A Reflection on My Reaction to My First Negative Review

Note: As you read this post, you may notice I’m vague about the content of the review. You could probably go on Goodreads and figure out what I’m referring to, but I don’t want this to be seen as a response or rebuttal to the review. My goal is to capture my thought process as a new author seeing a negative review of their first novel.

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At some point over the past day, Link’s face was an accurate reflection of how I felt.

Up until this week, all the reviews that I’d seen for Power Surge have been positive, which of course, made me skeptical. Inevitably, someone was going to burst my bubble.

It finally happened. Someone who didn’t finish the book left a review without a rating.

I disregarded advice I’ve heard across the internet and read the review. I’m glad I read it, even if I was surprised by my reaction.

At first, my brain processed it like feedback from a CP or beta reader. I had to squash my instinct to explain why I wrote something the way I did, and then I had to squash my urge to reply thanking the reviewer.

I thought about what I could’ve changed in a scene the reviewer alluded to. I came to the conclusion that in general, I need to be more careful about how my main character and my narrative voice react to characters who say problematic things or hold problematic opinions.

After a day, I realized that in my mind, the review had shifted from what it actually was something completely different. I had latched onto to a specific phrase the reviewer mentioned and made the whole thing about that scene.

Early in the morning when I just wanted to go back to sleep, I took it personally, as if the characters flaws were my own.

I realized one assumption the reviewer made was literally wrong.

I thought that it was the only review people are going to pay attention to. No one else would buy my book. No agent or publisher will represent future works of mine.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief is good at keeping me from writing things I shouldn’t. Sometimes.

I thought the reviewer was wrong. I thought the reviewer was calling me out on an important issue. I wanted to thank them. I wanted to argue. I wanted respond, to know more, but I didn’t because writers need to leave readers and reviewers alone.

Instead of  filing the feedback aside for future work and moving on, as you can see, I obsessed over it.

But something good did come out of it.

It reminded me that just says they don’t like a character or can’t connect with a character in a published work, I’m shouldn’t think much of it, especially when I know other readers have connected to that character. That type of thing is subjective and varies from person to person.

If a character makes someone uncomfortable? That’s okay. I’ve read books with characters that made me uncomfortable too, but that didn’t mean that book was bad.

Different people react differently to different characters. A good chunk of this bad review was based off of things I think of as subjective, and some assumptions the person made because they stopped reading too soon.

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The Meowditor-In-Chief does not approve of something I wrote.

However, when I see a reviewer mention something harmful, like misogyny,  it is worth reflecting on. The reviewer mentioned a phrase a character used in a scene, and I think I could’ve done a better job showing the main character and the narrative voice’s disapproval of that attitude.

Now, that might not have fixed it for the reviewer, who might have perceived an overall tone that I’m somewhat oblivious to, but to me, that change would’ve helped.

If a reviewer calls an author out on problematic or harmful ideas, then the author needs to listen. They need to take that into account and reflect. Maybe the reviewer is onto something. Maybe they are misconstruing it or their reading is being influenced by some outside factor. Either way, it’s something for me to keep in the back of my head when I’m revising the sequel and other works, especially since I do tend to include characters who hold problematic opinions or say harmful things in some of my works.

Sometimes those characters change.

Sometimes I kill them.

Sometimes they don’t actually mean the things they say, but feel they are expected to act that way fit a certain mold…or they are just trying to piss someone off.

In future science fiction and secondary world fantasy, I’m open to leaving those characters out and writing about societies that have out grown a lot of the problems that plague Earth today. On the other hand, when I write books like Power Surge, urban fantasy with a contemporary setting, the nasty side of present-day humanity rears it’s ugly head.

Sometimes problematic ideas creep in unintentionally, stemming from things I may not realize I internalized. Other times, I think I am deliberate exposing the dirt and raking up the muck, yelling “Look! This is a problem! Do you see why?”

I need to careful that the narrative voice isn’t endorsing their harmful words and to remember that silence equals endorsement. I need to acknowledge that some readers don’t want to see certain harmful concepts represented on the page in any way, shape or form, and that if those readers pick up a book like Power Surge, they might have a problem with.

Books that ignore problematic concepts and try to show us a better way to live and think and act are incredibly important. Books that get messy and roll around in humanity’s, books that acknowledge harm ideas and punch them in the face are also important.

Reading a critical review of my book ended up being a thought provoking excercise that was worth the stress it created.

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Sometimes, I just need to keep swimming against the current, whether it is made of rejection, reviews, or anxiety.

If you are interested in reading Power Surge, for yourself, here are some buy links.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2TodlCV

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729

NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Writing Questions: The Good, The Bad, and The Awkward.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

The first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

January 2:

What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

 

The Good:

I love answering questions about writing and publishing.

