Getting Your Name Out There

Haiku 366-191 to -208 will come soon, but today I thought I’d get back to a post about fiction and the struggle of every indie author–getting people to give your books a chance.

I’ve ranted before about the quality of some indie publishing, but as I’ve read more and more of it, I’m finding the truly awful (i.e., unedited, misspelled, and grammatically deficient) is fast becoming a minority. Add in Barnes and Noble, that behemoth of traditional publishing, will allow indie published work in its stores (at last), and the writer, who decides to forego the traditional and often demoralizing hunt for an agent and a publisher, is getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T. This is especially heartening for those who took the time and effort to publish a polished product and who didn’t succumb to the coveted “published author” title at all costs.

So, before this becomes a rant: join a critique group, hire a professional editor (for all stages of editing), design or purchase a professional cover, hire a proofreader, and, if you’re not familiar with a book’s interior design, hire someone who is.

Now, onto “getting your name out there.”

An Unexpected Find

I’ve always believed my books about my spy characters would be successful if I could “get them out there” where people could see the depth of the characters, the timeliness of the subject matter, and the pains I’ve gone to for an intriguing story. I’ve done the bookmark thing, the postcard thing, the purchase-an-ad thing, the book signing thing, the open mic thing, but what more could I do without bankrupting myself?

At Virginia Festival of the Book this past spring, I came across a local fantasy writer who’d purchased a table at the book fair. I almost walked past because I’m not much of a fantasy reader. However, on one corner of her table were several small (as in thin) books with a sign that said “Free.”

“Free?” I asked the author.

“They’re short stories featuring my characters and aspects of the mythology I’ve built,” was the reply.

“And you give them away?”

“Bookmarks and postcards get thrown away. When someone’s done with one of these, they won’t throw them away. They’ll give them to a library or a used book store, and that’s exposure. Hell, maybe they’ll even keep them.”

I must have stood there gaping with the shock of “why hadn’t I thought of that” because she picked up two of the “booklets” and handed them to me. “Enjoy,” she said.

Back home when I unpacked my goodie bag from the festival, I came across the two booklets and sat right down to read them. The author was right. They were engaging, a quick read, but complete, well-crafted short stories and certainly piqued my interest for her longer works.

But life moves on, and I put them aside and forgot about this unique marketing idea.

Imitation and Flattery

After polishing off the edits on a couple of draft novels, which I hope to have ready for the demoralizing agent hunt (Yes, the dream is still alive in my head.) later this year, I decided I wanted to go back to writing some short stories, not the flash fiction I’ve been delving into for years, but a true short story of 7,000 to 8,000 words. I’d come across an article in The Washington Post about Russian security services allegedly harassing diplomats in Europe and Moscow–juvenile pranks mostly, but they were escalating. The Russian government, of course, disavowed any participation on its part, but those of us who’ve studied that country throughout its iterations knew better.

The result: a 7,500-word short story called, “Spymaster.”

And the booklets from the Festival of the Book came back to mind. What if (a writer’s favorite question) I used CreateSpace to make that short story into a booklet to give away at book signings and over events. At CreateSpace, it’s free to publish, and the size of the booklet means ordering copies for my personal use will be a minimal investment.

Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

The story is with a beta reader/editor right now, but while I’m waiting for the feedback, I went ahead and designed a couple of cover possibilities.

If you’ve never heard of Canva, it’s a great online tool for designing a number of graphic art pieces, from Facebook page headers (go to https://www.facebook.com/unspywriter and have a look at one I did for my author page using Canva) to Instagram posts. Canva has templates for ebook covers, including Smashwords and Kindle. Most of their artwork is free, but even the ones you pay for start at a dollar a piece. Unlike another good resource for professional covers, http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/index.php, where once you buy a cover, it’s taken down and not sold to anyone else, with Canva you risk having the cover you choose used by someone else. Of course you can customize it. I remove all the sample text on the Canva cover, download it as a .jpeg, and further customize it in Photoshop. Canva’s selection of free graphics is limited compared to SelfPubBookCovers, but I managed to find a few that appealed to me and fit the theme of the story, “Spymaster.”

“Spymaster” Cover #1

SPYMASTERThis cover appealed to me because one of the critical scenes takes place in a forest in Eastern Europe. What it’s lacking is color. The story has dark elements, but not quite this dark.

It fits the story but to me has limited appeal in getting someone to pick it up and look at it.

 

 

 

 

 

“Spymaster” Cover #2

SPYMASTER3This cover also appealed to me because of a specific theme in the story. Again, it’s black and white. While it’s certainly intriguing and I know people who would pick up a book with a cover like this, it lacks color. I experimented with other fonts and putting the type in different colors, but that didn’t quite work either.

 

 

 

 

 

“Spymaster” Cover #3

Spymaster 2The final choice appeals to me visually, has excellent color, and is very evocative. It doesn’t directly relate to a scene in the book, but it screams “intrigue” and “mystery.” I know I’d pick up a book, even a free one, with this cover. Of the three choices, this is certainly the one I’m leaning toward.

 

 

 

 

 

But what do you think? Which cover appeals to you and why? Let me know in the comments below.

My Struggle to be a Poet, or a Dabbler’s Lament

One of my fellow workshoppers at Tinker Mountain came back from break one morning and asked if anyone was a poet.

“I dabble,” I said.

“Doesn’t everyone?” replied someone else.

“Well,” I said, “I’m writing a haiku a day in 2016. That has to count for something.”

The one who’d posed the poet question said, “I want you to try a poem, and I’ll give you the title: The Wife, The Gun Salesman, and the Alligator.”

