enough to make me an author, I can move on and get busy with the mechanics of the process.

My sincere hope is that you, my readers if not already, can soon be in the same boat as me. Hopefully, it won’t take 21 years and my oft quoted 689 rejections to get to that point. However, I also hope that some of you, if not all, write because you have to, not because you’re in it for mercenary reasons. This should be a passion, not a hobby. I’ve talked enough about that in the past.

EDITING

I just went through a major edit with one of my editors. Keep in mind that this was after a multitude of edits over the 20 years since I wrote the original draft. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve trimmed the story of a lot of bloat, but essentially, it hasn’t changed one iota from the original plot. All I’ve done is updated and tweaked details I’ve learned about due to new books written on the subject, new dives on the ship, much better Google maps, etc.

Now that the major edit is done, it’ll go to a proof reader, then another final edit. Even then, there’s the possibility of something slipping by. The hope is to keep anything major out of the story and as close to a perfect book as possible. With such a massive undertaking as a novel, even with so many eyes on it, there’s bound to be an occasional slip. We do our best and hopefully, that’ll show through.

LAST TWEAKS

I’ve decided to add a reality-versus-fiction section to the back of the book. Sure, it contains spoilers, but I like those and think it’s warranted. The reader can “cheat” if they want or, just read the story first, then continue on to find out why I wrote what I wrote. My buddy James Rollins does this as well as Steve Berry and several other authors I’ve read over the years. I don’t use that in all my stories but for my adventure/thrillers, why not?

I’m also going to add my thank you section, which I do for all my novels. In this case, I have to do extensive research. I had names, dates, places saved on my older computers but lost it all when they crashed over the two decades since I wrote it in Tipton, Oklahoma back in 1996. As it is, I’ve already had to call an old workplace through a convoluted phone system to get hold of the few that still worked there, find out the guy I wanted no longer worked there, but someone remembered the name of his wife, who read an early draft of this story! That, folks, is what I’ve had to do to dig up some of the names of people I want to thank for helping me along the way.

As for maps. There’s a current discussion on the fantasy web site on Facebook about maps and their relevance. In this case, I’m sticking to fantasy for maps. I don’t think it’s needed in this case, though plenty of thrillers have maps in them.

A WEB PAGE

Eventually, I’ll have to set up a web page tab on my web site for the Gold series and Detach’s adventures. Detach is the main character and hero of the series. I so far have six books in the can, so if this series takes off, I already have a backlog of manuscripts to go to. I haven’t decided what to call the page yet. That will come pretty soon, as well as what the Facebook page will be called.

ARTWORK

That’ll be up to the publisher. I think they already have something brewing and as long as it has a bit of green in it, I’m happy! I loved how Treasure Of The Umbrunna turned out!

PRE-PUBLICITY

I’ll have to be gearing up for that pretty soon as well. Since this is not the sequel to Treasure Of The Umbrunna, and since it’s a completely different genre, I have to think in a different box. I’m using my real name, of course, no pen name. I’ve talked extensively about that in the past. To avoid genre confusion, I’m just going to plainly state this is a different genre.

It will involve different channels, I suppose. To be determined later.

SUMMARY

Folks, if it hasn’t happened already, if you’re a writer, one day you’ll be faced with these and many more issues. If you’re conventionally published, your publisher and/or agent will help guide you along in all this. If you’re self-published, well…you need to research and figure it all out on your own.

In either case, get ready for a busy time!

Happy writing!

 

DOES YOUR STORY NEED A PRONUNCIATION GUIDE

February 8, 2017

Once again, I have to thank the Facebook Genre Writers Retreat Fantasy Sci-Fi Steampunk Etc. page for this inspiration. A discussion came up the other day where a reader asked if she should add a pronunciation section to her book.

Good question.

Just the idea of needing one in the first place brings up a set of issues that I discussed briefly in the post and want to address here. I’ve alluded to them in past posts, but thanks to that thread, I can now focus solely on this subject.

