This is a Bad Title

Titles are hard.

Sometimes. Sometimes they’re easy. I have written books and short stories based on a title that popped into my head., bringing with it an entire story. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order it on Amazon today!) was easy. Although my original title was simply Dr. Fell. The publisher added ‘and the Playground of Doom’ and I at first hated it but now I love it.

But sometimes they are hard. Book 2 is hard, and it doesn’t have a title yet. This is even though I’ve turned it in to the publisher and just today got their notes and am excited to dive into a second draft–all without a title.

Book 3 is easy. The title came first, and it took me a bit to wrap the story around everything the title promised. And I’ve been streaking through the writing process ever since (I wrote over 33,000 words in January!).

What do you want a title to say? What is its purpose? As a writer who spends a lot of time locked up in his little room with his keyboard, a cat, and some old Star Wars toys, I thought a title should be what the book is about. That’s why my first book was called Dr. Fell. It is about a small town where Dr. Fell arrives and then all Hell breaks loose. My publisher had other ideas. They thought the title should grab the potential book-buyer’s attention. They thought ‘Dr. Fell’ didn’t do that, because nobody knew who he was, so who cares. So they added ‘…and the Playground of Doom’ and presto chango! Now it nabs your attention.

“Ooo! A playground of doom? I must read about that at once!”

It also helps that the Playground of Doom shows up quite early in the book and is a focal point of the story. It works.

I’m currently reading Omega City by Diana Peterfreund. It is good so far. A fun read with fun characters, fun puzzles and conspiracies, and some other fun stuff. I like the book, despite what I’m going to be writing in a moment. I plan in finishing the book, which is a big thing for me.

The problem is, Omega City doesn’t work as a title. At least not for me.

I am currently only 70 pages into the story (the book is 318). The back of the book reads, in part “…Gillian sets off into the ruins of a vast doomsday bunker deep within the Earth.” Later on the back cover it reads “Now Gillian and her friends must race to explore Omega City and find the answers…”

So OK, it looks like much of the story revolves around an adventure inside this totally awesome Omega City.

I’m on page 70 and we’re not there yet. We don’t even know it exists. The characters are finding clues and not sure what’s going on. One of the clues mentions the word ‘Omega’ and they don’t know if that is important. Omega means last, so maybe it refers to the last of something?

No, it refers to the friggin’ lost city. Duh. Get on with it.

See, I read the back of the book. I know they’re going to find Omega City and go adventuring in it. So I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for them to get there. Why create a puzzle for your audience of the title of the book gives the puzzle away? I hate being smarter than the characters, and right now anyone actually reading the book is automatically smarter than the characters by virtue of knowing the title of the book.

Cheating and skimming ahead, it looks like the characters find Omega City (but don’t yet know that’s what it is called) around page 100. Between now (page 70) and then (page 100) they are following a series of clues, not sure exactly what they’re looking for.

That’s going to be a frustrating 30 pages.

I wonder if the author had this title from the start, or if it was given to her by her editor/publisher? If anyone knows Diana Peterfreund, ask her for me, will you?

Meanwhile, if the back cover copy and title didn’t give it away enough, here’s the cover art.

omegacity

To recap. I’m on page 70 and there is nothing even resembling that image yet. Sure looks exciting. Somebody wake me when they reach the underground bunker.

The Last Little Edits

If you’re read any of my previous posts, you know that my debut Middle Grade horror-adventure-comedy, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom, is coming out this coming August.

I’m kinda excited.

The timeline of the book’s creation and sale has been an educational experience.

August 2014 – I get the idea for the book and start dabbling.

September 2014 – After toying with it and a couple of other stories for a bit, and after an encouraging word from Awesome Agent, I get obsessed and dive into Dr. Fell wholeheartedly.

November 2014 – I finish the First Draft and send to friends and readers.

December 2014 – I finish Second Draft and send to Awesome Agent.

January 2015 – Awesome Agent likes it and starts sending it around.

April 2015 – Crown Books for Young Readers purchases Dr. Fell. I dance and sing and leap up and down like a little kid on an unending diet of sugar.

