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Through the Veil

Romance, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy

THROUGH THE VEIL IS ON SALE FOR .99 CENTS!

My dear readers, the day has finally arrived! THROUGH THE VEIL is on sale for .99 cents October 3rd-9th. If you’ve been on the fence about starting a new series, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you know a friend who might enjoy this hot urban fantasy romance, please let them know by sharing this post or any of the buy links below.

Also, I cannot say this enough, but I am so grateful to all of my loyal fans out there who have helped make this series happen. Your reviews, your tweets, your shares, your encouragement have all made the difference. Thank you!

THROUGH THE VEIL IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR .99 CENTS!

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THROUGH THE VEIL

Where the fairy tale ends, destiny begins…

Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

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Creative Process, Editing, Fantasy, Marketing, Pitch Wars, Pitching, Publishing, Querying, Romance, Social Media, Teaching, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Crafting the Fantasy Query

When I first pitched my fantasy romance novel a thousand years ago, I made the fatal mistake I think a lot of spec writers make–foregrounding the worldbuilding beyond anything else. While it’s true that worldbuilding is the one quintessential thing that differentiates fantasy from other genres, it may not be exactly what you want to lead with in your pitch. In the whole scheme of things, worldbuilding is only one aspect of a story that will appeal to readers, and I would argue that, at its core, the query needs to center around the engaging and fascinating characters within your world.

It’s hard to connect on a deep, personal level to a magic system, but we’re hardwired, you might say, to connect with individual struggle or strife. Most of us want to connect with humans (or humanoid-esque, sentient beings), not with the magical amulet of Aerosolisia or the ancient book of Conolingua. Such things are meaningless to us at this point in the book’s life, but a character with a goal and a conflict? That will hook most readers right away, and hints at an incredible world will be the icing on that fantasy-character cake.

As I said above, when I queried my debut novel THROUGH THE VEIL, I was so proud of all my worldbuilding, I forgot this very important component. I filled my query with so much world, I’m not sure how anyone could parse out my story at all, let alone connect to my characters. In spite of the churning waves of embarrassment in my stomach, I present to you something very close to my original query, and I do so to point out some of its serious flaws. Just…be kind, guys. I was young, fresh, and very green.

Graduate student Elizabeth Tanner loved to lose herself in the musty vellum pages of the ancient Irish manuscript she studied for her MA thesis–until the pictures started shifting and the spidery script transformed to reveal a terrible secret. 

Elizabeth is no Tinkerbell, but when she discovers her lost mother is Fae, she finds herself at odds with the forces of Trinity, a secret organization composed of the magical races of Ireland. To end a centuries-long Civil War war, Trinity forces Elizabeth to take her Fae mother’s place in a marriage covenant forged a generation ago with the leader of the Dark Fae, Lord Bres.

Her only ally is Finn O’Connell, an eighteenth-century Irish rebel turned immortal warrior. Together, they unlock the mysteries of her past and explore the truth of Elizabeth’s new-found powers. She is an aisling, blessed with the ability to break magical wards, cross space and time, and even walk through dreams.

Bound to Bres by the same black magic she unearthed in her Master’s thesis, Elizabeth must stop him from gaining control of The Tree of Life, the source of all power in the universe. If she fails, Finn and everyone she loves dies and the mortal world falls to darkness.

Oh, my eyes…they bleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed. Where do I even begin with this? As I’m sure you can see, it’s practically unreadable. First of all, we have way too many magical elements dropped into it that require far too much explanation for a 200 word query. There’s an ancient manuscript, a secret organization, Fae, Dark Fae, something called an aisling, a Tree of Life. You guys. As much as I love all this stuff about my book, front loading all that world was a huge, terrible mistake. Furthermore, while I’m able to establish some notion of who my characters are, neither of them have a very specific goal. Elizabeth loves books and Finn wants to help her because…? Um…because…? Yeah.

So fast forward a year or so later when my editor asked me to take a stab at writing the back copy for the book. I just about threw up on my laptop with nerves, but I wanted to prove I could do this.

