Should an Author Publish His First Novels?

Should an Author Publish His First Novels?

Where I live in the mountains of Panama, the only change of season we see is from rainy to dry. This begins to take place in November. There’s a shift in the wind and the town braces itself for the Fiestas Patrias (Panama’s Independence Days). Strings of small plastic flags crisscross the streets and flap with a smacking sound as if applauding you whenever you drive beneath them. Grey clouds hover above the town as barjareque, (not quite rain, but heavier than mist) falls on the tourists and marching bands, covering them with a sparkling layer of microscopic droplets.

November also signals National Novel Writing Month, which I first participated in 2012. I had been wanting to write a novel my whole life, and the only thing that forced me to get a book started and finished was NaNoWriMo.

I completed my first ever book, surprising myself and triggering an addiction to finishing books ever since. Now when the winds of November change and I hear the echoes of the marching bands practicing for the Independence Day parades, I feel like a horse at the starting gate ready to race to my word count with all the other bucking writers.

I think anyone who’s participated in National Novel Writing Month start to look forward to it as a yearly tradition. It’s something to get excited about, and you are not alone in your enthusiasm and anxiety. You can connect with other writers who are on the same crazy train. NaNoWriMo helps to stop the usual procrastinating and put writing first for a whole month.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to participate in the last few years. My job consists of mostly writing now and my creative juices and tolerance for sitting at the computer are wiped out by the time I finish my work for the day. I’m often traveling during this time for the holidays, which makes it difficult to scurry off to some quiet place to write.

I also don’t allow myself to participate because have to stop piling up manuscripts. It’s becoming a problem. I wrote three novels in a mad dash and they are still left rumpled up and tossed aside like piles of dirty laundry on the floor. I have no business writing more Nano novels until I clean these up, right?

But I wonder… just because I wrote them, does that mean they should be published? Is it worth salvaging them? These were my first practice novels, before The Sick Series, when I had no idea what I was doing. Hell, I don’t even know if I should’ve released Sick on the world. I can just leave these drafts in some dark corner of my Dropbox and begin something with my new writing experience. Jack Kerouac’s debut novel was lost until 2011, and thank god it was because it was deemed sophomoric and might have barred him from the literary world.

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Victims of Self-Published Book Covers

Victims of Self-Published Book Covers

Designing graphics is part of my job as a digital marketer. Still, design is not my specialty. I never had any formal training and I feel like I have much to learn. Despite my insecurities, I decided to design the covers for my self-published books.

I had four main reasons for designing my own book covers: first, because I love my stories and want to craft every part of them; second, because it was fun; third, because I felt uncomfortable trusting another person with my vision; and fourth, because designing my own book covers saved me a nice chunk of money. Hiring a professional book cover designer for three ebook covers and three paperback covers would’ve cost hundreds, if not thousands.

The first step for me when I design a new cover is deciding on an overall concept. I usually start by brainstorming some keywords from the theme of the story. Then I go to Dreamstime to find a picture that conveys the statement I want to make. I buy the image with the appropriate rights, download it, and use it as the foundation of the cover design. From there, I put on some music, experiment, and let whim take over.

Here’s a look at my before and afters!

Sick Part I

This book starts in a hospital as Susan Branch watches her husband throw a tantrum in the surgical recovery room. I wanted something that captured the smell of antiseptic and skin and blood. I looked up “stitches” or “sutures” and found this photo.

I confess, I think it’s a picture of a woman’s C-section, but it was so perfect with the staples pulling at the skin, the redness around the punctures, and the seam of the wound cascading into focus.

All I had to do was crop it and add some effects and filters to bring out the details and give it a sickening hue. And Viola! Thanks to this woman who was willing to photograph her scar and let it be sold on the internet.

Sick Part II

Just like the C-section wound – another mystery, why and how does a picture of a bruised man end up being sold on Dreamstime? Does the hospital or do the police sell pictures like these? I don’t know, but I’m glad I found him, and I hope whoever he is, that he is okay now and doesn’t mind that his torso is plastered all over the internet.

I don’t remember how I came across this image. I think I searched up “bruises.” Because my character John Branch shares his gruesome story in a very intimate way, I thought it would be good to be up close and personal with his body for this cover. The nipple hair, the moles, and the bare skin – it’s almost too close for comfort, just like John’s story. Perfect!