May 2015 – Excellent Editor sends it back with a ton of notes, including typos.

June 2015 – I finish Third Draft. Excellent Editor has more questions. I make more changes. We fix more typos. I eventually send in Fourth Draft.

September 2015 – The Copy Editing department goes over it and sends it back with a ton more notes and typos and questions.

September 2015 – I answer more questions, fix more typos, make more very slight changes. Call it Fifth Draft.

October 2015 – I receive Advanced Reader Copies. Totally freak out. These copies are based on Fourth Draft.

December 10, 2015 – I receive email asking me to OK typo fixes on 6 separate pages.

How did any typos remain undiscovered through all of that to December 2015? When you think about all the times I’ve gone through it, all the times Excellent Editor has gone through it, all the times the Copy Editing department went through it… it ought to be impossible. Yet there they are, plain as day. Six pages, each with an obvious typo or issue on them that needs to be addressed.

This is why I am no longer surprised when I find typos in published material. My book is only @215 pages or so. 45,000 words. The latest Rick Riordan is three times that length. Even going over it with a microscope, toothbrush, and metal detector, typos are going to slip through. They are literature’s little gremlins, and cannot be stopped, only contained.

Worse, I can almost guarantee (thanks to the inevitable law of human cluelessness) that there will be a hidden typo somewhere in the final, printed and published and on the shelves version of the book.

And my children will point it out within ten minutes of opening the book up to a random page.

Be strong.

 

 

 

 

The Feel of a Book in Your Hands

I started a new book the other day, The Zodiac Legacy by Stan Lee, Stuart Moore, and Andie Tong. I like it fine so far, but have found myself drawn to it with a need to pick it up and just feel it in my hands.

It’s a thick, trade market-sized paperback and I bought it new. It just feels so good. Concrete. Solid. My rather disturbing fetish for the physicality of this particular book got me thinking. First, I’m wondering if they, like, coated the cover with some sort of opiate you absorb through your pores. But second, how much less I would enjoy this book on a Kindle or other e-Reader.

I don’t for this post to be a book review on this one title, because my revelations herein are more global in scale. However, this is the book I’m reading right now. As you might guess from the name of one of the authors (Stan Lee), there is a lot of art in the book–pages and pages of beautiful, comic book-style art interspersed between the pages of text. I don’t think the art would have as great an impact on me were I seeing it on a screen.

Having a book in my hands is a freeing experience. It signifies I’m about to set off on an adventure, journey to another land or another time or another world. Sitting down with a device does none of that, because it could just as well mean I’m about to read an email or pay my bills online. Not quite as freeing.

When I started writing and selling short stories, I sold them wherever I could find them a home. This included a number of online publications, some of whom pay just as much or more as print publications. But it was never as satisfying as when I’d sell to a print anthology. The story felt temporary online. I’d link to it, read it, then the page gathers electrical dust on some long-forgotten server in the bowels of some long-forgotten server farm. An anthology exists in a state of permanence. It’s on my shelf. I can point to it. Take it down. Open it up. So now I only submit to print publications. And every time one of those anthologies shows up in my mail box, I relish ripping the collection out of the package and feeling the weight in my hands, smelling that wonderful New Book Smell, seeing my story right there on the page.

A couple of months ago, I got the ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (have you pre-ordered your copy yet?) and my heart did backflips while wearing those freaky leg-extenders the Cirque Du Soleil guys were wearing on The Wiz. Glorious paperback copies of my book, with my name right there on the cover. For the first time, it hit home. This was happening. My book was being published. I had the proof in my hands.

I don’t own a Nook or a Kindle or anything like that. I don’t tend to read books on my iPhone or computer. Reading a book is an escape. An escape from technology, an escape from the pressures of the day, an escape from the everyday stress of life. I want to hold it in my hands, feel the pages beneath my fingers.

I’m weird that way.

Now What?

Finished book 2! Turned it into the publisher! Am waiting to hear if they liked it! Will probably carve out my intestines if they don’t!