How did you decide to write a book? What did you have to do to get published? What type of things do you do when you revise? What are your favorite editing strategies? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The above questions are among my favorite conversation topics. I love talking about the hows and whys of writing and publishing.

As a writing teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and researching how to help people (including myself) improve their writing. I’ve found one way to do this is to develop a good writing process, and as a result, I spend a lot of time observing, analyzing and tweaking my writing process. I love hearing how other people write as much as I love sharing what I do, what works about it, and what bugs I am still trying to work out.

Publishing is another topic I’ve spent countless hours researching. I still have a lot to learn, but I have a good base of industry knowledge that is growing every day and love answering questions about it.

Whether I’m talking about process or publishing, I find that I learn though explaining. Answering questions helps come to new  realizations and see things I didn’t know I knew. It prompts me to fill in gaps in my knowledge, to look at things from different perspectives, and to synthesize in new ways.

The Bad:

How is your book doing? How many copies have you sold?

If you have a writer friend or relative you care about, just do not ask them these questions. It might be okay if the book is on the NYT or USA Today Best Seller List. In any other situation, it probably sucks.

First off all, the writer probably doesn’t really know how their books are doing, especially if they are not self-published. Amazon tells the “publisher” how many copies were sold, so if a writer isn’t self published, they have to wait for monthly, or in some cases, quarterly statements to see how many copies sold in a set period of time.

It’s frustrating enough not knowing how many copies I have sold. It’s worse when I constantly have people asking me about it.

Friends and family have been asking me about Power Surge’s sales since a few days after it came out in the begining of October. I can make some guesses based off of the Amazon sales rank. For example, if I looked on Amazon and saw Power Surge ranked around 100,000, I could assume I sold one book today on Amazon. However, I have no clue if someone buys a book from iBooks, from Barnes and Noble, from my local indie book store, or directly from the publisher’s website, until I get my royalty statements.

The Awkward:

In the face to face world, I get pretty awkward pretty fast when people ask my what my book is about.

Online, if asked the same question, I can refer people to the blurb or take my time adapting a pre-made pitch for the question.

But ask me face to face? You get mubmled fragments about teenagers, Maine, and Demon Hunters, and my most awkward of all: “paranormal things.”

I’m pretty sure I’d sell more books if I got better at talking it up to the people at the dog park.

However, the most awkward questions of all are things like:

Are any of the characters based off of youself? What parts? Is anything in the book based off of something that really happened? The main character self-harms. Is that something you do?

Now, a more general question, like “what inspired you to write this?” is perfectly fine. However, when people start trying to use the book as a way to learn private things about my personal life, it gets very very awkward.

I know by calling the book “own voices” I am acknowledging that some the things that marginalize the narrator are also things I’ve experienced, but that doesn’t mean I want people walking up to me at a party and grilling me about which parts, especially if they are family. The last thing I want is people to think is that they can some how psychoanalyze me through my fiction.

Wrap-Up

If you want to talk to me about writing, I’m always happy to answer questions about writing itself, about the process and different ways to publish. I’m working on getting better at pitching Power Surge face to face. However, I prefer not to have to answer questions about sales I can’t really answer, and don’t want people using my fiction as an excuse to pry into my personal life.

IWSG: Five Objects in my Writing Space

December 5 question – What are five objects we’d find in your writing space?

My writing space changes with the season. April through September, I wrote on my screened-in-porch, or, on really nice days, the picnic table by the lake.

 

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Tavi thinks he is a cat

When heat becomes necessary, I move to the kitchen table. No matter which space I’m using, my laptop is always there because it’s what I write on. For the sake of this list, I’ll focus on things unique to the space.

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The Meowditor-In-Cheif is hard at work

Winter Space (aka a mess)IMG_1789

  1. Teapot.
  2. Blanket.
  3. Salt Shaker
  4. Dog Bowl
  5. Cat’s Brush

Summer Space (aka heaven)DSC_0771.JPG

  1. Beach Towel
  2. Pitcher
  3. Notebook
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Chuck-it toys

No matter where I am writing, Goose the Cat aka The Meowditor-In-Cheif, is near-by. He likes to the delete words. Nothing is allowed to be fluffier than him.

 

YA: Teens First, Adults who are Young (or young at heart), Second

A few days ago, I read The Many Ways YA Books & The Community Isolates Teens by VICKY WHO READS. It was a thought provoking blog post about Young Adult (YA) fiction that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how teens are isolated from the books that are supposed for them.

Because adults are the ones writing YA, publishing it, and spending money on it, teen voices often get left out of the genre. This had me wondering if my YA fiction was guilty of isolating teens, and if as someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with teens, I should even be writing books labeled as for teens.

