Saturday, May 28, 2011

Day 70 - Rate This Short Book "Blurb"

Black Hole
So my manuscript is finally cleaned up and in the hands of the graphic artist who can convert it to the file format I need to upload to Createspace. Going through that sucker was hard core, as you may have gathered from my post last week. But, I set a schedule and stuck to it, and got it done, so now it’s ready. Which means, while he is working on that, I need to get the last pieces together. Leading me to my book description, or blurb.

Jenna Jameson
So every book needs a short “blurb” on the back cover or jacket sleeve. This blurb has a very specific job it has to do, and a critical one. First and foremost among them is that it has to catch a prospective reader’s attention and make them want to BUY. They have to read it and think, “Hey, that sounds cool. I want to see how that plays out,” then they need to whip out their wallet and buy that sucka! To do that, it has a base set of functions that have to take place.
  1. It has to give a sense of what the book is about. 
  2. It cannot give away what happens in the book.
  3. It has to confirm genre/book type immediately.
  4. It has to be compelling.
  5. It has to be short.

The bottom line is that the blurb is a sales pitch except that it can’t look like one. In a way, it’s the true manifestation of what we call “selling the dream” in the sales and marketing world.

So, here’s what I need from anyone willing to take the time: your opinion. I’m going to post the blurb I have made and I’d like you to read it and tell me if it meets the 5 criteria above.

Now, I realize that many of you are not science fiction and/or fantasy fans, so I ask those of you who are not to do two things for me. The first is, tell me what your reaction is when you read that blurb anyway. If you, the non-science fiction fan, were sitting on an airplane and noticed my book in the seat pocket in front of you and pulled it out, read the back… would you open the book and read it even though it isn’t your type of thing? Second, after you do that, try to put yourself in the mindset of a science fiction and fantasy fan and evaluate it for me as fairly as you can.

Alright, so there you go, that’s my request. Please be honest, as being kind does not help me at all. I have had so much of my work critiqued and work-shopped and graded and discussed, I really, really can take it. Just say it plain. Thanks. Here goes:

They told him space travel was impossible. They told him the five greatest wizards who ever tried it died. He’s going to do it anyway.

The Galactic Mage is the story of Altin Meade, planet Prosperion's most promising young sorcerer--and also its most reckless. Altin is on a quest to bring space travel to the people of Prosperion, but he's about to learn that ignorance can be more dangerous than orcs and dragons combined.

If Altin’s obsession is getting into space, his perfect opposite is Ensign Orli Pewter far across the galaxy. Bright, strong and beautiful, she is an officer aboard the spaceship Aspect, part of the fleet from Earth. There is nothing Orli hates more than the cold emptiness of space. Brought aboard as a child, her entire life has been spent amongst the stars, a life she never asked for, a prisoner of fate. As the lumbering sub-light-speed fleet hunts a dangerous race of genocidal aliens in the enormity of the galaxy, years are ticking off Orli's life. She’s got to get off the ship. She’s got to get out of space. But there is nowhere for her to go.

Or is there?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 60 - Holy Crap and the Tale of the Giant, Red-Flecked Manuscript

Oh, the carnage!
Well, they say you should be careful what you wish for, but did I listen? Hell no. I don’t like those they guys anyway. They are always saying stuff. They say don’t go swimming after you eat. Don’t run with scissors. Don’t have sex with strange women who have conspicuous facial sores. They just keep talking, so I ignore them. Which is why I wished for a good editor to go through my manuscript.



I’m thinking of going to the college and demanding a refund. All that time spent on grammar and crap. And I’m still almost completely illiterate. Good god. In fact, I think I might go back to my old high school and demand a refund for that typing class I took too because, I mean, how does anyone make as many typos as I have? And we’re not talking about a manuscript I hadn’t been through 500,000,000 times. I’m serious. That manuscript was PERFECT. I have gone through it with a fine-toothed comb. A really fine-toothed one, like the kind you need after you’ve had sex with strange women who have conspicuous facial sores.

Mmm, facial sores are hot!

So anyway, just an amazing amount of red ink. I bet she went through like ten red pens getting to the end of my perfect manuscript. In fact, I had to go 17 pages before I got a page that had NO red ink. And while you might think, well, that’s not too bad, it gets worse, because it wasn’t until page 117 that it happened again. No lie. 100 pages before I could find ONE error free page after the first. And it actually was page 17 and page 117; I’m not rounding for narrative simplicity. I wonder what that means in cosmic terms. Should I bet on 17 or avoid it like, well, women with conspicuous facial sores.

But, all the bitching and whining aside, I’m glad I did it, and my editor is worth every dime I owe her. She’s found some really, really great stuff that I would NOT have caught even had I read through it another 500,000,000 times. I’ll give you an example.

