Jewlyn Rahn

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I am more of an artist than a writer; however, I have been working on a story for the past ten years and have recently started writing it.

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Or, are planning to try to write? How do you handle it? Do you try to find similar things or just wi…
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  •  · Something I find that helps with short stories is just doing very brief scenes. Those are the only o…
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So, out of curious, how do you come up with your characters? What comes first? Do you change things …
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  •  · I think Dame EE also said the poise and pause were almost the same word. I like this as a reminder t…
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Good morning!Okay, so. I had an opening I was quite happy with and then I split my novel in half and…
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  •  · Email sent, and thank you :)
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So there's a scene I have been looking forward to writing for a long time, but I finally get to it a…
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Good morning, good morning(Or write in, or what not)Such as, I believe my writing takes on a more so…
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  •  · Almost all of the books I've written since at least 2018 have dealt mostly with apathy, depression, …
Reposted Rob's forum.

Hello everyone, 

this is my first time posting, so I hope this is the right way to go about it! I've just finished my manuscript which is a Los Angeles-set mystery thriller, and I'm looking for some objective reviews on how its working. Either the first three chapters, or if anyone is interested - the whole manuscript.

Of course I'm more than happy to beta read in return.

Please get in touch if this sounds like something you'd be interested in. 

all the best
Rob

Reposted Reidr Daniels's forum.

I need your help. I have a concern about my use of language that might offend certain readers. I'm conscious of the fact that we live in an era in which many people are inclined to villify you over something you say, or write, if it doesn't fit their sense of what's appropriate. Which leads me to pose a question. But first, some context -- I'm writing a trilogy. My main protagonist is a young woman. She's striving to prove herself, in an effort to become a leader. And she's doing it in the most challenging of men's worlds -- 16th century pirates. Her principal detractor, a pirate captain/villain, has taken to referring to her as "the Bitch". It's not a word I actually ever use in public discourse. But it seems appropriate for both the era (16th century) and the nature of the villain. I've contemplated using a different word, such as "Wench", but it doesn't seem to offer up the same sense of feeling/emotion/resentment that my villain would actually have. So here's my question: Is it reasonable/acceptable for me to use the B word in this context? Or should I avoid potentially negative feedback and use a word that doesn't seem as true to my villain's character? I'm male, writing about a female as my main protagonist. So I'm open to a lot of criticism if I make the wrong choice here. I welcome your thoughts.

Jewlyn Rahn
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Or, are planning to try to write? How do you handle it? Do you try to find similar things or just wing it? Or do you prefer to play it safe?

I'll be honest. I am 100% winging mine haha. For writing, one of my MC's (that for the longest time was going to be a side character because I couldn't figure out how to write his POV) is a serial killer. And when he kills someone, the 'life that flashes before their eyes' kind of gets absorbed in his brain? So he has bits and pieces of their life, thought process, etc just stuck in his head and sometimes, especially when he pretends to be one of his victims for an extended period of time, he'll start thinking of himself as that person and forget bits and pieces of himself.

And that, I struggled with that. I could write it when he was in his own head, or in someone else's head but 75% of the time he has all the voices talking to him and it's one of his driving motives (and I am 100% unwilling to get rid of it. That's been in his character since he was created. I'm going down with this ship.)  and that's what I struggled with. So, originally his story was 100% in someone else's POV for simplicity sake. And now half the story is also in his and, well. That's a train wreck of a lot of characters in one tiny body (I use so many parenthesis, it is ridiculous) and it may or may not work.

And then for planning, I got a character that's a seer that just... gets stuck in cycles of the same period for extended periods, 'wakes up' and get's stuck in another period. Another one where I was planning on using an alternate POV because that'll be a nightmare to write I think. (Haven't tried, but her part is a while away so... I got time)

(Poems could be another thing I struggle with. But I also just don't write poems.)

Jewlyn Rahn
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Jewlyn Rahn
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So, out of curious, how do you come up with your characters? What comes first? Do you change things as you work on the story so they will fit the story better or do you change the story to fit the character you already created?

I personally, well. I draw a design. I like the design, give them a name and an idea for a personality/backstory and then slowly build from there. And usually I'll build any other characters around them (in a visual design way) so like, one of my duos is supposed to be completely contradictory. White/red colors, slim build and then I got black/blue colors with a very bulky build. And my white/red kid's allies are the more white/ethereal color schemes 

Downside of it- I have a wide variety of people coming from a very teeny tiny kingdom so now I got to actually break it apart and have the cultures make sense haha. But I'm unwilling to change the designs so... yay world building so it just doesn't seem like a bunch of randomness (given, I don't know if it'd come across as randomness or if I am just worrying about something very minor... hm). 

Jewlyn Rahn
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Good morning!

Okay, so. I had an opening I was quite happy with and then I split my novel in half and the plot thread I'm writing first does not go with the opening I had originally. And the 'opening' I had for that plot thread started with an unreliable character that (going by feedback from co-workers) had half the readers understanding what was going on by the 2nd/3rd chapter for that plot thread or they just never understood the point until I told them. (which, means I messed up on my side, woops)

So I'm currently trying something new and I'm not sure if I should scrap it and just rework the original or scrap the letters and go straight to the next scene (which is Malakai finding the crime) or if it works as is (with added work naturally.)

(I also plan to use my art as a crutch, so for the first bit there would be a picture of someone shapeshifting (half one face/half another) but haven't gotten to drawing it yet)

(this is a first draft- I'm hoping to have it finished by mid-october so if anybody would be up for doing a swap around that time for plot/characterization/world building please feel free to let me know (I won't be any help when it comes to grammar though. I'm more of a theory person who rambles a lot when it comes to feedback))


Jewlyn Rahn
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So there's a scene I have been looking forward to writing for a long time, but I finally get to it and- I struggled. A lot. With the entire thing (It's also quite shorter than most of my other chapters ha...). I'm missing a bit of the introduction part, but that makes the thing over 3k and this takes up most of the chapter anyways so-

(Dialogue also isn't exactly a strong point of mine I think) So any advice would be truly appreciated. I don't plan to rewrite it for a little bit (trying to finish the draft before doing any actual rewrites) but I want to get a better idea on how to better handle the scene or portray things in a more coherent manner.

Since it is chapter 18- relevant information: Ghost is a shape-shifting serial killer, Kate is one of his/her victims and Ghost is currently pretending to be Kate. Leeches are people that can take the disease (which Malakai is currently suffering from- thus the bit about bleeding). Malakai has severe frostbite on his hands (which is why he wears gloves) 

(Also warning about swearing)

Anyways- any and all help would be appreciated

Jewlyn Rahn
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Good morning, good morning

(Or write in, or what not)

Such as, I believe my writing takes on a more somber mood than anything else (even when trying to write happy things, oh do I struggle with anything happy whilst I seem to flourish in portraying angst) So, I'm just curious if other people happen to find their writing gravitate to a certain mood.

(This could also just be based off how you read things too, I guess)

Jewlyn Rahn
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Jewlyn Rahn
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Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?

Well.

It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon

Harry

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