SPS-258: BookLab #8 – with Peter F. Smith
Grab your pocket protector! It’s the eighth edition of the SPF BookLab. YA dystopian author Peter F. Smith let’s our team of experts – book cover designer Stuart Bache, pro description writer Bryan Cohen, and editor Jennie Nash – put his book under the microscope and point out what’s working, what could use improvement, and what definitely needs to change.
- Your annual astrophysics lesson with Alan Partridge
- Thoughts on having human figures on book covers
- Ways to create series continuity on book covers
- The psychology behind graphic design and why that matters for books
- Why a book’s description needs to match its genre
- Why readers don’t read for plot
- Why editors matter for story clarity, among other important things
- The importance of pacing and flow in a narrative
- To adverb or not to adverb?
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
BOOKLAB: Visit this page for samples from Peter’s books
EDITING COURSE: Learn how to make your books even better with Jennie Nash’s SPF course
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-258: BookLab #8 - with Peter F. Smith
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Peter F Smith: When I first started out, there's this just this whole worry and concern that if you put so much money into the editing and put so much money in the cover art, then what happens is, it's like polishing a turd.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join Indie Bestseller, Mark Dawson, and first-time author, James Blatch, as they shine the light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is The Self-Publishing show with James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson. Hello. And we should say happy Christmas because it's Christmas day.
James Blatch: Well, unless you're listening in July 2023, in which case it's July 2023, I guess.
Mark Dawson: Well, the world's ended, but that's just because the aliens, who appeared at the end of 2020, have finished their amalgamation, or their ... Well, what's the word? Their destruction of the world. And that's that. End of story.
James Blatch: We're not out of 2020 yet, are we?
Mark Dawson: We're not, no. Well, three weeks ago when we recorded this, those weird 2001 style metal models that started appearing around the world, didn't they? Did you see that?
James Blatch: Yes, I did see that. It's an advertising campaign though, isn't it, for somebody?
Mark Dawson: And then there's an Israeli defence minister, who is no longer in post, outed the fact that aliens have been discussing things with world leaders for months, apparently. But they didn't want to announce their existence yet for fear of scaring the horses, basically. So who knows what we might find out in the next six months?
James Blatch: Perhaps one of us is a lizard or one of those aliens. I do like to look into things and satisfy my own curiosity sometimes, and I got a spreadsheet out the other night and worked out the fastest conceivable way we could travel with existing technology in space, which I worked out, because of limitations to do with particles, it must have been about 50% of light speed at the top end, about 500 ... Sorry. 50% of light speed, it would still take us something like 45 years to get to the nearest exoplanet for the likely candidate for life. I think we should start planning though because I just get a feeling we're running-
Mark Dawson: Gosh, yes.
James Blatch: ... the clock out on this planet and we need a plan.
Mark Dawson: The listeners started tuning in for astrophysics with Alan Partridge. I don't think that's really what people are listening to Book Lab episodes for.
James Blatch: That's exactly why they're listening as people want a running machine in a gym now thinking it's in hand.
Mark Dawson: Shut up.
James Blatch: Blatch is just thinking it through. He's on it.
Mark Dawson: Hey, you shut up, Blatch.
James Blatch: I've got a lifeboat. Hey, I interviewed someone this week and they said, "I listen to your podcast, but the only thing I think is could Mark be nicer to you?" That's what he said.
Mark Dawson: Oh dear. No, that's never going to happen.
James Blatch: No, it can't.
Mark Dawson: Someone's going to keep you in line.
James Blatch: You've heard Tom Cruise shouting on the set.
Mark Dawson: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: That's what it's like in the background. Okay. We are waffling a bit. But it is Christmas day.
This is being released on the 25th of December, 2020 for those of you celebrate Christmas and to have some time off. I hope you have a nice relaxing time. Although for lots of people who are trying to get their author careers up, it's probably a day where you can sneak off and do some writing without having to do your day job.
What's Christmas like in the Dawson household?
Mark Dawson: Well, it's crowd control really like most other days. So my little ones will be very excited and up reasonably early tearing presents open I suppose. Maybe we'll be able to go for a walk. I think my mum's coming to stay with us this year. And so I would have driven home, picked her up, driven back to Salisbury and will be ... I think usually cook the Christmas dinner and I'll do my best not to bugger that up. And then I'll get really pissed. That's the plan. Nothing changes.
James Blatch: Yes, I like that. Not for our American friends. Not angry.
Mark Dawson: But no, really drunk. Drunk. Paralytic. Excellent parenting.
James Blatch: We're going to North Yorkshire, which is a very nice part of the world, actually. It's North of Wetherby to visit my brother-in-law, my parents-in-law. So it has to be always carefully done at the moment. We've got a little bit of leeway just for five days of families to get together, although even that's being talked about in the fairly negative terms today. But, anyway, that's what it's going to be like. None of us will forget this year. That is for sure.
Again, for those of you listening in July, 2023, whilst you're running on the beach, this is all a little bit out of place, but the rest of this episode is going to be absolutely spot on because excitingly it is our eighth Book Lab. This is where we take a book into the laboratory, we have it analysed, criticised and spat out again, and then we find out what the author thought of the experts' opinions.
What we look at is the cover, we look at the blurb and we look at the look inside. So, effectively, what we are analysing is what people can glance at on Amazon, your front page or your front window, I guess, on Amazon.
And our selected colleague, somebody I've actually met in the past, we've been to his house. We did an interview with him a couple of years ago, Peter F. Smith. He was in Yuma. He's now in Phoenix in Arizona, and he writes a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian type novel series. And the book we chose, and you can follow this along if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/booklab8, you can download the covers. It was before the blurb, as it was at the time that we looked at it, just so that this makes sense to you because if you're listening to this in the future, you may well be seeing the improved version as a result of the blurb. The book is called The Spire and it is the Spire saga book one.
Okay, Mark, without further ado, we're going to crack into this. We're going to listen to the experts and you and I can have a chat off the back of this. I think we'll start with the cover, which is where most people's eyes rest. So let's hear from our resident cover expert, the very nice, very talented Stuart Bache.
Stuart Bache, welcome back to the Book Lab. Here we are in our white coats. We're not developing a vaccine. We're just frivolously looking at books. It's not a laboratory in terms of it's worldwide significance, but it's significant to Peter F. Smith and to you and me and, hopefully, our listeners.
Stuart Bache: Yeah. More important actually.
James Blatch: I think so, too. Okay. Right. Let's have a look at this cover then. The book is called The Spire. Without reading the blurb or anything, let's just leave it at the cover at the moment.
What does it say to you and is it doing a good job?
Stuart Bache: It's not a bad cover at all. It says to me that it's a post-apocalyptic fiction. It feels sci-fi, very sci-fi. So it has something to do with technology in some respects. So it's more in the future than most post-apocalyptic stuff. The title itself is designed actually ... So a lot of the time when we do these Book Labs, when I see the cover, often the typography is just plonked on top, it's an after thought, but the type on the cover this time round is quite large and it is textured and has a few effects, nice effects to it as well.
And the image of the cover has a large tower, The Spire, I'm assuming, which looks very modern and futuristic, and it actually interacts with the type. So that's a really nice touch. The author type is then added on afterwards. I think it just feels a bit like it's just falling off the page a little bit. That's usually what happens with a lot of the covers that we see on Book Labs in the same way. What I meant before about the title is that often everything is just plonked on top of an image. In this case for the majority it feels like it's been thought through, the image and the type. So I think he actually hired a designer for this rather than done it himself.
James Blatch: I'll ask a question? Is the title not a font? Is it drawn or created graphically rather than it being a font?
Stuart Bache: It is a font. It is a typeface. There are two there I think. So, off the top of my head, I am not entirely certain what it is. It looks like it could be Impact or something like that. Or actually it might be ... No, no, the texture flows. So the texture that's been added to it... So it's got a gritty effect, it's for people who can't see it. Parts of the type are being rubbed out with what's an effect with the texture. And then there's a painted texture over the top and then a diagonal line as if to cut the type apart a little bit, just as a bit of a cosmetic thing. But then that has been designed I think. It certainly looks like it. I can't imagine there'd be a typeface with that much detail to it.
James Blatch: So it has some grunge layers and stuff?
Stuart Bache: Yeah, grunge is the word.
James Blatch: Grunge is the word, added to it. Post-apocalyptic feel. And as you say that the author typeface is just a clean font?
Stuart Bache: Yeah.
James Blatch: So in terms of what you would do or do differently, let's perhaps start with the general impression. You say it's quite a good cover?
Stuart Bache: It's not bad cover. It's not quite the same as saying a good cover, but it's not a bad one. And I don't know how well he's done with the visuals from this in terms of marketing and things but, obviously, he's on Book Lab. So I had a very quick look, obviously, on Amazon. I didn't read anything. I just took it from the cover itself, but I wanted to know a bit more details in terms of age group, because this feels like it could be post-apocalyptic stuff.
Obviously, there's lots of associations with things like Hunger Games as well because that's post-apocalyptic but it's, obviously, in a very slightly different size. It's YA. And I do think that the age range of this book seem to fit in. So the data on Amazon seemed to suggest that it was a YA because of the age. So the age range was 13 to 18, which would suggest to me that it was YA. You might tell me differently because I don't know everything about the story itself.
James Blatch: I just had a glance. I can see that his daughter plays a relatively leading role in this. And I think she's 14, if I've read the blurb correctly. So that does suggest there is a YA element to it.
Stuart Bache: Yeah. So this area is a genre that there are two routes to take because more adult post-apocalyptic fiction tends to be along the lines of A.G. Riddle. So what are they? They're two series. It's The Long Winter, I think it is.
James Blatch: Yes.
Stuart Bache: ... and then there's The Origin series or something?
James Blatch: Yeah, the soul ... I can't remember exactly. And I use them for targeting actually, but I can't remember the words now.
Stuart Bache: But they're both very similar in style of imagery, and that tends to have a character or a figure on it. And that allows you to get an idea of the age range sometimes.
James Blatch: Yes. Now, it's interesting you mention that because when you read ... I will get onto the blurb later with Bryan, but I really enjoyed the top line of the blurb, which is, "A daughter's love, a father's betrayal and the fate of the human race."
What do you think about there being no human characters on the cover?
Stuart Bache: It's interesting because you know how I feel about having narrative. It's not always that important. But it can really give an idea of page range, it can give you an idea of the feel the book's going to be. So, female protagonist, whether it's a young one or an older one, both of those could have completely different feel for the books. You know when you pick it up what you're going to get, the emotions and just the general feel for the story.
And the same as if you have a guy running away or a guy running towards some action, it would be different if, depending on if it was a younger guy or an older guy or if they're holding a gun, all of those things will tell you the feel, what you'll get from the book. So you get an idea of the narrative from just those figures alone.
Having even just a small figure, whether they're trudging through snow or a desert or something, will always give you, in just a very subtle way, but a better idea of the narrative of the story. So you get more information from just that little thing than you would without having anything at all.
