Publishing

So What? yellow sticker

The “So What?” Factor

When I read brief descriptions of books, I must admit my first reaction is often, “So what?” So what if young Miranda and her cat must save the world from the ultimate evil? So what if Devon Hope has stumbled on a secret that will mean the end of the world if he can’t find a missing artifact before someone kills him. Meh.

So what?

The problem here might be failure to engage. For me, and maybe for other readers, it takes more than the bare bones of a dire situation to pique interest, especially when that situation is just another variation on a well-worn theme. Saving the world while escaping death — what’s more dire than that? Except generic peril is as bland as no peril at all.

But it might be something else.

Observing myself while reading book descriptions, I think the reason for “blurb failure” is not always the fault of the person (author or publisher) who wrote it. The real problem is what used to be called an “embarrassment of riches.” There’s a deluge of information coming at us all the time. Posts, tweets, ads, promos, news, views, warnings, tips, tricks, sounds, images, etc., etc. Aaaaargh, I can’t take any more!

When the brain is overloaded and distracted, not even the most artfully created blurb will do the trick. The eye skips, the brain misses, and the conclusion (barely registered by the person who experiences it) is “Sure, okay, seen it before. So what? Next!”

Image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. “Big Data” image from Pixabay.

In this environment, it takes more than a well-written blurb to bring a potential reader to “Yes, I’m going to buy this book.” Maybe it’s repetition; if someone sees a cover image and description twenty times or a hundred times, eventually the tipping point is achieved. Maybe if it arrives via a personal recommendation from a trusted friend. Or maybe it’s a totally random conjunction of temperature, air pressure, hormones, and the angle of the light coming through the window.

So what’s an author to do?

Authors sweat blood writing the brief descriptions (“blurbs”) that appear next to their book’s cover image and on the back cover or jacket flap. They have to be short and intriguing. “So what?” is absolutely NOT the reaction a book description should provoke.

And a book description is absolutely necessary, despite the fact that it will be another drop in the flood. When I see book recommendations by bloggers, without even a brief indication of what the book is about, I pass them by.

If nothing else, creating a book description is a good writing exercise. It demands effective word choices constructed into powerful sentences. It’s a distillation of a book’s essence, an enticing whiff that makes the reader want more.

A book description may be field-tested by running different versions past critique partners, blog readers, or even friends and family. Along with the question “Would any of these make you want to read the book?”

Turning the topic over again, when I take the time to read a book description carefully, giving it my full attention, I’m not always inclined to think “So what?” Hmm, how would Miranda’s cat help her save the world? What sort of person is Devon Hope, and what is the crucial artifact he has to find?

Dang! Neither of those books exists; they’re just examples I made up.

How do you read book descriptions? Do you ever get the “So what?” feeling? Do you have any tips for writing an effective blurb?

Featured image by S K from Pixabay.

Ten Years Ago, I Reanimated Herbert West

I’M reposting my very first blog post from May 2010, originally titled “Herbert West, Reanimated.” Because I started blogging as part of my self-publishing project, it made sense to begin by introducing my book, which at the time was on the brink of being published.

Shown below is the original cover image, created by moi, with my husband and a neighbour as models. Four years later, I replaced it with the professionally designed version in the featured image.

The Friendship of Mortals has received some good reviews (and a few others as well) in the past decade, and the ebook just happens to be available for free (at the Smashwords store only) during their Authors Give Back sale until May 31st, 2020.


In one of my books of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, (The Tomb and Other Tales, Ballantine edition, 1970) there is a chronological list of HPL’s works, with check marks by the ones I had read.  Notably unmarked is “Herbert West, Reanimator,”  written in 1921-1922.  It was published in a magazine called Home Brew as a series of six horror stories.  In his biography of HPL, L. Sprague De Camp refers to them as “perhaps the most forgettable ” of all Lovecraft’s stories.  Despite this dismissal, I was delighted finally to run across them in 1998.

While it’s true that Herbert West exemplifies some of HPL’s faults as a writer, notably overuse of adjectives such as “hideous” and a coarseness of plotting, I found the story intriguing.  It struck me as an outline for something bigger.  The two main characters, Herbert West and the nameless narrator, begged (in my mind at least) to be fleshed out.