I’m still grappling that and one way I am pursuing it is by reflecting on how I read as a teenager so I can see how it impacts my assumptions about teen readers. What I discovered about the later is worth sharing.

I was high school from 2002-2006, and I was barely aware that there was a category of fiction labeled as “Young Adult.” I think read about five YA titles on my own, unless you count the Harry Potter or Artemis Fowl series, but I think those are really middle grade.

Some of the books I was forced to read, like Lord of the Flies or A Separate Peace might be labeled YA now, but they were written long before YA was an official category.

I was actually in college when I started seeking out and reading YA novels. I met a girl who called herself Artemis, and she let me borrow a copy of Tithe by Holly Black. She introduced me Libbra Bray,  and eventually Cassandra Clare (whose books made me shelve Power Surge for a long, long time).

If I wasn’t reading YA in high school, what was I reading?

Anything Tolkien. I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings multiple times. I read Tolkien’s short stories and poems. I started The Silmarillion and then I took a break from Tolkien.

The Star Wars Expanded Universe, which sadly is no longer cannon. There were plenty of books in that series to keep me busy for a long time. Why would I bother with the YA shelves when all the good Star Wars stories where in the Sci-Fi section?

Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels were one of the best things my senior English teacher introduced me too.

I’m almost certain I was a senior in high school when I started reading The Dresden Files, though it might have been the summer after graduation. I know was not happy when I got to White Night and realized it wasn’t out yet.

I loved these books. I bought them in used book stores, or the used “Section” of my favorite indie bookstores (Jabberwocky and Toadstool). If I couldn’t find it used, I went to the new section, and if it wasn’t there, Borders almost always had it. The staff often said they could special order things for me, but I never wanted to wait that long.

I didn’t really write reviews since I didn’t spend much time online. There was one computer in the house that I shared with my parents. The only review I remember writing of a bool was for my local new paper’s teen authored page. Normally, they published teen authored movie reviews every Saturday. But one week, they let me choose a book from a selection of ARC’s they’d gotten. I picked a science fiction novel by Mike Resnick.It wasn’t YA. I don’t remember which one and I don’t think I’ve ever read any other books.

I occasionally pre-ordered things, especially if it was summer and I had money from my job as a game attendant at Canobie Lake Park.

Like many of the teens mentioned in Vicky’s post, I did not have a huge influence on the industry.

The other question is, did I connect to those characters?

Jaina Solo and Mara Jade Skywalker are still two of my favorite heroines and I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive Disney for erasing them. Mara was an adult, but when I started reading, Jaina was a teen who acted as much like a teen as one can when being a Jedi and the daughter of Han and Leia. She acted more teen-like than the adult characters, and as she aged, her voice matured appropriately.

And with the other stories? Tolkien?  Butcher? Kurtz?

No. Their characters weren’t other teens with relatable experiences. They were fascinating heroes I could vicariously live through for days on end, but they didn’t really share problems or experiences with me.

They weren’t necessarily characters I needed. They didn’t show me it was okay to be depressed, or that medication wouldn’t change who I was or ruin my ability to be creative. They didn’t help me understand why I was so jealous of the girls who boy’s clothing or help me understand that I could dress like that too if I wanted to.

Honestly, I can’t say the actual “YA” books did any better. Later, when I read YA in college, I found those characters relatable to my self as a college student. They weren’t much more relevant to high-school me than Harry Dresden or Bilbo Baggins.

These are books that had a big impact on my writing: Holly Black for the better and Cassandra Clare for the worse (because I thought there wasn’t room on the shelf for both of our demon hunter books).

I try to write the books I think would’ve helped me if I picked them up as a teen, but I’m 30 and I can’t help but wonder: are my teens to mature? Did I Erin Evanstar grow up too much between draft 1 and draft 15? Will they help teens how I imagine? Will teens even read Power Surge?

So far, more 3/5 of my reviews are from adult men.

The only non-adult feedback I’ve gotten is from the 7th grader in my neighborhood who hangs out with the adults more than the kids. They said they were loving it so much that their mom had to take it away so they could do their homework. They said it was relatable, but when I asked why, they said it was because of the protagonist used “they/them” as a pronoun. How much of this kid connecting was because the 17-year-old character as a whole was relatable, and how much of it was because they just hadn’t read many other books with enby protagonists?

I have no clue.

Going forward, if I truely want my books to serve teens, I need to seek out feedback from teen beta readers and read whatever teen authored reviews and book blogs I can find, otherwise, my “YA” will be for adults who are young, not teenagers.

Reflections on My First Two Book Events

This week, I attended my first two book-related events as an author: a book talk / signing at Jabberwocky Books and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival.