I think that what Peter's done with The Spire, it looks great, but it doesn't really give you any more information other than that's The Spire from the title. Maybe having a character on there might make it feel a little bit ... Give it more of a setting. I don't know.
James Blatch: I think I feel the same. I think, generally, it's the fact that, ultimately, the reason you're going to read a book, read a story, is because of what happens to the human characters in it, not what happens to the buildings. That isn't really going to draw you in as to whether that building survives or falls down or whatever, but if there's humans involved. So I feel that's what you need to be saying to your reader is that the fate of this person is what this story is about. And without putting a person on the cover, I think you miss that connection.
Stuart Bache: Well, yeah, I agree. So with the image that's on the cover at that moment, it at least gives you an idea of when and what's happened. So it's not just a futuristic Spire there, organic grocers have overtaken the city and there's lots of buildings that have fallen down and trees have overtaken the buildings and that sort of thing. So you know that it's in the future. You know that it's not necessarily a gleaming utopia. Well, you might not know it's post-apocalyptic, but you certainly know that it's not a happy future.
James Blatch: No.
Stuart Bache: That is a narrative in a sense, but unless the book is entirely about The Spire, you are losing the perspective from your protagonist, which might actually really help with the sales of the book.
James Blatch: Okay. Is it possible, and I don't think I've done this to you before, but is it possible to think in your mind as a concept what you would be producing for Peter if he'd commissioned you for this cover?
Stuart Bache: Absolutely. I would definitely go down the route of A.G. Riddle for start. It's, pretty much, the first route that I would take as a concept. I think, secondary, would probably be more symbolism and more abstract. I think the thing with post-apocalyptic YA is that you can have, especially, when it's set a little bit in the future anyway, is having abstract patterns and/or symbols.
Hunger Games, the books that did the best, had the symbol of the bird in the circle, and that was very important to the book. It didn't have to give you any more information, but it sets the genre really, really well and lots of people copied it. Even though it's quite a few years old now, people still do it and you can associate directly with that genre. You know exactly what it is, you know it's YA, you know it has a similar near future feel to it. But it depends what that image would be, what that symbol would be and why that would be important.
But then that also sets you up really well for a series because then you can either have the same symbol or a different symbol. And actually it's quite simple. It's very, very simple. And you could have just a very plain background. That would be another I'd go.
There seemed to be something about technology I think because The Spire on the cover is, in comparison to the rest of the images in the world around it, in the buildings, is super, super technology, so I don't know whether something like R.R. Hayward? So there's the Extracted Trilogy. What's quite nice though is that it interacts with the type and it's very simple and you know that has a sci-fi feel to it as well. I'm not saying that would be quite right for what Peter's done, but it's worth playing with and looking at what's really working in that neck of the woods. And it's quite simple as well. And, yeah, I know it looks completely different from, say, The Hunger Games, but actually it's not dissimilar-
James Blatch: No.
Stuart Bache: ... in terms of ... Just something really quite simple that has some narrative relevance, but it doesn't have to be place or a location and it doesn't have to have that action field that a lot of A.G. Riddle has and, say, Mark Dawson, would have, or anyone with a character always has a feeling of there's some action going on, there's a person here doing something, going somewhere, there's a journey.
You don't have to have all of that narrative. It makes it much simpler for you. It definitely puts your book in a place. It puts it in the genre knowing exactly what it is, more so probably then the A.G. Riddle route, because you could remove the type from an A.G. Riddle and add some more bigger, blockier type, and you could have a crime thriller/espionage.
The one thing that A.G. Riddle does do with his books, or whoever his designer is, is that they tend to be much more monochrome with the hint of colour. And I think that gives a feel ... That it removes it a little bit from the action thriller and sets it in a different scene. Or he does the opposite, which is super strong colour. And I think he's done that with his Atlantis ... Is it Atlantis? No, The Origin Mystery series-
James Blatch: Okay.
Stuart Bache: ... is really a super strong color. And I also once again just say this isn't your standard action thriller. This has a sci-fi futuristic feel to it.
James Blatch: I do wonder now we're talking about this being YA and just having a look down at the categories of this book, where he's ranking in teen and young adult apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic and teen and young adult sci-fi and adventure books. He's also ranking military fantasy. That suggests to me this is YA, and I'm not sure now, looking at that cover, whether that comes across at all in that current cover.
I think that looks like an A.G. Riddle adult science fiction, as you say, and that's quite important, isn't it? Because you're going to disappoint your military gritty sci-fi readers and miss out on your teenage to early 20s, perhaps female readers, who would like to follow this heroine.
Getting that bit right is really, really important, regardless of the quality of the cover. It's number one job is to tell you what it is.
Stuart Bache: Yeah, I think the pit people tend to fall into and designers do as well, is that they have an idea and they think, "This is a really good idea, this is a strong idea." And if the image and the design that's been sent through looks really good, then they're happy because, "It looks good and I'm happy with that." But there's no thought about, "Well, what will other people think?" And I think that's so important when it comes to book cover design, more than most actually.
Book cover design is different from anything else. It's not art. It's pure graphic design and graphic design isn't art. It has psychology involved. It's trying to make someone feel something or act ... Okay, art does that in a sense as well, but art isn't necessarily there for you to buy a hundred percent, you know?
James Blatch: No.
Stuart Bache: It's there for you to appreciate.
James Blatch: And art doesn't really care how it makes you feel as long as it makes you feel, and it'll be different, whether you are specifically trying to get people to feel in a certain way and be steered in a certain direction here.
Stuart Bache: Yeah, you are. And that is to pick it up and buy it. What you're trying to do with a book cover is, as we've said many times before, is impart a huge amount of information in a very, very short space of time, and I'm talking nanoseconds. So you need to know so much about a book cover. And even best-selling covers, people will still scroll past because that's how fast you need to process this information. And sometimes you have to go back and you go, "I didn't spot that one. I quite like the look of that one."
I think with the cover as it is now, he might be missing on two fronts, which is that he's missing people who would actually potentially really like the book and also he's missing out on people who love the genre already as it is, because they'll see this and that's not part of what's on their shelves or on their Kindle. So he's missing potential readers and people who actually love the genre at the same time.
James Blatch: To be fair to Peter, they look nice. They're nice covers. And they certainly pass the test of this. Is this a pro cover or has this person knocked it up themselves? Which is the first test when people post their covers into the groups often ask for. And this looks like a pro cover. And he showed them to me. Actually, we stood in his house, I think in Yuma. 3:10 to Yuma, you remember that old Western film somewhere in Arizona or California? I can't remember exactly where it was. It was down that South Western America. We stopped at his house on the way through, did an interview with him and he showed me the cover and said, "So what do you think?" And I probably said, "They look great, Peter." Because they do, they look great.
That's the wisdom of having a chat with somebody like you, Stuart, who brings that focus to, "Is it a good cover or not?" And has a discussion about it. I think we've come to a slightly different point of view there. But if Peter's trying to avoid the YA market and having a more adult sci-fi market, then he's much closer to it with that cover. I still think it lacks that connection, that human connection.
Stuart Bache: I think it does. It lacks some connection there. Once again, it's not a bad cover and it's a nice illustration. But, yeah, it's missing something and that might just be a human element. It might not be, or it's probably not right at all, but if The Spire, as it's a series, isn't it? The Spire series-
James Blatch: Yeah.
Stuart Bache: ... I think is, if it's in all of the books and it's the main location, then a bunch of Stephen King's ... So I manage them, I didn't work on these particular ones, but for the Dark Tower series, we re-did the covers about 10 years ago ... Feels like three years ago, but it was about 10 years ago. And what we did with each book was that The Spire was further away. So it got closer and closer as you read the books until the last one was the character looking up at the tower. And it did the same on the spine as well. Because the series is already out, it was a nice way of playing with the whole series as a whole and giving it as a collective thing. But the idea of moving towards something was a really nice narrative.
So even just on the cover alone, just on one book cover, having the character going towards the tower in the distance. And then the second book, the tower is a little closer. It's just a really ... Location and the area around the character can be completely different. But, I mean, I'm saying this without actually reading I haven't read the book, so-
James Blatch: No, but then you work as a designer and, critically, the person potentially buying your book won't have read the book.
Stuart Bache: Absolutely.
James Blatch: Don't want to go down that route, do you? This is book number two in the saga, The Spire saga. Actually, interestingly, books two, three and four all have this spire building and roughly the same dimensions on it. But book one doesn't. Book one is the family. It's the only one with humans on the front. It's the family escaping the city by the looks of it at the beginning. Now, maybe that reflects how the story is. Maybe The Spire is something that grows up in the story and becomes a prominent thing later. But that doesn't matter for your book cover.
You could still have The Spire on book one, even if, in the narrative, it doesn't appear till book two.
Stuart Bache: Absolutely. And I just think that you can actually have The Spire in the book, but I think what I was trying to say in a very long-winded way, was that having a figure, as we did with the Dark Tower series, having a figure on moving towards something, gives you a little bit of narrative, just a little taste of narrative and gives you a personal connection. Very, very quickly you can see that you've got this character.
If the character's a girl or a man or a guy with a gun or a woman with a gun or whatever ... I'm not saying that's what you have to do, but if all of those things give you an idea straight away who that character is, who the protagonist is and probably what they're doing and what their relation is to the surroundings. And I think he's got the surroundings. He has the location. It's about trying to get that extra little bit. There is just something missing from it.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Well, Stuart. Thank you very much indeed for your fantastic laser-focused feedback on the cover. Always a pleasure. And you're doing great work, as always. We had some concepts through for Kerry Donovan's books, Fuse's second and latest acquisition and we are very excited. I know Kerry was delighted when he saw the concept. Really, really pleased.
Stuart Bache: It's a really enjoyable project to work on.
James Blatch: Yeah. Looking forward to seeing those flourish under those covers. So brilliant. Thank you very much, indeed, Stuart. Appreciate it. We'll be back in The Lab sooner. There won't be such a big break this time to the next one because I always enjoy these and I know these Book Lab episodes are hugely popular. Often people will just go through the book, have episodes themselves on their particular area. So thank you again.
Stuart Bache: Fantastic. No problem.
James Blatch: There you go. So that was Stuart's thoughts. And he and I are starting to chime a little bit on our thoughts on these things because I'm just basically sitting at the ankles of the master and learning from him. So we both thought more or less the same thing about this cover. Definitely missed that story intrigue, although very good looking cover, no question about that.
We are, of course, after covers that do the job of selling the book rather look good and that's a key thing. We can talk about that in a moment with Mark.
But let's move on to the next aspect of this, which is the blurb, probably where your eyes are going to go after the cover if you've made it that far. And here is Bryan Cohen.
There he is. It's B.C. All the way in Chicago. You still there in Chicago.
Bryan Cohen: I'm still there in Chicago, James.
James Blatch: How you say it.
Bryan Cohen: Yes I am.
James Blatch: A whole lot of pizza or whatever it is you have there on the lakes. Good. Well, it's always a delight to have you on the show, Bryan. You are the king of the blurbs, those crucial little bits of iconic writing that sum up your ... Actually they don't have to sum up your book. They have to sell your book.
