Monday, August 1, 2011

First things first...

Okay, so I'm still under huge editing pressure so I'm not going to do a big involved post...but I do feel bad at the neglect of my blog for July. So I'm alloying myself 30 minutes to do a blog and the clock is running.

I've been asked to write a book on self-publishing by an imprint of Hachette Book Group. We are still negotiating the contract so it might not come to fruition but it has made me start thinking of the various steps to publication and this has led me to something that I want self-publishers to think of.

When you started writing your book, you may not have intended to self-publish. You wrote it the way you wanted it to be and realized that it would probably be content edited by the publisher. But then at some point you decided to self-publish so you probably went right to copy editing and formatting.

What I want you to consider is you have to take a step back and put your business particular I want you to look at your opening and do some serious contemplation on modifying it.

As a reader of slush material I'm all about the first sentence, paragraph, and page. I form a lot of my opinions on these and 99% of the slush I've read had not gotten past this stage. Probably because the author was thinking of "writing" and not "selling".

I know...I don't want to taint your art with such ideas as selling books, but if you are going to self-publish, and are doing so to make a good income (as opposed to strictly control issues) then you need to focus on this.

Let me point out a few things in the new world of self-publishing.

  • Everyone will sample first: Whether it is through a ebook sample download, or Amazon's Search Inside the Book, a reader is going to take a gander at your stuff first. Now more than ever it's important for you to come out of the gate with something compelling. If you start out your book describing the town that your main character lives in I'll probably be bored to tears and not download. you HAVE to grab them.

  • People Quote First sentences: I always spend a great deal of time on the first sentences of the book. Probably 20 - 40 hours over several days. Today readers and bloggers share first sentences and if written well enough this can be a little ad for you.
Let's use a real example...Here is the first sentence from Michael's first book, The Crown Conspiracy:

"Archibald Balentyne held the world in his hands, conveniently contained within fifteen stolen letters."
This leads to several questions in my mind:
  • What do the letters say that is so important?
  • Who were they stolen from?
  • What will Archibald do with them?
Let's take another example, which is one of my favorites. Well it's actually a first paragraph not a first sentence but you get the point

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."
This is from John Scalzi's Old Man's War and again I have a host of questions...
  • Was he being forced into the army?
  • Why would they let him in at that age?
  • Based on the title of the book do they only use the "old" as the young are too important?

Once you decide to self-publish, you should take a step back and look at your book with a VERY critical eye. You may have thought that your book was done, but now that you are the President and CEO of the company, you need to look at it through those eyes and in particular you need to focus on the beginning and make sure you are gripping the reader. You won't have the luxury of time that a author released through a publisher would have. They will be allotted more time to build up to a run, you've got to come out of the gates at 60 miles an hour.

Whew only 2o minutes maybe I'll give myself 40 minutes for the next post.


Alo said...

Great post. Self-publishing doesn't obviate the need for a good editor, and I wouldn't be surprised to see good editors freelancing quite a bit more now.

Katie Klein said...

So true! My first sentence is the #2 top highlighted passage in Cross My Heart. :)

Lindsay Buroker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsay Buroker said...

Good luck with the self-publishing book!

I sometimes think writers try too hard with the first sentence. They can sound a little gimmicky.

As a reader, I just want to see me an interesting character *doing* something interesting right off the bat. Give me that, and I'll give you a chance. Start throwing in backstory in the first few pages, and I'll start skimming. I probably won't bother buying something if I was already tempted to skim during the sample pages.

I'm chuckling because my first novel doesn't have the most gripping opening. My next two were better. Live and learn. :)

Robin Sullivan said...

Katie, great point about the highlighting - and something I should have ammended in the article I'll go add it now - thanks for the reminding me.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Alo - yes there are quite a few editors let loose from big publishers so finding top talent is easier then ever - just make sure you control your costs as too much money spent this way can really increase your ROI.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Lindsay - yes sometimes "less is more". I saw a great "simple" opening while at indie book event in a book called Fourteen by C.M. Smith. I was going to quote it here - but alas she has no website, search inside the book, or kindle sampling - Grrr!!