For someone with lots of social anxiety, planning, committing too, and/or attending events is no small feat, but somehow, I managed to set up a launch event and sign up for a book festival.

After convincing myself that one event or another wasn’t going to happen, they did. I did my talk and signing at Jabberwoky. I sold books at the festival.

I learned a few things.

43950609_10214216395229934_1937355220606517248_nFor first time authors, launch events are really for family and friends. Unless you have a fascinating non-fiction topic people want to learn about, if they don’t know who you are, they are probably not going to take time out of their Friday night to listen to you talk about your book. That’s my theory, anyway.

On the other hand, my family and friends showed. They were super excited to be there, to have me sign a copy of Power Surge, and to congratulate me. I was the only one that seemed disappointed that there weren’t any “strangers” in the audience.

It is a lot easier to stand at a podium and talk to strangers than it is to talk to people I know.

The book festival wasn’t any different than the craft fairs I attended back when I sold sea glass jewelry. A lot of people attended, but there were also a lot of vendors. People walked by the table, picked up books, said good things about them, and walked away, saying they needed to look more before buying.43880502_10214220942663617_5203961892581670912_o

90% of people who say they will or might come back do not.

I brought about fifty copies of Power Surge and sold three. I brought ten copies of Drabbledark and sold four. At craft fairs, I’d have at least fifty pieces of jewelry, and I’d sell somewhere between four and ten pieces.

I made some mistakes:

  1. As usual, I left something I needed at home.
  2. I arrived at the venue with just enough time to set up, but not enough time to take a breath between set up and people walking in.
  3. I had to make three trips to the car because I brought too much and it wasn’t packed up efficiently.

These three mistakes are ones I made early in my craft fair and flea market days.

It wasn’t all a disaster. I remebered to get plenty of one dollar bills, so I could make change. I brought snacks, and ALL the pens and sharpie I needed.

Next time, I won’t let anxiety and imposter syndrome stop me from preparing. I’ll pack efficiently, and get everything ready the night before. I’ll have a larger variety of items.

I’ll be ten times more confident.

 

IWSG Day: Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

Writing Through Life (and doggy drama)

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe first Wednesday of every month, the IWSG posts an optional question, encouraging members to read and comment on each other’s blogs.

October’s Question is:

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

My answer is yes.

Major life events can affect how frequently I write, how coherent that writing is, and sometimes, even the content of my writing.

When I’m stressed, anxious to the point where I can’t even think about going to bed at a reasonable time, writing is the only thing that keeps me going. When my spouse goes to bed, I’ll sit up at the kitchen table with the cat at my feet, frantically writing until two or three in the morning. The sentence structure and punctuation might be more off than usual, but it is also when I can actually write emotion, show characters feeling things.

With Power Surge, the book that took a decade to finish, life events and revelations about my self shaped how I finished and revised the novel. In fact, one could say it was a major life event that lead me to finish it in the first place: I finished a different book. And I finished that book because it was the only way to get through a few months of very high anxiety.

Whether it was Power Surge, or one of my yet to be published manuscripts (Song of the Forest, Like Birds, or Earth Reclaimed), my novels, and my numerous short stories, have all helped me coped with anxiety, depression, or whatever my brain throws at me.

This summer in particular, writing helped me deal with a stressful neighborhood situation. The two people who live on either side of me both have dogs. One dog is female, yellow,  and about 45 pounds (the same size as my dog). Tavi, my pup, was still a baby when the yellow dog came to the neighborhood, and I swear she thinks she is his mother, at least she protects him like a mother dog would protect her puppies. To the other side of me is an 8lb ball of yapping energy.

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Tavi

This was not a good combination. One day, the little dog chased Tavi out of my yard and into her driveway. I thought Tavi had been tied to the trailer of the boat I was cleaning, but I had never actually clipped his 15-foot training leash to anything, so as he ran, that dragged behind him.

Tavi stopped and play bowed, possibly oblivious to little dog’s ruffled fur and bared teeth. Yellow dog charged out of her yard and down the driveway, grabbed little dog, and pullled her away from Tavi.

Little dog got hurt.

And for the next month, neighborhood tension grew as yellow dog’s and little dog’s owners passive aggressively argued over whose dog should be leashed and who was responsible for the vet bill.

Literally and figuratively, I was in the middle of it.

It was summer, so I wasn’t working. Yellow dog’s human, also a teacher, wasn’t working. Little dog’s owner, a national grid gas employee, was on strike and eventually, locked out.

I wrote.

In one month, I wrote a 20,000 novella and revised it three times. It wasn’t directly about what was happening in the neighborhood, but in one scene, a similar incident occurred. The main character was dealing with the same kind of mental health problems as me.