Bryan Cohen: They have to sell your book.
James Blatch: Yeah. Let's get the objective of the blurb right. Those five pages you see sometimes. Or some of them have, basically, written a synopsis of the book out. That's not a good blurb.
Bryan Cohen: Yeah.
James Blatch: So we're talking about The Spire, by Peter F. Smith. And we were just starting to have this conversation before I pressed record.
Bryan Cohen: We had to do it.
James Blatch: We have to have a conversation.
Bryan Cohen: We had to press the button.
James Blatch: On record, which I think we both thought this is not a bad blurb.
This is a blurb I would say, almost from the BC school of blurbing.
Bryan Cohen: It's not bad. I would have given Peter a B-minus, C-plus I think that it has a lot of positive aspects of it. It taps into the emotional stakes of the character, which is what a lot of blurbs forget to do for the very reason, like you said. They think that it's a plot summary when really it's about the character's emotional journey, how it connects up with this genre that readers really want to dive into. And I think Peter did a pretty good job of that.
James Blatch: Yeah. He sets out his blurb there, however, it can always be improved. And as you say, we don't want to live in the world of B-minuses. We're going to be aiming for the A-pluses. Do you have an A-plus?
Is there a such thing as an A-plus in the schooling system in America?
Bryan Cohen: There is. It depends on the different level of school, but I have seen apparently A-pluses. No, I was a nerd. I got A-pluses, of course. I was teacher's pet.
James Blatch: You got A-pluses.
Bryan Cohen: You know it.
James Blatch: That does not surprise me. I did not get A-pluses.
Bryan Cohen: And that's okay.
James Blatch: Or B-minuses.
Bryan Cohen: Because here we are.
James Blatch: We both scraped through. I don't tell my children that. I say, "Work hard at school rather than do what I did." Okay. Enough of us. So let's move on to the after-blurb. And of course you can get this all downloaded with the link we've been giving out. And that's a very good idea to follow along with this really good learning experience. So you've written this.
I think one thing that Peter's feedback on this, which I've already recorded, he really liked your new blurb, taking everything onboard, be really good about the feedback he's got, but he said he is going to miss that top line. "The daughter's love, a father's betrayal and the fate of the human race." I quite like those sort of, they feel like film taglines to me. And I used them a bit in my Facebook ads, which I'm just saying to him. So he said, he's going to miss that.
You've gone for a few more words, a little bit more of a structural description of the book, rather than that punchy tagline to start off with.
Bryan Cohen: Yes. And the reason is, we thought that we've got essentially a YA post-apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi kind of thing going on. And while the original, "A daughter's love, a father's betrayal and the fate of the human race," is high stakes. It doesn't necessarily pin the genre. It doesn't necessarily set up the dynamic between the daughter and the father. It's missing a couple of things that we chose.
This is option A, to go more high top, the umbrella of boiled down to its essence. "A daughter's love, a father's betrayal and the fate of the human race," absolutely. But do we worry somewhat that if it's too general, could people skip over it, because it doesn't feel personalised. We worry about that a little bit.
James Blatch: Yeah, as you say, keywords, I'll read out yours. Now keywords that indicate to people what this book is, which is very important. So you have gone for, "Only the fortunate survive the world's devastation. Can the heir to an empire, use her position of privilege to end a global war?" So a few more words, but as you say, no doubt that this is, post-apocalyptic no doubt that there is a female, young female heroine, and no doubt that she's in a conflict.
Bryan Cohen: And that she may have the key too.
James Blatch: She may yeah. She's in a position of some responsibility or some challenge that's facing her. Although we don't really know what that is from that. We just know it's there, which is also okay for blurb.
Bryan Cohen: Yes. True. It is longer I won't lie. Most of the time you're going to be cutting words. Sometimes you do need to add a little bit of context.
James Blatch: Do you want to read out the next paragraph that you've gone for? I think these paragraphs at a quick glance look more or less doing the same thing. A little bit, I would say Peter's blurb becomes a little bit prosaic in places, a bit literal about the trip to the museum and when things happen. You've gotten a little bit still keeping that kind of high level and talking about the stakes, using some adjectives there, "Terrible price paid."
Why don't you read out your paragraph?
Bryan Cohen: Sure. It's worth the context of Peter's has that sentence about them going to the museum when they were five, it was supposed to be fun, their bodyguards risked everything, the human race started to die, and her father now rules over it in about five sentences. So what we'd say is, we put in the place as he liked to do in either the past or the future, "Former New York, 2090," so we already know it's in the future sci-fi, "Maria Patterson's sheltered life has come at a terrible price. Protected by her father's robotic army, the stubborn 19-year-old hates how few choices she's allowed to make for herself in an apocalypse, ravaged world."
So we've already jumped over the museum, we jumped over the other things, because a lot of that feels introductory. It's almost like the author leaving cues for themselves to like, "Well, we want make sure we set her up, but if you can set her up a little more quickly than we are in better shape here."
And so, we're bringing in something that Peter didn't bring in until much later, "And now to push the planet one hopeful step toward peace. She may have no choice, but to marry the son of her family's bitter rival."
James Blatch: Yeah. I would imagine for a YA audience, there's a particular angle on a story that's probably going to sell the book to some people. And again, going back to The Hunger Games, which is a bit of a reference point for successful YA stories, I think that love triangle that she ended up in was a key part of the draw for a lot of the readers. What are young people going through? What are their lived experiences as they say these days is boys and girls, isn't it, and relationships. So a bit of that in there. Okay. So then you go on, why don't you carry on.
Bryan Cohen: "Desperate to clear her head, Maria embarks on a risky trip into the North American wilds. But when she's ambushed and kidnapped by an underground group of rebel Marines, long thought extinct, she's shocked to discover the truth of how billions lost their lives."
James Blatch: So there's a twist moment.
Bryan Cohen: We have a nice little twist there.
James Blatch: And I think, from what I know of the book, and I haven't read it, this is a key part of her. It's a bit like discovering your father is... You grew up loving your father. Even the world's most evil dictators have children who probably loved them. And at some point when they're a little bit older, there's that moment when you realise who your father is. I think this is obviously does happen to Maria in this story.
Bryan Cohen: Let's hope this doesn't happen with our children.
James Blatch: Yeah, or us. I'm yet to discover my father who's sitting in his home seven miles that way. He's 89 and does his gardening now. I'd be surprised to discover that he was an evil dictator back in the day, but-
Bryan Cohen: You never know.
James Blatch: You never know what's going to be around the corner. That would be quite a revelation dad, "Dad!" I'd remonstrate with him. Anyway, so then we go on, "Maria must make a nightmarish choice, keep her stunning new knowledge a secret to keep her family safe or reveal the truth and pay the ultimate price." So that's a key Bryan Cohen sentence in the blurb.
Talk to us about what that sentence is doing.
Bryan Cohen: When we were pounding this one out a little bit, we kind of came along with the... You don't always have a three-paragraph thing that you can have a cohesive theme in. But in the ideal perfect circle of a blurb, Maria Patterson, sheltered life, she hates how few choices she's allowed to make. And then we come around to the last line of the description and now she gets to choose the fate of her world.
That is when we were looking at that and were like, "Ah!" It gives this little story in three paragraphs that may make the reader just want to say, "Wait, I really want to see what she chooses. I want to see how she gets to that point." And that is what the hope is with, like you said, not a summary, but a piece of advertising copy that you are trying to get the reader invested enough. Something that yes, feels on-genre, but does give you this window into the character's emotional journey that makes you just want to automatically one click buy the book. That's what we're going for in that line.
James Blatch: I'm just trying to look up the name of something I've been discussing this week in one of my little groups where we discussed craft. I think it's Lisa Cron. I'm going to credit Lisa Cron with this, even if it isn't, which is that, "People don't read books to escape, they read books to help them navigate life," which is why those moments, now, I was joking about discovering my father was an evil dictator. But there are parallels to that.
In fact, the parallel that's very obvious is we do discover things about our parents, when you get older, because your children, you don't look at them as human beings. I know that, because my teenagers don't look at me as a human being. They take me for granted. But I do know when my daughter and son are in their 30s, they are going to start for the first time to do what I do, which is to wonder who my parents were and where they came from and how that shaped you and stuff.
And so, we look for those in books and I think, do hope it's Lisa Cron. What Lisa says is so spot on. That's why we read books and get out of them. Not to escape off into a distant land that has no relevancy to us, but to help us make sense of our lives. So I think that sort of thing that you brought out there is so important.
You could easily write that blurb without that sudden change to her, that challenge to her, that forces her into being a proactive person or burying her head in the sand, which is again, a life choice.
So important in telling people you're going to learn something from this.
Bryan Cohen: I love what you brought up by hopefully Lisa, is just this navigation. This is one of the reasons why in a blurb, you truly want to focus on what is the character going through, because readers don't buy for a plot. That's why we tweaked that initial line that ends, "On the fate of the human race." The fate of the human race is at stake in every apocalyptic book. There's no difference there.
Well, what is the difference? The characters and how they deal with it, and how the reader will connect with those characters. When The Walking Dead came out, everyone was into it, because it was the first big zombie show. It was on TV. And then, it started to shed people. And part of the reason it started to shed people is because some of these characters were behaving like no person in their right mind in any situation would behave. It was all about plot and not about character. And people may say, "Oh, it just got stupid." But what is that? That they're explaining?
They're explaining, "It got stupid because characters were not behaving like humans." And so, the connection that we make with our readers in the way of what is that character doing? Does it make sense? Can I make a connection with that? Is so very important.
James Blatch: Yeah. And your blurb does have to be, doesn't, it should never be a mini-version of your book, but it should have those bits in it. Those themes.
The reasons a novel works should be contained in a blurb, right?
Bryan Cohen: Yeah. It's got to be the best of what you're offering and it has to be you. It doesn't necessarily have to evoke the style from the book. I know a lot of people will do a first person blurb if their book is written in first person. Hunger Games is in first person and the blurb is not in first person. So traditional publishers aren't following that. But the style isn't as important as that character and how they're reacting to the craziness that occurs in this particular universe.
James Blatch: Yeah. And your final bit is basically, this is what it is, go and buy it, sentence. Saviour Complex is the thrilling first book in the Saviour Complex science fiction series, "If you like determined heroines, high-tech dystopias and politically-driven power plays, then you'll love Peter F. Smith's futuristic adventure. Buy The Spire, to take down the tyrants today." Like it's a call to action. You can help take down the tyrants.
Bryan Cohen: We do love our calls to action.
James Blatch: We do. Maybe take down the tyrants in your life.
Bryan Cohen: I didn't say it. You said it.
James Blatch: Yeah, there you go. I'm really between those BC lines. I think this is a really interesting one to look at because I think what Peter did was take a lot of the stuff that you teach our community through various ways, including courses at SPF. And in all sorts of ways you'll hear Bryan talking about the structure of blurb, why it should work in certain ways. And we talk about that every conversation we have about blurbs.
