The Journey to a Bestseller: First Novels Being Shelved and How to Choose Genre-Appropriate Covers (Series #12)

Hello. Sorry I’m late this weekend. I’ve been busy. Learning how to do more book marketing and structure.

Enjoy every single moment. That’s what my calendar says for today, and it’s true. Writing the novel is the journey. You know how they say it’s not the destination that’s important, but to enjoy the journey? Well writers, you’re living it. So, wherever you are in your writing journey, have fun with it. If it’s no fun, you’re in the wrong profession, you know? Life shouldn’t be about always doing things you don’t like doing, and dedicated writers are always writing. If it doesn’t punch a button for you, you could be wasting your time. It’s not about money and fame…

Though, I would argue, my book is doing me no good unless it’s selling. Same for yours. You owe it to yourself to learn about the craft of writing. How to write killer dialogue, understand pacing, know what your voice is, realize that adverbs can be your enemy; these are things you should know.

Many first novels (I wish I knew the percentage, but I know it’s a lot), do not do well successfully. And I am not talking about debuts, I am talking about your first novel. That pile in your bottom drawer that you had photocopied and bound at Kinko’s with a great deal of it painted in red ink from your mom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Ernest Hemingway was said to quote, “All first drafts are shit.” And he was correct. I’m not saying first novels are, I am saying that we only get better with practice and we have to start somewhere.

Many debuts are actually the author’s second or third novel. Often the first was queried and never picked up. But like a journey, the author learned. They learned they could do it. They learned about some techniques, got a few tips, maybe looked up a free self-editing course from Derek Murphy. (Everything I learned in this post about covers was from him.)

By the time you write your second novel, you are calling yourself a writer, or an author, and probably have your own business card. Maybe you’ve gone to a few conferences, made some writer friends, and learned some more. By the way, I heard that you are called a writer for as long as you are writing and an author once you are published. Who know if that’s technically relevant, but there it is.

Please, writers, do not despair if /when your first book baby goes out to every agent you could research and no one calls you right away…or at all. Even if you did everything right. Maybe it’s a good story, maybe you had the perfect query letter and a rockin’ blurb. If the voice in your sample pages doesn’t jive with them, or it doesn’t end up sounding as excited as they were to read it (Go ahead and excite them with your query letter, just make sure your writing delivers.), or your characters aren’t behaving plausibly to the agent, it gets a pass.

BUT. and hear me when I say BUT, sometimes a book just isn’t ready yet. Another high percentage of first books (I really need to look these up) are sent in before they are ready. If you’ve gotten your share of “No’s,” but you believe you truly have the bones of a good story, get some honest opinions. Find some beta readers. I wrote a post on that here. Have some people who have been writers longer than you, tell you in all brutal honesty what you need to do to fix it, and get to work.

Now, I say, “in all brutal honesty what you need to do to fix it,” because I am assuming you don’t know how to fix it already or you would have. I am not suggesting they tell you that you didn’t do a good enough job to begin with. People can be very mean. When you find your betas and you send them your precious manuscript and bare your soul to the universe, make sure to tell them something like I told mine:

“While editing/critiquing: If something a character does isn’t something you think they would logically do, make a note of it. If it’s something you don’t think YOU would do in that situation, feel free to tell me you have a hard time believing it, but also note if you believe the character would do it. On one hand, a decision can make a character disbelieve, or it can make the reader disbelieve. But there’s a difference.

“It’s kind of like this: I welcome you to be as ruthless as possible with my WRITING. Let me know what you think. But do NOT attack me as a person. There’s a difference between saying, “I feel like she would be more surprised in this situation because she feels like…” and saying, “You wrote her wrong. You should make it this way because I would NEVER do that if I was in that situation. Your writing is weak here and you should do this part over.” Yes, I’ve heard that. And I will not take much of what they say into consideration. It doesn’t necessarily make me angry. I understand that the difference is a very fine line. But once you make the differentiation, it’s not hard at all.”

And if you get your novel back and everyone has annihilated it…shelf it. Now, go write another one. When that one is done you have two choices: either write a third book, or go back with your new skill and redo book one into something worthwhile. Each time you write a new book, you have the same choice. Do you see now, why everyone has an old crusty first manuscript in a drawer? You tell yourself, “I’ll get back to that one day. That really was a good story, I was just a novice.” And you can’t let it go. But you have so many new and more exciting ideas to pursue, you just keep moving forward…

Aw heck. I didn’t plan to talk about that at all. I was going to tell you what I learned this week. All right, all right, all right. So, this week I learned about what I want in my cover. It needs to fit in with all the top books in its genre. If that’s where it belongs, it should look like it. Right? So look at the qualities of books in your genre. Mine’s YA fantasy, so some scenery and a far off person, two snugglers full body or close up, or a large face. You want minimal colors with a contrasting color scheme to make it really pop. But simple is the key, and using layers. Oh, and apparently girls in pretty dresses. lol.

Authors get the idea of the cover wrong. It’s not to tell the story of the book so much as it is to show the genre and age group and entice THAT readership to be interested in clicking on it and/or reading the blurb. You don’t even read text on a thumbnail, you are looking at the picture it presents to see if it’s something you want to check out. Is it beautiful? Does it convey an emotion?

So, what did I do? I changed my cover. It’s not done yet, I need help with it, but I will tell you, I’m going to do both books one and two and see if the artist for book three will make it in my chosen color scheme. I was going to show you tonight, but I think I’m going to make you wait. Oooh, it’s like a Christmas present to myself. I’m excited FOR you!! Lol. Because you’re going to love it. And you don’t have to agree when you see it (I hope my demographic does), but if you do love it, you can always let me know!!

I’ve gotten my favorite designer and book trailer maker, Electra Fox to help me with it. She is on Twitter @BookTrailer4U Her work is super fab. It is on the pricey side, but she delivers every ounce of what you expected, in my case more. In case you forgot, or never saw it, she made my Official book trailer for The Key of F: Click here. I am having her do the next trailer after Christmas. Go give her some love.

Well, I think that’s it for me. Gonna start tomorrow on restructuring the W-I-P!! I need to make it fit a few certain parameters. I believe I finished, as in wrote, the end of the book, but I have a low word count so far. So that gives me room to add more dimension and tension and world building to it. So I’m excited. We’ll talk about the structuring next weekend and anything else I learn. Here’s a hint:

Keep Writing!


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