I haven’t looked at the story in a while, so I can’t confidently say whether or not it was good. But after proof reading the third draft, I remember thinking it was fantastic, and that it was the most emotional piece I had written since Power Surge.

 

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 Power Surge buy links:

  • Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2RoANiQ
  • Amazon Paperback: https://amzn.to/2xWqpqp
  • Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/power-surge-sara-codair/1129616729
  • NineStar Press: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/
  • Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512

Power Surge & Trigger Warnings

PowerSurge-f500Power Surge’s road to publication has been long and bumpy, but as it gets closer and closer to publication date, I want to take a minute to discuss the age category, trigger warnings, and mature content.

I’ve rarely thought of Power Surge as anything other than Young Adult (YA). However, you may notice it listed on Amazon as New Adult (NA), and on my publisher’s website, it is tagged as both YA and NA.

My publisher has reasons for labeling it so, but to me, this book is YA. The main character is a 17-year-old high school senior who is still trying to figure out who they are and dealing with very teenage issues.

However, my editor feels the themes were more suitable for a NA audience. While I agree this might be too mature for many 12 or 13-year-olds I think a 16-year-old would be fine. Depending on their life situation, it might be the kind of book that helps them get through a dark time or even empowers them.

If you are a parent, educator, or anyone thinking of recommending this book to teens and want to know more about content warnings and why the book is tagged as both NA and YA, here are some explanations. But be warned, they do contain spoilers.

These are the warnings listed in the book: Depictions of violence, discussion of off-page abuse, death of a parent, mentions of off-page sexual assault, brief on-page depictions of attempted sexual assault, self-harm, suicide ideation, and bullying.

What follows is an explanation  of why they are there and how they relate to the age category.

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

 

 

Content Warnings + Rational:

Violence: This is a book about demon hunters, so as you might expect, the main character, Erin, violently fights and banishes demons. There are four violent fight scenes in the book. There are two sparring matches.

Erin thinks violent thoughts about people, but they rarely act on those feelings. For example, Erin knows their love interest, José, is abused by his father. When Erin sees José’s father, they think about specific ways they want to hurt him.

There are many YA books with much larger amounts of violence, and perhaps some middle grade books that are on par with it. Erin may rage and think about hurting people all the time, but most of their physical fights are not against other humans. In fact, Erin is often aware of how wrong some of their violent thoughts are. The book sends a clear message that it is not okay to hurt other people.

Discussion of off-page abuse: As I mentioned above, José’s father is physically and verbally abusive. The physical abuse is not shown on the page, but the bruises it yields are.

As much as Erin hates José’s dad for being an abuser, Erin is terrified that they are going to be abusive to José. More about that in the next section.

Mentions of off-page sexual assault: This is one of warnings that makes me hesitate to give this book to a 12 or 13 year-old. Some junior high students would be okay reading this, but others would not.

Through internal thought and dialogue, readers learn that when Erin was 16, their boyfriend tried (and ultimately failed) to rape them. Erin retailed by trying to murder him.

More specifically, Erin tells José about the following event:

Erin and their now ex-boyfriend Ricky were kissing on a beach. He wanted to touch them places they said he couldn’t touch. He touched them anyway. Erin punched him in the face. He forcefully removed some of Erin’s clothing. They fought physically. Erin nearly beat him to death.

The above scene isn’t shown on page, rather relayed through dialogue and some internal monologue.

It does haunt Erin through out the book. It makes it harder for Erin to trust people. It’s one of the reasons Erin thinks of themself as a monster. Yes, Ricky did something bad and tried to do something horrendous, but Erin feels that while subduing him, even leaving him unconscious was justifiable, murder would not have been.

When José and Erin make out, Erin thinks of the incident with Ricky. Anxiety and rage mix. Erin says no physically (i.e. shoving José across a room) instead of just telling him to stop, and they hate themself for it. Hence what I said above about Erin thinking they are an abuser.

Brief on page depictions of attempted sexual assault: A demon that feeds off of human energy, sometimes by sex or touch, tries to grope Erin. Later, that same demon pins another character to a wall with the implied intent of sexual assault, but Erin stops it.

There is a scene where José appears to be trying to pressure Erin to have sex with him, but later, it is revealed to have been an act they both agreed to in order to make their enemy think Erin was alone, angry, and vulnerable. Erin was using themself as bait to lure a demon into a trap.

Self-harm: Erin has some mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety. Like me, Erin’s anxiety often turns into rage. When Erin can’t contain it and is afraid they will harm someone else, they harm themselves. Erin views it as an addiction they need to quite. They know it’s a bad coping mechanism, but they’re human (somewhat human, anyway) and make mistakes. The self-harm happens several times in the book, but it is clearly portrayed as a problem that they haven’t yet found a solution to.

