As promised… the interview my friend Michele Montgomery ran on her Facebook page last week.
Michele: Diane… a traditional publisher has an experienced marketing team to design the novel. How does an author decide which images from the story to entice us with on the cover – knowing everyone judges a book by it?
Me: I consulted with my marketing team (which consists of: me) and said, What draws me in to investigate a book? Usually the genre (I like mystery), then the author (if I know the name), then the cover. Since this is my first book, no one’s going to know my name. I wanted a cover people would notice.
First things first: find a good cover artist.
I looked at the portfolio of a lot of artists and asked myself, “Would I pick up that book?” The artist I eventually worked with, Scarlett Rugers, had lots of books whose covers really jumped out at me. And she’s been fabulous to work with. She asked what I had in mind for the cover: styles, photos, etc. Then she read the book to pick out thematic elements.
She generated several very different possible covers, and the one that jumped out for me (and everyone I showed it to) was the one I eventually went with: an identity bracelet covered in blood. So now the reader has a mystery right away: whose bracelet is this?
Identity is a major theme in the book, so that worked out very well.
Patricia Burroughs*: I think that’s a really smart approach. Covers still matter to me, even on ebooks. Perhaps you can’t judge a book by its cover, but often with ebooks the care and thought given to a cover imply something about the care given to the writing and editing of the book.
Me: Particularly covers in thumbnail! You have to look at the covers in tiny as well.
Robert Gregory Browne**: Oh, and weighing in on the cover thing. A cover is your first impression. Don’t skimp on cover art. Don’t think you’ll just be able to whip something up in Paintshop Pro. Unless you’re a graphic designer, get a professional to handle it.
Marc Fine: I think that people do generally judge a book by its cover. I know that I do, when I’m browsing in library or bookstore.
Me: Seconding Robert Gregory Browne’s comments about covers, by the way: the cover is your first impression. Make sure it represents your book and looks professional.
Marc Reed: What is your process for naming your characters? Why Drusilla Thorne? Are they based on actual people people or randomselected from the phone book?
Me: Neither, actually — Drusilla is actually the latest of several fake names our heroine has had. The genesis of the name — and why she’s needed so many fake ones — are an integral part of how she got to be who she is now. (And how she ended up with such an over the top name says a lot about who she was when she picked it, the author said hintingly. )
Michele Montgomery: Marc Reed… do you really think there’s a Drusilla Thorne in a phone book outside the U.K.?
Marc Reed: How would I know if Diane wasn’t in the UK at some point in time? And Thorne looks very much like Thome – which it kinda resembles on my screen because I’m overdue for an eye exam.
Robert Gregory Browne: Where do you get your ideas? If I pay you, can I have some of them? How many pages do you write per minute? How many books per week? Okay, I’m done being an asshole now. I wish you great luck with the book Diane! Tell us when and where we can buy.
Me: When I get an idea, I think, “Is this something Robert Gregory Browne would write?” If the answer is no, then I feel pretty confident I can do okay with it. If the answer’s yes, I just move on to the next idea.
You can buy the book at Amazon (so far…I decided to give Select a try for the first 90 days, to figure out what in the heck I was doing). The first day, though, I got asked if it was on the iBookstore and Nook! So it sounds like those platforms are really coming together, and I definitely want to make use of them.
Patricia Pooks Burroughs: You’re got it wrong, Rob. We’re supposed to let her pay us for OUR great ideas, write the books, and then put our names on them because the ideas are the hard part, and we always did intend to write a book someday when we have time…
Robert Gregory Browne: For $50 you can do anything you want.
Me: Well, I know THAT — this IS still America, isn’t it?
Michele Montgomery: Diane… don’t listen to Rob. I heard he’s negotiable on the 50. Just saying…
Me: No problem, Michele. I’m pretty sure that’s the first thing any of us heard about Robert.
Pamela DuMond***: Congrats on your book, Diane.
Me: Thanks! I’m having a lot of fun with this process.