Why would anyone want to reanimate corpses?  Why would anyone remain a close friend of someone who was always looking for really fresh corpses to reanimate, even to the point of creating them by means of murder?

This is the question about any “mad scientist.”  Is he evil or merely mad?  Is his friend stupid and credulous or simply loyal?

In the fall of 2000, two years after I read Lovecraft’s story, I began to answer these questions about Herbert West. I ended up several years later with a hefty trilogy. of which I am about to publish the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, as an ebook.  By the time I post here again, it should be available on Smashwords.com, technology permitting.

Advice, Advertising, and Anxiety

Blogs are full of advice for writers and self-publishers. How to start a novel. How to finish your novel. How to make your novel great. How to publish, promote, and market your novel. Etc.

No, this isn’t another rule-quibbling post. (Well, actually it is.) This one is about the advice contained in these posts. Or not contained, when the post is written by a service provider of some sort. After outlining a topic crucial to the success of writing and publishing efforts, the post proceeds to describe how that topic is addressed in a course or book. The real objective, of course, is to sell said course or book.

We writers and indie authors are a huge market for services. Editors, book doctors, writing coaches, and publicists are eager to tap into this market. That’s totally legitimate, but let’s not forget that we aren’t just a bunch of dewy-eyed airheads desperate for advice on creating and selling products (our books). We are a market, and should select paid services judiciously.

OK, most of us authors-who-blog are promoting our books (often to one another). But the relationships among authors are different from those between authors and those from whom they purchase services. We’re like a big, happy family sitting around socializing. “How’re the kids books?” “Oh, here’s a picture of the latest.” “Ooh, so cute gorgeous!” Etc. Then the doorbell rings and it’s a sales representative peddling a product. Do we invite that individual in and offer them a drink? Maybe. Do we automatically sign up for that gym membership they’re peddling? Maybe not.

I pay WordPress not to display ads on my site. I spend time and trouble to make my posts look good, so why would I want them uglified by ads for fungal nail cures or how scantily-clad women can make mega-bucks “without working”? That was the last straw. I forked over cash (well, credit) to be ad-free. And I willingly donate to the Wikimedia Foundation to keep Wikipedia and their other sites ad-free.

Ads, however upbeat, are designed to induce anxiety. Your life isn’t good enough, you’re not having enough fun, your writing won’t be its best if you don’t take my course, read my how-to book, or pay for my expert services. There’s enough anxiety in the world without adding to it by exposure to ads.

Fellow writers, how do you feel about ads? Do you create or purchase ads for your books? What do you think of the ads that come with the free blogging option?

Image from Pexels

She Who Comes Forth book spine

Cover Image Answer

I’m grateful for all the responses to my post asking which of two cover images for my novel, She Who Comes Forth, was preferred by readers. Thank you to all who commented, expressed a preference, and explained why they liked one of the images (or both!)

Yes, two people noted things they liked about both images and said they couldn’t decide between them. Fourteen expressed a preference for image #2, the close-up of a woman’s face with hieroglyphs and the title in a sans-serif font. (The font is called “Glacial Indifference,” by the way.) People who preferred this image said it was mysterious, intriguing, sophisticated, and professional.

But seventeen people preferred image #1, which is the original cover image for this novel. Some comments said it represented Egypt better than #2. Other details mentioned were the warm colours, the figure that appears to be “coming forth,” and the mysterious quality of the silhouette.

So, #1 it will be. After considering one comment, I made some subtle changes to make the figure less blob-like ambiguous. One was to remove the face. Did anyone notice the face? It was barely visible, intended to be a sort of hidden surprise. I decided that wasn’t a good idea and removed it. I also increased the opacity of the silhouette to 100%.

All this reminded me of how I allowed myself to be distracted from writing She Who Comes Forth while it was a work in progress. I would fire up Canva and create yet another image. I must have made more than a dozen in all.

At first, I was determined to include a cello. After all, the main character’s cello is a character in her own right. She has a name and plays (ha, ha!) a significant part in the plot. I looked at hundreds of pictures of women with cellos. Somehow, I couldn’t make any of them work, except for two gorgeous photos. Using them, I made two beautiful cover images, but I had no luck contacting the copyright owners. Those creations remain in my private files, never to be published.