Suicide ideation: There are a few instances where Erin thinks about a past suicide attempt and/or that they would be better off dead. These thoughts are fleeting.

Bullying: Jenny Dunn, José’s ex, is on a jealousy-motivated mission to make Erin miserable whether it is by using inaccurate slurs, dumping food on Erin’s head, or ganging up on them in a locker room.

Death of a parent: José’s father dies.

Despite these warnings, I believe that Power Surge is YA.

There are plenty of other books labeled YA that are as mature, if not more mature, than Power Surge. For example, Mindy McGinnis’s Female of the Species  is YA and it explores rape culture and violence. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series is YA, but it is exponentially more violent and has more sexual content.

As far as mature content goes, Power Surge is probably close to Holly Black’s The Curse Workers  and The Folk of Air series.

More importantly, I think this book is appropriate because some of the issues that make it dark are also things that make real life dark. There are teens get angry, and violent, just like there are teens who get depressed, bullied, and sexually assaulted.

Sexual Assault is all over the media these days with accounts of victims coming forward after years of staying silent and with people resisting the rape culture that kept them silent.

Power Surge is relevant, perhaps more so now than it was over a decade ago when I started writing it.

If I haven’t ruined the book for you, pre-order Power Surge on

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2xLPxjy

NineStar Press.com: https://ninestarpress.com/product/power-surge/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/897512

 

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The Evolution of a Character (or a career)

I’ve lived my entire life with characters and stories in my head. Some were as original as anything can be while others were fan-fictions that never escaped my maze of a mind long enough to be put on paper.

After watching  Xena: Warrior Princess, I’d run around the house with music blasting. The living room would fade as I retreated into my head where I reimagined the episode with myself, or a character based off of myself, involved in some major way. If no one interrupted me, I’d plot out the next episode and the next. Each would steer further from the plot, featuring more of me and my made up characters and less Xena and Gabrielle.

TV shows and movies never failed to rev up my imagination, but they were not my only source of stories. Songs, fears, news, and my contorted perception of reality  were compost to my imagination’s produce.

For all the stories I dreamed while running and dancing, I wrote sporadically, scribbling ideas in journals and penning poems for school assignments. As much as I loved making stories, the creative part of my brain rarely worked unless my body was moving.

So the characters stayed inside me. To an extent, they grew with me.

They evolved.

Terrifying magical adventures involving waterfalls, brain-altering head injuries, supernatural relatives, and a fair amount of time travel shaped them into distinct people that had less and less in common with me as time went on.

Mel Aesthetic
An aesthetic I made for Mel (Amelia)

They reproduced like cells.

 

As the adventures piled up an they grew more and more complex, sometimes, they split into two or three different characters.

Yes, some of them had things in common with me, but none of them were me. I no longer had a version of myself that popped into tv shows and fan fiction. I had a cast of distinct , developed characters trying to claw their way out of my head.

Ari. Amelia. Elle. Erin. Lucy. Michael. Sam.

There are more, but some of their names have faded from memory even if their personalities haven’t.

I started writing. I had to. My brain would’ve exploded. Reality would’ve shattered. Something bad would’ve happened.

At first, writing came in short bursts. Stories would fill a notebook on rainy summer days or cold winter nights. Senior year of high school, I wrote and illustrated the first twenty or so pages of a centaur portal fantasy. Freshmen year of college, I wrote the first act of a screen play. I started a novel. I wrote a short story. Started another novel.

Each time I wrote, the characters that grew up with me appeared in the story along side new faces. My burst of writing grew longer each time they happened.

When I was 26, on a cold October night when I couldn’t sleep, I started the longest writing spurt I’d ever had, meaning it hasn’t ended. In one for or another, I have written every day since then.

Monochromatic #ThursdayAesthetic
Power Surge aesthetic 

Characters and pieces of stories coalesced into novels.

The characters continued to grow through the whole process.

Now, I’m proud to say that the world gets to meet two characters that have lived in my head under one name or another for most of my life.

Erin and Mel (Amelia) debuted in notebook pages. They solidified in a screenplay. Bloomed in a mess of a half of a book I started in college. They slept for decades, through short stories and a paranormal suspense.

They slept but the they never left. Their identities evolved with mine.

Erin’s mental health deteriorated with mine. When I discovered the words and concepts that I could use to finally explain how I felt about my gender, Erin used those words too

I could tell you what Mel or Erin had for breakfast on any given day. I could tell you about their first kisses, their greatest fears, most embarrassing moments, successes and failures. The last mountain they skied. The last trail they hiked

People always ask me how I keep it all in my head, if I had spreadsheets and pages of notes.

