SPS-287: BookLab – with Machelle Hanleigh
Machelle Hanleigh dons her PPE and joins Stuart Bache, Bryan Cohen and Jennie Nash in the BookLab to learn how she can improve her book cover design and her book description, and avoid info dump in her cross-genre novels.
- On the rate of change in book covers
- Tips for keeping design simple while making an impact
- Using the same model for a series
- How much of the story should be included in your description?
- How the formatting of text matters to the reader
- How and why to avoid info dumps
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
BOOK LAB INFO: Find examples and handouts from today’s episode here
UPDATE Feb 2022: View Machelle’s updated book cover design here
COVER DESIGN CLASS: Find information about Stuart Bache’s book cover design class here
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-287: BookLab - with Machelle Hanleigh
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Machelle Hanleigh: That all of this information in my head, and to pair it down just to that story was incredibly hard. My partner helped me with it but we're trying to get something that people want to read.
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 best seller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch as they shine a 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 on a Friday, with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Here we are. Mark, we have to be perfunctory and efficient this week for those five percent of people who don't like our amazing discussion at the beginning, because we have a big, packed episode tonight, so I'm going to run through an agenda like I'm the most efficient civil servant ever, and so first of all, we're going to say a Patreon shout-out. Would you like to do the Patreon shout-outs? Can you see them on your screen?
Mark Dawson: No I can't, so you can do those. I'm not the one who's speaking for most of this episode. It's all you. I'm not even sure why I'm here.
James Blatch: Barbara Feria. I know why you're here Barbara, because you have become a Patreon supporter of ours, or Patreon, as you like, and Ethan Cole from Alabama, USA.
Mark Dawson: Aren’t there three? I think Catherine said we have three Patreons this week.
James Blatch: Ah, yes. There was one from last week, Kimberly Owen.
Kimberly Owen. Kimberly Owen, I'm so sorry we missed you last week but you get... I'm going to say it three times, Kimberly Owen. You get three mentions. Along with Barbara Feria and Ethan Cole. You've all had three now. Thank you very much indeed for going to Patreon.com/SelfPublishingShow.
One of the great benefits of that, and this is an amazing link, is that you may get selected to go into our book lab, our book laboratory, where we bring in experts to dissect, critique, and give you feedback on the three key elements of your book, which is the writing, from the look inside, the cover image, and the blurb, the book package if you like.
Very, very useful for that individual, and it's extremely useful for the rest of us. I love these episodes. I love talking to the experts. I learn something every time. I think honestly our collection of book lab episodes are a great mini-series in their own right.
We are going to crack on because we've got some long interviews. Not long, long interviews but we've got three interviews with the experts and an interview with our victim.
Our victim, and I do use the word victim because you have to put yourself forward and be brave, this is Machelle Haleigh, and Machelle, very well done putting yourself forward for the book lab. We have an interview with Machelle after it when she hears the results, and I can tell you it wasn't all positive at all, so Machelle took it very, very well indeed.
If you go to actually SelfPublishingFormula.com/BookLab9 you will be able to see everything you need to see to help you watch this episode, which includes the cover as it is before, because Machelle obviously might be changing that. I don't know if she's going to be changing it in the future. The blurb is going to be changed very soon indeed, and I'm just stalling for time because I'm going to get her book up.
Druidess Found is the book we've chosen from her series there. Druidess Found if you want to have a look at it on Amazon now. You might see some of her new stuff but if you go to SelfPublishingFormula.com/BookLab9, you can download what it looked like before and then hear along with the interviews, how things got critiqued and changed.
Okay, we are going to start with the cover. Stuart Bache is the man to look at the cover and let's see what he thought of Druidess Found's cover.
James Blatch: Stu Bache, welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show. Love having a chat with you. We can catch up a little bit on trends in covers. I know that you've been posting about on that recently and we're here specifically to talk about a book by Machelle Haleigh, called Druidess Found.
Let's start with where we are with cover design. We've talked for a couple of years now about what works, what doesn't, and the role of the cover. What I'm interested in, just as a little catch up, is how much changes during that time.
From year to year, is what works for thrillers and a romance cover two years ago different from what it is today?
Stuart Bache: It depends on the genre. Crime and thriller is kind of glacial, so it's very slow. There are changes and they do try new things every now and again. I posted in the community recently actually, how there's been a massive change recently with crime and thriller, which is actually starting to fade out a little bit, so psychological thrillers and so have been so big for so long.
Since Gone Girl, really, everything from that point onwards, it's just been massive in terms of how many books have been published, trad and also in indie as well, so those covers have influenced crime and thriller and action in the last 12 months to two years.
With Mark Dawson for example, we've had a consistent theme that works really well. Lee Childs hasn't changed either, so those big name authors don't seem to need to change. Val McDermid hasn't changed her style for years.
Ian McEwan hasn't changed either but I think more new authors or authors that have a big long series that have, I don't know, maybe they're looking to change a little bit, have tried to go a more psychological thriller route, and psychological thriller tend to be a little bit more... have more of a metaphor or a bit more visceral, so they might have an object and there might be something like smoke with some big type and a bit of it going through, or there might be an image of a scene.
So, it tends to be less about narrative and more about a feel or an emotion instead, and psychological thrillers also have a lot of patient-based stuff, so they can have things like houses with a window lit up or a person in a window or a closeup of a face.
There's rarely ever fully narrative like a lot of action thriller or crime thriller is, which will have things like the detective in location or maybe it's the weapon, or it's something like that. It's kind of fits more with what you'd expect from a crime thriller action book cover. Psychological thrillers tend to be a little bit more, as I say, abstract.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Stuart Bache: A closeup of an eye or whatever, and that's been coming into crime and thriller but is on the way out. I've been told as well, because I speak to a lot of people who I used to work with in trad who they worked up to 12 months ahead of time, so they get to see a lot of trends going, moving and how they flow, way before I do because I have to look when I'm starting a new brief or new concept, I start looking at Amazon. Or when I was allowed to go to book shops, I would go to a book shop and have a look around there and see what was working at the moment, what people are pushing into view.
But the trad tends to have a little bit more time on their hands, so I still actually I've got a couple of contacts still in the industry, which I tap sometimes just to get an idea and, yeah, it's starting to fall back into the more traditional sense. I realise we've just been talking about crime as sort of a... It does tend to be my butter.
James Blatch: I like the covers you did for Mark's Atticus series. Really liked them actually. Just a fantastic cover, and the text, the font and text seems to be a trend of the last couple of years. David Baldacci actually, I think, has similar looking font and I really like that. It's very modern and clean and fresh, and at the same time, sinister, which is what you want it to be.
Stuart Bache: Yeah. I think the other thing about it is that it's more... It's less about his... John Milton is... It's action. It's location. You want to tell all of that in the cover; where is he now, and where is...
That kind of thing is, with the Atticus stuff, it has to have a little bit of a sense of mystery to it, and a more washed out black and white colour theme works really well with very bold colours, and actually making the title really big as well is really good. It's a real popular thing in the last few years as well because of Ebook and because of the amount of money that's put into digital marketing; Instagram, Facebook, Amazon. Now money's put into that instead of print stuff, it has changed a lot.
I used to be of the opinion that it didn't really matter about the thumbnail because we were selling on Amazon way before Ebooks came out. No one cared then so why do they care now? However, because almost everything, all our lives are online now, I think it has changed and people now do expect...
LJ Ross for example, we do a lot of her covers and we have two different things now. So, we have the paperback, which it has a gold foil and everything like that but the Ebook, it's the same cover but the colours are boosted, some text is kind of moved and the text is, rather than having a gold foil it would be bold white colour. Basically just to stand out so you can read it, and it just looks a bit more colourful.
Obviously there's always a difference between RGBs, digital, and CMYK print. CMYK, you can't always get the best colours but if you're just going to have an Ebook, why not boost the colours as much as possible? And obviously you can have separate files on Amazon as well, so you can have what the Kindle book will look like opposite the paperback will look like, but in terms of other genres and stuff, genres like romance changes all the time.
We still do have lots of tropes whether it's a photographic, so it's a female in location or with the hat if it's sunny or whatever. It tends to be quite beautiful and aspirational. That seems to be quite big at the moment, the photographic route.
I've been told the peeled back look, which was really popular a couple years ago... So, think of Cecilia Herm, which was bold type, plain colour, no gradient or anything, just maybe like a nice eggshell blue, whatever, and a very small illustration, maybe a little heart or a key or something like that, isn't working for most authors. It still works for Cecilia Herm, people like that.
And the kind of more funny, almost Chiclet-style covers, which were really popular say four or five years ago, are really popular again now in terms of the style of illustration.
There's a little bit of humour to it. It's kind of like a Bridget Jones type thing, where she's falling over and there's, as you say, the glass is falling over or there's a sort of slightly cheesy male character leaning against the type. That kind of thing. That seems to be quite popular too, but they do change. It's worth always trying to keep up to day, and there's always and indie versus trad thing sometimes with how people think about things and try to have... all behind the times in many things sometimes.
I haven't been a cover designer working in-house for 10 plus years. The amount of work that goes into the cover and the thought and time and that kind of thing is... And how far ahead... When you're thinking about trends, have a look at what trad are doing and just... Don't always have to...
Indie have so many smaller genres and specific areas and stuff, sort of niche stuff, but you're probably better off looking at that if that's what you're doing online, looking at other indie authors, but when it comes to the main genres, the big genres, then try and have... It's free information, so you might as well have a look at it and get an idea what they're doing.
James Blatch: Good, and if you're wondering why it's important to know what people are doing and what's working, and thinking, "Well, I'll do something different so my book stands out." And why that might be a mistake for your marketing that particular method, you should have a look at Stuart's course, which is available. It's a SelfPublishingFormula.com/Design, where you do explain why familiar is important, and the role of the cover, which leads us to that discussion we had there about being up-to-date with what's working and what's not.
Stuart Bache: Yeah.
James Blatch: We won't go into all of that now. I think it's time probably to move on to Druidess Found by Machelle Haleigh. So, your job here, Stuart, is to give us a critique on the cover-
Stuart Bache: Yeah.
James Blatch: Probably the best thing either of us could do is look at the cover for about one or two seconds and then look at another cover, because that's what punters do, right, is that instant take and what was your initial impression?
Stuart Bache: My initial impression was that it's homemade, and I struggle sometimes because I admire people who do this, who put their own covers together. I might be completely wrong. They might've had someone professionally do this. It just feel to me homemade and there's a huge amount of effort that goes into that, and it's a scary thing to do but it doesn't work very often, and the reasons why this cover doesn't work, and why I know it's homemade, is because there hasn't been a lot of thought put into how the images work. So, how they work together, what the composition is and also the way fonts have been used. And so if I'm looking over here, I'm just looking at the cover and how images have been put together.