I spent years teaching freshman comp, which is essentially helping students understand the rhetorical moves that make for effective essays. To do that, we have to analyze the fundamental gestures great writers make to convince others of their argument. I knew if I could apply the same mindset to studying blurbs, I could figure out the code, the code that makes one person want to throw down their hard-earned money for a book.

Now, what follows is not a formula, a wham-bam-thank-you-mam worksheet you can fill out and get a six-figure deal. But I was raised by jazz musicians, and one thing I learned is  you need to learn some basics before you can freestyle like Charlie Parker. Bear in mind, also, that back cover copy is not the same thing as a query. However, I’m using examples of back cover copy here to show how you can shape and consolidate your fantasy novel into something that might appeal to agents.

So, determined to write a good blurb, I set out studying as much back cover copy in my genre as possible. One example of back cover copy I looked at specifically was the book Darkfever, probably the closest comp to my own book. The first thing I noticed was that the copy didn’t start with the world or the conflict, but the character.

MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

We can argue back and forth about the likeability of MacKayla Lane’s character, but one thing is for sure, we know exactly who she is. More importantly, we know this is going to be a character who will transform, who will be forever changed by the events within this story. That is the key to good characterization.

I won’t copy and paste the whole back cover copy here, but you can see how it goes on to provide a goal:

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers.

And then we have the conflict, the person (or Fae, as it were) standing in her way:

As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her.

Yikes!

Then finally, we have the stakes:

…because whoever gets to [this magical book] first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands….

Essentially, if MacKayla doesn’t figure out who killed her sister and stop him, the whole fabric of the universe might implode. Awesome, right? I love this series. There’s also a really hot dude in it.

Anyway, as helpful as this analysis was, I still couldn’t quite get the organization right. Even though my character, goal, conflict, and stakes were stronger, the copy still felt muddled. So I went to Entangled’s website and started studying all the copy on my publisher’s particular imprint. Because romance tends to focus on two characters, I realized that there was a certain organization that popped up over and over again. It goes a little something like this:

Paragraph One (2-3 sentences): Who is the main character? What does she want? What is her initial conflict? What is tripping her up?

Paragraph Two (2-3 sentences): Who is the main love interest? What is his/her goal? What is his/her initial conflict? What is tripping him/her up?

Paragraph Three (1-2 sentences): What is their combined conflict? What is standing in their way? What will happen if they don’t get what they want?

Once I figured this out, the copy came a lot faster, and after several, several drafts and going back and forth with my editor, we came up with this final version:

Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

Even if Fae Fantasy Romance isn’t your thing, this blurb not even comparable to the original version I queried with years ago. We gave the characters goals, took out a ton of the worldbuilding, and made the focus on the the essential driving forces of Elizabeth and Finn’s combined character arcs. You will notice there are a lot fewer proper nouns and we maintained the barest hint of a much more complex magical system.

“But, Colleen!” you exclaim. “I thought this was a post about fantasy, not romance!”

Right. So let’s look at some back copy of straight-up high fantasy.

I’m reading Six of Crows right now and absolutely loving it. The world is incredibly complex, and 100 pages in, I’m only just beginning to grasp the complex magic system Bardugo weaves within this engaging novel. Here is the back copy, though:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

We have setting first to establish we are in some place other than planet Earth. But then we move immediately into character…and then more characters…and then even more characters. We have a goal—“the heist”—but it becomes clear the core conflict lies within these characters themselves.

Check out the simplicity in the focus of character in the current back cover copy for The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss:

The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet’s hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.

Okay, firstly, I would definitely not describe your book to agents as a “masterpiece” (lolz), but I’m using this example to demonstrate that again, in spite of the incredible world and magic systems Rothfuss creates, the pitch to readers remains focused on the character and his journey.

So as you go forth revising your queries, take some time to read as much back cover copy as possible and start identifying where marketers place this key information:

  • Who is the main character? And I mean on a most fundamental level, who is this person?
  • What does this person want? What is their goal?
  • Who or what stands in their way? (the central conflict)
  • And what will happen if they don’t get it? (the stakes)

Keep the focus on your character’s journey and discover a way to organize this information to keep your narrative clear and uncluttered by extraneous information. It might feel like the story is the world, but think of your characters as the guides who will lead us into the magic you’ve created.