But here is one version that shows a cello player. Note the emerald ring! I put it together from three different shapes, and I’m quite pleased with it. Overall, though, this image implies the book is mainly about music, and it isn’t.

SWCF cover image cello player
Fonts: Great Vibes, Cinzel, Sacramento

At some point, I must have gotten a bit desperate, because I also created this little whimsy…

SWCF cover image whimsical version
Fonts: Tenor Sans, Princess Sofia

Yeah, I know. This one was never in the running, but it’s sort of cute.

Then I decided to go for a stripped-down look focussing on the title. Quite a few recently published bestsellers feature titles against backgrounds that play second cello fiddle to the fonts.

SWCF cover stripped-down version
Fonts: Great Vibes, Norwester, Sacramento

In the end, I settled on the combination of female silhouette and a couple of the great pillars of the Karnak Temple in Luxor (which also appears in the story). And that image (with a few adjustments) will continue to be the one to represent this book.

SWCF 2019
Font: Libre Baskerville, upper case, lower case, and italicized

Some people commented on the fonts. The sans-serif font in #2 was thought too modern or to suggest science fiction. Someone else said the mixture of upper and lower case, italics and colours in #1 is visually confusing. An earlier version of this image (which you can sort of see in the photo of the paperback at the head of the post) sported no fewer than three different fonts for the title. This mashup was pretty much lambasted on the Book Designer’s Monthly Ebook Cover Design Awards site, so I changed to a single font, but in a number of cases and colours. I think the background images are sufficiently strong and simple to withstand the variety.

Thanks again for all the nice and helpful things you said about my designs!

All images by Audrey Driscoll, created with Canva. Some include elements from Pixabay.


Here is a recent review of She Who Comes Forth by Lorinda J. Taylor (from Amazon and Goodreads).

A uniquely compelling story, employing the mythology of ancient Egypt December 11, 2019
This book grabs you at the beginning and keeps you reading, because it’s not a book with any clues – I found it impossible to guess what might happen in the end. Just like France Leighton and her talking cello, this book is something special. I particularly liked the conjunction of the Egyptian mystique and the minutiae of everyday modern life. France may accomplish wonders, but that doesn’t keep her from feeling pain, getting sick, and having doubts and second thoughts. She’s both human and hero.
If you’re fascinated with ancient Egypt and its grotesque and alien mythology, you’ll love this piece. I’ve never gotten hooked on Egyptian mythology, probably because I’m basically a rationalist with a scientific bent. Greek mythology has always appealed more to me, because its flawed gods are extrapolated from humanity, based on what we experience every day. That may be why western civilization developed from Greek culture, and the Egyptians faded into the fabric of history and became only a subject for esoteric study. I can understand how people can believe Egypt was influenced by extraterrestrials, because they had such strange concepts of the nature of the spiritual world and what was needed to ensure eternal life.
This book has feminist undercurrents – it’s the goddesses who have the real power – and there is also a subtext involving a condemnation of our scientific/technological civilization. Science becomes a tool of the gods to destroy more than it will ever create.
I must say a few words about what a fine writer this author is, especially in her descriptive talents. She really makes you feel and smell Egypt in the 1960s, even though she states in an afterword that she has never been there. I’ll close with a few examples:
“The sweet smell of cedar wood mingled with whiffs of turpentine, lamp oil, and ancient stone.”
“The shape of his lips as they formed words fascinated me, like watching a time-lapse film of a flower opening, or a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.”
And, finally, something to make you chuckle: “Below us lay a field of temple ruins; the Colossi of Memnon looked small and ridiculous, like constipated stone trolls on matching stone toilets.”
I heartily recommend this book as a uniquely compelling story. I would also suggest reading the author’s Herbert West series first, since She Who Comes Forth refers often to prior events and characters.

You can find out more about She Who Comes Forth, including purchase links, by clicking on the image in the sidebar or right here.

open books, grass

Creating and Fulfilling Expectations: Books as Products or Works of Art

The book as product: specific word count, story arc, number and types of characters, type of ending, and a cover suited to the genre. It may help its author make a living. Or it may not.

The book as work of art: whatever gives the writer the feeling of having a hand on the lever of creation. It may or may not become a “classic.” A posthumous one.