I think it doesn't give me a huge amount about the genre. My initial reaction to it before I looked into it a little bit more in terms of the information about the book, my initial reaction was that it was sci-fi of some sort. Sci-fi romance maybe, but the title didn't seem to work very well with that. Druidess Found made me think more about, well, druids and Celts and that kind of thing, so it felt like it was sci-fi but I was a bit confused, so it's losing me on genre.
For the people who aren't watching on YouTube, there's a woman's face who's quite large on the cover, and it looks like one of those photos that you'd find in a frame when you buy a frame at the shops and you bring home and it's already got a photo in it, and it's of a model, usually with a family. I can imagine there's a family actually in the rest of the photo.
James Blatch: And in the end you think, "These people are better looking than my family so I'm just going to leave them in there on the mantelpiece."
Stuart Bache: Yeah. And there's a figure, who has six fingers, who reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for some reason-
James Blatch: Yeah.
Stuart Bache: ... hovering over the top. Now I understand the concept. I've worked long enough in design to know how a person's come up with a concept. This is, for me, it's about two worlds and we've got a normal every day human, 21st century woman, and an alien-type figure there, so it's two worlds.
There's a feel like it's something to do with romance, straight away, and the subtitle is, "The inhabitants of the centre of the universe novel." So, it does feel like it's very much sci-fi. So, that's the image. It's a bit confused.
The typography, they're using a, it looks like Caslon, like 42 or something, which is like normal Caslon, which is a serif font, but it has like it's been made to look a bit old, so it's a bit... I guess if you've used a typewriter too many... you haven't cleaned it or added new keys or anything, it kind of has slight bubbly edges around the type when you type, it kind of has that, which I use a lot and I use for historical fiction, so it's a typeface that has associations, in my mind as a designer, and I think if anyone else looks at it, would think that it has to do with historical fiction, but it's on a sci-fi cover.
Just to have a slight tangent, when it comes to design, a good designer doesn't use filters, and a good designer doesn't use a turn of affect because effects are there for people who are new to design. And I think also when you do stuff you throw effects onto things because you think that's what design is. I'm changing it. I'm making it look good or different or I'm making it stand out from everything else and that's good enough.
And in this case the title has a very, very strong outer glow on it, and I think it has a gradient over the top of it, so you're trying to make it stand out, and then you're pushing it back at the same time.
Like I say, it just makes me feel like it's definitely homemade because of all of those things, and those things are sort of no-nos. If she added that extra finger to the guy, by the way, with the hand, that's really good because it's not easy to do something like that, so I'm guessing that she hasn't but if she has, then she has got... I'm assuming if Machelle did this, that she has got the ability to do some design, so yeah, I think overall it's not a great cover, so that's basically what I'm trying to say in the nicest possible way.
James Blatch: Yes. Okay, and I also felt it looked like something that was homemade, and one of the things we should do with our covers is make sure they're indistinguishable from the trad industry and from the best sellers. It's easy actually to do that. I mean, my cover is incredible. You've done such a great job on the cover of my book. I'm so pleased with that.
Considering you're going to be paying for editing, there are going to be costs. With launching any product, there's going to be some cost. It's not that expensive to have a cover that's not going to, at a glance, look like it's homemade.
Stuart Bache: We're at the high end as well.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay.
Stuart Bache: We know our team are all trad designers and stuff so it's different. We're working with people who've got a lot of experience and that's what you're paying for with us, whereas there are people out there that you get that, as long as their portfolio are decent and they've managed to do...
We see designers all the time while tutoring on SPF on a Saturday when you get to do your shout-outs and stuff and self-promotion. There are plenty of designers in there that people should definitely go to and have a look at because I look at them all the time. They don't know I'm looking but I look because I like to see what people are doing, and we're always looking for new designers ourselves and they freelance, so it's always good to see what people are doing anyway.
You can do it for much cheaper. We are, like I say, we're at the high end. I do remember our prices are now... It's $450 for Ebook and $45 for paperback, and I can't believe I've got all of that.
James Blatch: The other thing I was going to say is that if you want to know what we're talking about and if you're in a particular genre, and this is... I was just looking at the categories. It's a metaphysical fantasy I think was the top category that it was in. If you click on that underneath this book, you'll see the top one, two, three, four, top 100 of them, you can have a look at them and just have a look at those covers, just would like have a sit there next to those and stand out or look normal, and the two things I would say just... Technically two things to a non-technical person...
Actually, the sort of general way it's put together, it is pretty much in tune with the couple of those quite busy environment styles and stuff as background, but the font, none of them have a font that looks like that. None of them.
Some of them have a very clean, modern font. One of them does have a bit of afterglow but in a very specific way. That's the number one actually. The one I'm looking at the moment. Another one, number three in that chart, From a Distant Star, has the same sort of busy starfield background but a very clean, modern font, which looks quite nice, and the other thing is just the way the woman's head is cut off and doesn't really blend with the background.
Stuart Bache: Yeah.
James Blatch: You don't see that in these books. Every little hair, something you and your team painstakingly do, is either there or not there and is moulded and is blended in the background, and those are the things that stand out and make this why you would say at a glance, and I would say at a glance, "Looks like it's homemade, not a pro cover."
Stuart Bache: Yes, I don't think it is. I think though that there are other things that could be done to make it better. I think it is worth looking at the genre a bit more. Because when I looked as well, I noticed there was things like fantasy romance as well, which is quite big, and there are different ways of looking at it, so you could have exactly what I think Machelle has tried to do here, which is have a figure, which is the central...
This is about this girl, or this woman, and things are happening to her and otherworldly, whether it's fantasy-based or sci-fi-based, and I think you could find a great model somewhere, even on NeoStock or something like that, and build everything around her. That's what a lot of them do is you've got the central character. Urban Fantasy do that as well, which is not a million miles away from this, but then the opposite thing to do would be to remove the person completely and go type and image object-based instead.
James Blatch: Yeah, because in romantic-fantasy, both of those types of cover are working alongside each other, which is quite unusual isn't it?
Stuart Bache: Yeah, and that's the thing is it's usually you get strong theme running through. This is romantic-fantasy, the covers like From Blood and Ash, which might be different. Once again, I'm not entirely certain how much of it is fantasy and how much of it is sci-fi.
From Blood and Ash has an arrow and I think it's a dagger or something like that, so that might be wrong for this in terms of the objects but the way that the font works with the image in the background is exactly what I think that they could do, and that's just, simplify things, so if you are going to do it yourself, find a really good background image that works for what you're looking for the genre for example, and then have some nice type on top. It doesn't have to be just two-dimensional in that respect where it's just quite flat. You can work on it still and make it look good but another example is to do something like A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, I want to say is her name.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Stuart Bache: Her covers are strong colour with an illustrated simple symbol with bold type on top, and once again, that might be more fantasy-historical, so it might not be quite right in terms of genre, but in terms of what could work and what could be quite simple with the next stage of this cover, could easily be that. It could work with the type. You could have something that's a bit more illustrated but still be sci-fi, you know?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Stuart Bache: Looking at the work of a designer like say, Mikayla Alkano who works a lot for Voyager in the UK, she has a huge amount of sci-fi and fantasy and lots of everything in between, and it's worth having a look at her stuff because she marries both of those things together quite well. She's one of our main designers but I don't mind if people want to just go after her and go and commission her separately because she's fantastic at what she does and she's got a really good eye for that kind of thing.
She did Ember in the Ashes or Ember and Ashes or something like that. It's got a quite a big book a couple of years ago that did really well, so a lot of her stuff is... Oh, and she did a lot of very similar stuff to From Blood and Ash. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if-
James Blatch: She did that now.
Stuart Bache: ... it's her cover. So, she's that kind of style and that's what you need to look at.
James Blatch: A good example, you said potentially one option is to choose the model who fits your character, and there are a few images to choose from for your series going down, and a really good example of that is Lindsay Hall. Lindsay, who's been on this show at various points, fantastic writer, always in the charts. Now, if you look at her series, click on her author name on Amazon and look at her series... I'll try to get John to put this on the screen, take a screengrab now while I remember. You've got the same model.
In fact, her Shadow Guild Wolf Queen series, it's the same model, it's the same wolf, and it's the same background on one, two, three, four, five books in a row and they look fantastic at a glance, do the job, tell you the genre and look professional, identify the series together. Not that complicated the assets really there are they, but wow doesn't that work wonders.
She's got another series with another model and a very similar thing.
So, from the design point of view, they play with the background a little bit in terms of its tilt and its direction but it's basically the same set of assets isn't it.
Stuart Bache: Yeah, and that's what you should do with a series really is have them all tied together, and then I think as long as they are different enough so that you know that you haven't bought the same book, that kind of thing, which is important.
I think if this book is about romance, then maybe there should be something that is a little bit more like Linsey's... Is it Mythean Arcana series? Something like that. You could go that direction if you wanted to but otherwise having a great model image and working with that with the background and having it consistent throughout your series would be a really good idea.
James Blatch: Yeah. Love Linsey's covers. They're great. Well, we'll find out from Machelle what she thinks the genre should be most accurately and move on from that.
Okay, so, that's what the book lab's all about. We shouldn't feel too bad about being critical in this case because that's how we see it and you see it and you're the expert in this area, but there are other views available, of course Machelle's.
Stuart Bache: Of course. Not as good but-
James Blatch: Yeah, not as good a view as ours but we'll hear from Machelle at the end of this podcast. Stuart, thank you for entering the laboratory. It's been too long my friend, having you on the show.
Stuart Bache: Yes, it has. It really has.
James Blatch: And I would say again, I know you've been doing a bit of work in the groups recently. I know you've been doing a bit of work on the course at SelfPublishingFormula.com/Design. It's a fantastic course, for two people. It's for the people who want to design their own covers and have them look pro, professional.
It's also for authors to enable you to commission a cover better; be a better commissioner of a cover. To understand the role of the cover and understand when you've given the designer the right to direction to get the right thing from you, I think every author should understand. Every author who's indie should know that. If you're trad, you have to worry about it. Other people have to worry about those things for you.
Good. That's it. Well, I will let you go and work for your list of designs. I'll have another book for you to do the cover for them in the next 10 years, maybe sooner than that.
Stuart Bache: Well, sooner than that, I think. I hope anyway. Yeah, and I think you've sent the brief. Have you sent the brief?
James Blatch: I've sent the brief, yes.
Stuart Bache: Yeah? Perfect.
James Blatch: I think I would hold off for the moment because I think I'm probably not going to go with Redneck Decided. It's too pejorative as a term, but so we'll come up Red something, I think, will be in the title, but yeah, you've got the idea. We can change the title. We changed the title for the last one, didn't we?