The excitement of the looming deadline had me on a high. Granted, it was a high of nervousness and anxiety, but a high none the less. Somewhere around four or five days out, when I realized I was going to  make the deadline, the world turned golden and sunny, the birds sang in four-part harmony, and the Golden State Warriors became invincible.

OK, obviously not, but it felt great knowing that I was…. what? The Golden State Warriors are currently 20-0? Huh.

Anyway.

Sending the book off on December 1 made the day the greatest day in the history of days since the last greatest day.

And it made December 2 suck.

A wise man or woman once said “A writer writes.” So I, being a writer, need to write. Only one problem. Write what?

After living with book 2 for so long, while also preparing for Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom to come out this coming August 9 (pre-order your copy on Amazon today!), the idea of starting something new is daunting. Well no, daunting is not the correct word. I am not daunted. I am merely… finicky.

See, I don’t know what to write. I currently have three concepts kicking around in my head and on the computer that have all had pages written. I am not in love with any of them at this moment in time. But then, I was not in love with book 2 for a long time until I pushed myself to get on it (had a deadline and all) and then suddenly everything snapped into place and I fell in love and it came churning out. So any of those three ideas could catch that spark at any time. I also have other, less-formed, less-written ideas dancing in front of my eyeballs. But nothing that is daring me to write it down and bring it to life. There’s also the question of sequels. Will there be a call for a second Dr. Fell? For a second book 2? Should I put my energy into one of them?

And what about my first novel? The one that got me an agent but has yet to sell? Should I go back to it and refine it and get it ready to go?

Or do I spend some time writing some adult horror short stories for a change of pace? I’ve had a bunch published in anthologies over the past couple of years, but they took a backseat when the novels heated up. That being said, I still have a couple that will be published in 2016 and a few others I’m waiting to hear back from. So maybe diving into that world for a bit just to flex my horror muscles would be a good idea?

So many directions I could go, so little magnetic pull toward a final destination. It’s not Writer’s Block, it’s Writer’s Chamber of 32 Doors (bonus points if you get the reference).

And then, of course, there’s the fact that with book 2, I’ve come to the end of my vaunted 2-book deal. Which means if I want to be a professional writer beyond August 2017 (when book 2 is due out), I need to write something new and then SELL it. Or else I’m just a footnote in the annals of history.

I know, I know. Neurotic much?

I’m so glad we’ve had this conversation. I feel much better.

 

How Long Should It Be?

I’m overly-anxious about my length.

Having finished the rougher-than-rough first draft of Untitled Novel, I am now in the process of editing it into an actual first draft. My ‘so rough it’s an insult to rough drafts’ draft clocked in at a hair over 70,000 words. To anyone who is not a writer, that means nothing. To me, not that long ago, it meant nothing. Who cares about words? Books are measured in pages, aren’t they?

No, they’re not.

See, the size and style of your font effects a page count as much as anything else. Same with margins and spacing and all sorts of seemingly-unimportant things. I can tell you that my initial ‘you’re not actually calling this a finished draft, are you?’ draft ran 221 pages. But that tells you nothing about how long it is. I could be using size-48 font. I could be double spacing the manuscript. My margins could be three inches on either side. So we writers live by the word count.

How long is 70,000 words? Well, the only comparison I can do is with the Percy Jackson novels. Someone once showed me this fantastic site that listed the page counts of gazillions of books, but I lost the URL and can’t find it. And I only remember looking up the Percy Jackson novels. (If you know the site I’m talking about, please leave the URL in a comment!)

The first Percy Jackson novel (The Lightning Thief) was about 87,000 words. His second series, starting with The Lost Hero, are all around 140,000 words or more. Most publishers will not publish a middle grade or YA novel above 100,000 words, unless you are Rick Riordan (the author of the Percy Jackson series) or J.K. Rowling.

My book, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom (coming to a bookstore near you in August, 2016!) clocks in at around 45,000 words. Excellent Editor has requested I bring this current book in at no more than 55,000 words. As I noted earlier, the ‘rougher than sandpaper’ draft started life at just over 70,000.

So I’ve a ways to go.