As you can see, I chose the color of this book cover based on the background of the original photo. I wouldn’t have normally thought of turquoise in a million years, but in this case, it worked since it invoked that institutional vibe of hospitals.

This man in the photo looked older than my character. He is in decent shape, but a little too flabby and he has lots of skin imperfections. John is supposed to be slightly repulsive, yet strangely alluring. I had to give my cover man the slightest bit of liposuction in the love-handle area and I removed some of his moles (ick, just that word) and blemishes. I also added more bruises and boosted the color to make it more garish. 

 

Sick Part III

For the crowning jewel, I chose this image of a couple entwined in a yin and yang formation. Our first impression in the book series is that John is bad and Susan is good, but later we realize there is a spot of bad and good in each of them.

John and Susan are like Adam and Eve, who by discovering the truth about themselves, must live a new world of darkness and uncertainty. They’ve lost their innocence, and in this cover, they appear to be curling up and hiding their faces in shame.

I added a peeling texture to the skin to signify the disease of pain and denial that had been eating away at them. John’s plague seems to be spreading onto Susan. I used a dark pink hue instead of what would’ve been a more womb-like red so that it didn’t look gory. This is not your typical horror or suspense story, and I didn’t want readers to have the wrong expectation. John and Susan are the doomed lovers inextricably intertwined, floating and lost, gestating until they are either transformed or destroyed.

This book was laborious and frustrating because real life had interrupted its development repeatedly. During the stretches of weeks and months I couldn’t work on it, I used this image as my screensaver to keep the story in my unconscious. My characters looked like they were in utero, and I told myself they were incubating in the womb of my mind. When I did have time to get back to my writing, they’d be ready to be born.

Thanks to these two beautiful people with the perfect skin that I ruined. It took a long time to get this cover right, but now it’s my favorite.

So, there you have my three self-published book cover victims – a woman who’d just given birth by C-section, a poor man who had been assaulted or in a car accident, and two nude, nubile models in a spotless studio. These strangers are now part of SICK. I hope they don’t mind.

 

Did you design your own covers?

If not, what was your experience like working with a professional cover designer?

If so, what’s the story behind your covers?

 

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How to Become a NY Times Bestselling Author with Writing Coach Anna David

How to Become a NY Times Bestselling Author with Writing Coach Anna David

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have Anna David here today. I’ve been working with Anna for about a year now and it has been the greatest honor. She’s a quick-witted, candid writer and an inspiring voice in the addiction recovery field. She’s also one of the funniest, kindest, and wisest people you’ll ever meet. She is currently the Editor-in-Chief of In Recovery Magazine, the host of the Recover Girl Podcast, and is the coach to the next batch of authors to hit the NY Times Bestsellers List.

Almost every writer I know has fantasized seeing their name on the NY Times Bestsellers List, but most writers have no idea how to get there. You can’t arrive somewhere you’ve never been before without a map. Anna David has mapped out a step-by-step method to take aspiring writers from obscurity directly to a publishing contract. I have sat in on her courses and I can tell you her information is like gold.

Learn all about her first-hand publication experience, her advice to aspiring writers, and how you can join her exciting new coaching program in this interview.


Interview with Anna David

Did you always want to become a writer? When did you decide that was what you wanted to do?

Always. When I was seven, I saw in the Guinness Book of World Records that the youngest author to publish a book was six and I was devastated that I couldn’t be the one to set the record. Of course, I didn’t finish writing my first book for another 20 or so years. There was never any question in my mind about what else I would do. I had no other skills! Everyone told me it was a bad idea—my dad never stopped talking about how I needed to go to business or law school—but I didn’t listen.

When did your drug abuse begin and how long till it spiraled out of control?

My coke use got bad when I was in my late 20s but I had loved it from the first time I tried it, when I was 16. I didn’t do it regularly until I was about 27 but the way I thought about it was never “normal”: I was obsessed with it. When I started doing it alone—with just my two cats, Camel Lights, Amstel Light, vodka and a whole lot of paranoia for company—it was definitely out of control. Though in many ways it was out of control from the beginning, in terms of how I thought about it.

After you got help and became involved in the world of recovery, what made you decide to focus your life and writing around addiction and recovery. Was it scary to ‘recover out loud’ as they say?