Stuart Bache: Yeah, we did. No problem changing the title. Changing the whole cover is different but changing the title is easy.
James Blatch: The other assets, they'll be the same. Brilliant. Thank you very much, indeed. We'll speak to you next time.
Stuart Bache: No problem. Sit with you soon. Bye.
James Blatch: There you go. That is Stuart. I'm going to crack straight on with the blurb. The blurb may have changed by the time you're looking at it on Amazon. Just to reiterate, if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/booklab9, you download the original blurb that you'll hear Bryan Cohen talking about now.
BC, I caught you mid-drink. What are you drinking? You're in the south now so that must be whisky rye.
Bryan Cohen: Rye with sweet tea. I'm not sure.
James Blatch: Bourbon. You've moved from the very far north to the, well, not quite the deep south, but the south south of the Mason Dixie in North Carolina. I can't do a Southern accent. I won't try.
Bryan Cohen: That's okay. I'm not going to try either. I'll only try when we're off air, but we are happy to have a little extra warmth. It won't really kick in until we're in the winter months that we'll notice it. But so different background for what I think is either my ninth or tenth appearance on the podcast and I'm grateful for every single one.
James Blatch: Are you angling for another mug?
Bryan Cohen: No, I want the jacket.
James Blatch: I've had an idea, actually. We might do challenge coins. Do you know what they are? You know what they are.
Bryan Cohen: No.
James Blatch: You don't know what they are. They're a military thing in American. I was introduced to them by, I think our friend, Dave Chesson who had this challenge coin from his unit. He was a submariner. He was in the US Navy. He had this challenge.
Basically, you have them issued, anyone could do them in a small unit, even part of a unit in the military, you'd have your own one. Different things happen with them. But one is that basically you have to have it on you the whole time and if you were challenged, you didn't have it on you, there was a forfeit, usually involved buying the drinks. People would put their challenge coins on the table and the person, that poor numpty who'd forgotten their coin, that changed their trousers earlier in the day, pants ... Anyway, someone gave me a couple of others. I've now got a collection of four, I think, from America.
Bryan Cohen: Oh, wow.
James Blatch: I've got a great one. Anyway, I was thinking we should do some SPF ones. We should have a standard one and a gold one. For somebody who makes 10 appearances, you could get a gold challenge coin.
Bryan Cohen: I would love a gold coin with SPF on it. No question.
James Blatch: I'm going to pitch this to Dawson. Anyway, we're not here to waffle about this. We are here to talk about Machelle Hanleigh's Druidess Found, and your job, Bryan Cohen, is to look at the blurb and give us your opinion and basically give it a go.
First of all, what was your impression of the Druidess trilogy book one blurb as it sits on Amazon right now?
Bryan Cohen: There are definitely positive things about it. I think we found this through eight of these book labs that it's not like authors don't have an idea of the important moments and the important things to highlight in their blurb. I think that there is a hook. Their meeting was not my chance, it was orchestrated. A lot of blurbs don't have hooks so for this to have a hook, thumbs up.
This one is infused with emotion for the characters. We have these night terrors for our main male protagonist, Moto. We have the tragic past with her parents, for Kaily. We have emotion baked in. This is a thumbs up.
We also have a cliffhanger at the end. Will their connection save or destroy the universe? All of these are really good positives. I think that that should, Machelle did a really good job with those.
I think on the the con side, it's definitely pretty long. There are definitely some very meaty paragraphs here. As we know, not everybody has the attention span that we hope they would, particularly our children, but our readers as well. We want to make sure that we're not packing it too tight with too much information. I think that is the number one thing that this blurb struggles with.
James Blatch: Too much information and too long. I'm just trying to do the word count. 310 words. 200 to 250, I think, is good length.
Bryan Cohen: That's usually it, but even some are fewer than 200 and they absolutely get away with it.
James Blatch: That was my first question to you, as you may have known, I've been through the whole blurb experience which was fairly brutal. I find it really difficult. However many discussions we've had together about it, I found it difficult to write my own blurb.
I was struggling a lot with how much do you want to go on about the story and what's on offer and how much do you just basically want to say, "This is the type of book this is, and here's a reason to read it."
You don't need a lot of story in there, do you?
Bryan Cohen: No. Obviously when you've written the book and this is the thing that you found you struggled with, when you've written the book it is so hard to get that distance that you need to know what is important. That aeroplane distance above-
James Blatch: Helicopter.
Bryan Cohen: Yes, exactly. We need to either do that on our own or work with somebody certainly. But I would say that more often than not, if you have the choice to include an emotional beat that the character is dealing with, or a story beat of what are the specifics of the story in that given moment, for instance.
In Machelle's, the very specific mentions of Moto's alien race, the Kahoali queen, the Kahoali only bond with other Kahoali, the Best Page Forward take of this, we didn't even mention it because yes, it's important to know that this person is an alien, but you can also just say they're an alien or they're a part of this different race, they live in this other place. That's enough.
We certainly don't need to mention it several times what their specific alien race is. But actually I noticed there's a fourth one even further down that I didn't see in the third paragraph. We can strip out a lot of those specifics and we can get down to people caring about people, people struggling with the situation in the book.
James Blatch: I have sympathy for you, Machelle, if you're listening. I'm sure you are. You're going to listen to this and we're going to talk to you. I do have sympathy for you because I know how hard this is now. Whereas before I was very dismissive of it, no I wasn't. I was always sympathetic.
I'll tell you what I do like about this, I think the structure's quite good. I thought, paragraph one is one half of the situation. Paragraph two is the other element that's going to change things. Then, paragraph three, just sort of takes it forward and cements what the book's about. I think structurally it's not about, and then there's next a little bit, if you love romance, you love fantasy, this book's for you. A little bit of selling it at the bottom.
I don't think that's a bad way to lay it out, is it?
Bryan Cohen: No. I think she understands the importance of the timing in this because I think that her hook and this kind of almost selling paragraph hook-esque thing that is after the cliffhanger, they're well timed. I think that they just need a little shaping.
James Blatch: Paragraph one, Moto; paragraph two Kaily; and then that bringing it together. One thing we talked about with Stuart was what is the genre and is it very easily identifiable so it's not going to confound any reader expectations from the cover. He wasn't convinced about that.
You've also not wholly sure if this is quite pitched at the right genre. What were your misgivings on that front?
Bryan Cohen: Well, it's interesting because my team and I we do a lot of work on figuring out what is the genre. We don't always know. I think even our own story, it can be difficult to get that distance as well. We've written a lot of sci-fi romance book descriptions, and we've also done some fantasy-romance descriptions. This sounds like just straight up sci-fi romance.
There is a female human, there is a male warrior alien, and maybe that alien looks like a human, but they're definitely not from around here. Those are the tropes of sci-fi romance. I'm not entirely sure and maybe this is where we need to dig deeper with Machelle. I'm not entirely sure why this is fantasy because it sounds like many of the sci-fi romance blurbs that we've written.
If it is sci-fi romance, if it is in fact sci-fi romance, that might give this a better selling point because fantasy romance to my knowledge, at least written in this way, is not as popular a sub-genre as sci-fi romance. There is a chance that just by branding it fantasy romance, Machelle might be shooting herself in the foot a little bit.
James Blatch: Now that you talk about sci-fi romance, that's interesting because I don't think Stuart and I really landed on that, but we were a bit confused by what the cover was doing. It is now you say sci-fi romance looking at it with the star nebula, the other planets. That does that again, these are sci-fi trope, all right.
Well, that's interesting and that might be really helpful for Machelle because I think it's so, so important to get the genre right all the way through, in the cover, in the blurb, in the tagline, in the ad copy, so that you're getting the right readers. It's really important.
I'm noticing that already, like everyone does. One or two people buy my book and leave a sort of half-hearted review. Then, they say, "I don't really read this genre," in there. I think that's what happens when you get the wrong readers for your books. You risk getting poor reviews. People disappointed with it because it's not what they wanted.
Let's hear your take. I'm not going to read out Machelle's, but you can get it obviously at selfpublishingformula.com/bookclab9. This is nine, isn't it? I think it's nine.
Bryan Cohen: I couldn't remember if it was eight or nine. That is my mistake.
James Blatch: I think it's nine. Book lab nine. You can read what was there before.
Let's hear best page forward's team effort here.
Bryan Cohen: Sure, yes. We had five different people, I think six with me working on it so we were all involved.
James Blatch: That's a team effort.
Bryan Cohen: "He fights to protect his world. She's searching for peace. When a portal throws them together, will even the stars survive? Modo can't shake his ominous nightmares with persistent visions of his planet and people's destruction, the chosen warrior fears every possible future until his search for answers reveals an alluring young woman on a lush world whose beauty blots out his dread of doomsday. Kaily longs for tranquillity, mourning the anniversary of her foster parents' passing, she finds herself jolted from the quiet by unsettling dreams of a dark handsome stranger. Drawn to a mysterious room, she's shocked when one touch whisks her away from Scotland and onto an unfamiliar alien terrain. As Modo discovers the misplaced intruder is the same woman he's been watching, he's torn between tradition and an urge to open his heart. And though Kaily frantically searches for a way back home or bond with the otherworldly man and the power growing inside her speak to an undeniable destiny, will the couple's bond spark a revolution that saves their worlds or will it turns Moto's nightmare into blood red reality? Druidess Found is the enthralling first book in the Druidess trilogy romantic fantasy series. If you like intriguing characters, spectacular settings and steamy liaisons, then you will love Machelle Hanleigh's page-turning tale. Buy Druidess Found to unlock fate's doorway today."
James Blatch: Wow, that's great.
Bryan Cohen: Thanks.
James Blatch: I mean, also I think, in tribute to Machelle, it's got a lot of the themes that she worked on, but you've just given it that succinctness. Less is more right in this stuff?
I've been running a lot of different ads for different books, for Fuse Books, my own book, and some have quite wordy copy. Some say, in one of my ads that performs quite well for my book, says "a cold war thriller." That's the text. It's funny that if you get the right target audience, people who like cold war thrillers, RAF thrillers, in a way, all you're going to do is put them off by putting too much on there once they've seen a good cover and a tagline.
I think the blurb, people do expect to learn a little bit more about the book if they're going to read it. You can't just get away with it. I mean, The Hunt for Red October, I think it's like a 25-word blurb, but less is more. That's really strong, what you've put out there. You've still gone with that structure, I think, of setting up Moto first and then Kaily. I think you got the character stuff really strong there, particularly Kaily.
I had a lot more of an impression of who she was from your blurb than I did actually Machelle's, which is such an important thing.
Bryan Cohen: I think actually this is a commonality we find in some of the romance submissions we get sometimes because it's so important that the male character in MF romance is very strongly illustrated as either the billionaire or the strong person with a six-pack abs and that they have their own tortured paths.
