Back for more! In my last post, we discussed how I screwed up my debut novel's cover, then doubled down on the sequel.
Here's the thing - cover design is just one part of the process.
You can have the most gorgeous covers in the world, but if the editing isn't there and the story doesn't hook your reader, then what're you left with?
In this pt. 2 post about where I screwed up, I thought to share with you why I made some changes to Salted and (hopefully) made it a better, clearer read for all of you.
(Hint: I have you awesome reviewers to thank for the advice too!)
So...you ready for round 2?
Now, before we get down to the good stuff, I'd like to again preface all the ultimate decisions made with Salted were my own. By that, I want it clear my fantastic editors didn't screw up - I did. (Full truth be told, the amazing Annetta Ribken actually warned me against a couple of the decisions you'll read about and I did it my own stupid, stupid way anyhow).
Preface noted? Good.
Let's dig in!
I've known for awhile that something about Salted wasn't as catching to most readers as my Vengeance trilogy. It would've been easy to write it off as simply my errors with the previous cover designs, but I opted to dig a little deeper by going to the one place I knew would have unbiased opinions - my reviews.
Admittedly, this was another area I was forewarned against doing. Close friends of mine (who are also writers, actors, editors, etc.) told me Do. Not. Read. Reviews.
Not even the good reviews.
The reason being is that you're too associated with the content. It's your "baby."
And it's all fine and well if someone has nothing but good things to say about your baby, but the last thing any parent wants to see is someone criticizing their kid, right?
I think this again comes down to the type of person you are. To that, I'll say this - If you can't handle being judged or criticized, you're in the wrong business.
I read reviews of my books - all of them.
Not for an ego trip, (trust me, some of them will bring you back to earth in a hurry), but because I enjoy seeing how other people interpret things. I also think, in certain cases, you can learn from reviews.
Before I go further, I feel the need to mention that any of you new writers don't take all reviews of your works as gospel. You can't please everyone and we've all heard stories of trolls looking to get a rise of someone - (for the record, another bit of sage advice I did heed from Annetta - "Never. Ever. Engage.")
Seriously. Don't engage those leaving a negative review/critique....ever. Google some horror stories of authors who've done this, if you don't believe me. No matter how you try and spin it, the internet will make you look like a cry-baby who can't take a little criticism.
No, what I'm talking about that you can learn from is scouring all the reviews and looking for consistent themes. For example, I currently have 30 written reviews of Salted on Goodreads. I read every single one of them prior to my redesign, searching for reasons beyond the cover as to how I might've screwed up.
I found two common themes throughout, even among some of the 4 & 5 star reviews. The critiques? "Slow, confusing start." and "Too many characters."
To that I say (drum roll, please) - The reviewers were right.
One of the biggest things I struggled with in Salted, my debut novel, was where to kick off the story. "Do I begin with Kellen & Garrett in a familiar setting (and that I feared might read like every other YA novel featuring a high school setting), or do I start with the Selkie slave catchers in the Salt realm?"
I opted for the latter because I was excited about these mythological creatures I knew as Selkies, but most people hadn't heard of.
For the masses and many reviewers, my decision didn't work.
I mentioned this point in the last post about cover design, but it bears repeating here from a story standpoint. Imagine I'm giving you a survey about mythological creature and want to know the rules governing each of them. For example, say I ask you to tell me about vampires.
There may be some variances, depending on your age - (glittering day walkers vs. night only) - but one hard, fast rule we can all agree on is vampires drink blood, right? Just like mermaids have human torsos and aquatic tails, werewolves transform by moonlight, etc.
Okay, now tell me about Selkies...
(insert blank stare + fumbling for an answer)
My recent GenCon experience aside, nobody knows about Selkies.
To be fair, that's kinda the point of why I chose to feature such characters in the first place. There's mountains of book, film, etc. materials about those other creatures I listed, but next to none about people who can transform into seals or sea lions.
So are they seals who turn into people, or people that turn into seals? Do they need the seal suit to survive? How long can they live? How did they acquire it?
The above are just a few questions I've heard/received since publishing.
What I didn't understand at the time of writing the first book was the learning curve I faced in educating readers to this awesome mythological creature the majority of them hadn't heard of before.
2) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
My Salt books aside, tell me what story you read recently that began in an underwater cavern?
Don't worry, I'll wait.
Kinda hard to think of, huh?
Not only did I neglect the learning curve of Selkies, I also planted readers in an unfamiliar setting - (i.e. - an underwater cavern).
Selfies + unfamiliar setting = slow, confusing start.
(Aaron pounds forehead against desk).
3) TOO MANY CHARACTERS
Admittedly, this one was something both my editor and I foresaw as a potential issue. (To her credit, Annetta correctly advised me to whittle the character list down further and I didn't listen).
A couple things I knew prior to writing/publishing the Salt books:
I've recommended countless friends of mine read those fantastic books over the years and generally receive the same response - Ugh. It's like reading the Bible. There's too many names to remember.
There are a ton of names, histories, lands, etc. to remember if you wanna track it all. Reality is, a lot of people don't want to because it can be overwhelming.
It all depends on the type of reader you are and what you enjoy, but if you decide to write a story featuring multiple POVs and many characters, know that you need to help your audience.
So, now the big question....how did you fix or address these issues in the new edition, Galvin?
A NEW START
The original edition of Salted featured two Lenny chapters, back-to-back, (you can read the deleted chapters by clicking the link), and took place in Crayfish Cavern/the Salt. My hope had been to immerse readers in the Salt world and introduce them to Lenny and the slave catcher crew before bringing them to the surface and beginning their hunt.
In retrospect, the learning curves of both Selkies and the underwater cavern setting were too great to properly setup the story.
I addressed this issue by eliminating those beginning Lenny chapters, (which also eliminated meeting four characters in Book 1 - (Declan, August, Fenton, and Tieran).
Instead, I kicked off the series through Kellen's POV with his twelving scene.
Now, the series begins:
Both Tolkien and GRRM include these in their books, so I was an absolute idiot for not thinking to do so on the first go-around, (though I did at least learn from my initial mistake and included one in the original Taken With A Grain of Salt). You'll now find an appendix at the back of the Salted redesign as well.
So there you have it, folks. Two lengthy posts detailing how I screwed up my debut novel.
If you're a new writer, wondering how else I screwed up or maybe you have questions about what I feel that I did right, (my wife will tell you I could go on for days there too), send me an email.
As for closing advice, I'll give you the same bit I tell anyone who asks what they should write about:
"Write the book you want to read. Don't write something just because you think it'll sell, or it's the hot thing at the moment. Trends are fleeting."
Zombies have been trending for awhile now, but I haven't written one (yet).
The romance genre has one of, if not the, largest fanbases of avid, loyal readers, but you won't find any of my current books listed in that section because I'm not a big romance kinda guy.
Could I write one to make money?
I'm sure that I could. A better question is would it resonate with my readers?
I doubt that it would. My heart's not in it and I'm of the opinion readers pick up on those vibes, leaving them dissatisfied also.
Readers are smart. They can tell when the writer is truly feeling their work or just doing it for what they feel could be a money-grab.
In the end, none of that matters.
I'm writing a series that I would want to read. I went in knowing that not everyone would like multiple POVs, that some would find my take on mermaids a bit far-fetched - (like a half-human, half fish creature wasn't already, right?), and that I would make many mistakes along the way.
The reason I've shared these screw-up posts with you is so you aspiring writers can hopefully benefit from the errors I've already made and, no doubt, will continue to make.
It's how we learn, folks. ;)
Your Free Book Is Waiting...
Click the cover to tell me where to send it.
Author. Actor. Rascal.