Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Title is a Title, Or is it?

By Velda Brotherton

Last week I submitted a manuscript to my publisher with a note at the top to the editor: This Needs a Title. Working title is Legacy, far too common.

The other day a writer friend of mine bemoaned the fact that her book, which had been released recently, had the same title as dozens of others. Yes, that has happened to me too. Luckily, I was with a large publisher in New York when I submitted my first series of books. My titles were dropped almost immediately and they searched for new ones, asked for my okay, then we used them. None of them were duplicates of any out there.

At the time it didn’t occur to me that this was one of the reasons for changing my original titles. First, of course, a title must at least offer a clue as to what the book might be about. It must also attract readers. But it must not be the same as a bunch of others or it will be lost in searches.

So, how do we go about finding book titles that have already been used? I thought it would be fairly easy, but this is a huge subject, therefore once we begin a search for book titles on Google, tons of sites come up, many that have nothing to do with what we want. I decided to settle for a few, and liked Kirkus for a lot of books. Whoa, you may say. It takes money to get a book listed in Kirkus, so that leaves out a lot of other books that, let’s face it, are out there making a search for your book that much more difficult.

If you want a quick way to check out your title, type it in to Books on Amazon. If others of that title exist there they will come up and you’ll be able to judge if you want to have your books lost among those titles. Or better yet, if none come up, chances are there won’t be books out there with your title, or if there are, they are so few and not listed on the biggest book seller online that you have little to worry about.

Let’s continue with my experiences. Once I left the halls of New York publishing and entered that of small publishers, I had a book published which I titled Wolf Song because it fit the subject matter so well. We had a marvelous designer who created the cover that fit the title and the book. But, and that’s a big but, I had no idea how many Wolf Song titles were out and about. The book continues to remain lost amid piles of songs and books of the same name. Never again.

When I began my mystery series, I decided to utilize titles that were already out there, but twist them, and the series became A Twist of Poe. Fun to take Edgar Allan Poe’s titles and twist them then write a story that fits the title. This became even more fun when Christopher Allan Poe, himself a writer, agreed to write blurbs for the first two books. Only after reading them, of course. Those titles should never get lost among duplications. I did see a short story titled The Tattle-Tale Bone, which came close to my second in the series, The Tell-Tale Stone.

I still have no idea of a title for Legacy, I’m still searching. Perhaps the editor and I together can come up with one. It’s easier for me to write a book than it is to come up with a clever title.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Thrill of A New Book

Yesterday, I received in the mail my copies of a book to which I contributed material. This time around, it was a collection of essays, rather than a short story anthology. Still, and as I often do, I took a picture of the new tome and posted it to my Facebook and Twitter pages, with a variant of "Behold my precious," or some such thing, and was greeted by assorted "Oooos" and "Ahhhs" from my friends and followers.

I've been doing this writing thing long enough now that some people might consider me something of a "salty sailor of the sea," and all that. Want to know something? I still get excited by the sight of a new book I've written, or to which I've contributed a short story or essay or whatever. I'm like a kid on Christmas morning. I fondle that first copy when it comes out of the box, before rooting through the box until I find the copy in the best condition, and put it on my "brag shelf" along with my other books. It's almost a ritual. All that's missing is an announcer on the PA system and some music to provide flourish as I cut a ribbon or something.

And then there are the stores.

I don't care what anybody says. For a writer, nothing compares to seeing your shiny new book sitting on the shelf at a bookstore. NOTHING. It's the major leagues, an Oscar and an Emmy, and maybe even the top prize winner on America's Funniest Videos, all rolled into one. Nothing is cooler than walking into a bookstore and seeing the fruit of so many months of labor staring back at you. No, I don't hang around long enough to see if anyone actually buys a copy; that'd just be creepy.

Then there are the bonus locations: grocery stores, drugstores, airport bookstores, and so on. The Star Trek books tend to make it to most of these venues, and the managers who know me at my local grocery and drug stores even make a point to order a couple of copies each month, whether mine or another writer's.

I don't just make this a little song and dance for me, either. If I have time to handle the logistics, I'll involve my readers, too. When a new book is due to hit shelves, I put out a call for readers to get "action shots" from the stores. The first five or six to post to my blog with photographic confirmation of the book out in the wild get some kind of prize.

To this point, no injuries or deaths have been reported from people trying to be the first back with evidence, and we always try to keep things from escalating to Mad Max levels, but you never know. Keep your fingers crossed.

So, for those who might ask, "Does the thrill ever go away?" the answer is an unequivocal "NO!"

This stuff never gets old.

(Sidebar: I realized this morning that this is my 50th post for Novel Spaces. I think that means a set of steak knives, right?)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Summer of the Big Burn-Out

Fires raged on the West Coast, from Washington all the way down to the bottom of California. With the drought, forests were a tinderbox. As I write, there are still fires raging too close to the Giant Sequoias. The Big Cats sanctuary had to truck the lions, tigers and bobcats to a safer haven. Smoke has traveled as far away as Salt Lake City. Ashes dust the cars in Fresno. The air quality has been so bad, the Central Valley stinks like a fireplace that needs cleaning. We're all suffering from allergies and sinus infections. My eyes and nose won't stop running.