Tamar Bihari: Diane, one of the most compelling elements for me was the character of Dru. Darkly sarcastic, running from her past, doing whatever she needs to to survive — and more crucially, to make sure her screwed up, brilliant little sister survives. And she’s funny, too. How did you develop her or was she just there in your head one morning when you woke up?
Me: Drusilla has been around for a long time. My master’s thesis at USC starred her, in fact. I’m always intrigued by characters, particularly females, that don’t play by other’s rules — that keeps me interested, and I hope it does other readers as well!
And one problem I’ve always had with amateur sleuth mysteries is that the amateur sleuths are always really nice, good, law-abiding people. I can understand someone like that stumbling across a dead body once. Twice makes me look at them askance, and three times has me asking the cops why they’re not checking that person out for criminal connections.
So a big part of Dru’s character is WHY she would keep getting herself into these situations, even though she (like many of us) could quite easily stay on the straight and narrow and live a comfortable life.
(On my regular Facebook page, my friend Elaine Danforth asked: “may I ask what led you to the decision to self-publish when five companies were interested in the book?”)
Me: Well, publishing is a tough gig. The book went to at least 5 different editorial meetings — I honestly don’t even remember how many at this point (although I have the emails). For whatever reason, it wasn’t “right” for them.
I got a little depressed by this.
A friend (who has been my biggest fan) told me to self-publish it after this happened and I was definitely in the “self-publishing is death!” group — one of the few times I haven’t been ahead of the tech curve. Last year I read the book again, thought “I still like this book”, and decided to put it up after a good, thorough edit.
Dave Thome: Do you have the next book(s) plotted, or are you going to make stuff up as you go?
Me: I wish I were a pantser****. I’VE TRIED, I REALLY REALLY HAVE. But I have about four novels that, when I got to the middle of them, I said, “I have ZERO idea who did it, or why.” So now I have to work the backstory and figure out the crime before I get started. Maybe doing it on the fly is a skill that I can as yet master.
I don’t think knowing ahead of time dilutes the excitement of writing it, by the way: there’s a big difference between writing in an outline “Susie did it!” and creating realistic characters and motivations that lead to the reader saying, “Of course! If I were her, I’d have done that too.”
Now, I may get to the end and discover that in fact Susie didn’t do it, Tommy did! But at least I have a plausible scenario and lots of clues that point toward Susie being the scamp. Saving me a lot of time and rewriting.
Michele Montgomery: Diane, are the rest of the novels about magic too?
Me: No, magic is in the first one because of the murder victim, magician Colin Abbott. I think Drusilla’s going to bring back her psychic act, though.
Michele Montgomery: Diane… you mentioned you worked on this at USC but, um, that was a long time ago. How many drafts did you do before you got published? Did you hire an editor too?
Me: What I worked on at USC was a script featuring Drusilla and Stevie, but otherwise completely different. (I wonder how it would read if I were to pull it out again…)
Of the book, I’d say I did four complete drafts, including this last one after Ramona DeFelice Long edited it. The original Nanowrimo version of the novel has a few things in common with this book, but it changed a LOT since then.
Pamela DuMond: Ramona DeFelice Long Edits my books too. Love her.
* – author of La Desperada and winner of a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.
** – in addition to being a smart-ass, Rob is the author of lots of books and also a winner of a Nicholl Fellowship. His latest book is Trial Junkies, which is the start of a new series and indie-published.
*** – author of the Annie Graceland mysteries
**** – “Pantser” is a technical term meaning “one who writes by the seat of their pants.” Many authors swear that they start writing and everything falls into place as they discover the story. I’ve had this happen…but I’ve had the opposite happen too many times for me to feel comfortable about it. There’s nothing like getting to thirty thousand words and have zero idea where you’re going. I don’t happen to believe that outlining ruins the process of discovering your story: first, you know the general direction everything’s supposed to be headed, then your characters come to life and run riot. If things get too crazy, you can still whip out the map and say, “Albuquerque is that way.”