I think what you see here is Peter doing that probably as well as I could do it and other people could do it. And then the results of somebody taking the same story and the same approach, but really polishing it up and taking it up a few notches. I think it's a great blurb. And all of this is going to be repackaged. A little spoiler alert for Peter's interview coming up soon, he's taken onboard all of this stuff.
Bryan Cohen: Thank goodness.
James Blatch: Which is great.
Bryan Cohen: In these blurbs where you have a lot of backstory, it's definitely a good idea to look at, "Do I need to include this? Or can I fast forward past this?" Because the inciting incident of this universe was big apocalyptic incident. The inciting incident of this book is she's going to have to go marry this dude. So you have to think about, "Do I need to include the inciting incident of the universe or for this character's life?" And it's usually going to be the latter.
James Blatch: So this is another Lisa Cron thing, which I think fits into that.
Bryan Cohen: Is this definitely Lisa or...?
James Blatch: Well, this one is definitely Lisa. The only one I think was Lisa. Lisa Cron also says that, "When you read a book, the reader needs to put it into context. Otherwise it doesn't make sense." And on page one effectively, chapter one, page one, "You should set out what the book is about, so that you then see how the story works in that context."
So right at the beginning, you should say, if I'm writing a book, it's about suppressed male, emotional behaviour, that should be set out on page one, page two. So people then read the rest of the book in that context. And it always feeds back into that. Well, the blurb, exactly the same thing goes for that. This should set out the context of the book. So don't worry about describing how the spaceship diverted the asteroid towards Earth and all that stuff. That's framework, that's background.
The context that's important is what's the story about, and that's going to be something that happens to the person who we're following the book, their change of life, which has got to be in that blurb.
Bryan Cohen: Absolutely.
James Blatch: Superb. Bryan, thank you very much, indeed for joining us.
Bryan Cohen: Of course, I'm honoured. This was time number eight I believe. I got my mug when I hit 10. Someone who's been on the show 10 times. I believe Stuart and other folks might be approaching that.
What do you think people should get?
James Blatch: I think it would be a spoiler if I told you. And also, you might think, "I don't know if it's worth doing two more episodes for that." I can't say it's actually at the moment, because it's might be a present for somebody coming up soon, but I'm into these little corporate... I always thought these are cheesy little corporate gifts that you can get. And I'm now starting to think some of these could be quite funny and quite cool. So there might be something for number 10. You got me thinking.
Bryan Cohen: Okay. Maybe that was intentional. I don't know.
James Blatch: SPF socks. Maybe, let's think, let's go broader.
Bryan Cohen: Only if they're Argyle.
James Blatch: You're wearing Argyle socks already. So I see you as this, a no socks man and just like modern people wear modern well-dressed men don't seem to wear socks anymore. That's the thing, isn't it?
Bryan Cohen: I actually do wear socks, but I would wear whatever SPF things are sent my way I would be. I would be honoured to support them, in my home.
James Blatch: Careful what you wish for.
Bryan Cohen: Exactly.
James Blatch: Bryan, thank you so much indeed. Always appreciate it. And we'll see you for BookLab nine, next time.
Bryan Cohen: Sound's good, James. Thank you.
James Blatch: So not a bad job on the blurb by Peter F. Smith, but it could always be improved by Bryan and his team. Good job they did. And you can see not only the new blurb, if you get the download PDF, but also all the little bits that you get for your advertising, little headlines and taglines that come as part of the package, when Bryan Cohen does a blurb set.
Good to see how he analyses the story, analyses the look and feel of the book and turns that into those hopefully winning little lines of copy. Finally, and fascinatingly, we always get great value out of Jennie, I love these discussions, I learn a lot as a writer myself from these. Let's listen to Jennie Nash's assessment of the writing that we see on Amazon, the look inside portion from Peter F. Smith's, The Spire.
Jennie Nash, back into the book laboratory, white coats on. It hasn't been too long since our last last we were staring down the microscope. I can't keep this analogy going on forever, but you know.
Jennie Nash: It is good to be here, wherever here is.
James Blatch: It is good to be here. I love these chats. These are favourite episodes for lots of people listening to the show. And I'm excited that we have a new book. We have science fiction, a young adult, The Spire, Peter F. Smith almost said, Peter F. Hamilton. And I think there's a deliberate use of the author name there to try and invoke the image of Peter F. Hamilton is one of the first sci-fi books I read and getting into it years ago.
Your job is to look inside the look inside and tell us what you see and give us some feedback. So, what did you make of it?
Jennie Nash: This was a really fun one. The opening pages of this book were in the POV of a teenage girl and this author does a fantastic job of that. We're really feeling what she's feeling. We're in her skin, seeing what she's seeing. It's really well done.
She's out running in this strange land and as she's running, we get more and more of a sense of how strange it is. And she has a robot companion who's running with her and so it's a great sci-fi opening, because we've got a unusual world, a sense that something's not right and some cool tech stuff and it really draws us in. So just excellent job on the opening here.
That being said, there are well, and I want to talk about, I will come back to what he does well, because what he does well, he does really well. I want to come back and highlight that a little more and then also highlight one thing that he could do better, which is a high-level editing thing.
But before we get to that, this author is really shooting himself in the foot by his lack of editing. I want to point out three layers where this impacts the reader, because it's so easy for writers to dismiss editing, it's not that big a deal or they don't need it or maybe they, what I hear a lot is they have, "Well, my next door neighbour is an English teacher and I had her read it, read it over," this sort of thing, but you really have to pay attention to this, because there's a lot of readers that are going to hit these problems and just be done. And if they're in your sample pages on your Amazon page, why would somebody take a risk that the book is going to be riddled with these problems?
James Blatch: It's so important just to un-blind that people often do say, "What should I spend my money on?' when they get going. Because there's lots of things you can spend money on covers and very important and an advertising about people say, "You've got to have your book edited." You've got to have it edited by a professional.
Jennie Nash: You really do. So, there's three levels of editing that are clearly off in these pages. The first is just basic. It's typos, it's dropped words, it's grammar problems missing punctuation. So, a couple examples in the very opening. She's got workout attire on, this girl. And in one place, the workout is two words. And in another place, it's one word. The correct usage is one word, same with the word, "Trade off." Trade-off needs a hyphen. There's a sentence, "Aspects of their brain chemistry was altered." So if you've got a, "Their," it would be, "Were altered," not, "Was altered." There's a missing word, the sentence, "The hole should blank, two metres deep." I think it should be, "The hole should be two metres deep." So a word dropped out.
These are bad errors that anybody who reads a lot of books, even if they can't identify what's wrong, they're going to feel it. You feel it when something's, when there's this many errors and there's just no excuse for it.
These are the kinds of errors that even - you and I are both fans of ProWritingAid. ProWritingAid would flag every single one of these. So even before you hire an editor, which you do need to do, clean it up, like it doesn't take that much.
James Blatch: The downside of this is so tumultuous. Potentially, a decent percentage of readers just not getting through the book, because if they're picking up that level of errors early on. But the good news is Jennie, it's a really easy fix. You mentioned ProWritingAid. That's a first sweep that you can do yourself.
In fact, I've been using it today as I rewriting my book, loading scenes up. And of course, however, careful you think you might be, it always is going to pick up stuff, particularly that first draft. Secondly, you outsource it to someone. I know it's going to cost a bit of money, but it's so important.
It's fixable. That's the good news, right?
Jennie Nash: Yeah. A book like this is never going to win an award. That's one. It could be the best story. It would never win an award. So let alone readers, accolades it's all the things. And then it goes on actually.
The next type of things are the type of things that ProWritingAid is not going to catch. So, logic level edit. In this case, there's a line in the book where... So this girl, they get into this sort of gruesome situation, she and the robot, and they're dirty and bloody, there's been a death that they've witnessed and sort of been involved with. And they go jump in a lake to get clean and the line, I'm just trying to find the line. "There was no need to be modest. There wasn't another living soul for thousands of kilometres, excluding her parents and ferals."
Ferals are feral humans. So the words are literally. "There wasn't another living soul for thousands of kilometres." Then in the next paragraph, it says, "She did her best to get the dirt and grime that accumulated during their toil from her hair. And while she would have to bathe again, when she got inside, she was at least no longer worried that her appearance would frighten the children." That was the next sentence. So I stopped. And I was like, "Wait, what?"
And I went back and it was like, "There wasn't a living soul for thousands of kilometres, but now there's children." So in my head that raises questions, are the children not living souls? I mean, we're in a sci-fi book. So, you have to ask that, are the children, why would you have that disconnect?
That's a kind of thing an editor's going to flag, because it sews distrust in the writer. And this happens. I caught it with the children. So there is a scene in these pages on Amazon where the girl and the robot are in fact with a tonne of children, and they're playing with the children and the children are part of a scheme to take over the world. And I think they were developed in a lab. But they're children, they're human children.
James Blatch: So living souls.
Jennie Nash: So yes they are. So it's the care to things like that, because what happens. You think about dropping breadcrumbs in the forest. And I was going down this path of, "Wait, are these children, I don't get it. Are they living souls? Well, he said they weren't." So I was doing that. And that's not what he wants the reader to be paying attention to. He wants them to be paying attention to who these children are, where they came from, what their meaning is to the girl? That whole thing. So that's what I would call logic, logic level editing.
James Blatch: And this is something we've talked about before, is that it's absolutely fine. And what you should be doing is provoking some questions in the minds of the reader, but the ones, the questions you want them to be asking, not questions of are they outside or inside? You don't want that level of confusion. You want them to be thinking, "Oh, things are different here." If you've planted something different. And also I'd say, because Peter might be, when he listens to this, you might think, "Well, yeah, but I meant they were X, so, I meant they were ferals." But if somebody is reading this and editors are reading this, and it's not clear to them, that needs to be fixed. Even if you kind of got, even if it is right in your mind, it's a third person telling you this does not read right, I need some clarification.
And that's going to happen again because you can't always see that in your own writing.
Jennie Nash: That's exactly right. And I would say that if you're telling yourself, "But it's right there, I said it, don't you get it? I meant this or that." If you're thinking that, what you're forgetting is that you're not there when the person's reading the book, you don't get to have a counter argument. All you get is what is on the page.
James Blatch: Unless you sit next to every reader who reads your book, arguing with them, explaining, "No, you shouldn't be confused."
Jennie Nash: There's one more editing thing that I want to point out because it goes to the same things. This is what an editor would catch. There's these little tiny point of view shifts in several paragraphs that I found. They're not egregious, but they're enough that again, it pulls the reader out for just a second. And when the reader's pulled out of the story, well, you know what the opposite feels like, when you're reading a book and you're just in it.
I'm sure this has happened to you, where you're reading a book and you're in it, and in my case, my husband would come up and say, "Hey, when you want to have dinner?" I'd be like, "Ah," forget that you're in the real world. You're so immersed in it. And these little tiny breaks pull you out, where what's going to happen is if you're pulled out, you put the book down and you're not going to want to be compelled to go back into it.