The first step, which I’m doing now, is to just go through and nip and tuck, like I’m a plastic surgeon constructing the perfect whatever you want your plastic surgeon to construct. Right now, the book’s dropped 2,000 words and I’ve more than half of it to go. But what do I do if I complete this edit and find the book glaring at me with an overweight 65,000 words? I can’t just say the book is big boned and leave it at that. It needs to go on a crash diet.

That’s when you start negotiating with yourself.

“Alright, I’ll lose this cute little bit here but I get to keep the funny thing in the next chapter. Deal?”

Excellent Editor tells me not to worry. If it’s long, let it be long. But, do try to cut it down to 55,000. Or less. Less is good. It is aimed (I hope) at kids ages 8-12. How many words will they endure before they get bored and refuse to even give the book a try? That’s the delicate balance I’m striving for.

God help me.

My First Big-Time Marketing Lunch

On Friday, I had a meeting I’d been looking forward to for weeks–my first totally-professional, big-time, check-me-out marketing lunch with Awesome Agent and Excellent Editor. But in truth, I’ve been looking forward to it all my life.

I’ve probably imagined having The Lunch with The People in The Business hundreds of times. The details change, but the gist is always the same. I walk in, am quickly ushered to the best table by fawning waiters who are throwing rose petals in my path, and sit down to a gold-plated table topped with fine china and crystal goblets–one of which I’m asked to quickly toss to the ground and shatter in order to honor the wait staff. Rather than menus, a series of small boys take turns reciting item by item the food I am to be offered. I indicate anything I dislike by cracking an egg over the head of the small boy who offered it to me.

The People with whom I am dining all grovel for my attention, sometimes devolving into mini-sword fights with the utensils for the right to speak to me. Anyone inadvertently killed via fork or spoon is dragged away, so that I am not inconvenienced by the sight of blood. The food arrives on the backs of Tibetan Sherpas, and we get down to business–The People reveal their marketing plan for my book. It involves a world-wide tour incorporating paparazzi, lavish meals, and a guest spot on Game of Thrones. I approve their ideas and head home, satisfied that I have finally been taken seriously as an author.

Turns out, I got a few details wrong.

I met up with Awesome Agent and Excellent Editor at a nice restaurant, we ordered food from printed menus rather than the vocal stylings of small boys, and I got the basic low-down of what the publisher handles (contacting reviewers, media, booksellers, and so on) and what the author handles (everything else). So I have a to-do list.

  • Build a new website
  • Start using Twitter
  • Post on Facebook more often
  • Develop a School Visit plan
  • Make connections with anyone and everyone you can
  • Be ready to cold-call hundreds of libraries and schools and book stores
  • Do whatever it takes to have, like, 100,000 followers before the book is published in August

So I’ve got some work to do. But having that first meeting was really cool.

And I’m on Twitter! Follow me! @MrDavidNeilsen

I promise to Tweet.

My First Official Celebrity Blurb!

I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’ve written a book. A couple of books, in fact. But one’s being published. I’m very excited, it’s kind of a big deal for me. See, back in April, I sold my Middle Grade Horror novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, to Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House. I did a few flips on the bed in celebration and only hurt myself a little bit.

The book comes out this coming August–10 months from now. I have gone through the whole editing process, dealt with getting an illustrator, written an acknowledgment and a dedication, the whole nine yards. Not long ago, I received a box of Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs to those of us ‘in the industry’) and did a double-take when I saw a quote by a genuine, New York Times Best-Selling Author on the cover of my book, meaning a book that was written by me, saying my book was awesome.

The kind, kind, wonderful author who bothered to read my book and then tell my publisher it was great is Chris Grabenstein. You may recognize his name from his bestsellers Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library or The Island of Dr. Libris. Or from his best-selling middle grade collaborations with James Patterson such as I, Funny, Treasure Hunters, or House of Robots.

He’s da bomb in Middle Grade fiction. And he said, “Such deliciously creepy fun! I fell in love with Dr. Fell! So will urchins and whippersnappers everywhere.”

I haven’t figured out why the third sentence is only a period and not an exclamation point, but I’m trying not to sweat it.