Project Spotlights: The Blood Sword and Wounds

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Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week we switched from Google + to YouTube Live. Unfortunately, the audio quality suffered. We’re still working out some of the technical bugs. We do apologize for the compromised quality of the broadcast.

Thanks to bensound.com for our intro and outro music!

From Jacqueline Patterson via FB: How should we evaluate feedback from beta readers?

Aaron: A fine question, Jacqueline! I think we did an entire episode on Beta Readers some time ago. You may want to look that up on aarongansky.com. But until then, we’ll give you the fast answer. The term I use is “a choir of voices.” What that means is that you’re looking for things that multiple people have noticed or expressed concerns about. I also just check what they say against my vision of the project. Sometimes people suggest I change character traits, or change up the wording on something I did deliberately. With that, I make sure that I’m still being clear, but then I can disregard their comments if it contradicts the vision I have for the project.

AL: Aaron gets to a good point: You are the final judge. That means that you must be the expert. Beta readers can give you a reaction but don’t confuse them with professional editors. If there’s any drawback to beta readers is that get the idea that there job is to find problems. I spent a decade in architecture and often city plan checkers would find nonexistent problems. Why? There job was to find problems (or so they thought) and they were judged on the number of mistakes they found. You have to be the final judge and not be afraid to accept a good recommendation or reject one that is clearly off base.

MJ: Everything Aaron said. First and foremost, you know how you want your book to read. Beta readers are great for finding those hidden typos and grammar inconsistencies, but if they are suggesting changes, definitely go first with what your vision is and then consider the majority opinion.

Firsts in Fiction

WILDCARD: Project Spotlights (From Conception to Publication)

Welcome back, loyal listeners! This week we’re going to take a look at two of our novels and bring you through the process from conception to publication. We may do this again if you enjoy the topic. For this week, we’re going to look at Aaron’s Hand of Adonai series and Al’s Wounds Molly will be our MC tonight.

Question 1: Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Aaron: Originally, I wanted to spoof the Role Playing Game genre for video games. I wanted to poke fun at it’s tropes. But once I started the book, I fell in love with the characters and gained a real respect for the genre. Instead of poking fun, I wanted to honor it. I also wanted to honor the games I loved growing up. 

AL: I generally have several ideas float around in my head. I don’t always act on them. One idea had to do with a serial killer with a biblical bent. By that I mean, his killing followed a pattern that, in his mind, is connected to something in the Bible. I was teaching at a writing conference when another faculty member, the acquisition editor for B&H Books asked me to pitch an idea to her (I had been co-writing the Struecker books with the publisher). I didn’t come prepared to that but this free floating idea surfaced and I pitched it. She like it so pulled together a proposal and sent it in.

Question 2: So once you had the idea, how did it take shape? What kind of pre-writing did you do (if any)?

Aaron: I did a lot of brainstorming, but I didn’t outline. I had probably a half-dozen scenes I knew I wanted to write. I didn’t know how it would end, so it was largely discovery, but I still put together ideas that I wanted to take shape. I’d usually know what I wanted to do for the next couple of scenes, but not much beyond that.

Al: Wounds is a structured thriller. By that I mean, I had to create a pattern of mystery–several mysteries. So I did outline. Of course, the outline was basic and new scenes would come to mind as wrote. Once I had the characters and their personal conflicts in mind, once I had sufficiently crazy killer, and once I had the core events in mind, things took off.

Question 3: In the process of writing, did you deviate from what you’d planned early on? If so, where, and why?

Aaron: I did. Not a lot, though, since I didn’t do a ton of prewriting. But the first draft varied widely from what the finished product was. Mainly, the biggest change I made was chopping the book up into a series, rather than trying to do it in a standalone.

Al: I didn’t vary much. Once I had it in mind, I stuck with the key events and conclusions. However, there have been books when I (or my characters) made unexpected changes. In my first book, By My Hands, I had a character walk out halfway through the book.

Question 4: When did you put the proposal together? Before you completed the manuscript of after? What points did you want to highlight in the proposal?