Sometimes as is the case in a famous romance trilogy, 50 Shades of Grey, we don't feel like we get a lot from who is the actual female protagonist in this. I think to Machelle's credit, the building blocks are all there. It was just a little long really. Sometimes we were able to take some of the sentences almost straight from hers and just shorten, find a way, as I talk about my book, How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis, we talk about trading downwards. How can you find a way to make nine words into five words? How can you make 11 words into seven words?
Sometimes it takes a lot because you have to restructure the whole sentence to make it work. I was working personally on the final, final, final draught of this one. Sometimes you get into the situation with the it's the parents of the person of this and you're like, "Oh, well, let's get some of these of's out of here. Let's get some of these possessives." It's not easy, which is why people struggle with blurbs and they're a pain in the butt sometimes. But it's helpful when it just, you can cut to the chase.
James Blatch: I'd like to write you a shorter letter, but I don't have the time.
Bryan Cohen: Exactly.
James Blatch: It's a quote, isn't it?
Bryan Cohen: Love it.
James Blatch: Oscar Wilde or somebody, Hemingway, I don't know. Anyway, that's great. What a good job your team do. We should say that Machelle, as being selected, as being a Patreon supporter of the show and being selected for this, get your services for free, which is great. I think you do a really good job. You supply everything effectively.
She was a paying customer, right? You get the blurb cut down and some ad copy and stuff, which is great. Thank you. But if people wanted to part with cash and employ your services, or sheep or goats, whatever you take now that you're almost going to be very rude about the south or some. Got to cut that, John. Or sheep or goats, whatever you take.
Where should they go and how much should they expect to pay for a blurb?
Bryan Cohen: Oh, sure. Great question. They can go to bestpageforward.net/blurbs. We do have a, I think in a link in the cheat sheet that you'll give out the before and after to get kind of an ad copy writing cheat sheet, which is a newer one we have out there so you can get our nine step process for writing better ad copy. Basically to have five people pound your blurb into something that really shines, usually the ongoing price is $297. Kind of one of those you pay the plumber to work 10 minutes, but you're paying him for 20 years of experience.
We do now have about 4,000 book descriptions under our belt. I know there are people that do charge less for a book description, but we're very fortunate to have worked on a whole lot of them. But we do run discounts and we have discount promotions for buying packs of three and five. We have some new ad-ons coming in the future. I'll tease them here first, but we have some new ad-ons in addition to book descriptions and the ad copy. I'm just going to leave it at that. That's the tease.
James Blatch: I'm coming to you next time. There's no way I'm going to try and write my blurb next time.
Bryan Cohen: Honestly, James, when I heard you were having trouble with it, I wondered why you didn't come to us first. We would have given you a sweetheart deal, sir.
James Blatch: I would have got a 10% discount. That would have been excellent.
Bryan Cohen: Like six or seven percent.
James Blatch: I think it's in my nature to want to do things myself and I have to go through that process before I then hand it out. It's just how I think I operate.
I am definitely going to avail myself and I might even commit myself to a three book package and then I've got that money, that means I've got to write those other two books after. Next book for me is set in America as well, which is, that's your neck of the woods. That's where you are. You're in America.
Bryan Cohen: I know America. I've lived here my whole life.
James Blatch: There you go. All sorted. Now, you're seeing the whole country. You've been to the north, the south.
Bryan Cohen: I know. It's amazing.
James Blatch: BC, great to talk to you. Always lovely to catch up. Thank you so much. On behalf of Machelle, thank you for that wonderful blurb. I'm sure she's going to be pleased with, and we'll talk to her a bit about tightening the ... I mean, to just notice that, she should just say it's a groundbreaking cross genre series. It makes me shudder a little bit, because that does give you a challenge then to market rather than make it an asset is actually I think a challenge.
Are we going to see you this year live somewhere? We can see you in the autumn, any of the conferences?
Bryan Cohen: I will be at the 20Books Vegas in November, and then I will be having a virtual event in February, 2022. Definitely, come either to Vegas or come to your computer and see me. But I will be around.
I just want to thank you, James, for having me on the show so often because I really enjoy it. My team is very happy to have our work spread about the podcast sphere and the Facebook lives that you do with this, so just update. Thank you.
James Blatch: Hey, we love it. Love having you on. Thanks, Bryan. We'll see you next time.
Bryan Cohen: All right, take care.
James Blatch: Now, finally, from the experts, we have the writing is quite important. Isn't it? The writing. The look inside you get that comment what percentage it is of the book is shown on Amazon. But that chunk of change is what we look at. Our resident editor, Jennie Nash, has been reading it and this is what she thought.
Jennie Nash, welcome back to The Self-Publishing Show. It's always a pleasure. I think I've said this before. Some of the most memorable conversations I've had for me as a writer have been with you.
Jennie Nash: Oh, thank you.
James Blatch: I mean, not just the working together. We professionally did. But on this show, when you dissect and talk about the clarity needed and the points and the things we get wrong, it's a really illuminating sessions. I hope other people feel like that, but I think they do.
Jennie Nash: I hope so, too.
James Blatch: We're going to hit the road again here with someone else's book, not mine. Machelle Hanleigh's.
Jennie Nash: These people are very brave. I just have to say that. They're very brave to submit to this sort of critique. It shows me that they want to learn and they want to grow and good for them.
James Blatch: Absolutely, I agree with that. This bit in particular, because the cover, although I don't think Machelle did their own cover, but some people they do. But the cover's the cover. That's not what you're known for. And the blurb, again. But the writing, what you we're talking about, that's what you are. It's the essence of you as an author, isn't it? It is particularly brave if somebody is putting themselves out there and be criticised and criticised in the proper sense of the word, not insulted but critiqued which is a very important parts of growing. I certainly think so, anyway.
Jennie Nash: Absolutely.
James Blatch: Druidess Found is the name of the book and you have had a read through. What are your initial impressions of the writing that we can see on the look inside?
Jennie Nash: For those who want to follow along, I was reading the Kindle version and I'll refer to some percentages on the sample along the way. The first thing that I want to say about Machelle's book is she has this incredibly powerful motivation for why she wants to write this story and that you can find that just on her Amazon page, which I was poking around. It's really something.
As a young reader, she loved three different genres. She loved science fiction, she loved fantasy, and she loved romance. The really steamy sort of what we'll hear sometimes they're called bodice ripper romances. She wondered why more writers don't put those three genres together. She was yearning for a way for them to be put together. As she grew older, she encountered paranormal romance, which has a little bit of that mashup, but her desire to bring these three genres together, I think is really powerful.
I always tell writers to tap into their why. Why are you doing this? Why do you care? Why does this matter to you? Because writing a book is, as you well know, a very long drawn out creative process. It is not something that happens quickly. It is an art form that takes a lot of time. If you know why you care and why you're doing it, it's going to propel you through the hard parts. I really liked seeing that in her description. A great motivator. You've got that in your own work and it comes through in the story.
James Blatch: I think that was a really interesting moment for me.
I now know fully why it's important for you to ask the question why. Why is someone reading the book? It's quite a difficult question to answer maybe for authors listening, but believe me, when you come up with the answer, things get easier to write your book.
Jennie Nash: It is.
James Blatch: It starts to make sense and the themes start to make sense and what you need to be doing down to seeing granular level starts to make more sense when you have that sorted out as to why you're writing the book.
Jennie Nash: Yeah, that's right. It doesn't matter what genre you're writing. I have a non-fiction book idea that I've been wrestling with for a really long time and I know the reason I can't quite pin it to the page is I don't really know what I am trying to say and why exactly I care. I have a vague idea, but the particular idea, you really have to wrestle it down.
I like that motivation from this author. She also has a really smart strategy. This is the first in a series and so she's got a strategy for building out the series and combining these genres and it's going to, and the romance will end at the end of the series. She's really thought. She's got a great strategy. It's going to be an epic fantasy quest. Who doesn't like an epic fantasy quest with a battle to save the universe? So much good stuff going on here and so much good intention going on here. Can you tell there's a big but coming?
James Blatch: What is this big but? It's very a but or a but bodice rippers with a big butt.
Jennie Nash: The but is, the second you start reading these pages, there are problems. The first two problems that hit my eye, you may not think matter that much, but those two things are what I would call presentation. The way she has laid the book out, there are no indentations on the paragraphs.
She's used aligned space between paragraphs and then each paragraph is a block. This is a non-standard presentation style. A typical presentation style is a paragraph is indented, and there's not that extra line space. Just the way it hits your eye, it's hard to read. That was one thing. Similarly, in the first two pages, some very bad typos.
The thing with typos, we've talked about them on the book lab before. There's always going to be mistakes in books. There just are. It's impossible to make it perfect. There's too many words to make it perfect. But when you have a typo in the first few pages, and there's a sentence that actually has two typos, you know it's not just a mistake when there's two typos in one sentence. You know that it's sloppy. The words I'm referring to are there in some dialogue on page two.
There is a character Shimani and Shimani shrugged and says "that, too." There's a capitalization error in that line and a punctuation error as well because a character can't shrug words. You say words, you can't shrug words. It's two mistakes-
James Blatch: You could say, Shamani shrugged, full stop.
Jennie Nash: Yes.
James Blatch: That, too, she said. We'll add it.
Jennie Nash: In my mind, there's two grammatical errors there. It should be a period. There should be a capital. You think, well, that's not a big deal, give her a break. But life is short for a reader. If it's hard for me to read the page and there's typos on the page, I'm probably not going to go on. Those little things make a really big difference. That's one thing.
The thing that was, I think, tough about this is Machelle actually writes good dialogue. It's snappy. It's fun. It's conveying information. It has a nice rhythm and flow. But these mistakes are bad. That's the first thing.
But the really big thing that I really want to dig in and talk about here is, because it's a problem for so many people and it's a problem for beginning writers, for very seasoned writers, it's a problem for everyone. We're talking about info dumps. The reason it's a problem for everyone is I think it's a phase of writing. There's a phase of writing where you do sort of dump info in, and what a lot of writers do is they don't solve those problems.
They do these info dumps and then they move on, and those info dumps get baked into their work. Whereas the way to think about it is, okay, my draft has info dumps. It just does. Everybody's does. Now, I'm going to look for them. I'm going to seek them out. I'm going to fix them. It's a phase of writing or a phase of drafting that can be solved and writers really need to train themselves to see these and to fix them.
There's three different kinds of info dumps that can be found in these opening pages. I want to go through each type and talk about where you can see it in the sample and how it can be fixed.
James Blatch: Sure.
Jennie Nash: That's we're going to dig in.
James Blatch: That sounds great.