I never thought about it, really. I’ve always been a chronic confessionalist, telling the whole world my private business without realizing they may not care or it may not be appropriate. And I’ve always written about my own life, even when I was writing fiction—whether I was fictionalizing my own experiences or, in the case of my second novel, writing fiction around a world I’d researched. Addiction and recovery was my experience and so that was my material.

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Do you feel like your experience with drug addiction has made you a better writer? How?

I don’t think so. I will tell you that my writing was God awful when I was high. I used to do coke and then try to write screenplays and TV specs and I would write these ridiculous specs of shows I’d never seen. One day, not high, I came up with a novel idea: to write a spec of a TV show I actually watched. I wrote that one sober and suddenly had a slew of agents fighting over me. Turns out drugs made me a TERRIBLE writer.

In my opinion, the only thing that makes someone a better writer is reading. And writing. And rewriting. Mostly rewriting.

Party Girl, a roman à clef novel about your cocaine addiction, is about your crazy life as a celebrity journalist in LA, and the dysfunctional relationships that ensued. How did this idea become a reality?

My first job when I got sober was as a columnist for Premiere magazine, writing a column called Party Girl. It seemed hilariously ironic to me that my whole life I’d been a wild party girl and as soon as I became someone who went to meetings and coffee and hung out with her cats and became, in many ways, suddenly boring, I was suddenly wearing the “party girl” moniker. It struck me that this would be a great premise for a novel: a girl gets a job writing about her wild and crazy life right when she stops being wild and crazy and so she has to create a persona based on who she used to be. I had that idea and so I just sat down and wrote it, in about nine months.

I know my readers, most of whom are aspiring authors, are dying to hear about your publication experience. Can you give a brief outline of your steps to becoming a published author–from writing process, to agent, to NYT Bestsellers List?

It was a very different world when I got into it. First of all, there were magazines—that people actually read. Also there were far fewer writers. People weren’t writing blogs that suddenly made them famous. Social media didn’t exist. And I wrote for a lot of magazines so agents knew my work. I was lucky enough to have two agents who wanted to sign me by the time I finished writing Party Girl. I went with the agent I preferred and she sold my book to my top choice publisher (Regan Books, then a division of Harper Collins) within a week. It was dreamy. But my commonalities with Cinderella ended there. Judith Regan ended up being fired in the biggest scandal to hit publishing a few months before my book came out and the book ended up being released under a fake imprint that HarperCollins invented for my release. People talk about being orphaned when their editors switch jobs. This was like the orphanage being burned to the ground! My next book deal was half the size of the first and it wasn’t until my NY Times bestseller, in 2010, that I felt things even out again.

What do you think is the most important thing for a writer to do if they want to land a deal with an agent or major publisher?

Write the best proposal you can. Have creative ideas for promotion. Know the books in your genre that did well and try to create one that fills a void those books did not. And of course sign up for my coaching program!

Now your coaching writers to follow the same path to the NY Times Bestsellers List. What kind of stories will make the best fit with your methods?

Anyone writing a memoir, particularly one by someone who’s writing about their biggest struggle and how they came out on the other side. Because of my audience, at least half of my clients are always writing addiction and recovery memoirs or at least stories that involved addiction. But hey, any trauma works!

What’s your best piece of advice for writers just starting out?

Besides apply for my program? Read as much as you can. Also, don’t get wowed by all the self-publish success stories you hear. If you’re like me, and your dream was always to publish a book, then you owe it to yourself to try for the big leagues. The mainstream route—getting published by one of the big New York publishers—is competitive but I tell everyone at least try that first and if it doesn’t work, you can always self-publish then. But your dream when you were little wasn’t to upload your book to Amazon and tell your friends to buy it; it was to sign a contract with a big publisher, work with an editor, have the big release—the whole nine.

If you try that and it doesn’t work. you then have a completed book proposal—which is the perfect outline to go the self-published route. But every writer deserves the opportunity to try.

Do we get to expect any new novels from you?

Nope! Pretty busy with my day job (editing In Recovery Magazine), speaking and coaching. But maybe one day (famous last words). 

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Thanks so much to Anna David for sharing her story and her expertise with us.
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"Anyone who has ever secretly longed for the significant other of a close friend will immediately identify with this well-written story set in the South of France. The dialog is sharp and the characters believable. The writing is both funny and poignant."
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