Saturday, April 30, 2011

Creating Back Cover Blurbs and Other Painfully Difficult Writing Tasks


I have been talking about writing the back cover blurb for my forthcoming fantasy novel, The Light Heart of Stone, for a number of weeks now – talking and not writing. There are some writing tasks that writers tend to avoid: writing synopses, writing publishing proposals, drafting back cover blurbs, and creating biographical ‘About the Author’ notes.

It’s not simply that it’s uncomfortable to try and generate glowing material about yourself and your writing, it is also a challenge to capture the most significant and exciting aspects of your text and your life and finding a style that’s appropriate to your genre.

When writing author bios some writers opt for the domestic, as in: Tor Roxburgh lives in a small country town with her partner and cat. Except, in my case, the cat died more than a year ago, so I won’t be writing that. Some lucky authors can recall readers to previous successes, as in: Tor Roxburgh’s previous novel Daytime Logic sold more than 1 million copies. It is another example that, with an eye on the truth, is not going to work in my case. I’m still drafting, but have tried to include something about my history as a writer, my geographical location (why?), and my other passion, which is art. The latest draft reads:
Tor Roxburgh lives and works in regional Victoria where she runs a gallery, paints, writes, and reads far too much fantasy and science fiction. Previously known for her non-fiction writing on social issues and her teen romance novels, Roxburgh gave up writing to run a public art practice with her partner Velislav Georgiev. The Light Heart of Stone signals her return to writing and is the first volume in the three-volume Promise of Stone series.

The back cover blurb, though, seems to be the most challenging marketing material to write. I have written them before. I remember working at Reed Books Australia and putting my hand up to write about 25 short blurbs for the marketing director who was heading to Frankfurt for the book fair. I hadn’t even read the books I was writing about and yet I found it incredibly easy to skim through them and churn out compelling text. However, when I sat down to write a blub for The Light Heart of Stone, it was as though I’d never done it before.

I spent a few days on the internet looking for samples and found a reasonably helpful article by Marilynn Byerly (whose books I’m completely unfamiliar with). I pulled a few novels from my bookshelf and ended up focusing on the blurb for Across the Nightingale Floor (episode 1) by Lian Hearn (pen name of Gillian Rubinstein), which is an excellent fantasy by an author I really admire. The back cover of Across the Nightingale Floor reads: 

The first episode in an epic literary adventure set in medieval Japan.
Sixteen-year-old Tomasu lives in a remote mountain village among the Hidden, a reclusive and spiritual people who have taught him only the ways of peace. But unbeknownst to him, his father was a celebrated assassin and a member of the Tribe, an ancient network of families with extraordinary preternatural skills. When Tomasu’s village is pillaged, he is rescued and adopted by the mysterious Lord Otori Shigeru, who gives him a new name: Takeo. Under the tutelage of Shigeru, Takeo learns that he too possesses the skills of the Tribe. And, with this knowledge, he embarks on a journey that will lead him to his own unimaginable destiny …

Even though it does seem a little overdrawn in the cold light of the computer screen, I like this. And it worked on me because I bought the book. In contrast, the blurb for the, hugely successful, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is a real turn off:

“I want you to find out who in the family murdered Harriet, and who since then has spent almost forty years trying to drive me insane”
The Industrialist
Henrik Vanger, head of the dynastic Vanger Corporation, is tormented by the loss of a child decades earlier and convinced that a member of his family has committed murder.
The Journalist
Mikael Blomkvist delves deep into the Vangers’ past to uncover the truth behind the unsolved mystery. But someone else wants the past to remain a secret and will go to any lengths to keep it that way.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander, the enigmatic, delinquent and dangerous security specialist, assists in the investigation. A genius computer hacker, she tolerates no restriction placed upon her by individuals, society or the law.

To me, this is absurdly dramatic and the characters sound as though they are all tossers… but I enjoyed the book.