I'll give you an example of one of these little POV shifts. It's the paragraph that begins, "And then Maria saw her eyes." This feral human has been killed, and Maria, who's our protagonist and the robot have gone up to it. And Marie has never seen a feral, and she's never seen a dead person. So she says, "And then Maria saw her eyes. She had always had an intense interest in people's eyes. She needed to know everything she could about the people she encountered and the eyes were the easiest way to read a person. There was nothing in the feral woman's except for what she would later conclude was pure hate and anger. She was a tormented soul ruled by a mind that had been corrupted by plague and subsequent hard life."
So the little POV shift is the sentence, "There was nothing in the feral woman's," and the word, "Eyes," is not there, but it's assumed, "Except for what she," that, "She," technically refers to the feral woman. So in that sentence, "There was nothing in the feral woman's eyes, except for what she would later conclude was pure hate and anger." That sentence is about the feral woman, and that, "She," refers to the feral woman.
So when you're reading it, there's a little hitch where you have to remind yourself, "Oh, this is, "She," Maria." And then the next sentence, "She was a tormented soul ruled by a mind that had been corrupted by plague and subsequent hard life." That technically is still the feral woman, because we've shifted who the, "She," is.
I had two thoughts there. I thought, well, wait, are we in the feral woman's mind? And then, if we're not, "She was a tormented soul," is assuming what's inside the feral woman. So there were tiny little things here that tripped me up and they're little, teeny POV shifts that an editor would, it's literally fixing a, "She," it's literally putting in again, the, "Maria," it's just tiny little things that clean it up and keep the reader from-
James Blatch: Yeah. Keeps them in there.
Jennie Nash: Does that make sense?
James Blatch: It does, and I've got a question about this, because it's something I have been thinking about recently, and I had a little conversation on the show, actually, a couple of weeks ago and we had a few replies to it. So the way I read that, actually, was very slightly different from you, although it does still jar for the same reasons. When she says, "There was nothing in the feral woman's eyes, except what she would later conclude was pure hate and anger." I think I thought that was Maria telling, that was the narrator. Suddenly there's an omniscient narrator who knows about the future, telling you that Maria, in the future, is going to conclude when she knows more, that there's hate and anger there. And again, that's reinforced here with information that Maria doesn't know at this moment, but we're told is going to know, "She was a tormented soul ruled by mind that's corrupted by plague."
Now that brings into question the POV the perspective. So you're writing a scene, a story from somebody's POV, and you're talking about stuff that hasn't happened yet, that they can't possibly know and they can't see. It's the same as head-hopping in a way, in that something's happening outside the window that they can't see, but you're being told about it. And that creates a confusion in the mind of the reader.
In a really simple sense, I think, because I've taken one of the POV's out of the first half of my book, as a decision about how we're going to address some of the issues. So there's some things I've written about in scenes, which are lovely, descriptive stuff of the aircraft sweeping down that only the pilot can see, because he sits up the front and the other guy's down the back.
I speculated out loud to Mark, asked him, "Can I still have a narrator say, "The aircraft swept out of the sky," and then go back into Millie's point of view sitting in the back. And a lot of people said, "No, you can't do that, because it's jarring, because unless you're writing the whole book from god's, god with a small G's perspective of sees everything, or you're writing from perspectives." And I agree with that on balance. I think I stick with this personal close story unfolding in front of whoever's eyes you choose to be with in that scene. And that's what this suddenly takes you out of. Suddenly there's a God person, who knows things in the future, and it's jarring.
Jennie Nash: So actually I think your description of what's wrong here is better than mine. I quickly analysed it and concluded what I spoke about, but I think your description is actually more accurate about what's happening here. It's a little POV shift, but you're right, it's a narrator shift and you, either way, however I read it or you read it, it's interesting. We both read it incorrectly than what the author intended. And that's really a great proof, right?
Two people read it in a different way than what I believe he intended. And so the thing you're talking about, you're talking about two different things, actually, there's choosing your POV and sticking with it. So, is it a godlike narrator who knows everything and everyone and can see in all, or are you in close third, where you're really, in this case, in Maria's head only, you can't know, then, what she would later conclude. And but you're also talking about a timeline decision, sticking in the current time, rather than later concluding, or jumping ahead in the timeline.
But that's a technical thing not to get into, but the point here is an editor would catch those things. And you may not think that they're that big a deal, but they add up in a reader's mind, and the reader's going to get mad.
I want to shift to talk about another thing that I think Peter could do to improve it, that I also think an editor would help with. And then I'm going to talk about something he does really well. So there is a scene in these opening pages with the children, when now Maria and this robot go and they play with their children and it goes on for quite a long time. And there's no page breaks in the way Amazon presented it, so I couldn't say how many pages, but three, four pages, it goes on for quite a long time.
This is an issue of pacing and flow. And it's one of the most sophisticated editing things that you bring to a work, it's one of the last things you do. So once that story's on the page, everything's cleaned up, it's all working, the characters are building, all that's in place, you want to look at your pacing and flow. And that's, where do you hold the tension? Where do you release it? Where's their action, where is it reflection, the ups and downs and flow of how story goes.
Really excellent writers just have this so nailed down. It's such a pleasure to read a book like that, where you're on the edge of your seat and then there's a release. And then, "Oh my gosh. Now what?" And then there, especially in this genre. And that scene with the children, all of a sudden I was thinking, "Why are we spending so much time on these children?"
They play a game of tag and it's a very elaborate game of tag and it involves a robot and drones and things. And it's cool, tag with technology is a cool idea. Give it to me, that's awesome. But I kept thinking, "Something bad is going to happen to one of these children, something bad is going to happen." It's the type of thing where the child is going to hide, and they go away from the other kids and they go across a bridge and they hide behind the thing. And you're like, "Oh no, something's going to happen." And my suspicion is that in the book, in fact, things will happen to the children. So that's good. We want that.
But the scene itself, I was so expecting something to happen, and then it just didn't, and it was like, "Well, we got to get back to the Spire," which is their home base, "Got to go." And, and I was like, "Wait, what?"
So that issue of pacing, again, I think an editor would help you trim that scene down a bit, so that we get that sense of tension, we get that sense of danger, but we don't feel cheated by the scene. Does that make sense?
James Blatch: Yes it does. And it's nice to have those. You've got to think about them, I guess, as sort of background. If it's a film, it's something that's taking place while some more action that moves the story along takes place, rather than it being a whole scene in its own right. Unless, as you say, it is pivotal, but it doesn't appear to be. I mean, maybe in time it becomes pivotal, but it seems unlikely. But I'm not sure.
Jennie Nash: Yeah. There's some things being established here. There's these many, many children who seem to not have supervision, who seem to live outside of the Spire, who Maria has an actual connection with. She knows all their names, she knows things about them. She and the robot clearly visit them often and play with them often. And those are really important things to establish. And we get to know some of the technology in this game of tag as well, how communication and transportation, some transportation things happen.
So there's a lot that is good about this, but yeah, so it is a sophisticated skill of trimming the scene back is going to help move the story along and not... These are all questions of, how is your reader moving through your story, and what are they while they're in any given scene or moment? And you don't want them to ever stall out. And so that was another place where I was going down a path, "Something's going to happen to one of these kids right now," that turned out not to be true.
James Blatch: Yeah. Like another landmine or something, which you already had.
This is difficult stuff though, I think. This is quite advanced, but important, that pacing.
Jennie Nash: It's very advanced, yes.
James Blatch: Quite difficult to get pacing whilst you're writing, probably something that you understand more when you've finished your draft and you read it out loud to yourself.
Jennie Nash: A hundred percent. It's the last thing you do. It's the last thing you do, because this is a great scene. It's actually very well-written-
James Blatch: Yeah. Really well-written.
Jennie Nash: There's a lot that happens in it that's great, he's setting up something that's going to go wrong, we know that. Really, really well done. And so I would say that, we're talking about here now, I would say that that scene, as it stands is 90%. It's an A, awesome job, but so easy to get to an A plus with a tiny little tweak. So that's all we're talking about. The things we were talking about before, like the basic level editing, the logic level editing, the POV shifts, that makes this book a C minus. Don't get a C minus when you can easily fix that and get an A, that's just silly.
But in this case, what I'm talking about is, okay, now really turn it up a notch and get an A plus, be the kind of book that that people say, "Oh my gosh, that was amazing. What a wild ride. It was so fun," rather than, "Well, there were these scenes that went on."
While we're talking about A-level, I want to talk about some things that this author does extremely well, and it's something that is really hard to do. And that's just getting emotion on the page, and where we were talking before about being in the narrator's head, or the protagonist's head, it's this idea people always ask about, of, how do you get emotion on the page without just dumping it in or just putting it down or saying, "Well, she thought X," or it's that really fine line between, we've got to know what this character is thinking and feeling, but don't just tell us. And it's like, how do you do that? It's such a conundrum. And this guy does it really, really well.
I want to show that so our listeners can get a sense of how it works. I'm going to point us to a paragraph that begins, the robot is speaking, it's towards the top, maybe a page or two in. The robot says, "Ms. Patterson, you've been asked to refrain from disconnecting yourself from the local net, by both of your parents and myself." So what she's done is she's taken her contact lenses out, and contact lenses in this world are the hub of, it's like your phone. It's like your phone has been made into your contact lens. So she takes them out, which is cool technology, and to disconnect, because she doesn't want to be bugged by her parents. And her parents can see where she is, I think they can maybe see her thoughts, it's a creepy technology. So the robot is saying, your parents want you to put them back on.
Jennie Nash: So, "Tober said this without so much as a single huff of exhaustion as its long, powerful legs effortlessly matched her stride." It's a robot, so that he's not getting exhausted. Then, "She glanced over at the robot, noticing for the first time that it was running forward while keeping its shiny, smooth black face plate aimed directly at her. It knew she hated when it did that. It just didn't look right that Tober's visual focus could be undeniably on her, and yet it never missed a step and was far more graceful than she could hope to be. It was creepy."
See how beautifully done that is. We're totally in her head, a hundred percent feeling what she's feeling. So let me just read that again. "She glanced over at the robot, noticing for the first time that it was running forward while keeping it's shiny, smooth black face plate aimed directly at her. It knew she hated when it did that. It just didn't look right that Tober's visual focus could be undeniably on her and yet it never missed a step and was far more graceful than she could hope to be. It was creepy." So when you see how that's just like, boom.
James Blatch: Yeah, and it's so important to understand this. And I'm only just starting to grasp what, "Show don't tell," actually means. And it's obviously because you are telling all the time, that's what a book is, it's you telling-
Jennie Nash: All the time.
James Blatch: So what does, "Show don't tell," actually mean? And that's what it means, instead of explaining, or instead of saying, "She found him creepy," which was an easy way of doing that, he comes up with this device where you're feeling the creepiness with her, in your neck, that's-
Jennie Nash: This is A plus plus plus writing, because yeah, you're seeing what she's seeing. Okay, here's the key she's making meaning of it, right? Here's a robot that, its eyes are on me while it's doing what, I'm operating at my peak performance as a runner, and it's matching me stride for stride, but it's looking right at me and she gets this sense like, "Don't look at me," that's what she says next. "I told you I wanted to be left alone," she said, tersely," so you're feeling what she's feeling, you're in it. You know why it matters to her.