I ventured outdoors to go to lunch with my friend Lorie at our favorite Chinese restaurant. As we fed on fried rice and chow fun, we talked about mounting obligations to our time and energy. A local bookstore owner wanted us to pull together a series of 90 minute writing workshops, no pay but plenty of chances to promote and sell our books.

“I just don't know where I'm going to find the time,” Lorie said. She puts out the online magazine called Kings River Life and I'm one of her writers. Her plate is full. So is mine.

“Yeah, but think of the opportunity,” I answered. A bookstore that supports writers. A chance to organize events. Being a major player in our local writing community. But, Lorie was right. We both had too many people pulling at us to contribute our talents. We were exhausted.

Plain and simple: we were burned out. Juggling career and family for her, dialysis and writing for me. Every time we looked around there was a deadline chasing us. Very flattering to be wanted but very exhausting trying to meet obligations. Life was less complicated years ago when we were starting out. We were younger, we had more energy, more drive and embraced opportunities.

When the local library called asking if I would give a speech on a Saturday afternoon, I tried to say no. I've supported the library in the past and they have supported me. Dealing with yet another session with few in attendance and nobody buying books seemed too much to handle. Plus, this was short notice. My friend Sherman, the librarian, bribed me with a Chinese dinner afterward. He knows my weakness.

I had to stop and put the brakes on. Isn't this what I'd hoped for at the start of my career? When nobody knew me, didn't I work hard to get my name and reputation out there? Why was I sniveling? I knew authors who would kill for the opportunities that fell in my lap. When did I become so ungrateful?

I went ahead and publicized the meeting. I copied a short story I'd written based on a local murder case from the 60's that many locals were familiar with. It was a freebie to demonstrate my writing. To my surprise, there was a packed house. Turns out the class of 1965 was having their 50th reunion and my classmates had notified their older siblings. Friends I hadn't seen in awhile were there, despite the extreme heat and bad air. I sold out of all the books I had and wished I'd ordered more. And yes, I got well-fed afterward.

This morning we got a sprinkle of rain. Winds came in like a big fan, whisking the air clean. The weather finally dipped below the hundred mark. The sky is brighter, and so is my mood. I feel energized and realize that I was just suffering from temporary doldrums. Hopefully, the fires will subside soon and the flame in me for my career will become stronger.


Monday, September 7, 2015

How to Not to Write a Novel 7

No matter how prepared one is to write a book there will be places you just plain get stuck! For me it's inevitable that I'll get stuck in the middle or toward the end of the book and then it's just a long painful slog to "The End". 

But, if you like to plot or pants, it doesn't matter. The way out is usually the same. Sometime the manuscript has to be set aside for awhile. Sometimes everything will click into place doing laundry, or meditating, taking a walk or watching TV. Just go way on yourself and give it some time.

My upcoming novel Tea Times Three had the most intractable middle I've ever run into. I was stuck. Stuck hard and fast for YEARS. No I'm not kidding. I wrote the beginning. Couldn't think of the middle. Decided to write the ending. Then, sort of quit. But not really. In the back of my mind for about a year and a half was "What do I do in the middle?" I didn't have an answer for the longest time, but then it came to me! At long last! And I wrote the middle and them I had to edit all the parts together. That took about seven more drafts!

This is the only book I have ever skipped the middle in order to write the ending. I've never tried it again. But there are plenty of authors who do this! If you have the urge- just write 'the good bits'. Fill in the connective tissues later. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Guest Post - Virtual Literary Assistant Yolanda L. Gore

As my guest this month, I'd like to introduce virtual literary assistant, Yolanda L. Gore, owner of The Literary Guru. Yolanda has some interesting information for those who have ever considered being a literary assistant. I think that authors will gain some valuable information as well. Enjoy! Marissa Monteilh

So You Want To Be a Virtual Assistant?

Hello everyone! My name is Yolanda L. Gore, and I’m a virtual assistant. I have actually graduated from the term “virtual” and I’m now considered a literary assistant, both in-person and online. I’m the owner of The Literary Guru. I help authors move to the next level. But most importantly, I help to get them through the day.

I’m often asked, “If I want to be a virtual assistant, what would I need to do? It looks so easy.” Or “How did you become a literary assistant?” To begin, I didn’t start out looking to be a virtual assistant in this business. I used both my Facebook and blog pages to promote authors for FREE. One day I received an inbox message from an author wanting me to assist her and another author. I worked hard to prove that I could do the work. I didn’t receive any training. Everything I learned, I learned on my own through tenacity, trial and error. I knew this was all part of God’s timing. I enjoyed the literary world and He was preparing me to become a business owner.