Jennie Nash: What do I mean by info dumps? It's a particular problem with any genre of writing that has to do with world-building. So world-building is a world that is unlike our own. And really, when you think about it, almost every novel has world-building. Because if I'm writing about the 1980s, and we're sitting here in 2021. The 1980s is another world apart. People wore different clothing. They hadn't had a pandemic. There's a whole different world back then. And thinking about that world, and building that world.
In this particular case, there's a full on other world with other beings, other kinds of sentient skills, there are rules of the universe. There are all kinds of government hierarchies and power structures. There's really a lot of world building in anything that is fantasy or sci-fi particularly.
The first kind of info dump that I want to talk about is description of the world. And that would be the author saying, let me tell you what this world looks like. Or let me tell you how this world functions. Or let me tell you what I'm seeing in this world that the setting is like how this particular part of the world works. So it's describing the world.
And when I say that every writer tends to do this at a certain phase of writing, because he built this world. You want to show it to people. You want them to be in it. You want them to see what you see. It's a very natural thing to want to do this.
James Blatch: I think you also feel the reader needs to know, right? You think they need to know how this world works, otherwise nothing will make sense.
Jennie Nash: That's right.
James Blatch: You might go on to say this. But I think it's actually a mistake because I don't think you do need to know all that stuff to follow the story. But anyway, go on.
Jennie Nash: Well, you asked the perfect question because the perfect question is, when does the reader need to know what you're going to tell them? Do they really need to know this piece of information at this moment? And odds are really good that they don't.
The way you solve this problem is in fact to think, what do they need to know when? And holding a little curiosity, as a reader, holding a little curiosity in your head is not a bad thing. Like, what's going on here? Or what is this world, something seems off or strange? That's good in the reader. Those are good questions, if we're going to get answers in good time.
But what Machelle does here in the very beginning with info dump about the setting. So I'm in a paragraph that is, sorry, I just got to get the percentage. It's 12%. So it's, "Moto shook his head and looked out over Crystal Lake. This place often provided him peace. And usually without interruption, the early morning light gleamed off the mist of the waterfall and brushed the surface of the glass smooth water. Much of Crystal Lake and meadow were illusion-like, not exactly an illusion, but close, to the untrained eye. A path led from each of the six original Kaholy villages to Crystal Lake. Not directly, the paths were portals from and to each of the villages. Moto turned his attention back to Shamani, 'Tell the queen I'm fine.'"
So you can see that this info dump is shoe horned in here. The writer wanted the reader to know the importance of Crystal Lake, and why it was here, and what it looked like, and how it connected to the way the villages operate. And it feels like a fire hose to the reader. You feel just blown back by all this information, and you lose the thread of the story and the conversation. You lose why Modo, who's our main character, is even thinking about this. And you're spending so much time trying to follow, okay, wait, here's the lake. And here's what it looks like. And, oh, it's not an illusion, but is it? I'm not sure. And what are these paths? And you're off now on a whole other tangent, which is, you don't want to lose the reader like that.
This type of info dump, this setting information info dump. The way to solve this is you want to be in the character's head. And that's true, no matter whether you're writing in first person or third person. When you're following a character, you're following them, and what they think, and what they know, and what they see.
In this particular situation, it's really quite unlikely that Moto would look at this lake and think about how the paths were connected to each of the six villages. He knows that. He's lived there his whole life. He's walked these paths. He understands that about the setting. So he is not thinking this through. It really feels like author intrusion because the author wants the reader to know.
So we need to get this information in a way that Moto knows, like what does he actually think when he's looking at this lake and these paths? Maybe he even says, he looks out at these paths that he's been travelling his whole life, or that he knows like the back of his hand, or something like that, that then is going to lead him to make a conclusion in the moment about the setting. So I know that's a lot.
James Blatch: That's brilliant. Can I ask a question then? So there are two ways of tackling this. And you've given the answers to how to spot it, which is, would it be normal in the flow of things for this person to start waxing lyrical about these things? So two ways. That's the how to spot it. Two ways to deal with it. One is, you introduce a device where they can say that. For instance, they're showing a stranger around, who says, "What the hell are these things?" And then he explains. So that's one way of doing it. Which I do feel is a little bit clunky, but is a way of doing it.
Another way, which I prefer. And I'm going to quote, not quote, but I'm going to refer to Iain M. Banks, who is a brilliant Sci-fi author who does this. He doesn't explain this stuff, which is what I was getting at earlier. If you read his books, he explains it at the moment they go through a portal. One of them might make an off the cuff remark. So you suddenly realise this is not a normal path. But he trusts the reader, because you are then with the characters in there. You're suddenly had a glimpse of them talking to each other, and you're intrigued, which is what you alluded to at the beginning.
You don't even need to have this clunky device of delivering the information. You can actually trust your reader.
Jennie Nash: Right. There's no reason we actually have to know this about this lake and these paths at this moment. There's nothing in this moment that's making me, the reader, think, wait, what are these paths? Or what is this lake? We don't care right now. And so, it's in the wrong place. That's part of the problem.
And what I was saying before is, it's fine to have these info dumps. If you're writing a first draft, do it. Dump the info in. Then when you go back to edit or revise, you look at this chunk and you think, wow, that doesn't fit there. That's not in his head. There's no reason this has to be here. Does it have to be here? If so, how can I do a better job of it here? If it doesn't have to be here, where can I move it? Or, to your point, does it have to be here at all?
There's a vast difference between the author having to know the information, and the reader having to know the information. You, the author, must know this information inside and out. And then how you drip it out to the reader is a different decision. And most people, when they get into info dump problems, they're conflating the two things. Well, I know this about the lake and these paths and this history, and I want my reader to know it. So I'm going to dump it on them. And it's a different knowing. You need to know it, but the reader may not.
James Blatch: Again, I would refer anybody to read - they're quite short as well - the Iain M. Banks culture series books. The Player of Games, Consider Phlebas, was a couple of the early ones. And I can remember them, one of them, I think it's the Player of Games where a girl says to a boy, woman says to a man, "So, you've always been a man?" And he sort of shrugged it off. And they carried on. And that was his way of telling you, in their particular universe, you can change gender. And it's quite common. And it's a little bit unusual for somebody to choose one gender and stay that way their whole lives. One little bit of dialogue did that.
Jennie Nash: That's brilliant.
James Blatch: And in another less skillful set of hands, that's a page of explaining the history of that and whatever. And that's how he writes those books. That's why I find it intriguing. He doesn't explain stuff until somebody gets into the portal. You don't know it's there type thing.
Jennie Nash: Yeah. No, it's great. So there's another type of info dump. There's three types that I've pulled out here. That first type was a description setting type.
The second type can be found at 19%. And the paragraph when it became apparent the night terrors would not stop. And this is an instance of straight up, it's the show, don't tell thing. It's straight up telling. And the author here. So I'll read this short bit.
"When it became apparent the night terrors would stop, Shimani and Sari convinced Moto to confide in the queen about his night terrors. Queen Shakti called the council of Shawnee's together. At which point, they grilled him until he lost his temper and stormed out. For some reason, the queen restrained from administering disciplinary actions against him for the disrespect he displayed towards the council and herself. Instead, all gave him a wide berth and acted as if the incident didn't exist."
So this should 100% be a scene. Meaning, we watch it unfold. We're in it. We see it happen. We see the characters engaged in this action rather than just being told about it. Or it shouldn't be here. One of the two.
Either needs to be an active scene, or cut it. And again, it's fine to have these in a rough draft. When I say seasoned writers do this, I see this in extremely accomplished, New York Times bestselling writers. Their drafts will have things like that. And as a book coach or an editor, all I have to do is flag it and say, should be a scene. And they're like, "Oh right, get it. Good. I'll do that." It happens.
The idea is not to prevent it from happening. It's to see it. And so, in this particular instance, unfortunately, I feel that this author has put a rough draft up for sale. And it's a good story. It's interesting. She's got a whole world. She's got these great characters. And she could fix this. This needs to be a scene. And we need to be actively watching it unfold.
James Blatch: Yeah. And do you know what? It's actually of the process, which as you say, is long and torturous, writing a book. This is the bit I found the most enjoyable. When my editor said, "We need to see this." He said it a few times to me, "We need to see this." And I was like, oh. Because it's been going a long time. Loved writing it out. Because you've created these characters. Naturally, writing a scene where something happens in front of the reader is so much more interesting than the not doing that.
I think it's quite an enjoyable part of the revision process, is turning that into a scene where the reader learns that.
Jennie Nash: It is. And the reason that writers do this is because you can already see it. You know what happened. You can imagine it because you made it up. And it's in your head, alive and real and whole. And so, when you dump it in like this, it's easy to think, well, they're going to feel that. They're going to feel it and see it the way that I do, as the writer. But they don't. To us, again, it's just dumped in here. And there's nothing engaging about it.
In this particular instance, I read this part three times because I couldn't figure out if the writer was actually telling me something that had happened before, or was telling me something that was happening in story present. And it was so strange to me that it was dumped in like this, that I had to read it three times. If your readers are having to work that hard, you're done. You're toast.
James Blatch: And we should add, I did exactly this in my draft. I did this.
Jennie Nash: Yeah. Everybody does.
James Blatch: I remember fixing one in particular, of a female character musing back to the old days of how things used to be different, all in her own head sitting there. And I thought this is quite clever because she's musing, like people do sometimes. But the editor, again, either you or somebody said, "No. This is just a dump." And I wanted to keep it in.
So I turned it into a little conversation between her and her husband when they're feeling a little bit too old at a party that's getting out of control. And him reminding her that they used to set fire to the piano a few years ago in Singapore when they were there. And her laughing.
Turned out, again, just want to say, I quite enjoyed doing that revision because that was a nice little bit of the reader being there for the moment something happened in the past, without it being-
Jennie Nash: And also, what you did there, I'm smiling. If people are listening, they can't see me smiling. I'm smiling because what you did there was, you told the reader so much about the relationship between those two people. That they had grown old together. That they had lived that sort of wild time together. That they could laugh about it. That they were okay with-
James Blatch: That becomes the purpose of that. And the incidental bit is learning that they set fire to the piano in the old days, and had a wild time in far off places.
Jennie Nash: It's beautiful. And just one point I want to make. If the writer is thinking, I don't want to write out this scene, it's just like a dumb little boring scene where people are talking about leaving a party. If that is in fact true, then it shouldn't be there at all. And if you can make meaning of it, if we can see your characters using it, making sense of the world through it, then a walk in the park, or across the street, or to get the mail, can be deeply meaningful. So it's either got to have meaning or don't have it in there.
James Blatch: Yeah. And make it short. Like that in Iain M. Banks example, it can be one aside in a bit of dialogue that informs the reader. Okay. So that's almost flashback, isn't it? Sort of, he thought about what used to happen type thing.