In one scene, my story’s heroine, Ensign Orli Pewter, and her crewmates are in a desperate space battle. Some aliens are attacking their ship, and this one alien comes swooping in as if to ram them. The ship’s gunner, Roberto, fires missiles at the thing and it shifts position inexplicably, instantly moving out of the line of fire in a way that is impossible to fathom, much less see. So here is what I wrote originally, pay particular attention to the last paragraph; see if you see it too:
“Oh my God,” shouted Roberto at the screen. “Did you see that shit? Goddamn it, there is no way I missed that shot, sir. They can’t do that. It’s impossible. Nothing moves like that.”

“Calm yourself, Ensign. Bring them back,” ordered the captain. “Hit it when it passes by. Make sure they’re far enough away.”

“Yes, sir,” said Roberto, tapping in commands to swing both missiles around and muttering anxiously under his breath.

Orli was in complete agreement with her friend. She’d watched it happen too. The orb had just, well, not been where it was anymore. The first time she’d seen it, it seemed like a really eye-defying move, but not this time. There could be no mistake. That orb had shifted its place in space. There was no other way to describe it. Quick as a blink, one minute it was there, the next it was beside itself, as if the space itself had moved. The maneuver was, as Roberto had pointed out, impossible. Physics did not allow for such a thing.

Ok, did you see it? The totally lame writing that took place in there, that “how could I miss that?” word that is completely antithetical to the whole point of what it’s being used to described? I’ll give it to you again, with a hint:
There was no other way to describe it. Quick as a blink, one minute it was there, the next it was beside itself, as if the space itself had moved. The maneuver was, as Roberto had pointed out, impossible. Physics did not allow for such a thing.


Wow. Nice writing, pal. Nothing says instant spatial shift like “one minute it was there, the next minute it wasn’t.” I mean, if I really, really wanted to go for super-ultra-fast, I could have said, “One hour it was there, the next hour it was gone,” or maybe even one decade it was, or one century…. It was so fast it stayed right the hell where it was for eternity!!!!!

Hey, look at Everest speeding along!


So anyway, if there was ever a question in your mind as to whether or not you might want to hire an editor to go through your stuff, that’s why. Right there. It’s one thing if you are sending to a publishing house. You make your book as perfect as you can, and, if the story is good, maybe they’ll spot the quality and the in-house editors will butcher, I mean, clean it up for you. But if you’re going to self publish, you are on crack if you think you will catch all that sort of thing. It's humbling.

Okay, so there you have it. I'm right about half way through. Back to work.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 57 - Book Cover Art Begins in Earnest Now

Cover image template
Well, this has been an exciting week for my book. Things are underway with relative speed now, which means I won’t have to write more rat poetry today. In fact, there’s so much to write about, I am going to just cover one thing with this post so as not to make it 9,000 words: Book Cover Art.

So Cris Ortega is now officially working on my project, meaning we’re not just agreed to get it done, we’re corresponding on the particulars and she is doing research to get her mind around the places and times involved with my story.

Just so you all have the INSIDE, inside scoop, I’ll copy/paste in some of the actual correspondence. First, here’s my opening description for her as to what I’m looking for:

… Here are the two things driving my cover design as I envision it right now:

1. Sex sells, so I want the character of Orli prominently in the front, and I want that amazing Cris Ortega sumptuousness you do, so that when ads for my book pop up on Facebook and when people walk by it on a shelf or table, they see how “hot” she is and pick up the book. (My audience is largely male, but done right, this can work like a romance novel cover would on both males and females). Sexy but not slutty.

2. It needs to convey the two very different worlds the characters are coming from. She is from Earth: Space ship, Laser,Technology, etc. He (Altin) is medieval. He’s more: wood and cloth and old, dusty leather-bound books.

Characters: Orli Pewter – space ship officer
Female, age 21
Hair: blond, short cut, you can be creative with the style
Eyes: blue
Skin: white and very pale (she’s been on a space ship for ten years)
Build: athletic and very fit. She’s a runner, so very lean. Great arms, abs etc.
Attire: Tight garments, black or dark ‘space pants’, with a really cool gun belt and a SUPER cool laser pistol strapped to her thigh. I’m thinking a “military issue sports bra” (lol) would show off abs and cleavage well in the scene I have in mind (will expand in a moment). Cool high boots with cool buckles or whatever (assuming the image shows that much of her, which it might not because I really want to have the view close enough so her beauty is obvious from a distance viewing the book on a shelf). Feel free to do her nails and add earrings/jewelry if it’s in keeping with a Spartan, military life aboard a space ship.