Being a virtual literary assistant is like any other job.  There are certain characteristics and work ethics that you need to possess, as follows:

1.       Passion - Is this something that you really want to do, or are you only looking to get paid? If it’s only about the money, you won’t succeed. I love what I do and I take great pride in it.

2.      Time and flexibility - Are you available day and night? Yes, day and night. Are you willing to be available on weekends and holidays? Authors are always working, even when they’re traveling. My office hours on paper are 8:30 am-4:30 pm M-F, EST, but for the most part, I work until I go to bed at night. And sometimes, I work from bed, responding to urgent texts or emails from authors.

3.      Trustworthiness - A lot of the information you’re privy to is confidential. Authors need to know that they can trust you. If you can’t keep their confidentiality, this isn’t the career for you.

4.      Accountability - You have to be accountable when things fall through the cracks. It happens. Own up to it, regroup, fix it, learn from it, and move on.

5.      A positive attitude and a tough skin - You will work with many people and you must be pleasant and positive because you represent your author. It’s their name that is at stake. You’re the “go-to” person. You’ll receive requests for author interviews, speaking engagements, book club discussions, etc. When corresponding with others, make sure your tone is always pleasant. Yes, there will be times when you’ll need to be the bad cop because you have to let individuals know if the authors are available or not, and some of the requestors might not be too pleased. Just make sure the author is the good cop.

6.      Organization: This is a big one. If you’re not good at staying organized, then this line of work definitely isn’t for you. You have to manage calendars, emails, as well as follow up on emails and phone calls, reminding authors of things that they need to do. If your life/office isn’t organized, how do you expect to keep someone else organized? You’re the other half of the author’s brain.

7.      Know the business - Last but definitely not least, be as knowledgeable and informed on as many aspects of the literary business as you can be. Stay on top of what is going on in the business as a whole. Do the work by researching and studying up on the ever-changing literary happenings; like bookseller policies, distributor requirements, promotional avenues, lists of publishers, book cover designers, book formatters, stay abreast of as many upcoming titles by other authors as possible, find out what is trending, learn specifics about future book events, new genres, procedures for ordering and uploading books, etc. Be ready to have an answer when asked, and if you don’t know, say you’ll find out, and know where to go to get the information as soon as possible. Even study up on the craft of writing. Be hungry and love the business enough to absorb every aspect like a sponge. Is this your passion?

These are some of the traits you must instill in yourself in order to be a successful virtual literary assistant.

I would like to thank Marissa Monteilh for inviting me to be a guest today. I am appreciative to all of the Novel Spaces authors for having me. I hope I’ve shared some valuable information.

If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached in the following ways:

Facebook: Facebook
Twitter: ILC1

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Parallels: Life Reflecting Art?

When I wrote the book, Hurricane of the Heart set in the beautiful island of Dominica, I never for a minute thought that what I penned would play out so vividly in reality.

Hurricane of the Heart is about American party animal, Kyle, and his polar opposite, Alia, an indigenous Dominican native whose love blossoms despite their differences when they are trapped on the island of Dominica during a powerful hurricane. The fictitious Hurricane Harriet which devastates the tiny island, plays an integral role in the story.

Hurricane of the Heart was released in July 2015. A month later, the island of Dominica was devastated by Tropical Storm Erica that left most of the island’s infrastructure under water and mud, at least twenty people dead, and residents stranded without food, electricity, and water. It occurred just two days before the anniversary of the most devastating hurricane to hit the island in recent history, Hurricane David in 1979.

Life imitating art, or just coincidence? 
There are so many parallels between what occurred in Dominica and what I wrote in the story that my husband, who hails from Dominica, keeps saying I jinxed them.

Douglas - Charles Airport under water
In my story, there was little time to prepare for the hurricane because it was supposed to pass north of Dominica, bypassing the nature isle. Somehow the storm changed course and hit the island, totally devastating it. In reality, Tropical Storm Erika was heading directly for the Leeward Islands north of Dominica. That morning, my husband awoke me to say that the storm was heading straight to St. Kitts, my home country. An hour later, the news began trickling in about the devastation in his home country. Then came the mad rush to establish contact with his family—his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings—who still reside on the island. Fortunately, they were ok, but their country wasn’t.

The photos and videos came pouring in of rivers running through streets taking with them cars, bridges, homes, schools, and unfortunately people. Many images showed  major landslides throughout the island, isolating villages, trapping residents.

Image result for Erika dominica airport
Douglas - Charles Airport under water
Major damage to air and sea ports and roads meant travel and aid distribution was severely impacted. The mountainous island with its 365 rivers depends on bridges to connect people. Many of the bridges had been washed away.  Communication was patchy at best.  My sister-in-law, here with me on vacation, tried frantically for days to get in contact with her relatives to no avail. Four days after the storm that is still the story of many people. The uncanny thing is that all of these experiences have been captured in my novel that I began writing over four years ago.