You should be very careful about flashbacks, I think. They're confusing.
Jennie Nash: Yes. And when I said that I couldn't tell if this bit at 19% was a flashback or was story present. I couldn't tell. And the thing to remember about flashbacks is they're triggered by something that's happening in story present. So whatever is unfolding in the narrative in real time is going to trigger the character to think about that thing in the past. So in your case, the party triggered them to remember that other party and a bit in their relationship back in the day.
And the best training for this, for any writer, this'll kind of mess with your head. But if you pay attention to your own life and your own self. And if you watch yourself, when something happens, anything, it can be anything that flashes through your mind that takes you back in time. Or what you find is that every single thing in our day, it's kind of horrifying, has just this massive backstory attached to it. This library of memory. This whole series of almost like dominoes that fall when you have a thought. You can't not do it. A human can't. You can't get out of this.
And the way to think about it as a writer is, which thing is going to trigger my character to have those thoughts that we're going to see that backstory? Because if you tried to capture every single thing that went through someone's head... There's actually a novelist, Nicholson Baker. He wrote a book called The Mezzanine. It's a novella, I believe. The entire story takes place on a seven, seven minutes sounds too long, seven seconds. A very short escalator ride. The entire thing. It's just an escalator ride. And it's all the things triggered in that moment, going through this character's head. It's quite horrifying, really.
When I say the exercise is to pay attention in your own life, I want to tell you a story. And I wanted to come up with a story about how this works, to tell our listeners. And I thought, okay, I'm talking to James, I got to come up with an idea. And then one came to me. And you'll love this because it's about a bicycle. I did this for you.
James Blatch: Okay. I love my bike.
Jennie Nash: So, what I did was I tried to think in my own self, when did this happen recently in my own life where something happened, in the flow of my life, that triggered a whole series of past events? And what happened was, I bought a new bicycle. And the reason that I bought this bicycle, my husband is a cyclist too. And he wanted to go into the bike store, because now you can do that. And he had ordered a pair of gloves. So he said, I want to go in and pick up these gloves. And so I came into the bicycle store with him. And I saw a bike on the floor. And I immediately, in my head, said, I want that bike. It was instant. I want that bike.
So that's the trigger. If I'm writing a story or we're going along, that's the trigger. I saw that bike. I want that bike. So the question at hand is, what led me to that snap decision? What was behind that snap decision? Why does that bike matter? And if you're writing a story, this is what you've got to unpack. And this is what showing, not telling, means. And everybody can do this. Just think about something that happens in your life that triggers some other thing. So what happened was, I loved the colour of this bike. It was this beautiful teal. Well, you'll love this, James. So it's a e-bike. I bought an e-bike. And it's a Trek.
James Blatch: There you go. I wish I could turn my camera around to see my Trek, which hangs on the wall in my office. That's how protected it is.
Jennie Nash: It is absolutely gorgeous, beautiful machine. And it was this beautiful blue teal colour. And everything about this bike just said, that is your bike. So the blue reminded me of a bike I had as a kid. I used to ride my bike all the time as a kid. I was a tennis player and I would ride to the tennis club, and I'd ride to school. I had this blue, it was a Schwinn. It was the clunky old 10 speed Schwinn. So I'd see this beautiful blue Trek bike, and I want it. And in fact, I bought it. I bought the bike. In five minutes, I bought the bike. I just said, I want the bike. I'm buying the bike. It was quite an expensive bike. So this moment triggered the thing.
But here's the reason why that would matter in a story, and why we would make meaning of it. If I was just telling you that, you're probably sitting there right now thinking, what is the point? You saw a blue bike. Reminded you of a bike you had as a kid, you bought the bike. Why are you telling me this? Why do I care?
The meaning that would be made from it is if I were to tell you my mother just died. I bought this bike about two weeks after my mother died. And so this bike that reminded me of my childhood bike represented, to me, freedom. Everybody knows what it's like to be on a bike and to feel free, to have the wind in your hair and on your face. You're out there in the world. There is a sense of freedom. There is a sense of fun. I didn't own a bike when I bought this Trek bike. I haven't owned a bike in probably 30 years. And so, my seeing this bike and saying, I want that bike was weird.
But the meaning that it had for me is I've been mired in, when somebody dies, there's so much that has to be done. And so much that has to be taken care of. And then when it's a parent, now I'm the one in charge. I'm the matriarch. I have all the responsibility. And so the idea of fun was an antidote to this crushing sense of loss, and also stuff I had to do, this adulting I had to do, as the kids say. So it represented freedom, it represented fun. It was, in a strange way, a connection back to my mother, back to when I was a child riding my bike. And I'd come home to her and she'd be making spaghetti or whatever.
There was also, wrapped up in that, a sense of power. I could buy this bike. I could see this expensive bike and, in a flash, I could decide that I wanted to buy this bike. And because I'm an adult and I'm in charge of my own self, and I'm alive, and I'm living my life. So you can see how so much meaning was wrapped up in that story of my seeing the bike, buying the bike, bringing the bike home just like that.
If I were telling the story, and I was just dumping this information on to you about, the bike was blue, it was Trek. This is how much it costs. It had black handlebars. There was a little bell on it. It was in the middle of the shop. The guy couldn't believe when I said I'm taking it home. He said, "Well, don't you want to ride it?" If I told you all that, you'd still be saying, "Well, so what?" But if I tell you what it triggered in me that mattered, now-
James Blatch: Or even better, if the reader knows, from the story, that you had a blue bike that meant a lot to you, and this was two weeks after you lost your mother. And your husband might be saying, "What the hell are you talking about? Why do you suddenly want this bike?" But the reader knows. That would be the perfect way of doing it. And no info dump needed there.
Jennie Nash: Right. So, if I'm writing a draft, and I've got this dump in there of information, my job is to tease it out, figure out why does it matter? Why is it there? And then, like you said, okay, either got to seed this in earlier, I've got to pull this thread all the way through the story, or in the moment I have to make sure that the reader is going to understand why this matters. Why am I telling about the bike that I bought that day, as opposed to other things I did that day? There has to be a reason why. So it's the trigger you're looking for.
My long story about the bike is that I want people to pay attention in their own lives, because you will have a thing that happens to you today, I promise, that has those layers that ripple back, and that have all this meaning attached to them. And we're going through our days, processing those layers all the time. And they're present. And they're there.
That's what we want our characters to do, because that's what it means to be 3D and alive. And this guy, Moto, in our story, had all these things go down and happen. The queen didn't call him out, and the council. And he didn't do the thing. There's something that's all tied to it that could be triggered to tell us that information in the scene, rather than just having it dumped in.
James Blatch: And if all this sounds hard, it is quite hard. And it certainly, with me, does not come in one draft. It comes from rewriting and going through it again. But worth it to get there, to make it, I don't want to use the word clever, that's almost like an insult these days, but skillful, natural. Another reason why that muse thing, in my case, she looked back and thought about the old days. And you then sort of described some of that. And this paragraph here, is that, a bit like, would that person describe all the scenery in front of them we had earlier.
In the same way, in a flashback, you get a smell. It reminds you of your old school, and you see things, but you don't describe them to yourself because you know what they look like. So again, that feels false. Doesn't it? That the beds in the dormitory were laid out like this and the headmaster was bearing over. You can use one little clip. You suddenly felt like you're in the shadow of the headmaster again. But that description, it takes you out of the moment again. Doesn't it?
Jennie Nash: Right. We want to stay in the head of the character as they're making sense of things. So I just finished reading a novel. Have you read Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell?
James Blatch: No. I know the book. But I have not read it.
Jennie Nash: Oh my gosh. This book just is spectacular. I mean, Maggie O'Farrell is just an incredible writer. She's an Irish woman. And Hamnet is a story of the writing. Well, it's not really true. It's not the writing. It's the years before Shakespeare writes Hamlet. So Hamnet is the same as Hamlet. And this book was one of those novels, we've all read them, where I could barely breathe when I was reading it. Somebody would say something to me, my husband would say whatever, "Do you want to start making dinner?" And I'd be like, Huuh. There's another person in the room? I'm not in 1500 England?" You're so immersed in the story. Nothing pulls you out. That's what's so masterful. There's nothing that makes you think, actually you're sitting in Santa Barbara, California, Jennie. And it's five o'clock at night or whatever. Nothing. You're just in it, in it, in it, in it.
To read any book like that and be so immersed in it. That's what we're all going for. And the problem with the info dumps, in this example, are we just keep getting pulled out. Oh, there's the author. There's the mechanism, the gears, if you will. We can see it being made. And we don't want that. We want to be like I was when I was reading Hamnet, just in it, just in it. What's going to happen to the herbs that she's just dried? And are they going to blow away in the wind? You want your reader to be so bought in that they're there with you.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Well, I've just ordered it.
Jennie Nash: Oh my gosh. It's unbelievable. And it's a really great example. The reason I bring up Hamnet is it's a really great example of, there are many scenes in this book where very little happens. When I talked about the herbs drying. There's a woman, it's Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, who is very involved with plants. Some people sort of think she's a witch. There's a little bit of a sense of mystery around her.
She's very knowledgeable about plants. So she's always going out and picking the rose hips, or drying the seeds, or doing this and that with plants. So there's a lot of scenes where you would say nothing happens. She goes out and she picks the rose hips. She goes out and she does. And if I told you that that's the story is about, you would say, that sounds like the most deadly boring thing I've ever read in my entire life.
But while she's picking the rose hips, she is making so much meaning of her environment and her family. And she's trying to keep people alive. It turns out, who knew? There was a plague, the black plague, at the time of this story, which is why Maggie O'Farrell just wrote the book. And so, it's gripping because it's a plague story as well. And this woman is literally trying to save her family. And when she's going out to do these herbs-
James Blatch: No spoilers.
Jennie Nash: I'm sorry. I want to bring up one more type of info dump that our author, Machelle, does which is at 22%. This is another type of info dump. It's the giant long historical generational info dump about all our people and the way we have been these many years. And that, as a youth he questioned the elders in his village. This is the pulling the camera way back.
James Blatch: This is a tell, isn't it? This is telling, not showing.
Jennie Nash: Yeah, and it's like, this is a long, long passage, which I will not read, of historical info dump. And it actually is exactly the same as the first thing we saw, which was the backstory description info dump. This is just now sort of genealogical and generational and our people and, so we saw in the moment setting description info dump, we saw what happened to a character info dump, that was the middle one, and now we're seeing history info dump.
They're all a little bit different and need to be handled a little bit differently, but they stem from the same problem which as you said, James is, it's just you need one more draft to fix them. That's what you need is do it, put them down, dump it in there and then have a draft where you're fixing those things. And they may ripple out all the way through the novel and that's okay but don't leave them because they kick the reader out of the story that's what happens.