And this is going to turn out, in fact, to be the whole story. If you read the book jacket, the whole story is about, technology and the people that control it are dangerous. And so here's this robot, who's obviously her friend, who's obviously her companion, who she has the most interaction with of anyone in the world, it seems like, and she's creeped out by it. So he's not saying, to your point, "She glanced over at the robot and was creeped out by it. It was looking at her in that way that it did whatever." So, she's not doing that. We're in it, and she's making meaning. It's just fabulous.
And then, I want to point out another place where he does the same thing. Let's remember this is a teenage girl, this is a YA story. And this is the first few pages. So the paragraph is just soon after that other one, "She walked up to it and the robot shifted to face her. "Tober, I know that you think I'm doing this just to be petulant, but that isn't the case. So much of my life is regimented and laid out for me. Father has left almost nothing to chance. I don't make my own decisions, and because of that, I don't have my own life. That's why I come out here and run, because I need to know that I can be free from time to time, to make my own choices, to experience life and to be alive. I will go back to the Spire, but let me have some choice in the how and when I go."
This is just fabulous. This is dialogue. And there is not a teenage girl alive who isn't going to read this and be like, "Yes." Right? That is what every teenage girl feels. This teenage girl happens to be in a high-tech weird world with a creepy dad, we're going to find, and some very strange stuff going on, but this is what every teenage girl on the planet feels, is like, "Leave me alone," and I go do this thing, whatever this is. I dance, I run, I play video games, whatever I do, because I need to feel like I'm in control of my own life and I need to feel alive.
And this could have been really badly done. This speech could have been really badly done, but it's in the context of this, she's taken these contacts out, the robot's like, "You've got to put them back in, your parents are expecting it. We've got to go back. You can't do this. My job obviously, what's the word, quasi parent here, put your contacts back in." And she's like, "No, I'm not doing it." And having this argument and this conversation, and then she walks up to the robot, shifts to face it and says this speech, and it's earned.
So that's why it's good. That's why the emotion here, it's earned in the context of the scene. We're barely into this story, but we know what this bit of dialogue is doing is telling us what matters to her, what she wants in this entire book, what she's up against, it's like all the questions, the who, what, when, where, why, are summed up in the speech? And again, he's put us in her skin, saying, "Come on, robot. You know what my life is like," and she's badly done. This kind of dialogue is a character telling another character, "Let me tell you about my life, because you don't know about my life."
That's really bad, but what he's doing here, it's clear that the robot knows all these things she's saying, but she's saying it in an argument to him, like, "Come on, you know what my dad is like, you know what my life is like, you know how hard this is for me. I come out here because I need to, leave me alone." So she's making an argument to the robot. So it's in context in the scene, it's in context in the dialogue, it's in the context of the story. And this is beautiful, "But let me have some choice in the how, and when I go." Boom, we know what this girl wants, we know what she needs. It's just fantastic.
James Blatch: Yeah. And I think dialogue is a really good way of showing and not telling. And I'm finding myself now lifting out those bits of italics I had in my manuscript saying he was agitated, or irritated, and turning that into a dialogue so that the reader understands. And it's something that's happened, that results in him being agitated, not you telling them he's agitated, and dialogue is a good way of doing that. That's great. And I should also say, I think generally his writing's really good.
Jennie Nash: It is really good.
James Blatch: Yeah. I really enjoyed the reading.
Jennie Nash: I think it's really good, if he can sustain this throughout. So I would just say if he wants to have a shot at really being read, he needs to edit it. And Pro Writing Aid as a step one to get all those little basic level editing, but he needs somebody to go through and pick out those little slips that really add up.
The difference between a book like this and a book... Well, you mentioned Peter F. Hamilton. I can promise you that of course, there's going to be typos in a book. There's a hundred thousand words. There's going to be a typo, there's going to be a dropped comma. That's going to happen. So I'm not saying, "Everybody go out and find, in Peter F Hamilton, a typo," because it will be there. But the difference is just vast, in terms of the quality of the work. And so if Peter F. Smith can write a story this good, do yourself a favour, get it edited, get it cleaned up. And a good editor is going to tighten that screw to get you from A to A plus. And he's got the hardest thing to do, which is put us in that character's skin, let us feel what she's feeling, let us know why it means something to her, let us know why it matters and what's at stake. And he does that just fabulously.
James Blatch: Yeah, he does the difficult stuff.
Jennie Nash: Yeah.
James Blatch: And the obvious stuff is surprising. I've got one supplementary before we leave this, which is adverbs. So in the earlier example you were using as a really good example of showing, not telling, and her saying to the robot, finding him creepy. And the quote is, "I told you I wanted to be left alone," she said, tersely." There's a bit of a controversy about adverbs, isn't there. Some people strip them out afterwards, take every adverb out. And on the basis that if you have to explain to the reader that she's saying it tersely, you haven't set up the quote correctly.
Or is there a place for adverbs to reinforce the way something's said? What do you think?
Jennie Nash: I agree. I think an editor would take that out. I think they would flag that. I would certainly flag that if I were doing it. It was not hugely offensive to me though, because he did earn it. Right? We know she says it tensely. So in a way, the worst offence to me is when you don't earn it and you're using that to drive the emotion, like you have no idea that she said it tersely, and then she said tersely and you're like, "That's not fair." That's worse. I think when it's earned, it tends not to offend me so much, but there's no reason for that. We know she says it, you can hear it. "I told you I want to be left alone." You know exactly.
James Blatch: You don't need it.
Jennie Nash: You don't need it, yeah.
James Blatch: I think that's right. We mustn't forget, I think, in Stephen King's book, he says that, "He said, she said, he said, she said, in the end, don't worry about that. Don't worry about that. You don't have to vary it for the reader's point of view, because the reader blanks it out." The reader has a way of not seeing it anymore.
Jennie Nash: It disappears.
James Blatch: It just informs the reader, in the most basic and efficient way, who was talking. And even in a sentence, if it's two people and you're using the name of one of them, you don't even need it.
Jennie Nash: Right. Another thing people would tend to do here is they would say, ""I told you I wanted to be left alone," she spat." So that would be like, you can't actually, spitting, you can spit words, but sometimes people use words there instead of even, "She said, tersely," "She murmured," "He whispered-"
James Blatch: Hissed.
Jennie Nash: She hissed. And it's like, don't do that. Unless, "She leaned over and whispered," maybe, but for the most part, I think it's safe. You've got to earn, you've got to be able to hear how that character's going to speak, and in this case you absolutely get it. Yeah. Super fun.
Super well done. I wish he, this is a thing I noticed about this particular author, is he seems to be editing while he goes or updating while he goes, because I was peeking at the book that came before and after it, to try to place this book in context. And there was a lot of jarring information that he's presenting in this whole series. Why is a book up there if it's not ready? And it's not just coming soon. It's literally, you can buy it and read it. It's almost like he's using readers to vet stuff or... I don't know. It's a little strange.
James Blatch: Possibly some sort of mid relaunch, but yeah, that's something we can tease out of Peter when we interview him and find out what's going on there. Really important to get all this stuff very crystal clear and if necessary, take the books down for a bit, but we'll get that, we'll cover that side with him.
Jenny, I want to say thank you very much. I love, honestly, love these discussions. I personally find them really informative and energising for my writing, I hope that's the case with people listening as well.
Jennie Nash: It's exciting. Thank you for having me and just to say to Peter, awesome, awesome work. It's a really, really great job. If the rest of the book sustains at that level, he's got something here, but he's got to get it edited.
James Blatch: And if you want the professional side of Jennie, you can be engaged, you're quite expensive, I should say, but your company also has people who work for you and I have used your services, which have been immense, but we also have a fantastic course that you've done, we should plug, selfpublishingformula.com/editing, and you can read all about it and find out, get some pretty much one-on-one support.
Jennie Nash: How to revise a novel, and it's a beautiful course. You guys do an amazing job, it is so just beautifully produced. And we're having a good time in the Facebook group on this course. I'm having a great time seeing people in there just like, "Never going to revise the same way again, mind blown." It's really exciting.
James Blatch: It's fantastic. And as we speak, we're going to be doing a live this week into there, to teach a lesson about the inside outline, and we'll have plenty of those in the future as well. So people, once you're in the course, you get this group, which is amazing value. Anyway, enough plugging. That's it, Jennie, I'm going to let you go. Thank you very much, indeed. We'll see you in the lab next time.
Jennie Nash: Thank you.
James Blatch: Okay. There's Jennie. Well, what did the man himself think, Peter F. Smith listening to all of that? Not 100% praiseworthy, but not awful either, some good feedback. Let's see how he responded to that. Here is Peter after he listened to those feedback interviews.
Well, Peter F. Smith, here we are. You are in the Book Laboratory. We have dragged you through the mill of course, as we always do. And Jennie, Bryan, and Stuart have all looked at what you've been doing, and they've given you some feedback, and given you their critical response. So guess what? We're all dying to know is how was that received with you, the creator?
How did you think just overall in what you've heard and read so far from the critics?
Peter F Smith: They were spot on. I wouldn't have applied for Book Lab if I didn't know there were problems. It's a complicated mess that got me where I am today. I do swear I did pay for an editor for the two books.
James Blatch: Yeah. So there was an interesting moment with Jennie and I, because she started. We had this introduction. We were doing her feedback on it. And I was looking at your book, thinking, "I don't recognise what Jennie was talking about." And then we realised that you had actually changed the text. And I think that was an inkling for me that there was something amiss in the way the books have been uploaded and presented, a little bit of ambiguity as to what followed what. And it's clear that there's some area there that just needs to be sharpened and sorted out in terms of a very clear offer to your readers.
Peter F Smith: 110%. I've been approaching this first series, well, I guess now it's two series, but I'll explain that in a minute, as an experiment. I've never written that much before. I had never tried to publish before. So for me, this is all new. And that's the reason why I love you guys. You guys, oh my God. How many hours of high quality podcast content do you guys just give out for free every single ... well, every couple of weeks.
James Blatch: Well, and here's more of it with you at the centre of it also. And this is ... Well, no, this is a great learning experience. Honestly, I absolutely love these episodes. Love reading the blurb and listening to Stu. It's fascinating. I particularly enjoy Jennie's dissection.
Peter F Smith: Yeah, she was amazing.
James Blatch: She is amazing. So should we start with Jennie then? So Jennie, once we reset and established that there was a different set of texts and she went through it, there were, yes, she, first of all said, "It needs a sweeping edit again." We talked about that investment, and I know it's a cost that people wince at a little bit, but honestly, it's not even one you can negotiate around. It's just something that you have to get done.
You have to get copy and proof editing done.
Peter F Smith: When I was first starting this out, I didn't have any feedback on the quality of the writing at all. I really appreciate the comment or the nice thing she said, the comments, the pros she gave. I appreciated the cons as well. That's the whole point behind this. But when I first started out, there's this just whole worry and concern that all you're doing is if you put so much money into the editing and put so much money in the cover art, then what happens is it's kind of like polishing a turd.