 

Discover THROUGH THE VEIL for yourself…

My debut novel THROUGH THE VEIL is now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.

 

 

Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Building Communities: Takeaways from the Marketing Trenches Part Two

Hey, it’s me again. I received a lot of really interesting, private responses to my blog post yesterday from some writer friends, and it should come as no surprise that I have more opinions. So many opinions.

One of the big reactions to my post yesterday was to bemoan the lack of marketing publishing does for writers in our current state of affairs. And yes, I hear that. It’s true. Marketing budgets are shrinking and it’s not fair. Here are more cookies for your feelings.

But in this post, I want to examine what it means to “market” a book in the 21st century because I think it’s inherently different to what marketing looked like twenty years ago, and hell, even ten years ago. To explain, I will start with a story from my classroom and how my teaching approach has drastically changed in the past ten years, specifically when it comes to technology.

Let me take you back to 2002. GW was President, Kelly Clarkson had just become the first American Idol, and a young Colleen Halverson had just begun her first year of graduate school as a TA teaching freshman comp. Now this year was a special year for the TA newbies because this was the year the university decided to start a new initiative involving technology literacy (or some shit buzzword. I have no idea). Basically, the university handed freshman comp a curriculum and for one extra day a week, we had to trudge up to the computer lab and do…stuff. Techy stuff.

The curriculum basically went like this:

Week One: Have students make a PowerPoint.

About what? Why? For what purpose?

Week Two: Have students create a website.

Again? Why? What should be on it? What purpose does it serve?

You can see the flaws in this pedagogical approach, I’m sure. Education without context or meaning is doomed to failure, and of course that first semester was pretty rocky. Half the time, my smarter, hipper, more tech savvy students ended up teaching the class and in the end, those websites never really got off the ground.

Fast forward to 2012 where I was teaching freshman comp full time in a computer lab, where we did create PowerPoints and we did create websites using WordPress, but this time the tech was fully integrated into their writing assignments. So, for example, their big project was to write a research paper but share it through the medium of a blog, which, because of the online medium, requires a different mode of writing and formatting. They also had to have different pages for shared PowerPoints, an annotated bibliography, an ongoing reflective research journal, etc. These blogs were shared publicly on the internet and on our library’s homepage. They served a purpose, and their academic labor was meaningful. They helped create a learning community.

It strikes me oftentimes that writers are asked to work under the 2002 model of marketing.

Create a website!

Why? About what? What purpose does it serve?

Get on twitter!

And do what, exactly? What do I tweet about?

Make a facebook page!

Ok, and what do I do with it?

We are working out of context without a purpose.

You’re probably saying, “But Colleen, I do have a purpose online! My purpose is to sell more books!”

To which I say, no.

No.

Stop.

No, I don’t think that’s our purpose (and I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense either, lulz). I think if we’re hopping on the internet with the sole purpose to sell more books, we’re internet-ing wrong.

Our purpose is not to sell a product but to build a community.

Our books are not widgets. We are not used car salesmen. But we can do something publishing houses can’t do, which is to create human connections with our audience. The internet is an amazing place to make that happen. For me, “marketing” is no longer something tangential, a “necessary evil,” or as this “extra” chore I have to do. It’s an intrinsic part of being an artist in the 21st century. It’s about building, sharing, and being a part of a community.

I wish I could tell you what should be on that facebook page or what you should tweet about to create that community. After that failed first semester, I set about shifting my curriculum to something much more meaningful, and it took me ten years to figure out an approach that felt genuinely engaging for my students. It was trying things and failing, seeing what works, and honing those strategies. Come back in ten years, and I might have more answers for you about marketing your book online.

But in the meantime, here are two people who, I think are at the forefront of rethinking what it means to exist as a working artist online: the poet Saeed Jones and rock and roll extraordinaire Amanda Palmer.

I started following Saeed Jones on twitter and immediately noted his incredible web presence. In an interview, he talks about how the boundaries of art and social media are breaking down, that art is not something that happens “out there,” beyond social media, but something that is happening on and through places like Twitter and facebook every day. A poem is a tweet. A tweet is a poem. While some might argue that this diminishes creative output, he disagrees by citing an example of a poet whose poem recently went viral.