PURPOSE OF A PRONUNCIATION GUIDE

Just the idea that one is needed indicates that there are enough words sprinkled throughout the book that the reader is going to stumble over them. We’ll get to the stumble part in a moment. This list, if extensive enough to require a list, is either a list of made up, obscure or foreign words that the average reader may or may not want to learn how to pronounce.

For the reader’s convenience, the author, if he or she keeps track and doesn’t miss any of them, lists the entire range of difficult-to-pronounce-correctly words at the back or front of the book. Problem solved. Or is it?

WHY DO IT?

One reason is immersion. An author gets so wrapped up in their world, whether it be fantasy or science fiction, it’s a common reason to come up with these off-the-wall words (or even other genre fiction where real words are used). To make it more realistic, at least from the author’s perspective, liberally sprinkling these words in the text immerses the reader in the author’s world. In the case of historical fiction, or even non-fiction, they may seem necessary for the setting.

Another reason is literary. In literary fiction, it’s all about the words, the description and the word picture. Therefore, the beauty of the words is key. If difficult or unusual to pronounce words are called for, anything is game.

Maybe the author can’t think of simpler names that are pronounceable, or close enough the reader can figure out their own pronunciation. However, there are 26 letters in the English language and almost an infinite number of combinations to create sounds. It’s up to the author’s imagination to create sounds that are palatable to the reader. The simpler, the better.

HAZARDS OF DIFFICULT-TO-PRONOUNCE WORDS

Say you’re reading along, la de da…and you run across a word, Zarda’dla’beck’wa’wa’wadna’sdna’nwda’da’’’. Oh…kay…first of all, what in the world is that? How do you pronounce it? If the author gives no explanation, you pause, figure something out and move on. If there’s a pronunciation guide at the back of the book, you pause, flip to the back, try to figure out how to pronounce it, then continue reading.

Key thing: pause.

The flow of the story’s been interrupted. It’s come a screeching halt because you had to stop to stumble over that weird-ass word!

For most readers, they’re either going to just give up and skip over it or fill in their own blank. Maybe for the totally immersed reader, they may try to go the extra step. Would you?

For me, it’s just a matter of the old Charlie Brown adult speak “Wah wah wah wah.” I make something up and move on. Even if there were a guide in the book, I wouldn’t bother. I don’t care. I’d just fill in my own blank or skip it, anyway.

Now, in a fantasy setting, take a magick user performing a spell. “Zapbraft grella dragsaft!”

In this case, the words are nonsense. The author knows it, the reader knows it. There’s no need for a pronunciation guide because the words just convey a “mysterious spell” that’s purely effect and nothing else. The reader can zip right over them and move on. They’ll never see those word combinations again.

That’s the difference.

When the difficult word is someone’s name or the name of a place that keeps coming up, or it’s the proper name of a process of some kind, it’s a repeated difficult word that’s going to continue to give the reader pause throughout the story.

IN CONLUSION

Not all, but the majority of people like to breeze through a story. When they read, they read for pleasure and entertainment. It’s not like they’re picking up a college textbook. If they have to use a pronunciation guide to read something, it’s more work than pleasure.

To appeal to the widest audience, this is something you have to consider when you build your world. If your story gives your readers a lot of places to pause, the story flow is going to be herky-jerky and many readers may lose interest. Many might consider your story work instead of pleasure. You have to look at all sides.

Happy writing!

DESCRIPTIONS

February 1, 2017

I’ve talked about descriptions in various forms throughout the lifetime of this web site. Descriptions set the scene and help establish the mood and feel of your story. However, there are limits and that’s what I want to discuss today.

THE LITERARY ANGLE

In literary fiction, it’s all about the words. Action takes a second stage to description, emotion and narrative. People who like literary writing will not blink an eye at page-long descriptions of some object, location or person. It’s all about the wordplay, the depth of feeling and immersion. Words words words.

