Sunday, January 27, 2013

Getting the Title and the Cover Right

Way back in April 1991, a Minnesota friend helped me realize that the words Dulcy had given me after her death were too plentiful. However, trying to determine just what to cut flummoxed both of us. I needed help, but where was I to get it?
         The answer came as a result of a query letter I sent to a senior editor at Crown Publishing, which is part of the Random House conglomerate. With the query letter, I sent five of the manuscript’s chapters in an attempt to whet her interest for reading the entire twenty-six chapters.  
         Within two weeks the editor got back to me. If I’d be willing to cut the book in half—from 42,000 words to about 20,000—she’d be willing to read the completed manuscript. As to what to cut, this astute editor suggested I delete all the words, stories, and incidents that had nothing to do with the relationship Dulcy and I had forged over seventeen and a half years of living together.  
         That word—relationship—delineated the essence of Dulcy’s first book, A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story, which was published in 1992 and which contained about 20,000 words.
         Twenty years later, in May 2012, Wayman Publishing published another book in which Dulcy spoke: Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. However, only a few copies of the book sold throughout the summer months. 
           I didn't know what the problem was. A Cat's Life had sold reasonably well. Why not Twelve Habits? I thought perhaps the format was at fault because I was unsure of my own writing within the book. However, several bloggers reviewed it and seemed to like both Dulcy's words and mine. So what was wrong?
         Today—some eight months later—I think I’ve finally gotten my act together with regard to this second book. Here’s the odyssey that book has taken:
         In September 2012, one of Dulcy’s fans—Inger of Desert Canyon Living—suggested that the book’s title didn’t do justice to its contents. That resulted in a new title, suggested by Inger, as well as a new cover. The new title? A Cat's Legacy: Dulcy's Story.
         In the following two months, Wayman Publishing and I changed the cover two more times. Why? Because the book still wasn’t selling well in either its print or e-book version. So within six months, Wayman and I had two titles and four covers—all because I hadn’t spent time, initially, determining the book’s reason for being.

Here are the four covers.

         Still the book didn’t sell. Now the truth is that writers want to make some profit on their books, even though perhaps their greatest desire is simply to be read. Living on a fixed income, I'd delight in making a little more discretionary money. So I've hoped for many months that this second book would begin to sell.
         It was the senior editor at Wayman who helped me find my way with A Cat's Legacy. With the third cover, she began to call it “Dulcy’s Companion Book.” Then my great-niece Brandi told me what she thought the book still needed—both a title AND a cover that would show its relationship to the first book in which Dulcy spoke. Note that word again—relationship!
         Finally, the light dawned. What the book lacked was visual evidence that it was another Dulcy book; that it was the second book in a series. I also realized that with this second book, I played a more major role. Thus, I decided to add myself to the cover.
         My niece, who is majoring in photography in college, designed a new—AND FINAL!!!!!—cover for me. Here it is:

         If you have time, please go to Amazon and look up Dee Ready. The site will take you to the various books that have been published with my name on or in them. There's you'll see A Cat's Legacy above A Cat's Life. That view pleases me mightily. How about you? Do you like the new cover? Do you think it will attract readers?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

Today concludes my posts on entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, which is sponsored by CreateSpace, the book-publishing arm of Amazon.
         The contest opened on Monday, January 14, at 12:00:01 AM—United States EST. For me that was Sunday, 11:00:01 PM, because I live in the Central Standard Time zone. When I entered before—in 2010—I had to keep trying for nearly two hours before I could get on line and submit my entry.
         Remembering that, I camped out late last Sunday in front of the computer with a pot of hot Chinese oolong tea and three freshly baked scones, ready for a long wait.

         You’ll understand my saying that the words Submit Entry startled me when they appeared within ten minutes of my going on line. In fact, I dropped a half-eaten fruity scone on the floor, where the crumbles remained for the next forty-five minutes while I completed my entry.
         What took me so long? The saga of entry!
         The entry form had four sections. The first section asked for my name, the name of the book, whether it had been previously published by me, and a “description.” The latter hadn’t been mentioned in the contest rules and so came as an unwelcomed surprise.
         Thinking that the word description was perhaps another word for pitch, I inserted those 264 words, over which I’d labored for a week.
         Then I filled out the second section of the form and got to the third, which asked for the pitch, excerpt, and completed manuscript.
         Clearly, the pitch and the description differed.
         Returning to section one, I deleted what I’d inserted just a few moments before and went to Microsoft Word so I could write a spur-of-the-moment description/plot synopsis.
         Fortunately, the synopsis I’d been sending out with query letters to literary agents needed only a little tweaking to get it less than 300 words. That done, I pasted the 287-word description into section one and returned to section three to insert the three entry requirements: the 264-word pitch, the 4848-word excerpt, and the 122,074-word manuscript.
         I had trouble with the latter because it wasn’t in a docx form. But once I figured out how to do that, the form accepted the upload. I breathed a sign of relief, clicked on save, and completed my entry.
         So, it’s done. I’m officially entered in the contest and now eagerly await February 13.
         Here’s the calendar of events, which I’ve copied for Amazon’s website:
Jan 14 - Entry period opened at 12:00:01 AM (U.S. EST)
Jan 27 - Entry period ends at 11:59:59 PM
(U.S. EST)*
Feb 13 - Round 2 entries are announced
Mar 12 - Quarter-Finalists are announced
Apr 16 - Semi-Finalists are announced
May 21 - Finalists are announced. Customer voting begins on
May 21-29 - Customers vote on
Jun 15 - Awards ceremony and Grand Prize winner announcement
The maximum number of entries is 10,000.
         As you can see, the next important date is Wednesday, February 13. That’s when I’ll discover whether I’ll be in the second round of the contest. During the first round—from January 27 to February 13—the judges read only the 10,000 pitches and choose 2,000 entries to continue in the contest. That’s the first elimination. You can be assured I’ll let you know what happens.                                                                                                                            
If I’m eliminated in this contest—at whatever stage—I’ll simply continue to work on the novel that’s engrossing me now. Perhaps I’ll have it ready next January for entry into the 2014 contest. We’ll see whether the words come, the characters share themselves with me, and the plot “thickens.” If all that happens, the book will complete itself and the teapot will be replenished often and ever.                                                                                    