James Blatch: Wow.
Peter F Smith: Can I say that? I'm sorry. I apologise.
James Blatch: Yes, you can say that. That's fine, but I don't think it's a turd at all. I mean, you can write. There's no question about that. The concept's great. Jennie loved the concept. And my goodness, it's so well pitched for kind of that YA audience as well. It feels to me it's a real kind of Hunger Games-esque area.
In terms of the more substantial stuff, so the copy editing, the good news is it's an easy fix, although it's expensive. You're not looking at a massive rewrites here. But Jennie did pick up some other areas she felt could do with some attention. And one of those was an interesting one, which was a scene that didn't seem to move the story along or have a particular purpose that the reader would latch on to. And she was slightly concerned. That was a bit of a flag area for her.
Peter F Smith: So the other ones she provided like the clarity issue where she called that logic issue, I went through and I actually fixed that pretty quickly. There was nobody or there was no living souls than a few thousand miles in The Spire. And you both were drilling into that, and you guys were right. So what I did was I just said there was no living souls outside of the walls of The Spire because the children are within the walls. And I figured that would help to clarify that. Hopefully. We'll find out.
But yes, the one thing I have been chewing on since I listened to it yesterday, and I'm probably going to take a couple of weeks to actually process how to correct that scene is the scene where they're out there and they're playing with the kids and her robot companion Tobor is there with her. And they're really trying to connect those children.
I need that scene, but if it's slowing down an expert like Jennie and her like of the book and the flow, then I do obviously have to alter that because it's critical to her psychology, to Maria's psychology, and her father's psychology and explains why he did all the horrible, terrible things he did.
James Blatch: Well, maybe there's a way of having some action in there that tells the reader because the reader's got to be told by you as the writer, what it is they're supposed to be taking out of something. So maybe there's a way through there, obviously with your knowledge of the story and where it's going.
One of the reasons I really love this feedback and talking to Jennie is because I'm in the same position as you Peter, and I'm writing a book and trying to navigate my way through that. And I'm currently well over with that. I've had a editorial breakdown a bit like Jennie did, but with the whole book, a really good editorial breakdown, a chat with an editor, this is how to get to publication, this is what's wrong with it. And the wrong thing was, I overwrote, overdescribed, told the reader what to think and feel every possible moment, thinking I was doing the right thing at the time.
It wasn't a bad way of drafting the story because it's very clear to me what needs to happen in every scene, which is really useful now because I'm reading the scene, reading all these bits in italics about what he thought and why he's doing stuff, stripping all of that out, replacing it with actions and speech and allowing the reader to hopefully get there, which is a really, really fun bit of it. I'm really enjoying it. And I'm stripping out scenes that Jennie said of the reason I'm making this point is similar to yours. That it wasn't clear why it was in the book. And if there's a reason why it was in that, at the moment I'm being quite brutal about it. And sometimes combining two big scenes and they become half the length of the two over each of them, because it's down to the action, it's down to the bit, the mood, the story along, and I've swept, stripped away all the other stuff. So that's not a bad thing to do with any manuscripts, right?
Peter F Smith: I agree. It's always better to have more than you need, so that way you can pair it down.
James Blatch: Yeah. So you're going to take a couple of weeks to a process what Jennie's told you, and do you think you're then going to make wholesale changes to the manuscript or you're going to just go and go through and tweak? Or what do you think?
Or perhaps read the book again?
Peter F Smith: I've gone through it a couple of times with PWA already. It missed a few of the things she talked about, but regardless, that's me, I should have gone through and been a little bit more thorough on those sweeps. I thought I'd caught all the missing words, like the dropped words. And then when she pointed that one out, like in the first like two or three paragraphs, I am honestly surprised you did not hear my head hit the table all the way across the Atlantic. I'm not going to lie. That was one of those moments.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, like Jennie says, I read a lot of books and I've never failed to see a typo in a book, whether it's Stephen King or Len Deighton or whoever.
Peter F Smith: Peter F. Hamilton or something like that, yeah-
James Blatch: Peter F. Hamilton even. I'm sure that I've got that original first edition copy somewhere. Actually, maybe I sold it on eBay a few years ago, can't remember now. I have to look in the attic.
Peter F Smith: What was the first one you read from him?
James Blatch: The Reality of Disfunction.
Peter F Smith: I have not read that series. I started the Pandora Star.
James Blatch: Okay. Well, I think it was his first book. I think Reality of Dysfunction. So looking back, I was in my 20s probably when I read that, I'm sure I was. I think that's a bit of an overwritten book now. I think he's a better writer now. He's also worked out how to ... I mean, it's a big thing and I think this is for you and me and lots of people listening is trusting your reader to get there and not laying it on a spoon for them and having those scenes. The tag scene is a great scene if it plants something very clearly. And that's difficult, right? That's the difficult bit of writing, being subtle, being both ham-fisted and subtle at the same time. So here's a big scene that you're enjoying and you'll come away from it with this little bit of important information about the characters and stuff. Nobody said this was going to be easy.
Peter F Smith: No, exactly. This is incredibly complex, which is the reason why I'm approaching this first series as experimental. I'm totally fine making these mistakes. I really am, because I get the opportunity to talk to experts like you, like Jennie, and I get feedback through reviews.
I hadn't thought about pulling listings though. I am actually going to pull those not long from now so that way I can make sure they get thorough reviews on my part. And then I'll do a relaunch when I finish book five and six. Should have those done by January. And I'll do a relaunch in March after I've gone through and doing thorough reviews and add thorough beta readers.
James Blatch: Beta readers. Yeah. Okay. Well, keep them up for now so that people who are watching this episode can go and check them out.
Peter F Smith: I will.
James Blatch: Yeah, maybe a week after the episode's gone out. So that'd be December, I think, mid December.
Peter F Smith: I'll at least make sure that The Spire is cleaner by the time I get it out.
James Blatch: Okay. All right, well, let's move on then. Let's talk about the cover. Stuart's feedback. I think the simple summing up of his feedback, and I have to say, I agree with him, and this is beautiful cover. Absolutely does the job as a sci-fi novel, but missing a few important elements and doesn't connect particularly to what your particular novel is. And the key thing missing he felt and I think as well, maybe I said at first is humans. I think Stuart agreed with that, is that there's no ...
Peter F Smith: You said that back a year ago when you were in Yuma.
James Blatch: Is that what I said? When I picked it up in Yuma, because I couldn't remember what I said to you, and I remember you asking about it.
Peter F Smith: You and John actually made a comment about it, looking kind of like a comic book cover.
James Blatch: Right. It's a sci-fi. The first thing it's going to do at a glance is tell you what the book is. What it doesn't do I suppose it's tell you it's YA, but that's ...
Peter F Smith: It's got to make a connection and it doesn't make a connection.
James Blatch: It's just what's happening to these people, where they go. There's just a little figure. So what do you think you'll do about the covers?
Peter F Smith: I might not be able to do an edit anytime soon, but ... or a professional edit anytime soon because it costs, because I was looking at Jennie's rates and I was like, "Okay, I'm sure she's worth this, but ...
James Blatch: You mean Stuart, right, in terms of the covers-
Peter F Smith: No, no. Oh no, I was going to get to the cover right now.
James Blatch: Oh yes, yes. Sorry.
Peter F Smith: I've looked at Stuart's rates and I'm like, "Okay, I can probably swing that." And then when I do my relaunch in March. So I might contact him sometime in the near future and see if they can ...
James Blatch: I think you've got the foundations of what you need from Jennie to probably do this yourself with the manuscript.
Peter F Smith: Initially, yes.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Peter F Smith: I would love though to have a professional edit on it, but it's just the ... I've got to wait till I get a little bit of money coming in to actually.
James Blatch: Yes. And that's expensive.
Peter F Smith: Yes.
James Blatch: I've just been through that myself, and it is an investment, that's for sure. Okay. I mean, what you might get, you might get some friendly people in the SPF community. One or two might read it for you and give you some feedback. So look, here's a blatant plug for anybody who wants to read The Spire and have a conversation with Peter about it.
Peter F Smith: Appreciate that. Thank you.
James Blatch: But in terms of the cover. So you think maybe a redesign of the series.
Peter F Smith: I do. It's gorgeous. I found an amazing artist on Fiverr who was able to put them together. And then I found another woman out of the Ukraine who actually designed the fonts and actually made it set or work on Amazon. But yeah, I don't think it has that human connection. And that's what this book is all about. That's what reading is all about. It's about connecting to your audience people.
James Blatch: Yeah. And funnily enough, Apocalypse Dawn, which we were a bit confused about where that fits in. Sort of was it originally a prequel or is it the beginning or a novella?
Peter F Smith: Yeah. I was confused too.
James Blatch: That's not a good sign.
Peter F Smith: Yeah. Well, like I said, I approached this whole thing as an experiment. I don't think I realised that I was writing a prequel series and a core series until I got done with book three Absolution, which by the way, in book three, there are some very, very shameless pandering towards SPF in that book, just a heads up.
James Blatch: Is there? That's exciting.
Peter F Smith: Absolute shameless.
James Blatch: That's exciting.
Peter F Smith: Very shameless.
James Blatch: John Dyer and I are characters and Margaret Lashley's book, which is fantastic.
Peter F Smith: Nice.
James Blatch: Yeah. Blatch and Smalls, which was John's nickname for reasons that we're not going to whilst we're in Florida together. And yeah, I've read her Marcus Blatch book, which is great.
Peter F Smith: Nice.
James Blatch: Well, that's very exciting. Okay. Right. So covers possibly you took ... You certainly aren't throwing that out of court as being inadmissible evidence. You're saying that's a good spot. And they do look gorgeous. But like Stuart always says, "Fine. Hang that on your wall to look gorgeous and then put a cover on that's going to sell your book because all that hard work."
Finally, Bryan, we won't go through all the blurb stuff again because he's been through that with Bryan, but did you like what Bryan had written for you?
Peter F Smith: Yeah. It was succinct, but it made it to the point. It really hit the emotions.
James Blatch: Yeah. I didn't mind your blurb I have to say. I thought your blurb worked pretty well. I think it needed a little bit of reworking a little bit, but it's not a bad, bad blurb. Actually I'm recording this in all honesty before I've spoken to Bryan. I'm speaking to him in a couple of hours tonight. So I don't know what he's going to say, but I think he will probably say, "Yeah, not a bad blurb at all, but let's just give people a bigger hook at the beginning, a bit more tension to drag them into the story." And I think that's what he's done with this blurb.
Peter F Smith: He did. It was excellent. I'm going to feel bad about letting go of that initial hook, a daughter's love, a father's betrayal, the fate of the human race.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Peter F Smith: But I am. I'm going to experiment with this one and then try the heck out of it.
James Blatch: Well do you know what? You can use that in some advertising in the future. So save all that stuff.
Peter F Smith: Yeah.
James Blatch: Facebook ads in particular, that little headline, I do sit there thinking the books on marketing at the moment, of exactly those types of hooks that sits at the top and then a bit more blurb about them underneath. Good. Well, Peter, we are always full of admiration for anybody who puts himself through the SPF Book Lab mill.
