out of the ashes

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Writing-You live and hopefully learn

You’ve spent months…no, years writing your novel. You’ve gathered Beta readers to review it and offer advice on what works and what doesn’t. You’ve revised it over and over; polished the grammar. Checked and double-checked spelling. It’s as good as you can get it. It’s really good.

Your book is your child, and like no one else at this point can, you love it unconditionally. Now you want to offer it to the entire world…

As some of you know, I recently entered a major competition at Amazon with my first book. That book that has become part of my soul. I needn’t tell you the changes it went through over the years, but the final edition has very little in common with the first draft, begun in 1998. The contest was limited to 10,000 entries; not a lot considering the millions of self-published books out there. First come, first served.

I knew because of the prize monies offered that some heavy-hitters would certainly enter. Still, I had, and still have faith in the quality of my book, although its genre might limit interest. It’s a romantic/fantasy. A Benjamin Button meets The Time Traveler's Wife.

Well, anyway. The conditions of entry, and the judging stages:

Upload your pitch (blurb). 300 words max.
Upload no more than 5,000 words of excerpt.
Upload the entire manuscript.

Judging: Amazon top-ranked reviewers read the pitch and decide if it does the job a pitch is supposed to do. If selected, you move on to the second phase, judging of the excerpt by the Amazon reviewers and reviewers from Publisher’s Weekly. Make it to the next round, the Quarter Finals, or not, you receive a review by the Amazon editors and reviewers.

The Quarter Finals.

Your excerpt is posted at Amazon for consumer comments, plus Publisher’s Weekly enters the game and offers a review. Based on the reviews by PW, you advance, or get cut.


The top five books move into the public spotlight with reviews by PW going onto their website.


The top five are offered to Amazon readers who cast their vote for the best entry.

The Prizes.

Grand Prize. $50,000.00, plus a book contract. One book is selected.

First Prize.

All five finalists (excluding the Grand Prize winner) will receive $15,000.00, plus a book contract.

Not a small deal.

Aside from the quality of the book, or lack thereof, the first phase of the contest addresses something that Amazon is expert at: Marketing. I’ve invented the wheel, you might say, but I can’t for the life of me to get anyone interested because I can’t brilliantly spell out what it is, what it does and is capable of doing. This new invention is world-shaking, but no one will ever see it, or if they do happen upon me hawking it on the side of the road, they will be unimpressed.

It’s often said, and it’s so true except in VERY FEW cases, once you’ve written and polished your manuscript, the work has just begun. It might BE brilliant, or simply very good, but at that point the real task of getting people who read to open it looms large. How to convince them to try out your wheel is major.

We begin with a great title…For Whom The Bell Tolls…that’s certainly catchy. Water For Elephants. Good one. The Time Traveler’s Wife. Wow, must look into that book!

But, what is a book without a fabulous cover? Mine isn’t what I’d call excellent. There is an art to art. I’ve always assumed that what lies inside that cover, in those pages, is what counts. It isn’t, at least not at first.

Next, and here’s the tough part. The Blurb, or Pitch, as Amazon calls it. Maybe shorter is better, but whether 300 words or 50, it must be next-to-brilliant.  It’s crowded out there, and some authors just do the blurb well. I’m not sure how many of you, as writers, struggle with this absolutely vital part of your book…and it is an integral part of your work of genius…but I do, and always have. In a big way, it should mirror your voice in the book, but more importantly it must smack your potential audience in the eye. It’s your hook. For The Redemption Of Marvin Fuster (The Dance of the Spiral Virgins), mine wasn’t good enough to impress the judges at Amazon. So, no reviews of my excerpt or manuscript. I join the ranks of 8,000 other hopefuls who missed. Better luck next year, right?

I do scene well in most instances. I can see clearly what place my characters inhabit, and I can set that scene pretty well. Maybe very well. I can write good dialogue, making each character authentic to his/her place in the world I’ve created for them. I’ve always had an affinity for scene and dialogue I think. I don’t struggle with either…but, I DO revise extensively. What did Hemingway say about first drafts? I think it’s true. Take a moment to look up his famous quote.

I’m not dismayed any longer, at any rate. I just move on to another pitch revision, another cover. “Hey, here’s my firstborn! What can I do to get you to have a look at him?”

The hard part.

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