Bar a complete change in artistic direction or a total mental breakdown, I’ll be revealing The Quisling Orchid to the world this month. I asked the ridiculously talented Janet Robinson of ScribbleLeaf to design the cover for me, and unsurprisingly she’s done another bang-up job.
Saying that The Quisling Orchid is ‘multi-faceted’ doesn’t really do the justice. It’s been quite an undertaking, involving a number of very talented editors to make sure that it was the best it could be. It was a lot to reflect in a cover, so instead of telling the whole story on the front, I decided to just focus on the relationship between two of the main characters: Silje and Freya.
I was aiming for stark simplicity, so trying to tell more of the story here would have made the design too cluttered. Besides, the story starts and ends with Silje and Freya, so I was okay with just having two figures on the cover.
It’s been a while since I stopped by; sorry about that.
Anyway, the book goes well. I’ve had some feedback from three editors, all of whom said much the same thing:
It’s a great book, Dom – really, really great.
It’s a long book, Dom – my God is it long!
I suspected the first point, and I was pretty sure of the second: the characterisations are working well, the dual story line was pacey and well-timed – and the whole piece weighed in at 200,000 words. That is a lot of words for any book, especially a piece of LGBT erotica.
As you’d expect, the web has varying opinions on ideal book length, which led me to believe that there is really no such thing; however, there are some pretty strong indicators that publishers aren’t too fond of books that go beyond 180,000 words (that’s just for sci-fi and fantasy). It’s not just a question of maintaining the reader’s interest; there is also the cost involved in producing longer length works: editing, copy-editing, printing, getting it reviewed. That adds up and makes the book expensive or the margins shallow.
And the same applies if I head down the self-publishing route: CreateSpace gets more expensive as the page count rises.
Now, all this sounds as if I’m about to sacrifice the book on the editing altar, just to get it down to an acceptable word count.
As a writer, I aim to tell a great story in as few words as possible, because if I don’t then I’m just padding for the sake of it. Fortunately, there are always a stock set of areas where words can be cut and which will actually make the whole piece read more smoothly.
Dialogue – ask yourself, does Stephanie really need to say that? Isn’t it implied by the way she’s sitting, or the way her hands are shaking? Needless dialogue is a great way to pad a book, so cut it.
Wordy exposition – sometimes you find your characters gliding effortlessly towards the exit of McDonalds with the grace and fluidity of a prima ballerina. You know what? She could … just leave!
Pointless segues – it’s all very nice drifting off into the dreamy world inside your protogonist’s head, but that uses up a lot of the reader’s time and doesn’t often move the story forward. It also breaks the ‘show not tell’ rule that folk like to bang on about.
Er … tell, don’t show – yes, I know what everyone says, but sometimes it’s just quicker to tell someone that the phone is ringing, instead of inventing some clever device to show that something is happening in the office that takes Steve’s attention away from the pouting lips and smooth ankles of the devastatingly attractive widow sitting across from him smoking a cigarette and showing no regard for the fact that smoking in a public office has been illegal for quite some time. Just say the damn phone rang! What happens after Steve picks up the phone is the important detail.
Repetition – read through the passage and always be ready to ask yourself: ‘Do I know this already?’ The chances are it has been mentioned before, or implied by something someone has said.
Where you’ll find the biggest cuts depends on the kind of writer you are. My work tends to be heavy on the dialogue, so I often find I can cut a lot of dialogue tags because it’s obvious who is speaking. In my latest piece, I’ve even cut one or two of the sex scenes. They were nice to have, but they didn’t tell you anything about the characters involved and didn’t move the story forward.
So, words cut so far: 12,000.
Now I take a break for a week or so, and go again 🙂
Just got back from a two-week jaunt around Switzerland. We took in Zurich (for an hour), Interlaken, Zermatt and then Zurich again (for two days). After about a week, I came down with a serious case of scenery fatigue, which happens when you’re surrounded constantly by such awesome landscapes. You start to believe that the country’s background has somehow been … painted on.
See what I mean? Very odd.
And then of course, there was the occasional bout of altitude sickness . . .
So I took a short break from hiking, and, being the self-obsessed individual I am, started to think – mostly about me and the kind of writer I was trying to be.
I’ve had some really encouraging feedback for the Quisling Orchid, from my editor, the book’s currently being copy-edited, and I now have to face the prospect of coming up with ideas for the front cover.
And this is where things get a little bit tricky.
The novel is a literary piece set during the early years of the Norwegian invasion – and the last months of the 1960s. It’s characters are hard to hate and hard to love: the good are not always good, and the evil are not always beyond redemption. It’s an erotic tale of same-sex love, a spy thriller and a massacre mystery.
That’s quite a lot to reflect on a front cover, but the cover may not be my biggest problem.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read a lot of eBooks: a bit of erotica, an occasional thriller, one or two action novels. And while I was reading them, one particular thought kept coming back to me:
How am I getting through this so quickly?
Well, one answer was pretty obvious: All the books were very short; perhaps a hundred pages at most (some were a bit longer). The other reason was was the books are very much genre-focussed: the thrillers contained a lot of action; the erotica novels contained a lot of sex. In many cases, the plot – if there was one – took a backseat, acting as a very loose thread binding the scenes together. And at first, I thought that the characters were not particularly well-developed – and in some cases so clichéd I could guess what they looked like, long before they found their way to a mirror to muse on their rugged good looks or goddess-like bone structure.
And I first I thought this was just bad writing
. . . but on the other hand, I was really enjoying the books.
So perhaps the real problem is that these authors understand the eBook market better than I do.
Here’s the thing. If the book is short then the reader doesn’t have to commit too much time to reading it. People are very busy these days, and there are lots of other forms of entertainment competing for our leisure time. Moreover, a shorter book is often ( though not always) quicker to write, which means the novelist can get to his next piece within a couple of months, rather than a couple of years.
The ‘template’ characters saves time and effort. The reader has come across the same characters in other books, so pretty much knows what to expect without having to focus too deeply on their mannerisms, dialogue and actions to gauge what kind of person they’re dealing with.
So are today’s eBooks deliberately designed to be fast, entertaining reads, without worrying too much about being too literary, or thought-provoking?
And in today’s world of fast, easily accessible entertainment, is ‘literary and thought-provoking’ now just a euphemism – in the eBook world – for ‘slow and time-consuming’?
Is this why so many Old Adults read Young Adult fiction?