THE GENRE/ACTION FICTION ANGLE

In this case, the description is just the starting off point. The idea is to give the reader an idea of what it is, then let them fill in their own blanks. Giving too much description slows the pace, bogs down the action. In genre fiction writing, pacing is everything. People want to see the story MOVE!

BALANCE

The good writer strikes a balance between just enough description to give the reader an idea what something looks like, but doesn’t drag on into too much detail as to give the reader significant pause. What does this mean?

Using me as an example, I just don’t tolerate lengthy descriptions. What happens? The author starts out describing say…a room. We get the dimensions. Then he or she goes into details about furniture, then stuff on the furniture, then history about previous occupants, then history of the objects in the room, then the insects crawling around, the history of the insects, their personal stories, wa wa wa wa.

Folks, he/she’s lost me after the first few sentences. What I see is the good old Charlie Brown adult-speak phenomena, “Wah wah wah wah wah.” I skip to the next paragraph.

If the description continues, I skip to the next paragraph. I continue until the author gets back on track.

I cannot be the only reader that does the same thing.

I’ve already filled in my own blanks with my own useless trivial details that have nothing more to do with the plot than the minutiae that the author just described! Believe me, those minutiae have NOTHING to do with the plot!

When an action/genre writer goes literary, they bog down the action.

SUMMARY

This is why you keep descriptions to a minimum. I’m not telling you not to describe things. For goodness sakes, do it! However, when you do, get the most bang for your buck and describe what needs to be described. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as Joe Friday used to say (for you young’uns, look up the TV series Dragnet to get that reference).

Give the reader the key details that’re essential to the story, or the key details you want the reader to know and let them fill in their own picture. They’re going to do it anyway, given the first few sentences.

Don’t try to dictate every detail. It doesn’t work.

Happy writing!

HAPPY OR CRAPPY/ENDINGS REVISITED

January 25, 2017

From the title, you can see that I’ve talked about this before. Why? Well, after 200+ articles on writing, I’ve talked on just about everything at one time or tuther! That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be addressed again when the muse strikes. In this case, my muse came from a recent discussion on the Facebook Genre Writer’s Retreat for Fantasy /SciFi/Steam Punk that I’m a member of. Someone brought up the subject of endings and I thought it was a perfect time to revisit this, especially after my recent burning from a Stephen King-endorsed author.

The gist of the Facebook thread was this: “How do you feel about happy endings?”

The general consensus was for happy, or positive, though there were those that either didn’t care or a few who liked bad endings. There are always a few. There are some who don’t mind if the main character or characters die for a purpose while others don’t like it at all.

We’ll get into that a bit here.

FIRST, THE NEGATIVE

Some people love to wallow in their misery. Because real life sucks, so should their stories. When you watch the news, see real life, when friends and family die, sometimes horribly, the author wants to reflect that in their prose. Some readers prefer to get that emotional jolt from their books. They want to be brought down with their story, knowing the hero/heroine/heroes die in the end. These stories are definitely for glass-is-half-empty people.

On the other hand, some people like surprises. What if? That’s right. What if you never know if this author is going to let a character live, such as in Game of Thrones? If you’re a fan, you well know that the author likes to kill off characters. There are only some survivors and when one of them dies, it’s a surprise. Kind of like real life. Though the story is fantasy, it’s also more realistic than other fantasies in that people die, even good guys, right along with the bad guys, and some of the bad guys live…a long time!

If you’re so inclined, these negative stories are right up your alley. True fake realism is your thing. Glass-is-half-empty is the way.

SECOND, THE BITTERSWEET

Okay, now we have the heart-tuggers. Those that like an extreme tug on the emotions. The hero, heroines or other well-liked characters die because they have to for some compelling reason. It’s all sad, but necessary. Not everyone dies, but often, you already know someone is doomed from the start, yet you keep on reading. Maybe the story is told in flashback, or from someone else’s point of view. As a reader and/or writer, you need that emotional jolt for whatever reason. These may or may not be for glass-is-half-full people but are usually still for glass-is-half-empty people as well.