James Blatch: And this is book one so really important for people to come hooked and enjoy to move on to book two. Commercially important to sell the book so worth the time and effort.
Jennie Nash: And there's so much that could be done well here. She's got like I said, a really great strategy, really great story, really great motivation. It sounds like her character she's got it's; people fall in love across the worlds. They're not supposed to cross worlds and they do, it's fabulous. And it's all the tropes and she's a writer who loves all the tropes, as many readers do. We want to see these different tropes and the epic quests and the lovers across worlds so much goodness here but the info dumps are killing it.
James Blatch: And there but for the grace of God go all of us writers because this is a very common one showing don't telling is almost covers everything we ever talk about one way and another but this is one example of it is a bit taking people out of the moment and it took me a long time to get it. Long time I've been told by you and Andrew and others and rewriting and finally it was like a By Jove he gets it moment. And there's still something in there, I'm sure but stripping it out completely. So there's nothing in there that's not there happening in front of people and moving things along and character development.
Jennie Nash: Yeah, and there's one thing that I will all say about that, which may sound self-serving, but it's also just really true. I actually think it's quite impossible to see these in our own work. I think you need an editor, a book coach, somebody, a really good critique partner, somebody else who's not you, to help you spot them. It's really hard.
Writers send me manuscripts where they would have sworn up and down that there were no info dumps, and I get it. And it's not that I'm so great, it's just that I'm not the writer and I go through and it's just like, "Here, here, here, here," and it's like, "What! How can I not see that?" It's very hard to see our own info dumps.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, it's a service you need to pay for. I think editing, I've always said that.
Jennie Nash: I think it's true.
James Blatch: You can skimp on some things, you can do you do stuff yourself, but not that, we've always said that.
Jennie Nash: I think that's true and I do have a handout that we can share at the download on how to stop info dumps before they start and it's just a way to help you begin to recognise them and try to be aware of them and to try to fix them. So we'll share that.
James Blatch: Okay, well, that'll be selfpublishingformula.com/booklabnine will be where that is. If you go there, pop your email address and we'll deliver it to you directly. Now, have you been on the bike? Tell us about the bike, where is it?
Jennie Nash: Did you not love that I picked a bike story through you?
James Blatch: A trek bike story, you don't have a trek?
Jennie Nash: A trek bike story. The bike James is the most amazing thing. To not have a bike for so long and to get on the bike and first of all that cliche that you never forget how to ride a bike. Just that was amazing.
James Blatch: What bike is it? What model of trek is it? You don't know.
Jennie Nash: I don't know. It's the e-bike with the internal...
James Blatch: Oh the e-bike, yes. What does your husband think about you having a motor in your bike? Is he...?
Jennie Nash: Oh, he has total disdain.
James Blatch: Yes, correct. Well you need to be pedalling. Mark Dawson has one of those, he loves it. He has a motor.
Jennie Nash: I pedal, it's a pedal assist so you have to pedal.
James Blatch: Yes, I know it's not a motorbike.
Jennie Nash: But yes, my husband has total disdain. He has the real trek version of the fake bike that I bought and yeah, he thinks it's "cute." Very cute, that you have that little...
James Blatch: It's cute but you are fraud.
Jennie Nash: Yes, and I absolutely adore it. I ride it and even worse, I got a big basket on the back so I can go to the grocery store but it's fabulous and I love it. And I bought it in a second which is a thing I never have done before. But yeah, it carries great meaning for me and great joy. So that's a thing we all need.
James Blatch: Well, we need a picture of you on the bike, can your husband take one? Get it pretty quickly in time for it to go over this interview. This has been epic tonight. Thank you so much indeed, my dogs are very hungry in there, because I was supposed to feed him and her.
Jennie Nash: Go feed them.
James Blatch: But it's been worth every second as always. Thank you so much indeed, Jennie, brilliant to talk to you. And well, we'll see you next time. I know you and I are going to do some live stuff in the autumn. We'll talk about that soon as well.
Jennie Nash: All right, bye.
James Blatch: So there you go. Stuart not particularly impressed with the cover, thought it looked like it was homemade, blurb pretty good. Bryan, I think really did a fantastic job on that blurb and we'll hear what Machelle thinks in a moment. And for the reading, good story, good characters, but too much info dumping and a really good interview, I thought with Jennie explaining what that actually means. It can be just a sentence that doesn't need to be or takes the reader out of that moment, I thought was a really good interview for us, as writers. But let us see how she took it. This is Machelle's reaction to those experts.
Machelle Haleigh, first of all, thank you so much for your courage and bravery of stepping inside the book lab. Nobody comes out of the book lab without scars. But you knew that when you went in there, right? That's why you went in there. Okay you've had a chance; I think to watch the feedback and where should we start? So let's start with the blurb, shall we?
Machelle Haleigh: Okay, we can do that.
James Blatch: What did you take from Bryan's feedback?
Machelle Haleigh: Why I felt really good about Bryan's feedback when he at least said I had the parts there so that my classes I took didn't go to waste, at least we got something out of that. But after reading Bryan's blurbs and how he had done it, it was just amazing. I felt like okay, my book may not be up to par for the blurb. Are they going to like the book if they read the blurb? But I went ahead and purchased the blurbs for book two and three. So I thought it was fantastic.
James Blatch: You were definitely sold on that. I thought they were great. I know I think I said this in the chat with Bryan, you haven't done a bad job at all. I found it incredibly difficult doing a blurb but when it's at arm's length, that's maybe the best way of doing it. I was thinking about a way maybe next time with my next book finding a blurb buddy, I could write their blurb, they could write my blurb, because I think I find it easier writing somebody else's than mine.
I think that's the problem is so close to this story we're so proud of, we don't really know where to start and just selling it in a few sentences.
Machelle Haleigh: Definitely. And then for me, I'm not just with the story, but the whole trilogy. And then the project itself is humongous. I mean, we've got seven trilogies coming and a seven-book series coming. So I've got all of this information in my head and to pare it down just to that story was incredibly hard. My partner helped me with it, but we're trying to get something that people want to read. And Bryan, he just he's amazing with words. Although, I think he gave you a hard time for not using him, didn't he?
James Blatch: He did. I should have used him. But I like to do everything myself at least once. And then I realised I need to use a professional.
Machelle Haleigh: I can understand that.
James Blatch: Now. Let's move on then to the cover. Now Stuart was not overwhelmed with the quality of the cover. He felt it looked like it wasn't a professional cover. I think it probably was done by somebody else.
It wasn't done by you, was it?
Machelle Haleigh: Well, it wasn't done by me. But it was done by my partner, and we work together to collaborate, we took Stuart's classes to try to come up with something. So yeah, it was homemade.
Part of the difficulties with the covers was, because I am crossing genres, I'm not fitting into any one genre, I am trying to blend three genres and I'm aware of the uphill battle, this is not some knight that would become a unicorn in any sense of the word. But it definitely is something that I think can work, it's possible, it's just that it has to be done in the right way.
Doing the covers was kind of difficult in trying to incorporate a fill for those three genres without putting readers off. And then the other part was the expense. Starting out, we just we didn't have the money to start an author business, but we had the desire and the story. So we went ahead and started it.
But our other concern was, we didn't want to sink a lot of money into a story, we had no idea what the reception would be. And if this was really something that we could make take off. So we wanted to take some time and just see, are readers going to gravitate to it, despite the imperfections?
James Blatch: But every story has imperfections.
Where are you with your feeling on the viability of the stories now, because you're quite a bit of a way down the line there. You must have had some feedback from authors and readers and so on.
Machelle Haleigh: Oh, definitely. I think there definitely is viability, I haven't really gone after reviews. So the reviews that we have been organic. I just asked for reviews in the back of the book in our newsletter. Our newsletter, we're well over 1000 I think we're approaching almost 1100 subscribers right now. And we've gotten some five-star interesting reviews that talk about the blending of the fantasy and the sci-fi and they seem to be receptive to what I'm doing and enjoying the story and the characters.
One of the first feedbacks, it was really funny because my first book has some heat in it. My second book has absolutely none. So when I write sexual scenes, it's based on the couple and if it's important to them, if it propels the story forward, it's not written just to write some steam into there. So one of the very first five-star reviews I received on the first book was she enjoyed the story, enjoyed the characters then continue to read, but she could do without the sex parts. It was like, "Okay, I understand."
James Blatch: A bit of a divide if they're not expecting any. Okay, so what are you going to do about covers, you're still faced with that quandary of cost aren't you? They're not cheap. Particularly if you've got one book, that's one thing.
You've got a series of books; you are looking at an investment.
Machelle Haleigh: We are. And the funny thing is just before we heard from the book lab, my partner and I were talking about investing in covers, we knew that what we had wasn't going to fly for long, we put together what we could and we were already looking for an illustrator. So we have a little bit more money now than we did. We're not breaking even. But we have had some success that we're able to reinvest into the company and into the business. So we actually have hired an illustrator for all three covers. And fortunately, hopefully, he'll worked with us on getting the cross-genre message across while fitting into close enough. I felt so bad for Stuart. He seemed to feel really bad about the coverings. I can't say anything nice about this, I'm so sorry.
James Blatch: He was very impressed with the way they put the extra finger on the hand.
Machelle Haleigh: Yeah, I didn't do that.
James Blatch: Well, nonetheless someone did it. We should say and I think I said this with Stuart, that there's nothing wrong with homemade covers. In fact, Stuart's group has some of the students are absolute geniuses at it aren't they stuff. I see some of the stuff they post in there, it's not for me. So the problem is not doing them yourself, the problem is them looking like they've come from a home or DIY. It's a tough nut to crack because it's an expensive part of it. And editing is so crucial and so important. We'll move on to that in a minute. That's probably where your money is better spent isn't in that first instance.
So there's going to be a new cover, so you'll have to let us know when they're up and live.
Machelle Haleigh: There is. He won't be available until December and we've actually hired him to do all three covers because we are doing a huge project. We want to keep the author brand consistent. So probably January, the new covers will be uploaded.
James Blatch: Okay. I look forward to that.
Machelle Haleigh: The blurbs will go up shortly after this episode airs just to give the listeners an opportunity to see what's out there, what it looks like now, especially authors who might be thinking about going through the book lab as victims, so that they have an idea what starting point is and then we'll put the blurbs up probably a couple of days after this airs.
James Blatch: Yeah, that's great. Well, it's lovely to have that blurb there and see what difference that makes.
Machelle Haleigh: Definitely.
James Blatch: Okay, so editing. Jennie's thing was info dumping. And I've been through, I think I said in interview exactly the same as you the one thing all the way through my development editor who read the book. He did an assessment all the way through, he said, this is telling, not showing and I had to rewrite lots of.