Because The Light Heart of Stone is a fantasy novel, I decided to try and conform to the genre. These are the versions so far:
1
When rocks no longer speak clearly and the bounty of the Indidjiny homeland begins to wither in the fields, eleven year-old Fox and the eighty-four-year-old Oak Companion meet under the canvas roof of a testing tent. A blood touch, a jolt of raw talent and Fox is wrenched from her family, forcibly adopted into the famous Oak clan, and thrust into the slow culture of the city of Komey. Fox’s adoption should signal a life of bound motherhood, but nothing is as it seems. The Companionaris’ ability to grow plants and breed animals is failing, a murderous ambition has been sparked and must be stopped, and there is a stirring of old magic in the air.

2
Eleven-year-old Fox lives in Kelp province where her father is the Indidjiny keeper of the land and sea. When the eighty-four-year-old Oak Companion arrives to test the camp’s children for talent, Fox finds herself wrenched from her family, forcibly adopted into the famous Oak clan, and thrust into the slow culture of the city of Komey. Fox’s adoption should signal a life of bound motherhood aimed at returning her talent to its rightful owners, but nothing is as it seems. The Companionaris’ ability to grow plants and breed animals is failing, a murderous ambition has been sparked, and there is a stirring of old magic in the air.
3
A gift for testing Indidjiny girls for illicit talent sees the eighty-four-year-old Oak Companion touch palms with eleven-year-old Fox. A jolt of heat is all it will take for Fox to be claimed by the city of Komey, allowing the elderly Oak Companion to return to her province in peace. But Fox’s talent generates something different: a compassionate decision, a chance encounter, the exchange of a sentient stone, and the promotion of a relative. Taken together, these small acts are enough to spark everything off: murder, rebellion, transformation, and the possibility for a different future.

4
When rocks no longer speak clearly and the bounty of the Indidjiny homeland begins to wither in the fields, eleven year-old Fox and the eighty-four-year-old Oak Companion meet under the canvas roof of a testing tent. A blood touch and a jolt of raw talent seem to presage nothing more than Fox’s forced adoption into the slow culture of the Companionaris. But an act of compassion and a chance encounter are enough to spark a forbidden association and a murderous ambition.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Self-Publishing Track

I came reluctantly to the idea of self-publishing my fantasy novel, The Light Heart of Stone.

In 2010, I had my manuscript with a couple of big Australian publishers. Even before I had my first rejection, I suspected the speculative and anthropological style of my fantasy (no dark romance, dragons or royalty) wasn’t going to be an easy fit with a mainstream fantasy publisher’s list.

After two rejections, I sat back and contemplated sending the book out again. One of the rejections had been very encouraging, but that didn’t mean I wanted to continue the arduous process of submitting and waiting and waiting and waiting.

I took stock. I’d worked in publishing so knew a bit about the book industry. The Light Heart of Stone is the type of fantasy that I like reading so I suspected that there would be readers out there who agreed with me. And I had some confidence in my writing because I had already had fourteen books published and had contributed to a number of others. (In case you’re wondering, my publication history comprises a weird combination of non-fiction about heavy social issues such as youth homelessness and twelve teen romances).

I began working on the idea of self-publishing after the second rejection. I bought Euan Mitchell’s excellent book Self-Publishing Made Simple. I registered the name of my imprint Curious Crow Books (love it!) and bought a couple of domain names. Next, I found the wonderful Helen Hunter to edit my manuscript. Then I started working on cover concepts. Even so, I still hadn’t committed: not really. I was yet to hear from the third publisher who had had the manuscript for almost six months (but six months is nothing compared to Andrea K Höst’s experience).

Finally, the rejection email arrived. I felt strangely liberated. I realised I was looking forward to self-publishing The Light Heart of Stone – felt excited about the idea.

I’m going to blog about the process – maybe write the odd book/art review. So welcome to the new blog.
Self-portrait in Spacesuit at Uluru by Tor Roxburgh Copyright 2010