Everyday chaos. Just another day in the genesis of a book

I had been intending to bring you a craft post this week as I’ve written a guide to suspense for Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman’s Writers Helping Writers blog. But I mistook the date because I’ve been immersed in my current book, but it should come out in the next few days.

Speaking of which, Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction is maturing nicely, which means we’ve reached the stage of gentle, hair-tearing chaos. I thought I’d share it with you, in case you’re going through book production chaos too, or to prepare you in case, at some point in the future, you strike an iceberg. And to reassure you that if everyone keeps their heads, it comes out right in the end.

At the moment, I have chaos in two departments. The inside of the book and the outside.

Inside

I’ve put the text through a thorough developmental thrashing, had scourging feedback from Dave, and sent it to two trusted readers, who are seeing it for the first time.

You could not receive two more different sets of responses. They both think it’s 90% fine, but their suggestions for tweaks show that they had radically different ideas of what the book would be. Expand the vignettes, said one. I love the vignettes, said the other. Add more of this element to fortify the climax, said one. Add more humour, said the other.

The bottom line: something is slightly off, and I have to figure out which set of comments is most in tune with my vision for the book.

Outside

Cover design is under way. I had an initial concept, got favourable feedback, changed my mind, got another concept, got favourable feedback about that, and also now conflicting feedback. (I’m not going to reveal the options here until I’m further along because it’s easy to contaminate a jury … and I might need you guys for a mass vote later!)

Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve got my foot on both the brake and the accelerator at the same time and have to figure out which one to choose. And I’m not a mite frustrated. It’s always the way that the things you thought would be easy are difficult, and the things you thought would be difficult are easy.

But I have to remind myself of this when a comment gives me headaches: everyone involved cares about this book. They have its best interests at heart. And I am lucky to have them.

More chaos

But wait, I also have chaos in a third department: publicity and marketing. I saw a post this week from Jane Friedman that said: ‘Don’t publish your diaries. You’re not Sedaris.’ Later, it reiterated: ‘Don’t publish essay collections or vignettes. You’re NOT SEDARIS.’

Why this prohibition? Because unless you’re a Person Of Significance, diaries, vignettes etc are impossible to sell. Jane’s advice is commercially sound (and is aimed at writers who are seeking traditional deals).

I already knew diaries etc are hard to sell, which is why I recently embarked on an important task – to find comparison titles.

Which brings me to chaos #3. I can’t find any comparison titles.

Book marketing folk say that there’s no such thing as a book that doesn’t have comparison titles, but so far I haven’t found one that’s a close enough fit, and I have gone cross-eyed browsing the stacks of LibraryThing, Goodreads and Amazon. I don’t think for one nanosecond that that I’ve invented a genre, but I’m feeling, rather like the title of the book, lost.

What did my critiquers say? Um, it’s not really like anything.

Big help.

But I do understand the market a lot better now. And I know what the book is not. It’s not unified by fashionable issues or whacky modes of travel (bicycle, barge, battered camper van). There are no backpacks. The territories aren’t exotic (jungles, tiny forgotten railway stations). It doesn’t contain wisdom for others, or a journalistic hook (conspiracy theorists, scandalous confessions). It’s not a book about moving to a country where lemons grow, or dragging a fridge there.

It’s quieter.

That in itself is surprising. In my fiction, I like the extravagant concept. But those stories are also knitted from quieter yarn, and that’s what Not Quite Lost is  – the kinds of people I’m curious about, what amuses me or appeals to my sense of whimsy, the scent of the mysterious in an ordinary place. While my novels are the bold performances with proscenium and drama, these are the small details. The props. The originals of the characters and places.

Not Quite Lost is like an artist’s sketchpad. An album of songs. In fact, I find those to be easier comparisons because its most distinctive qualities are not so much its content, but its style – things that are hard to translate into algorithms and categories.

I will continue to search for comparison titles. But in the meantime, if you can suggest any I’d be grateful.

Chaos is the rule

Just last week I went to the launch of The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie (you saw her on this blog a few months ago when she was raising funds via Unbound ). Before the launch she confessed to some behind-the-scenes hair-tearing, when some of the book’s files got corrupted, erasing several rounds of refinements and corrections, which meant everybody had to start proof-reading again from scratch, and get it finished in no time whatsoever.