For a moment we were all lost, but it eventually struck us. We were at Tinker Mountain the week after the slaughter at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and after a small boy had been grabbed by an alligator at the edge of a lagoon in Disney World. There had been a lot of media coverage trying to establish blame in both incidents. The wife, who was with Omar Mateed when he bought ammo, should have turned him in and so she was to blame. (Turns out it wasn’t the ammo he used for the shooting.) The man who sold him his copy of an AR-15 was notoriously anti-Muslim–his signage bans them from his gun shop–so why didn’t he notice something? It’s likely in the case of the nightclub shooting, we may never know the real reason.

Unlike an incident at a Cincinnati zoo last month where a small child climbed through a fence and fell into a gorilla enclosure, necessitating the killing of a silverback gorilla to save the child, there wasn’t much blame attached to the parents of the child snatched by an alligator at Disney World. (I have my own opinions why, but this is the writing blog, not the defunct political blog.)

“So,” the workshopper said, “three potential bad guys. See what you can do with them.”

Challenge accepted.

A few days after the workshop ended I threw down some free verse. Now, some things are still under investigation, but I did some research before I wrote the verses. Here’s the first attempt:

The Wife, The Gun Salesman, and The Alligator

1. The Wife

I was his virgin on earth, but I told him in paradise there will be more.
One of them may do what I couldn’t: Make you a man.
Instead of kisses, I hand you masculinity in a box.
Bullets for Allah, you’ll say, but I simply wanted you to be a man.
What you wanted, we don’t know beyond veiled glimpses.
Social media; gay dating sites; 911 calls for ISIS.
You wanted our son to grow up in a safe country, as you had.
How safe is he now after you killed forty-nine?
Not virgins, perhaps, but a sacrifice.
How much did I know, and when did I know it?

2. The Gun Salesman

When I was a New York City cop I saw what they did on 9/11.
They buried my brother officers in fire for their pussy god.
We made them pay with Shock and Awe’s blood vengeance.
Make us great by banning rag heads from America.
Send them back to their camels and sand.
If you still feel unsafe, my inventory can help you.
My store is a Muslim-free zone for real Americans to buy real guns.
Didn’t you see the sign when you walked in?
More than the 2nd Amendment, money is god.
How much did I know, and when did I know it?

3. The Alligator

If my brain were larger than three olives, I might understand.
Pleistocene instinct is all that moves me.
Offer me food, I will strike, grasp, submerge.
Stow tomorrow’s meal in mud and silt.
Lurk in shadows, waiting until my olive brain registers decomp.
Tiny thing is no more than an appetizer, but I guard it.
Food is food, and I’ve marked this as mine.
Didn’t they realize the water’s edge is where I hunt?
My tender, sweet morsel isn’t stolen by a rival A. mississippiensis.
How much did I know, and when did I know it?

“This is Good, but…”

I sent it off to the challenger, and he recognized what I’ve known for a long time: I’m primarily a fiction writer and a dabbler at poetry. However, he liked what he read and suggested I keep tweaking it. I put it aside for a few days until today when I got the insane idea I’d rework each verse as a Shakespearean sonnet.

A few hours of trying later, my head exploded, rather like what happens in those commercials for Jet.com. What was I thinking? Iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme? Obviously, I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But I’m still tweaking, so I compromised. No sonnets but the verses reworked in iambic pentameter. (In high school I was so enamored of iambic pentameter, my English teacher had to plead with me to stop writing my assignments in it.)

A few more hours and a headache later, I had something that I perhaps like a bit more than the first attempt. I’ve carefully counted the lines several times, but it’s likely I’ve screwed it up at some point because, hello, I’m a pretender poet. Here it is:

Verses for Orlando

1. The Wife

I was his virgin here on earth, but I
told him in paradise there will be more.
One of them may do what I could not: Make
you a man. Instead of kisses, I hand
you some masculinity in a box.
Bullets for Allah, you will say, but I
simply wanted you to be a man. What
you wanted, we do not know beyond veiled
glimpses in social media or gay
dating sites; 911 calls for ISIS.
You wanted our son to grow up in a
safe country, as you had. How safe is he
now after you killed forty-nine people?
Not virgins, perhaps, but a sacrifice
on your father’s dark altar of manhood.

2. The Gun Salesman

When I was a New York City cop I
saw what they did on 9/11. They
buried my brother officers in fire
for their pussy god. We made them pay with
Shock and Awe’s vengeance. Make us great again
by banning rag heads from America.
Send them back to their camels and sand, but
if you still feel unsafe, perhaps my cold
inventory can help you. My store’s a
Muslim-free zone for real Americans
to buy real guns. Didn’t you see the sign
when you walked in? More than the sanctity
of the 2nd Amendment, money is
my god, worshipped on my dark altar of
manhood, my inalienable right.

3. The Alligator

If my brain were larger than three olives,
I might understand. Pleistocene instinct
is all that moves me. Offer me food, I
will strike, grasp, submerge. Stow tomorrow’s meal
in mud and silt. Lurk in shadows, waiting
until my olive brain registers the
decomp. The tiny thing is no more than
an appetizer, but I mark it so
no rival A. Mississippiensis
steals my tender, sweet morsel. Food is food,
and didn’t they realize the water’s
edge is where I hunt? Five brothers and I
stalked, hunted, and captured. Sacrificed to
deflect responsibility, killed on
the dark altar of manhood’s need to blame.

###

Well, thoughts? Comments? More tweaking? Or do I give up?