Altin Meade – Medieval sorcerer
[Male, age 22]
Hair: dark brown, fairly short, untidy, “tousled” (he’s distracted by his studies and doesn’t comb it much).
Eyes: green
Skin: He’s been outside. Not weathered or deeply tanned, but not milky white pale either.
Build: very normal. NOT muscular, but he’s not a scrawny guy either.
Attire: He wears gray sorcerer’s robes (but you can make them whatever color you think works best, brown, dark blue, forest green if you need them to be… just not red). Some fancy threadwork in the long, wide sleeves and/or collar would be cool. He does not have the hood up (and the robes don’t need a hood).
Okay, that’s what I sent her. I also wrote a 2 paragraph synopsis of the story and offered to send her the two-page version, but I’m not going to include that in this entry—mainly because you won’t want the surprises ruined. In fact, it’s really hard not to give stuff away. I was working on the book description yesterday, and its’ really hard to pimp a book without revealing what happens. However, I’m still working on it, and am going to ask for input on it from you in a few days, so, enough about that.

So, that was the core part of my email reply to her request for information, and then I included three scene ideas. You may remember the sketch I put up in one of the first blogs (or at least I think I did), the one that was briefly on my website before I wrecked it (I put it on the right just in case, and I think I will try to get back up on the new, functioning website today now that the theme works... if I get time). Anyway, that scene is the first scene of three I described in my email. The second I described was similar but for just the front cover as opposed to a wrap-around full image that covers front and back with one giant picture. Rather than include all three descriptions, I’ll just include the third actual description, so you get an idea of the conversations going on. Here was my third suggestion:

3. If that’s too dark or not enough background to be cool, my third idea is this:

He [Altin] and she [Orli] are in a lower room of the tower, the one with some bookshelves in it. It’s his bedroom. Stone walls, leather-bound books on old wooden shelves, old wooden bed frame, straw mattress with a few straws poking out (lots of cool textures). He could stand behind her and hand her the [edited out to not spoil the surprise]. I think the medieval stone and books and cloth if you needed would contrast with the silvery [edit] and with her laser, belt (and boots if we show that much of her). Again, [this image could be] composed sort of like your Ex Machina.
Also, it should be noted that it is VERY hot in the tower (the dragon had a fireblast tantrum earlier), so if it is advantageous to make use of the sheen on her skin with the golden torchlight for purposes of sultry sexuality, please do. The scene is described that way, and with that kind of lighting, muscle tone can be pulled off really beautifully.

So that’s the sort of things I’m sending to Cris to guide the project. I chose scenes that work to convey the sense of the story and give readers a good idea of what to expect.

She replied and asked for a bit more info. Here’s a bit from her response:

Hello John,

Thanks for all the info. I would need some more things to know before I can begin working. First, the synopsis would be great, so I can know a bit more about the story and characters. Also, I need to know the sizes for the cover art, and it would be great if you can send me some graphic reference -photos, art...- about clothes, guns, spaceships... you know, since you seem to have on mind exactly what you want, it will help a lot to see some samples of similar things to work with, apart from my own references =).

If you have gone to her website, you will see she hasn’t done a whole lot of science fiction illustrations yet. In fact when I first approached her with this project, she seemed to be very enthusiastic about the science fiction part of it, which was cool. From my observations, her focus has been in the vampire and fantasy realm, although she does have one science fiction piece, which she wrote, "My first attempt at sci-fi," beneath it on her website. I'll put it below, and just say that if this is a first attempt, then most people who do tons of them are working whole carreers to catch up to where she starts off. (It's called The Outer Frontier... and I want to live there.)

Copyright Cris Ortega (You can buy prints of this btw)

So, besides the fact that she is obviously awesome at what she does, the main thing about working on someone else’s artistic idea, if we put ourselves in her shoes for moment, is that what is in your client’s head sometimes doesn’t translate well across the “ether” into your own head. I know this from personal experience as a copy writer. I get requests all the time for web content and advertising materials where I am given descriptions of the desired outcome and, though I think I have a clear picture of what they are asking for, when I’m done, they’re like, “Oh, uh…, well, that’s nice, but, umm, well, that’s not at all what I had in mind.” [cough]Jim[cough]. That’s the nature of commissioned/contract work, so the most important thing I can do as a writer is ask as many questions and get as much up front information as I possibly can. Which is why, I’m sure, Cris asked me for samples of the kind of images I am seeing in my head rather than just letting me describe the scene in words. Frankly, just proves how totally pro she is.

So from that point, I had to go hunt around. If I could draw exactly what I want from my head, I wouldn’t need to hire an amazing artist like Cris Ortega, so it took some time to go through lots and lots of websites and search through stuff. There are an astonishing number of spaceship images and laser images from the corny to the goofy out there. And what constitutes a “hot chick” literally runs the spectrum of humanity. So, I had to spend some time finding things that had the emotional “feel” of what I am looking for. I took screen shots of things that seemed to have the right temporal and technological locus for the ships and guns, and that had the right edge of sexuality for the character of Orli, and, last and far easiest, the essential look of a wizard as he might appear in my story. So, that said, here’s what I sent for the lasers:

The red circles indicate the ones that are "closer" to the right feel.