This is what happens when I’ve been reading too many “how to do it right” posts for writers. (Snarky aside: Judging by the vast amounts of advice we need, we writers are self-indulgent, impractical airheads, fumbling our way through the real world.)

The author of a recent such post expressed acute distress (“I almost cried!”) when a writer admitted they didn’t know the target audience for their book.

OK, all you writers hiding behind your computer screens, is this you? You don’t write your novels for a defined demographic? Well, I suppose YA authors do, but what about the rest of us? I certainly don’t. I feel a ghostly reader peering over my shoulder as I write, but I don’t know anything about them except they’re reading my book and I owe them a good experience.

I write from a need to embody in written language the stories churning in my brain. That’s what makes me sit down and crank out the words, not a market survey that indicates a taste for a specific type of novel in a particular slice of the population.

“What if they find out that … ?” and “Let me tell you how it happened. There was this thing–” These are the sources of story. Not market studies.

Many indie authors see their writing and publishing as a business. Authors with contracts to traditional publishers are nudged to deliver the correct book-shaped products with cover images accurately labelling their genres. Products must be packaged to match customer needs and expectations. That’s totally fine and logical.

Trouble is, not every writer thinks of the books they write as “products,” even if they publish them using the same platforms as do businesslike, marketing-oriented indies. Today, publishing takes many forms.

As they prepare to publish, writers may find it helpful to examine their intentions and expectations. In private, in secret if necessary. Do you want to sell a million copies? Be #1 on some list? Connect with a few readers, a secret society of people like you? Achieve perfection? Become famous? Just be able to call yourself a “published author”? Produce a printed book you can hold in your hands and post pictures of on social media? Every writer fits into one of these categories, or the infinity of spaces between them.

As in other areas of life, it helps to know what you want and act accordingly, with your expectations set to “realistic.” Then you can read and absorb only the advice that’s relevant to you, and cheerfully ignore the rest.

Despite all the expert advice, there are many indies who don’t conform, whose books straddle genres, or mix them up, or don’t belong to any genre at all. What about all those off-beat or zany cover images? (Airheads, right?) From experience I can say those books aren’t all terrible and worthless. Some are excellent, but prospective readers have to be adventurous and take a chance. Think farmers’ market or craft fair, not big box store. Spend a dollar or three and maybe discover a new and wonderful reading experience.

Until the end of July you can do just that at the Smashwords Store. The Summer/Winter Sale continues until July 31st. My books may be found here.

gargoyle grumpy

Retread #2: Editors and Credibility

Several years ago I read a lot of spirited discussions on a LinkedIn writers’ group which no longer exists. I suspect it self-immolated. Here’s a post from early 2013. Grumpiness warning!

Since joining LinkedIn’s Fiction Writers’ Guild last year, I’ve wasted — er, spent a lot of hours reading and occasionally commenting on several discussions. They are all about fiction writing and increasingly about self-published fiction. Inevitably, the topic of editing comes up. Someone opines that of course a self-published work must be substandard if the author has skipped the all-important step of having their work “professionally edited.” In the throes of one of these debates, someone said, “A writer who edits him- or herself has a fool for a client,” echoing a similar opinion about people who represent themselves in a court of law.

I found this statement quite provocative and felt a Rant coming on. Several weeks have passed and now I can offer a few temperate observations.

First of all, I will say that a writer who has contracted with a “traditional” publisher to publish their work has no choice in the matter of being edited. Since the publisher is investing their time and treasure in the work, it is entirely logical that they should shape the product in whatever way they believe is necessary. I’ll say no more about this. This screed is entirely about self-published works.

“Editing” is not a monolithic process. There is structural or developmental editing, in which the editor suggests getting rid of characters or giving specific characters more important roles. Entire scenes or chapters may be cut, or new ones written. The entire novel may be rewritten. This is huge and fundamental stuff. To me it makes sense that structural editing happen[s] early in the writing process. A writer who is having trouble making their story come to life as envisioned may well need a structural edit.

Line and copy editing happen in the final stage of a manuscript’s life, to deal with things such as typos, grammatical problems and continuity.

Freelance editors with connections in the traditional publishing industry may be worth paying for, but I suspect they are in a position to command high prices and be selective as to which writers they take on — just like agents.