“I think quality is even more important now. To use the social web as an example: What’s great about the web is it’s easy for something to be shared. Patricia Lockwood’s rape poem. Excellent work can get out there and take off in a way that even just 5 years ago, the idea of a poem going viral? A literary poem? A poem about rape culture? But it’s possible.”

Jones’s point is that more than ever, an artist needs to be excellent. She needs to walk the walk. The whole world is watching.

If you want to take a masterclass on building online communities, watch and observe Amanda Palmer at work. She is definitely an artist who walks the walk. Palmer uses a patron model to fund her artistic pursuits, but part of what makes her efforts so successful are 1) She fucking rocks. Seriously. And 2) She works relentlessly to connect with her patrons and supporters online. It’s fucking Leaves of Grass up in her timeline with the boundary between fan and artist, artist and fan blurring and intermingling. If you want to understand how sharing culture is changing the way artists work online, please check out her TED talk here. She explains it much more eloquently than I can. And hey, support a writer by purchasing her book here. Regardless of how you feel about her model, Palmer understands something about art and our online culture that can feel very elusive to many of us. At least for me. Watching her use the internet as a means to be an artist inspires me, and I want to be her when I grow up, for real.

All I know is this. The last books I purchased came from either tweets, a blog, a reading community like Vaginal Fantasy, or a suggestion from an online forum on Goodreads. Whether we like it or not, our work as artists is a part of a larger online community, and it’s our job to make our work in that community meaningful.

Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? Would you like to support me and  my opinions? Consider showing your love by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

 

Cover Reveal, Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Raising My Book Baby: Marketing Takeaways from the Trenches

The blog tour for Through the Veil is winding down, and things are slowly returning back to normal around here. That gnawing, hollow feeling in my stomach has dissipated, and I’m only refreshing Amazon now twice every hour as opposed to every two seconds (it’s my first book. Don’t judge me.). Things are good, and I can stand back from the past three weeks with a strong feeling of accomplishment and with the sense that I did everything I could to bring my book out into the world.

But book marketing is a strange, elusive beast, and I can say two months ago I had absolutely no clue how and where to even begin. On the first call with my PR person, I said, “Okay, I’ve never done this before, so explain book marketing to me like you would to a small child.” And she did! Beautifully! I can’t share all the trade secrets here (and quite honestly, I still don’t understand how all this goes down), but I can tell you some things I’ve learned and some things I wished I had known before I started. A lot of folks complain that publishing runs at a snail’s pace, but nothing can prepare you for the wild, fast-paced ride of a book release. They don’t call it a “blitz” for nothing. After the first week, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I also felt very pleased with the results. Publishing is weird like that.

Please note that I’m not a marketing person, and I can only speak from my experience. Not every approach will work for every author. This isn’t the Church of Colleen Halverson (well, maybe sometimes, hehe), and my words are not the gospel. But here’s what I know.