Al: A proposal’s purpose is to win over the acquisition editor and then enable the editor to use the document as a “sales tool” to convince the pub board (the committee that makes the final decision) to offer a contract. I refined the concept, added so facets to the characters, worked out a way to increase drama as the story progressed, wrote sample pages, and sent it off.

Aaron: The proposal came long after I completed the first book. I wanted to write as much of the series as I could before the first one got published. But it didn’t make sense to sit on a book that was ready for publication. When I put the proposal together, I used the pitch “Tron meets Narnia” so publishers could get a sense of the scope of what I was doing. I wanted to highlight that it was a non-traditional fantasy that honored the genre.

Question 5: Once the proposal was done, how long did it take to get interest? Did you have multiple publishers interested in it?

Aaron: I didn’t get much interest when I shopped it around myself. But once I let my agent take it, he got some interest pretty quickly. Brimstone is the one that we went with, and I’m happy about that. What it is about Brimstone that won you over?

Al: Wounds worked differently than many of my previous books. Approval was a little easier. I was already known to the publisher. I was a known quantity. That hasn’t always been the case. Publishing moves at glacial speeds. Sometimes it’s like watching a herd of turtles race. This is where agents help. They keep  your proposal off the slush pile.

Question 6: Did negotiations on the contract take long? Did you handle that yourself or let your agent do it?

Aaron: I looked at it, but I also had my agent go over it. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything. But I was already familiar with Brimstone’s contract structure, so we didn’t find anything worrying.

Al: The writer should always read the contract. It’s not much fun, but the writer needs to know what they’re agreeing to. The agent doesn’t sign the contract, you do. Contracts can be lengthy so allow some time. If you use a lawyer–some writers do, I don’t–make sure the attorney knows publishing. Publishing is a different kind of jungle.

Question 7: How about the editing process. How long did that take? Was it fun or grueling?

Aaron: I loved the editing process because I had an amazing editor. Admittedly, it can get old, having to read and re-read your novel multiple times over the course of a few months. It can be gruelling, but Bethany really made the process fun.

Al: I’ve never enjoyed the editing process, but I’ve always been thankful for it. Editors are superheroes. Like it or not, I take it seriously. I usually stop everything I’m doing and focus on getting the editing done.

Question 8: When did the cover design process begin? Did you have any input on that? Are you happy with what they came up with?

Aaron: I don’t recall exactly when it began. I do know it was a long process. I had my choice of several different covers. I had to fill out some information before they began. Once they did, and they had some mock-ups, I took a look and made a few more notes. Ultimately, they changed the cover later on, but they were able to do much of what I liked.

Al: Cover work usually begins after the first draft is sent in. It can vary from publisher to publisher. In the case of Wounds we had a bit of a problem. I set the book in San Diego. The image they wanted to use was not of San Diego and they wouldn’t believe me when I pointed that out. I grew up in San Diego. Ultimately, I had to send them to Google Maps and show them city they were using and what the San Diego skyline looks like. They finally believed me. Turns out that the stock image they first used listed the photo as Long Beach and San Diego. It was mislabeled. Some publisher work the writer about the cover. Others don’t. Most writers have no control over the cover.

Question 9: Did you do anything special for the release? A book launch? A book signing? Anything like that?

Aaron: I did a book launch, yes. It was fun, but not as fun as this last one. This last one was pretty great because it was for the second book in the series, so the attendees were able to have a common language to talk about. I gave them behind the scenes info on the writing of both books, answered questions about the first book, and talked a little about what they could expect in the new release. I did it all without spoilers (I think). I didn’t do any signings right away. Later on I did, but not at first. Partially, that was because of scheduling. Eventually, I’ll do a signing for The Blood Sword, but that will be after my next novel releases in October. I didn’t want to do two signings so close together. I like to spread them out a bit so people don’t get burned out on them.

Al: I did the usual things. The publisher’s marketing folk tried to set up interviews and the like. I promoted online as much as I could.

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