So who is a “professional editor?” Anybody. There is no accrediting body or degree-granting authority for editors. Like writers, they create their reputations by pursuing their craft. Success comes in the form of recognition by readers, writers and peers. And as with writers, just because someone calls themselves an editor doesn’t mean they are any good at it. Writers who want to hire an editor to help them structure their work or provide the professional polish are advised to use a process similar to that of hiring a contractor to do renovations on their house — request references and ask to see samples of their work. Someone suggested getting test pieces edited and going with the one you like best, but given some of the opinions expressed on LinkedIn, my suspicious self wondered if the opposite approach wouldn’t be better. We writers are a self-castigating bunch.

Here I’m getting into Rant territory again. Perhaps because the current abundance of self-published fiction includes quite a lot of naive, or unpolished, or — to be quite frank — “bad” writing, some people have decided that all self-published writers are childish, self-indulgent seekers of adulation, brainlessly inflicting half-baked textual travesties on the overburdened reading public. They need to be whipped into shape by Editors.

Like all sweeping condemnations, this bugs me. Which is why I’m writing this.

Back to that “fool for a client” remark. I disagree with that 100%. I think anyone who wants to call themselves a writer should also know how to edit. It’s part of the package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that independent, self-published authors are just that — independent. Unlike editors who work for publishing houses, they are not obliged to create a marketable “product” that will show a return on investment in a limited time. The self-published writer decides how much of their time and treasure they are going to invest in their work, and what constitutes success. Options for editing include critique groups, beta readers and endless rewriting.

In the end, what is the worst consequence of publishing a flawed, unpopular or obscure piece of writing? If it’s an e-book, it will cost the reader no more than a few dollars (less than $5 in many cases) and however much time they are prepared to spend reading until they decide a book isn’t for them. That happens all the time with traditionally published books — even so-called “best-sellers” — bought for considerably more money. And at least an unwanted ebook can be disposed of with the push of a button. It won’t be cluttering up anyone’s shelf or taking up space in the landfill.

The Crux Anthology Authors Donate Book Profits to Compassion International

Remember this anthology? Read this update. Oh, and wish Rachael a happy birthday. Happy x 2!

Rachael Ritchey

This post is overdue as it was promised for January! Sorry for the delay. Better late than never. And today’s my birthday, so even better!

The Crux Anthology has now been in print for about three months, and thanks to some generous book buyers the anthology was sold in ebook fifty times and in print another twenty due to presales in November through sales to the end of December 2018!

Between ebooks and print books sold during that time-frame, it equated to $83.00 (I rounded up to the nearest dollar) USD profit.

I’m a sucker (the best kind) for helping a worthy cause, which I think we can all agree that helping children in need is worthy, so I rounded the donation up to $100 for Compassion International’s Where Most Needed Fund.

This donation is completely due to the generosity of those who’ve bought the book and our fabulous authors!

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creepy portrait zombie book

Zombie Books

Some say ebooks are immortal. That’s one of the wonderful things about them. Self-pubbed authors don’t have to worry that their publisher will decide to take their books out of print, to be remaindered and (gulp) pulped. Books going “OP” is just a quaint remnant of the bad old trad-pub-or-nothing era. Now, ebooks and POD print books exist as files on servers, not paper volumes produced by a complicated process involving heavy machinery. Books now can remain in “print” and available to readers forever.

That’s great, but what about the books no one wants, no one reads, no one even looks at? There they sit, unvisited clumps of electronic blips, not dead but not alive either. Unlike print books, they can’t even be used as decor or carved up into paper sculptures. In some cases, even their authors have abandoned them, giving up on whatever hopes they had as self-published authors. Those books are immortal, but effectively dead.

Books need brains, the brains of readers to take in their words, to engage with their narratives, to visualize the stories they embody. To think about their meanings, and to talk about them with others.

It’s sad to think that a portion of the enormous output of self-published authors in the last decade may languish undiscovered and unwanted. Millions of new books are born every year. How many of them will end up as zombies? More to the point, must it be this way? Do some books just deserve obscurity? How can we as authors ensure that our book babies live on in the minds of readers, rather than shambling into virtual graveyards?

cemetery, gravestones

Images courtesy of Pixabay; “digital brain” image by A. Driscoll using Canva, with elements from Pixabay and Canva.