THIRD, THE HAPPY ENDING

This is where probably, the majority of us fall. The hero or heroine lives to tell about it. This isn’t to say that someone doesn’t die, but not the main character or characters. This isn’t to say that one of the sidekicks may not die at some point either, if it’s a series. However, even that could be a severe blow to the readership.

For most people, the entire point of reading is to escape reality, not relive it! Ah, duh! Why do you think we read, go to movies, watch TV, or listen to music? To take our minds off our troubles!

If we wanted to be Debbie Downers and wallow in our misery, well…there are certainly plenty of books movies and TV around to do that, thank you Stephen King, for one. However, most people want to escape all that by reading something uplifting, something that’ll help them escape for a little while before they have to get back to the real world.

They want a story where the heroes and heroines endure in the end!

Can I say it any simpler than that?

SUMMARY

From the question in the Facebook post poll, the majority preferred happy endings. However, there were a few who didn’t mind bittersweet and a few who liked unhappy endings. As writers, they have the power to steer their stories in any direction they want. That means they’ll also attract the readership they want.

Personally, I want to make my readership happy. I want them to have a fun time and be able to close the book with a smile on their face, not a frown or a sigh of relief, or a tear, though a tear of joy instead of sorrow (not bittersweet sorrow) wouldn’t be bad either.

How about you?

I don’t close each of these essays with “happy writing” for nothing!

TWEAKING THE STORY

January 19, 2017

As some of you that follow this site know, I’m in the middle of editing my next upcoming novel, Lusitania Gold. This story has been a long time coming, one with a twenty-one year history. That being said, the manuscript has seen many tweaks over the decades. Here, I’ll discuss the process of how the story is slowly but surely (and don’t call me Shirley) coming to fruition. Maybe one day, if this ever happens to you, these insights may help.

BEGINNINGS

I’ve always been fascinated with sinking ships since my grandpappy sat me down in his lap in Lakewood, California in probably…1955 or so, and showed me pictures and stories from an Encyclopedia Britannica my parents had bought, back in the days when there were actually door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. I guess they fell under that spell and we ended up with a set. Anyway…Grandpa Frank happened to pull out the L book and as we leafed through the pages, we came to one with the most famous or infamous drawing of the sinking of the Lusitania. The split second I saw that image, those four funnels, that hooked rudder and those gleaming propellers sticking above the water and all those people scrambling about in the water, it burned in my memory. I was only four years old, but never forgot that vision and became hooked on shipwrecks.

As time went on, unfortunately, the Lusitania faded into the background because the more infamous Titanic took center stage. However, there were plenty more unfortunate wrecks to read about as well, like the Morro Castle, Empress of Ireland, Sultana, Brittanic and hosts of others less well-knowns.

Decades later, when I fell into writing, thanks to inspiration from Clive Cussler and others, I wanted to put in my two cents and bring the Lusitania back into the mainstream. So, the seed of the idea for Lusitania Gold came into being.

EARLY VERSION

Though it’s gone through substantial editorial tweaks over the two decades since I originally wrote it in 1995, essentially, Lusitania Gold’s the same story. However, in the beginning, it had some bloat, as they say.

In my early research, the Internet was far more primitive than it is today. I did my due diligence and eked out all the details I could at the time based on what I could garner from the library and personal knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. As for the electronic side of research, part of the problem was my personal computer. I also didn’t have access to Google Maps like we do today, among other web sites. It was 1993 when Bob Ballard explored the ship and did the video of his dive on the wreck. Around that time, he published that excellent book that I relied on extensively.