As you can see, there’s a particular look to these guns, long, and feminist literary theorists would probably say phallic. Definitely high technology, but of a sort that seems within reach of modern man were he to keep going as he is. My characters and their technology are not the Star Wars or Star Trek variety. There are no Romulan cloaking devices aboard the ships. Here’s an example of what would not fit for the look of a laser in my novel’s world.

Notice how totally different these all are from the one’s I sent Cris. They don't "feel" like the world I have written. The spaceship thing is the same kind of idea as the lasers, not too slick and perfect, not too "alien." Here’s what I sent to her:

Notice they’re all blocky and crude. There’s no “Warp 10” in my story. It’s based on real physics and quantum mechanics (even if I never talk about it in the book… although some of it comes out near the end of book two, and into the third one of the trilogy).

So, lastly, here’s what I sent to give Cris a sense of how I’m seeing the attire of the characters. Altin (the sorcerer) is pretty easy, the classic fantasy wizard. Orli on the other hand, is hot and has to appear so. And, since my target audience is largely male, and the females that like this sort of thing will like it for the romance, there is benefit to making her front and center. The “sex sells” thing with which I started the conversation with Cris. Here’s what I sent:

That took a lot of crawling around to cobble together. The character is described as wearing form fitting uniforms and boots, but there is room to interpret how that looks, especially since she is athletic and has the option of layers too. So, I’m looking forward to seeing how Cris takes it from there.

Well, I think that’s enough for now. I have a huge stack of manuscript pages covered with red ink to get too. I’m hoping to have that done by the 24th of May. We’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll talk about that strategy in one of my next posts. Stay tuned. Oh, and don’t forget to send this to any friends you have that might be interested in following my journey. Things are heating up.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 49 - Rat Watchin'

Ok, so this entry is mostly going to be about watching the rats run across the top rail of my back fence (along with the other critters, like possums, skunks and the occasional raccoon). I know this blog is supposed to be about my novel progress, and I was going to write about that, but there's nothing really interesting enough to blog about at this moment so you get rat poetry instead. That said, here is the quick novel update: I got my manuscript back yesterday from my editor--I'm very happy to get cracking on that--and I got a call from Createspace again wanting to know if I am ready yet, which obviously I am not. So, that's the book update, minus a cussing rant about how much of a pain in the ass trying to do my own website is proving to be. If you want to laugh at my ineptitude, feel free to go look at it and enjoy the train wreck I have made out of my theme. ( (sigh). All good things in time, they say.

So, that said, and without further adieu, here is my new, illustrated poem, "Rat Watchin."

Evening in my back yard
Rat Watchin’
By John Daulton

Staged upon the top most rail
Of my gap-toothed backyard fence
Runs a rodent play we love to watch
Each night it does commence.

The backdrop hangs a sky of gray
Above distant city lights
The glow of them behind it all
Blacks silhouettes just right.

Each character makes its entrance
Dark shapes and nothing more
A furtive wave of rats that run
From offstage to next door.

The players enter
Little nimble Romeos
With pointy noses sniff the air
Rat Hamlets do soliloquies
Speaking silently of despair.

"To be or not to be ..."
On the Broadway of our back yard
While the ghost of Willy Loman
Eats the garbage we discard.

I’ve seen those little hunchbacks
Running the fence line now for years
A Street Car Named Desire
Done with whiskers, claws and ears.

But soft, what light through yonder city breaks?
It is the west and Juliette is a rat...

My wife and I, we sit there
and gaze upon the show
While the rodents keep performing
As if they didn’t know.

It’s like they have no worries
No care, we’ll think they suck
They fear nothing of our criticism
Although they watch for LeRoy’s truck.

For LeRoy does our pest control
And the ensemble he could kill
Only we, the audience
Know if he won’t or if he will.


So caper, prance and pirouette
Rat Macbeths and Gertrude queens
To keep your thespian freedoms
Make this the best we’ve ever seen.

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed the poem. I'll be back in a few days with a real update on my progress. Oh, and if you live in the greater Sacramento area and need some pest control, LeRoy (Outback Pest Control) is seriously the most awesome pest control guy you will ever get. He is courteous, thorough, uses all the right chemicals so the bugs die and your cats don't, AND, he puts up with stupidity like us not letting him kill the snakes and pigeons and other crap that we are too soft and bleeding-heart to want dead. Yet. LOL. One too many actors up on that stage and the Globe is going down, if you know what I'm saying.