  1. Start blogging now. Right now. And it’s not for the reasons you think. I know building a platform is important, and having a nice back list of blog posts can help increase your visibility. Yes, yes, all these things are true. But here’s the real reason you should start blogging—so you are prepared for the epic marathon of writing guest posts. In total, I wrote 19 guest posts to help bring Through the Veil into the world, and this isn’t including interviews. “Wow! That’s a lot!” you’re probably thinking. Why, yes. Yes it is. I told my PR people that I would be open to guest posts and the demand was enormous. And it makes sense. Guest posts are free content and don’t require the same demands as a review or even an interview. I received great responses from my blog posts, and I’m really proud of the content I cranked out. But I tell you what, I’m so glad I began blogging three years ago. I don’t blog a lot (maybe once a month), but it was enough where I had an opportunity to settle into my blogger voice, which is different from my authorial voice. A good blog post demands certain criteria, and as you blog, you learn a lot about what sort of content, length, topics, and formats really work for people. So while writing all those guest posts was pretty intense, I walked into the task with confidence.
  2. Know your core audience. Do you know your audience? Like, really know them? I’m not talking about readers who might pick up your book, but the readers out there who want to pick up exactly what you’re throwing down. I honestly didn’t. Or maybe I just didn’t think about it too much. Like most authors, when I wrote my book, I just wrote something I would like to read, and it never really occurred to me until we started packaging it how seriously I needed to evaluate my core audience. Seeing as though I signed with Entangled and there’s loads of sex in my book, I figured…yeah, romance (Oh, Colleen Halverson…so much to learn…so much to understand…). It’s true that a lot of romance readers enjoyed my book, but after reading tons of reviews of my work, I understand now that my core audience, the audience who will enjoy my stories 99% of the time is a very particular kind of woman. Who is that woman? Well, not surprisingly, they’re a lot like me. They’re the woman who, every Sunday night, loves their Walking Dead with a Downton Abbey They’re all in love with Jamie Fraser, but like to deconstruct gender roles in Game of Thrones. As they say on Project Runway, “Who’s your girl?” That’s my girl. There may be ten of us in the universe, but that’s my tribe. Know your tribe. That knowledge will dictate all of your marketing choices.
  3. Follow Book Bloggers. Before I published Through the Veil, I followed one book blogging site: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (love them!). But now? I follow several. I read a fair amount, maybe two to five books a month depending on the length of the books and my deadlines. But these folks? They read dozens and dozens of books in like, a day. They blow us all out of the water. They know your genre backwards and forwards, and they know what they like. They also talk about books in ways that may seem very different to writers and to the greater publishing industry, and there’s so much complexity in that community as to what makes for a “good book.” I’ve learned a lot by reading urban fantasy/PNR reviews lately, and seeing how the community receives different kinds of books. Colleen Halverson is still going to do Colleen Halverson, but I feel like I have a much better understanding as to how my books will fit into this world, at least more than I had before. And that is some useful knowledge to have.
  4. Hire your own PR firm. I have the best PR support from my publisher with my own publicist on speed dial. We have met via teleconference several times and we email and correspond regularly. She’s also insanely hardworking and dedicated to marketing my book. With all that said, I still plan on hiring my own PR for my next book, maybe even a second one, and I’ll tell you why. For one, it’s like doubling down your reach. My book is a pebble in the vast ocean of the internet. Anything that can bring your book to more bloggers and reviewers can’t hurt. Also, I felt like my PR firm could focus on some particular action items that freed up my Entangled publicist to funnel her energy into other avenues. If your publicist isn’t doing your cover reveal, for instance, they can hustle more reviews and work on other projects that will help your book. My PR firm, my Entangled publicist, and I all collaborated to get this book off the ground, and our combined efforts were very successful.

    I know what you’re thinking. “But I don’t wanna market my book! Why is publishing making us do this?” Wah, wah, wah. Yep, I know. Here’s a cookie. Now go eat those feelings. In an ideal world, we would all have an army of publicists pimping our books, but unless you’re Stephen King, that shit ain’t happening. Also, hustling e-books in a one-click world brings itself new challenges that require a lot of people on deck. I’m in a private group with a bunch of debut authors, and all of our marketing experiences have been vastly different. They’re not contingent upon the size and scope of the publisher either. If anything, think of your own PR firm as insurance in case the marketing for your book is limited. It happens.

    I used Between the Sheet Promotions to market my book, and I found them to be very affordable, professional, and committed to marketing my book. But do your research! I hired them on a whim, and I really, really lucked out as not all Book PR firms are created equal. Also, make sure your PR firm will reach the kind of bloggers who are in your core audience. In the end, this was some of the best money I have ever spent. I have two kids, a full-time job, and two more books coming out this year. I don’t have time to contact bloggers, set up guest posts and reviews, and coordinate things like cover reveals or trailer reveals or rafflecopters. If you do? Awesome. I—don’t. And even if I did, I would much rather be spending that time writing!

So these are some of my big takeaways from the past few weeks. There are still some things I would love to chat about, but I may save them for another day. If you have questions or comments, please post below! If I can help, I certainly will. Solidarity, my writerly brothers and sisters! Marketing can be a ball, and it’s fun to see all those different facets of the publishing engine humming along. You wrote a book! Celebrate it!

AND SPEAKING OF MARKETING…

Do you like this content? Are you my tribe? Consider supporting my writing habits by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

Thanks for reading!