PowerSurge-f500
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

When it comes to the Evanstars? I didn’t need those things. I  internalized world and most of it’s inhabitants long before I started writing. I have drafts and short stories and micro stories and poems.

I have dreams.

These characters own a piece of me.

They are pieces of me.

Their stories will always live in my soul, but if I have readers willing to read, then I will write and write in this universe as long as I can.

 

I just hope that when readers meet them on October 1st, they love them as much as I do.

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Cover Matters Part 2: Making A Book’s Cover Art

In my experiences with small, independent publishers, making a cover is a collaboration between the author and/or editor and artist.

With NineStar Press, I experienced the cover making process as an author for one book. With B Cubed Press, I was the cover artist for three books: two multi-author anthologies and one sing-author poetry collection.

Getting a Feel for the Book

In order to start designing, the artist needs to know a few things about the book.

At NineStar Press, the process started me with (the author) filling out an information form. I included my blurb and pitches for the book, which served a double purpose. They gave the artist a feel for the story, and they was also for their publisher to use on their website and on retailer sites.

The second part of the form was specifically for the cover artist. I was asked to describe the book’s physical setting and the time period it was set in (if it wasn’t a secondary world). I was asked to use three adjectives to describe the mood or tone of the book. Another set of questions focused on the main characters – their physical appearance, age, gender and orientation. The form asked if there were any significant symbols or images repeated throughout the book. All of these helped the artist come up with a concept that would accurately reflect the book and it’s characters.

But that wasn’t all. The form also allowed me to include links to three covers I liked and had a section at the end where I could write about additional characters or describe a concept I had in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t have a specific idea of how I wanted the cover to look, but I did know what I didn’t want: lightening. My novel isn’t the only Power Surge and I wanted it to stand out among other search engine results. Since most of the other books bearing that title featured some kind of lightening, it was important that my book didn’t have lightening on the cover.

With B Cubed Press the process the process was less structured. They needed a new cover artist for their Alternative Theology anthology, so I used the description on the call for submissions to draft a cover to propose. After committing to that cover, I was asked to do one for After the Orange and a poetry collection.

With After the Orange, I did read the blurb that had accompanied the submission call to get started, but Bob Brown, the founder of B Cubed Press, sent me an email describing the tone of the anthology and sent me an image he wanted to use on the cover.

For the poetry collection, the author sent me a selection of photographs to choose from, a detailed description of the collection’s tone, and the title poem.

While one process was very structured and the other more open and free-flowing, at this stage, the cover artist’s job was to familiarize them with the book and the authors desire for the cover.

Drafts and Revisions

After reviewing the information provided about the book, the artist sends a draft cover.  This wasn’t a polished product; it was more of a mock up to see if the artist is on the right track.

When I saw the first draft of my cover for Power Surge, I loved the color theme, the background, and the font, but the model just didn’t look right. She was too feminine, more like one of the minor characters than the main character, and looked more like someone in their mid-twenties than a high school senior. I replied saying so.

Later that day, I got a second version with a different model. This one had the right tom-boy appearance, but they looked even more mature than the first model. I sent some photos that I hoped would give the artist a better idea of what I was looking for, but they weren’t able to use those for legal reasons. While studying the draft, I saw a watermark. The pub don’t buy the photos until they know are going to use them – so I went on the sight they buy their photos from and found images I thought would be a better representation of my character. I sent those links, and the artist chose one of those. I may have overstepped my place a little there, but something had been miscommunicated in my info form, and I needed to make the artist had got the character right.

PowerSurge-f500This time, when I saw the cover, it was almost perfect. Initially I asked for two more changes, but I was told one would make the cover to busy. I trusted the cover artist with that decision, and the other, a minor adjustment to proportions, was an easy change.

In the end, the model on the cover had the look I pictured for my character. The hair color was wrong, but they had a hat on, so it worked out. Erin, the main character in Power Surge, never wears a hat in the book, but neither does my favorite fiction wizard.

Power Surge (Evanstar Chronicles)

This back and forth process happened when I made covers for B Cubed Press, although I lost count of how many times I went back and forth. It wasn’t because the editors were picky but because I was a newer, less experienced artist.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 3.29.17 PM.png

With After the Orange, it took several attempts to get the tone right. Towards the end of the process, when the authors got a sneak peak of the cover, a few suggested the cover was too subdued and needed more cover to make it stand out on the shelves. I made more changes, and when I finally sent that version back, it was just what they were looking for. Afterwards, I had to fine tune the font size and layout to make sure it would all fit properly and not get cut off.