Are any of you writing a novel or considering doing so? If so, are you thinking about entering this contest next year? I’d so enjoy sharing all this excitement with you. Peace.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Contest Entry Day Dawns

The entry day has dawned for the Amazon/CreateSpace contest, which opens this evening at 11:01 pm CST. Let’s begin with the blurb announcing the contest:

The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest is right around the corner. You won't want to miss this incredible opportunity to win a publishing contract with Amazon Publishing. The Grand Prize winner will receive a $50,000 advance, and four First Prize winners will each receive a $15,000 advance. Now in its sixth year, this international contest promises to be the best yet.

If you’ve had time to read my recent postings, you already know that this contest requires each entrant to paste in or upload a 300-word Pitch, a 5,000-word Manuscript Excerpt, and the Complete Manuscript of up to 150,000 words.
         With the help of two friends—see my posting this past Wednesday on my other blog—I prepared eight contest pitches, some of which gave away more plot details than others. One of those two friends suggested that for inspiration I read the inside dust jacket flaps of novels I’d enjoyed. I did so and came up with eight approaches that might be intriguing enough to keep me from being eliminated in the first round.
         Yesterday, Saturday January 12, the second friend and I narrowed the eight down to two. She selected the paragraphs from each that most captured her attention. I then wove these together to come up with a final pitch.
         Over the holidays, that same friend read the 130,979-word manuscript and made suggestions as to what might be cut, what tightened, and what expanded. So in the past two weeks, I’ve deleted 8, 904 words even while expanding two scenes to make them more plausible. The manuscript now stands at 122,074 words. That’s good—more in line with what publishers are looking for in length.
         Instead of 494 manuscript pages, I now have 470, which would translate into a book of about 325 pages.
         The excerpt must be between 3,000 and 5,000 words. The important thing is to end the excerpt with a cliffhanger that will whet the judge’s appetite and entice her or him into reading the entire manuscript. So I’m entering 4,848 words that end with a word that hints at the main character’s secret life.
         Tomorrow, guests are coming to visit for a few days with the cats and me. I'm really looking forward to their stay. After they leave, I’ll get back to my regular postings, to my reading of all your blogs, and to my leaving comments to let you know just how much I enjoy your sharing.
         You’ll be hearing from me soon!

Photograph from by anankkml. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Winnowing Words and Pitches

On January 14, I’m entering the Amazon/CreateSpace novel-writing contest. This past Wednesday I posted the salient points about it on my other blog. Most—if not all of you—follow that blog. If you don’t or if you haven’t had time to read that posting, you might want to click here so as to appreciate the contest requirements.
         I’m entering with a manuscript entitled The Reluctant Spy. Regular followers of this blog have already read several postings about the nineteen drafts of that manuscript I completed as I worked on it the past thirteen years.
         Since Wednesday, I’ve been editing, cutting, and polishing the nineteenth draft. In my Wednesday posting I mistakenly said it was 127,000 words in length. When I actually started working on it, I used “word count” and discovered it was 130,979. Publishers today, or so I’ve read, like a debut novel to be around 120,000 words, so The Reluctant Spy is a little long.

         Given this, I was surprised to learn, when reading the contest rules, that Amazon/CreateSpace will accept manuscripts up to 150,000 words. Nevertheless, I’d like to get the text down to about 122,000 words so that if the judges eliminate it in any of the five rounds of judging, I’ll have a better manuscript to pitch to agents in the coming months.
         During the past few days, I’ve been able to delete around 5,000 words; the manuscript is now down to 125,962. I have another week to work on deleting—if possible—about 4,000 more words and on composing the “Pitch,” which is an essential part of the entry. For myself, I think that writing the 300-word pitch will require more skill than writing a 122,000-word manuscript.
         Because crafting an intriguing pitch that will entice the contest judges into reading the 3,000 to 5,000-word manuscript excerpt requires an ability to get to the novel’s essence. That’s not a skill I’ve honed. Poets do this all the time; I circle around the periphery of a topic, getting closer and closer to essence, but taking a multitude of words to hit the bull’s-eye. As a storyteller, I’m more of a gestalt writer.
         If you’d like to read some sample 300-word pitches from past winners of the contest, please click here. Then you’ll understand why I’m a little stressed about pulling this off.
         Today and for the next week, I’m asking for your visualizations, thoughts, prayers as I work on this pitch. I plan to write a first draft tomorrow—Monday—and fine-tune, fine-tune, fine-tune for an hour or so each morning until the contest entry date of the 14th.  The rest of each of those days, I’ll work on getting the manuscript ready.
         During the month of February, the contest judges will read the submitted 10,000 pitches and winnow them down to 2,000. That’s the first cut, which will be announced at the end of the month.

Winnowing rice in India.

         During March, they read the 2,000 excerpts to arrive at 500 promising ones. During April, they read the 500 completed manuscripts and narrow them down to 25. During May the count goes from 25 semi-finalists to 5 finalists. And finally, with the help of Amazon readers like yourself, to 1 grand-prize winner in late June.
         I’d be pleased—truly—if I made even the first cut. The pitch can make that happen. So I have my work cut out for me. I’m going to print the words Essence, Summary, and Intrigue on a post-it note and stick it to the top of my computer as a reminder of what I’m trying to do!

The two photographs are from Wikipedia.