Did that resonate with you some of the feedback you got from Jennie about info dumps?
Machelle Haleigh: Oh, definitely. I had no idea about those three info dumps that she had, when looking and reading about the craft, you always hear about, don't do a grocery list type of information dump that way, but the info dumps that she was talking about, I didn't think about and I think when an author creates a character, you think, "Well, they're going to do what I tell them to do anyway." So we don't really think about sometimes how realistic the person needs to be. And like she said, "Would Moto honestly be thinking all of that? Looking I was like, "Well, okay, no, not really."
It's definitely something to go through and to try to at least identify now when we did start this out finding an editor that we wanted to work with, finding a quality editor, because I'm not going to sink money into an editor just to have an editor.
So we weren't able to do that, we chose to go with AutoCrit and try to run it through some programmes to try to find the errors. We did find that I was a passive writer. So we were able to correct some of that.
But the dumps like she talked about, I didn't even know what report in AutoCrit that I can even look at to find those. But that definitely resonated, it helped me understand a little bit better, especially when you think about looking from the characters perspective, and what would this character actually be thinking?
And then your comment about trusting the reader. That really resonated too, because I think that trusting the reader is very hard because there is so much information you want them to know. And you don't want them to be confused later on but at the same time, this is a journey for them. And then they might have different perceptions. And that's okay.
James Blatch: Yeah, that is a hard one to get hold of. I think that only comes from experience from writing, but it's something that very good writers do do.
Stephen King talks about that, he talks about trusting the reader all the time. I think the bit that made the most sense to me, when Jennie talks about this is that the info dump, even if it's a small thing, even if it's half a sentence or a sentence, it just takes the reader out of that moment, instead of them being there with you as things are happening, it takes them out of it, and almost pauses and that I think in the end will stop the reader enjoying moving forward with the stories that's a really good reason not to go off and tell things but to have them developing onto the reader.
So you and I both benefit from these conversations, particularly that one from Jennie. I'm in book two now trying hopefully to put into practise all this stuff that, same with you, we've learned through our writing process.
Machelle Haleigh: Yeah, Jennie's great. I would love to be able to afford her. But even at this stage, I think I've got to sell a few more books.
James Blatch: I can't afford Jennie, just so you know that.
Machelle Haleigh: Oh, boy, I love her advice. I've joined her newsletter and try to absorb everything I can. But at the same time, she talked about authors are just so close to the story. It's hard to pinpoint some of those things that you just don't think about.
James Blatch: Yeah, maybe a author buddy, writing buddy to read each other's books and stuff is a good thing. I'm sure you'll find somebody in our community, but you would at some point have to choose what genre, author because that is...
Machelle Haleigh: Choosing what genre? I need an author in each of the three genres so that they can give me feedback from all three.
James Blatch: I mean, these genres. So you've got a bit of romance, fantasy, and what's the other one?
Machelle Haleigh: Sci-fi.
James Blatch: Sci-fi, yeah. They can be very different, one sci-fi book and look nothing like a romance book. There are lots of crossovers in there as well.
Was this a conscious decision at the beginning as simply something you wanted to do and try or is it something you've ended up with because that's where the story is?
Machelle Haleigh: No, it was a conscious decision. Jennie was absolutely right when she said that I've strategized. And the funny thing is, is that I first wrote my very first copy of this book in 2000. I have been working on this one story and one book for 20 years, so don't feel bad about your 10. But it took me a long time to get the story out that I saw inside of me. And then when my youngest daughter went to college, I came home to an empty house, I wasn't in any relationship.
I wanted to do this story in a way that it could be so much more than what it was, there's more to why I was writing the story. To me, I've always had a problem with the difficulties that we have among the separate races and so.
What got me started and thinking about the story is what if we were actually separate species, and where would the species come from? So then I decided to place the story at the centre of the universe where everything started. And it took me up till 2016, I started from scratch, I put away all of the copies, I have no idea how many manuscripts I have of the story. And in life I had gotten, while my kids were in high school, I had obtained a bachelor and master's degree in psychology. So I tried to take what I had learned writing term papers, and putting that into the research for the story.
About a year later, I had a 166-page encyclopaedia of research, and who these people are and what the worlds are and what their sciences are. And I divided out the magic that flows throughout the whole universe into a fantasy magic that can't be explained by science, and then what I call a machine magic that is science. And the ideas people get. Using Tesla as kind of an example of he was so far out of his time, in the way he thought and the way he saw things that nobody could understand around him.
I wanted to meld all of that together. But then I also am obsessed with romance and with relationships and what makes them work, what makes them not work. And so I brought that into creating seven key couples, which is where the seven trilogies come from, and I wanted to explore the relationship on top of the background, that is the sci fi and fantasy undertone story that will carry out through all of it. And it takes some planning, and it takes some doing to write this. When I finally got around to writing the book. It took me two years for the first one, a year for the second one, and now it's going to be six months for the third one.
James Blatch: Wow, that's motivating for me to hear. That sounds great, Machelle, and I'm excited about where this is going to go particularly with repackaged as well with the cover and blurb and stuff. And so it looks like 2022 could be the year where you find out if this, this project of yours is going to work. But I've got a feeling.
There's got to be market for there's so many readers out there. It's really a case of them perhaps investing in the paid ad side of things to try and find them.
Machelle Haleigh: Oh yeah, definitely the paid ads. I'm going through, I started with the class that Nicholas Eric offers about launching, and trying to figure out a better launch strategy and how to get my book into more readers. Because basically, the blurb, the cover and the editing can be perfect. But if you can't get it out into the readers, you can't find a way to let people know, then you're just not going to get the readers. So that's my next task to work on for 2022.
James Blatch: There is always something. Are you still working?
Machelle Haleigh: I am unfortunately, I do coding, I code analytical reports. So I have decided to go ahead and quit my job in December. So December 3 will be my last day. Financially, it's very scary, because we are not prepared for this. But it's come to where I have to focus on this story full-time. I have to believe enough in what we have to put my time and energy into it in order to help it grow. With a project like this, if it takes too long to get the books to the readers, I'm going to lose the readers and I know that so I have to be able to produce the books faster. The stories are inside of me. So it's not about not having the stories developed already. It's just having the time to get them out.
James Blatch: Okay, right. Well, Machelle, thank you, again, so much for stepping to lab, you've responded so positively to all the feedback, which is really heartening. And it sounds to me like if you've had a, good experience in the lab.
Machelle Haleigh: I have but I went into it knowing I was going to be victimised or criticised but...
James Blatch: Victimised is a hard word.
Machelle Haleigh: Victimised is, yeah, I'm sorry I'll take that back. But when you said something about the victim, when you made the announcement that just stuck with me, I said, "Okay, yes, I'm a victim." I thought I was a winner.
James Blatch: We have to prepare people for the laboratory.
Machelle Haleigh: You do and I think that the one thing that new authors who want to go through this process have to understand is that you guys are not saying these things to be mean or to tear us down or ruin our career, you're trying to help us. And there's things that even though we take the classes we might not perceive or understand, because we don't have the experience to perceive it or understand it. So I think that an author has to believe in themselves enough that they can take constructive criticism.
I think that you also have to look at who the criticism is coming from and all three Jennie, Stuart and Bryan, they are top in their field, they have been successful in what they do, and they have valuable advice to share. So if we can listen, open mindedly and take what they say, then we have the potential to improve our careers. And if we can go into it with that kind of attitude, I think that it's a lot better. I know, unfortunately, it takes a certain kind of thick skin that not everybody has. But that's this business, isn't it?
James Blatch: Yeah, it is. But it sounds like you've got exactly the right attitude an attitude I think that will serve you very well, Machelle, in the future. So thank you again for stepping into the lab. It's been a great pleasure talking to you. And good luck with the future.
Machelle Haleigh: And thank you so much for picking me. That was such a thrill. I can't believe you guys did, that was great.
James Blatch: Our pleasure.
Machelle Haleigh: Thank you.
James Blatch: There you go. Mark, I thought Machelle took it very well, indeed. Really well, actually. And that for me says straightaway, this is somebody who's going to succeed. Because taking on critique, criticism, which not everybody does, if you've spent any time in an internet forum, you'll know. Not everybody does. But she did extremely well.
I think she accepted that the cover, I think it was done by her partner that, if you can produce a cover that looks like a professional one, you'd commission from a company or a pro, then fine, but most of us can't. And so that's got to be something I think you've got to be aware of, and I think she knew they couldn't afford everything. She said it was financial, but they will be investing there from their commission already. She said in the interview, blurb pretty good.
She was delighted with Bryan's and has immediately commissioned Bryan to write the blurb for the other two books. I thought is it best paid for to come and watch those services called Bryan's service, but we should give it a plug because they, they did a super job with that.
And finally, Jennie picked up on info dumps Mark, and there was quite a lot of info dumping. I think the point I really took away from that discussion with Jennie, is that info dumping the main crime it commits, is it's jarring for the reader.
It takes them out of that moment, of things happening, of being in someone's head, of moving forward. It's kind of sitting there and it's a clunky way of putting an exposition. And the line I think I used in the interview, which Machelle picked up on, she said resonated with her is, trust your reader. Trust. You don't have to spell everything out; you think you do. And as an amateur, as a newbie writer, I was absolutely guilty of that, and probably still am.
Learning to trust your reader, I think is such a key part of becoming a confident and good writer.
Mark Dawson: It comes with experience, it's not something that you immediately get to grips with. But you can just kind of hint at things and tip them in certain directions where they can connect the dots themselves and reach their own conclusion. You don't need to have pages of exposition explaining something that you think is important. It's much better just to do it naturally. It's a skill but it comes to practise, the more you write, the better you get at it.
James Blatch: And sometimes they don't need to know the stuff that we think they need to know. And that is more difficult. I think in fantasy and science fiction, people want to describe the world and universe build, but you can do some of that universe building just for your own sake for knowing how you're going to characters, going to react. You don't necessarily have to spell it all out, I think. Listen to me, like I'm an expert. But Jennie is an expert, and she's very good at it. Good, okay.
Look, it's been a long episode. But a really good one, I want to say a huge thank you to our experts, Stuart, Jennie, and Bryan, and a major thank you to Machelle, who did a brilliant job putting yourself forward and then reacting so positively to that. Well done, Machelle. Good luck.
We'll keep an eye on your page in the future on Amazon to see what happens with that. I think her covers I think she said from the interview won't be until the new year, but we will look forward to those. And if you want to properly follow along, like I say you can look at how it was before if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/booklabnine. Next week Mark, we're talking about dialogue.
Mark Dawson: Excellent. One of my favourites.
James Blatch: We're going to dialogue about dialogue. But until then, all the remains for me to say is it's a goodbye from me.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.
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