In 1992, I devoured Clive Cussler’s novel Sahara. That novel as well as the first book I read by him, Raise The Titanic, gave me inspiration for the wishful thinking I employed when I wove the plot for Lusitania Gold. Not only that, but along with being fresh off my just finished icky bug novel, The Greenhouse, I added a little surprise. It turns out that another author, which became a later influence, had a strange parallel as well. James Rollins also employed this same surprise in his early novels but was fortunate and talented enough to get published while I was still struggling in the trenches! It was almost a decade later when I read my first taste of his work and discovered he used the same thing.

That whole mix ended up being in the first draft of Lusitania Gold. It was 130K words. Along with that were a few sub-plots. As the years passed, after many query letters and subsequent blind edits by me as I learned my chops, and not knowing what I was doing, they never got deleted like they should.

FIRST MAJOR EDIT – A DECADE LATER

I’d received minor interest and had sent several samples out, chapters and an entire manuscript to a few places, but ultimately, rejects of around eighty or ninety agents and publishers as I recall. By the time I arrived in Las Vegas and found the Henderson Writer’s Group, I decided it was time to read Lusitania Gold to them and get twenty to thirty sets of eyes on it. I knew I needed lots of external input. Besides, my writing and editing chops were light-years ahead of what they were a decade before, plus, I’d set it aside and had already written three or four sequels since!

The tweaking began in earnest! I found sub-plots and passages that were destined for the trimming floor. There were things I didn’t need that had no impact on the story, and at the same time, I lost nothing of either the impact or the plot. I ended up tightening the plot and made it so much better.

On the other hand, because of much improved access to the internet, I also obtained new and improved info on the Lusitania wreck, contacted some divers that actually dove on the ship and obtained real info. This is something I was never able to do with Ballard. I tried multiple times to contact him and never once got a response from either him or anyone from his team.

As a result of this reading to the writer’s group, which took a year and a half, I pared it down from 130K to 95K. Quite a difference!

SUBSEQUENT EDITS

From the major edit after the writer’s group, I combed through it probably two times over the years, prior to various writer’s conferences. Why? Once in anticipation of pitching it. The second time because I actually got a publication contract. In each case, I tweaked and tweaked, and still found more things as my editing skills improved. I picked up a few more things through the forest (forest-through-the-trees).

When my original publishing contract fell through, the stars aligned and I found my real publisher, one who was there and had been there from the beginning of the major edit with the writer’s group. She’d been in on all the major tweaks and trimming it took to turn it into a better and more suitable manuscript. She knew the story intimately.

FINAL TWEAKING

Right now, as I’m going through the pre-publication editing, my editor and I are getting to the details. Yet even so, I keep tweaking more real facts. As it turns out, this editing process takes months. During that time, I received another book on the Lusitania for Christmas and read it. Because of that, I now have even more background detail to use for tweaking!

I’ve not only incorporated that into my edit, but have gone back to the Internet and re-tweaked my research. I’ve gone back to Google maps. I went back to the web sites I could recall. I also removed historical names of storms in the areas because I didn’t want to date the material. I’d mentioned certain recent hurricane damage but didn’t want to mention them once I thought about it. Since I’d mentioned those storms, there’d already been others worse!

I added the name of an airport, either added in or took out details I wasn’t sure about. Stuff I’ve been preaching to you about and stuff James Rollins and I talked about extensively at the writer’s conferences where we chatted about these details.

COLD DEAD HANDS

To quote Charlton Heston, which I’ve probably done before but without the guns, as authors, the work never ends until it’s in print, and even then, you want to pull it off the shelf and tweak some more. You want to edit until they pull the manuscript out of your cold dead hands!

I’ll continue to tweak Lusitania Gold until they pull…

Well, you get the picture.

There’ll still be things wrong, historically, physically, scientifically. Some of it’s intentional, wishful thinking. Some of it’s just my blunders. My tweaking is to try to make it as believable as possible – to get you to suspend your disbelief, so to speak. I can’t please everyone and I won’t even try. However, if I can get even some of you to close that last page with a smile on your face, I’ve done my job. I hope you, as writers feel the same way.

Happy writing!