Peter F Smith: It was a bit of a woodshed experience with Jennie.
James Blatch: Yeah. You feel like you've been violated.
Peter F Smith: No, not ...
James Blatch: Okay.
Peter F Smith: It was awesome. I appreciate it. It's always great to get to hear from experts.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Peter F Smith: It is.
James Blatch: Yeah. Great. Well, look, you've got a great universe set up there. A very strong commercial market. There's bits that aren't working at the moment, which is probably why you've struggled a little bit to this point, if you're in marketing terms. But honestly I think you can sketch out a plan and '21 could be your year.
Peter F Smith: I'm open. I really am. I've got another series, a smopera in the works after this one is done.
James Blatch: Is that space opera?
Peter F Smith: It's space marine opera.
James Blatch: Ah, space marine opera. I love it. Got to catch up with some sub genres.
Peter F Smith: No, I just totally made that up of my ...
James Blatch: Oh, okay. It's a thing now.
Peter F Smith: It's a thing. I'm testing it on you.
James Blatch: Yeah. There you go, it's a thing. On The Self Publishing Show so it's a thing. Good. Brilliant. Well, can't wait to get out to the States again. And you're in Phoenix, one of my favourite cities. So we will come and see you there Peter. We saw you in your last house in here, so we have to chase you to the United States. And yeah, let's catch up with you next year to find out how you're getting on with these books and very best of luck with them.
Peter F Smith: And good luck to you on yours. I'm really looking more to read that one.
James Blatch: Thank you, Peter.
There we go. I want to say a huge thank you to our laboratory assistants, our scientists in the lab, Jennie Nash, Bryan Cohen, and Stuart Bache. Fantastic analysis of the book. Are always helpful. I found Jennie's always fascinating talking about getting that point of view correct, not confusing the reader. And if there's going to be a scene in it, you have to understand what she was talking about. I think Mark was, you have to understand that the genre expectations aren't just there for the whole book. They're there for individual scenes.
If you're setting up a scene where there's children running about, which is what's happening here, in that genre the reader's already got an expectation. Something's not quite right. Something's going to happen. And that scene ended without anything happening and moved on. And she talked about reflecting genre expectations in the macro and the micro sense throughout the book. Otherwise, why is the scene there? If it means something much later on, there might be a different way of doing it. So I thought that was a really interesting area to talk about.
I come back to this point, as I've said it before, it's quite hard writing a novel, getting all this bit right. Isn't it?
Mark Dawson: Well, it is the first time he tried it. Yeah. So the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more you read and the more you write in this genre, you'll start to understand what the conventions are and what readers are expecting. What I always come back to when we're looking at this kind of content is the reader, if they do the look inside, or even if they've bought the book and they start reading, you don't want them to put the book down. You want them to continue to read the book and then go and buy the next book and the next book.
So it's really important to get them hooked in and to take them on. And, as I mentioned, I think I mentioned on the podcast, but certainly in the Facebook group for, after an awfully long time of not reading enough outside of my research and my genre, I bought a very expensive but very lovely folio edition copy of the first Game of Thrones book and finished it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was absolutely great fun to read. But for those people who, and without ... There's no spoilers here. This is really the first chapter of the book. It begins with the others, the kind of the zombie army that assembles and grows and develops over the course of the series. It starts with a knight North of the wall and the guys who were with him, discovering the others and coming a cropper as they discover them.
And it's really exciting. It starts really quickly. The action gets going. It's mysterious. It's tense. It's mildly horrific. It's lots of things that won't make you want to keep reading. Fits the genre completely. And gets you into the rest of the book. So, if you were to pick it up on the shelves of Waterstones and just read the first few pages, without knowing, before the TV series and anything like that, you would be taken by the quality of the writing and the fact that you want to know more about what this story is going to be about.
And then once you take it home, when you start to read it, he will then kind of hook you with multiple hooks as he unravels a very complicated story, but told very simply. And before you know it, you're at 300 pages, then you're at 600 pages, then you're at 800 pages and you want the next book. And I've already bought the next book. That's how it's done by a master.
James Blatch: Yes, indeed. Is it really 800 pages? Like the other long books?
Mark Dawson: I think the edition I've got is because it's got pictures and illustrations and schedules and things like that. So it's in that kind of ballpark, but 800 pages for fancy that's fairly standard. They're all doorstop books.
James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed these Book Lab episodes and I enjoyed talking to all three of those people. And the discussion with Stuart was interesting.
Now, we had a little interesting moment this week actually, because I published on Facebook the new set of covers for Kerry J. Donovan's thriller series, The Ryan Kaine's series, a sort of Lee child Jack Reacher-esque saga, a set of books. And the covers are fantastic. Obviously they are designed by Stu commercially in mind. And a couple of people made a couple of points, slightly critical, lots people were wowed by them, a couple of people said, "Well, they look very similar to lots of other covers," as if that was a criticism. And someone even said, "Well, they look just the same as Mark Dawson's covers. I can't see what the difference is."
And although one of them got back to me quickly and said, yeah, they understood these are to sell books, I can't reinforce this point enough. You really need to listen to the episodes with Stuart talking about this. There's a couple of them if you search on our website to understand what the job of the cover is. And it really isn't to be different. In fact, it definitely is not to be different and to be, to make you go, "Oh, that's amazing," when your friend shows it to you and you go, "God, that's a really beautiful cover." You've got to be looking with a critical eye thinking, is this going to do the one job it's got which is in a fraction of a second convey to a potential Lee Child Jack Reacher Mark Dawson reader, this is one of those books.
And it's a new one. You probably haven't read before from a new guy. But it's worth upon. That's the job that cover's doing, and again you sort of reinforce that with that genre box ticking almost the cover needs to do.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I know why people respond that way and they want things to look different and innovative and those kinds of things. But that stays in what you want. I think I've probably mentioned this before. I only can think of one for the cover in the last five years that really was very different and was also exceptionally successful. And that was ... I can't remember the name that's on. Year of the ... It'll have to come back to me. It was a fingerprint of just what a fingerprint and it was a story of a terrorist and his chase across the world. I can't remember the name of it now, but it was very well known and it sold really well, but it was ...
James Blatch: Do you remember the author?
Mark Dawson: No, I can't, I won't remember it whilst we're doing-
James Blatch: Okay.
Mark Dawson: It might come to me later, but it sold really, really well, but it was nothing like the figure walking into the landscape, which is kind of the trope these days. And that's what you're seeing in all of my covers. I know when I started before I knew really what I was doing, I wanted something that stood out, looked different because I thought that was exactly, that would be what differentiated my book from all the other books that breeds good buy. But that is not what you want. And the one, the covers that I had designed like that didn't sell, and the ones that I have had designed by Stuart and listened to Stuart's advice and Stuart, basically, he just does it. I don't tell him what to do because that's his job. My job is to write the books.
Once I started taking my ego out of it and listening to Stuart, the expert, things started to sell. And that's not coincidental. It was the fact that those covers, they look great, they hit the mark, readers know exactly what they're going to get, and they're not disappointed when they buy them. So I understand why people take that attitude, but it is often a case of separating your author ego, taking that out of the equation, and thinking purely commercially. And when you do that, that's when you may find you start to sell a few more books.
James Blatch: I think you have to understand where your marketing is going to be. You don't have a big campaign billboard at railway stations, et cetera, to put behind this, like a big traditional author might have with those big signings they do. And they aren't the ones who are going to change the tropes that you talked about, that cover, which I suspect you're now googling to answer to me.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. I'm really not. The author is Terry Hayes and that's a nice to see some of my books turning up underneath here. So it's I Am Pilgrim was the well-known book.
James Blatch: Oh yes. Yes. Yes. I am Pilgrim, which was a good book as well for it read like a film script I felt.
Mark Dawson: You did. Yeah. The Year of The Locust is his new one. That book really does stand out. I'm looking at it now on the Amazon page, and it looks nothing like. Actually, the only one I can think of that does look like it is Nomad by James Swallow, coincidentally published by my publisher. And they took a very similar attitude on that, and it's focusing mostly on typography with some interesting images. And also, actually thinking about that, just riffing on this, the cover for The Cleaner in hardback, it does not fill those tropes.
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: It's just a map. I don't have a copy of it behind me now, but they've gone something that is quite striking. And it is a bit of a gamble. Luckily it looks like it's paid off with all of those books. Cleaner's fanned really well, stands out on the shelves and paperwork now. And it looks like, it does look different, but I think there is a bit of a gamble in it. It wouldn't be one that I would recommend new authors take. I think there's a bit more safety in following the trends.
James Blatch: Yeah, definitely. You're not trying to stand out in a crowd for once in this particular. You are in terms of getting your books in front of people, but you're trying to fit into the expectations of somebody looking for a read, fast the key thing here, and those tropes, you say, that's, the walking away from camera type thing is working at the moment. That will change. There's no question, trends change. But like I said, they're likely to be changed by big publishers with hundreds of thousands of dollars to put behind campaigns and start to set new ideas in motion. Probably not going to be changed by me pushing out a book to the limited audience I can get with the advertising money that I have.
Mark Dawson: We're going to have a book first James.
James Blatch: Yeah. So I'm talking about publishing other books, which is what I do at the moment, but yeah. But yes. That's an interesting area that just popped up this week in that discussion on Facebook. And I thought it was worth mentioning.
Good. Right. I've really enjoyed the episode. If you're watching on YouTube, I've got my Star Wars Christmas jumper on today. And once again, although you do look like Santa Claus off duty, you haven't got your Christmas jumper on Dawson.
Mark Dawson: No, no. I'm just like an undertaker today.
James Blatch: Nice. Awesome.
Mark Dawson: I'm in legal mode. As I mentioned to you off camera, I've got about six contracts I need to look at and comment on. And it's all very glamorous, but very boring. So I'm in kind of boring legal mode today. I'll put a jumper on later.
James Blatch: I hate reading through legal stuff. Hate it.
Mark Dawson: That's why you've got people like me to take care of that on the SPF's side of things.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. I read those legal things in the same way as the terms and conditions that Microsoft sent me. They get about one and a half seconds before I tick it Yes.
Mark Dawson: I'm glad you told me that. I'll bear that in mind, and anything legal in the future will have to come straight to me.
James Blatch: Indeed. Okay. Look, happy Christmas again if you are listening on Christmas day or just around that period. Hope you have a lovely, wonderful rest. Let's hope 2021 shapes up to be a very different year from 2020 for all the right reasons. We'll be here every week, week in week out to be your friends in the publishing space. And that's it until we've got one more episode I think. Well, it'd be New Year's day, I guess the next episode, if that's how the week works. I don't think that's how the week works.
Mark Dawson: I'll say we'll be here dependent on the whims of our new alien overlords, assuming that they don't mind we'll still be here.
James Blatch: I for one welcome the locusts. I think they're fine and upstanding people. Good. Thank you very much indeed. All that remains for me to say, all the most for me to say, I should say if I can say it is a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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