Althernative Theology KindleWith Alternative Theology, I had a better grasp on the theme, but my original idea of having a stained glass background made the cover too busy, especially when trying to fit a snowflake on the cover. It’s part of B Cubed Press’ brand, especially where their “Alternative” titles are concerned. After a few back and forth with a more tame, purple background, we found something we were all happy with.

The poetry collection was the most straight forward. My first cover looked a little too much like a mystery novel, but I got the concept right on my next try, and from there, it was fine tuning the font, placement of the title, and layout of the back cover.

Once the covers were approved by editors and authors, they were ready to share with t

he world.

Final Thoughts

The processes at NineStar Press and B Cubed Press were similar at their core, but different on the surface. Since I’ve only worked with two publishers, I can’t comment on whether or not this is how it works other places. If you’ve worked with different publishers, feel free to comment on how your experiences were similar or different.

Cover Matters: Part 1

I love the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because so many things are not what they appear. A restaurant with a run down front may have the best food in town. A person’s physical gender may not reflect whom they are inside. A great book might he hiding behind the worst cover art ever.

Books are judged by their covers.

If I am browsing books, whether it is in a store or online, without knowing what I’m looking for, the cover is what will make me slow down and read the blurb. I’ve always known covers are important, but it wasn’t until I was knee deep in the world of indie publishing that I realized just how vital a good cover is.

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.32.56 PM.png
A screen shot of cover’s on NineStar Press’ home page on Aug, 11, 2018. The day I wrote this post, not the day I first found the website. 

Covers matter: I’ve judge whole publishers by them.

 

After deciding to start querying my novel, Power Surge, to small publishers, there were many other factors that went in to picking which publishers to query, but cover art was a big one. Did the covers catch my attention? Did they all look the same? Were they more than just some font slapped over a photo? Did they relate to the content described in the books blurb?

Almost two years ago, NineStar press requested one of my manuscripts through #DVpit. The first thing I saw when I opened their website were covers for their new releases and for books that were coming soon. I liked what I saw: lots of color and unique font. It only took a quick glance to decipher which books were romance, fantasy or science fiction. Had I landed on a page filled with awful covers, I might not have gone on to do more research, submit my book, get revise and resubmit, shelve that book, send them something completely different, and have it accepted.

Covers matter: They keep me motivated.

Copy of Like Birds.jpg
Like Birds was my first NaNoWriMo win. I’ve revised the cover as many times as the book. Currently, the book is shelved. 

 

The first time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo and created a profile for my project, I was surprised to see a place to upload a cover. Why would a book that hasn’t been written need one? Not wanting to leave it blank, I threw something together, and then I understood. The cover wasn’t fancy or professional, but it was a concrete image – a mock up of what a story could be if I got it out of my head and onto a page.

Now, when I write a first, I stop and make a cover at the first sign of being stuck. When I revise the draft, I make a cover to reflect revisions. Sometime, if I have an idea for a book but am not ready to start, I make a cover for it. At first, my covers were terrible, but they got better, especially when I forked out the money for a Photoshop subscription.

Covers matter: They pay.

Every awesome book cover is made by someone. If the person who they made it for has any scruples, then said artist is getting paid for their work.

For me, cover art started out as pure hobby, but as of right now, I’ve gotten paid to make three of them. It started earlier this summer when Bob Brown posted on the B Cubed Press Projects page that he needed someone to make cover art for Alternative Theologies.

Theology A ModernI was very excited about the anthology. The story I was writing for it wasn’t coming along very well. I drafted a cover for it, emailed it to Bob, and after a discussion about possible revisions, I was “hired.”

It was a long process, at least as time consuming as writing a story, if not more so since more than a couple things had changed in Photoshop since I got out of photography. And while I was pretty good at designing e-book covers, setting the guides and formatting covers for print was a different story. But I did it.

In the end, my story got rejected, but my design is on the cover of a book that is #1 in specific categories on amazon. How much of it is the cover and how much the amazing collection of stories? I can’t say. I like to think it is a little bit of both.

Covers matter: My book has one that I didn’t make.PowerSurge-f500

AS much as I enjoy making covers for my works in-progress, I did not have the opportunity to make my own cover for power surge. That is a good thing.

Of all the books I wrote, I never came up with a concept I liked for power surge, but Natasha Snow, the brilliant person who does the covers for NineStar Press, came up with something much better than I could have.

The only flaw was that she didn’t have access to an image of a model with both the right hair color and body type as the main character in Power Surge. After looking through images NineStar had access to, I suggested model wearing a hat.

When I saw them on the cover, I knew I made the right decision.

Erin never wears a hat in the book.

Harry Dresden never wears hats either, but he wears one on every cover of the Dresden Files.

Covers matter: They make me smile!

Check back in a few days for a post about the process of making covers both from my experiences as an author and cover artist.