It happens, but we come through in the end.

Thanks for the swan pic USFWS Mountain Prairie on flickr

Are you going through book production chaos? Have you been through it in the past? Let’s swap war stories.

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  1. #1 by Debra Eve on June 12, 2017 - 3:05 am

    Looking forward to this, Roz. So wish I’d kept a journal of all my travels like you have, especially now that my memory isn’t what it used to be! For some reason, I thought of another favorite travelog from someone unexpected: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_Written_in_Sweden,_Norway,_and_Denmark

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on June 12, 2017 - 6:58 am

      Hi Debra! Ah, I didn’t know about that Mary Wollstonecraft diary – thanks for the tip!

  2. #3 by acflory on June 12, 2017 - 5:52 am

    One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read is ‘A Postillion Struck by Lightning’, by the late Dirk Bogarde. Part memoir and part, I believe, the golden nostalgia of childhood, Postillion doesn’t fit any easy categories either. But it’s wonderful, and I suspect Not Quite Lost will be as well. As for chaos. Oh yes indeedy. I decided this was going to be the year I finally tackled Createspace, but on a non-existent budget, I’ve had to do everything myself, including the cover designs for all three books. Let’s just say it’s challenging. Good luck to the both of us. 🙂

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on June 12, 2017 - 7:05 am

      Hi Andrea! Thanks for the tip about Dirk Bogarde – I haven’t read any of him, and I’m sure he’ll be wonderful. I remember when he started releasing novels and it was before there was a fashion for famous people to write, so I guess his books would be genuine. Like David Niven’s. Thank you!
      As for CreateSpace, it’s not that difficult, but I have found that their templates are sometimes incorrect; pictures that are on the book don’t show up on the online proof; their system gives you error messages about margins that actually are perfectly fine. But their support desk is helpful! Best of luck.

      • #5 by acflory on June 13, 2017 - 12:27 am

        Oh yes, I forgot about David Niven’s books. I read them too and loved his wry sense of humour. Very British. 🙂 And yes, both of them actually wrote their own books.
        I haven’t reached the moment of truth with Createspace yet, but I’ll keep your advice in mind. I’ll ask for a proof copy of all three books before I publish any of them.
        I know it’s silly in this day and age to be so obsessed with pages made from dead trees, but I so want to get this right. -fingers crossed-

  3. #6 by mrdisvan on June 12, 2017 - 7:44 am

    Another comparison: Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/6018/pg6018-images.html

    • #7 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on June 12, 2017 - 8:26 am

      Boswell! We’re bringing out the big guns! Publishers would be horrified because those aren’t new books. But people still read them. Let’s be daringly retro.

  4. #8 by J Rose on June 12, 2017 - 9:13 am

    Retro – yes. That’s what came to my mind too when I read your description…

    Is it Bill Bryson-ish? He does whimsy…Or descriptive and mundane with hints of darkness (like the Orton diaries)? Is there one narrative thread holding the thing together? In which case it could be like the amazing Duende by Jason Webster (which turned out to be made up – but who cares…) Or if it’s comprised of snippets to dip in and out of then it could be like Simon Parke’s The Beautiful Life (but that was philosophical which I think you said your book was not…)

    Whatever it is I very much look forward to reading it!

    • #9 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on June 12, 2017 - 5:44 pm

      hi Josephine! It is a bit Bryson-ish, though he has a different brand of whimsy. My bookseller friend said it was on the way to Bryson, but had other qualities that weren’t.
      I hadn’t heard of Jason Webster or Simon Parke – shall look them up! Thank you!

  5. #10 by courseofmirrors on June 12, 2017 - 10:55 am

    ‘Girl not quite lost’ – 🙂 only half joking. It seems ‘Girl’ in titles are a bestselling formula of late.
    A reviewer of my now published novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ came up with a pet title, ‘Girl Disguised.’
    Best luck with your decision making process.

    • #11 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on June 12, 2017 - 5:45 pm

      Hi Ashen! You’re not the only one to suggest I shoehorn a girl into the title! And yes, this girl is a tiny bit lost!

  6. #12 by Alexander M Zoltai on June 15, 2017 - 5:30 pm

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Can an author who’s written books about the process of writing have “chaos” working on a new book?

    Absolutely — even if they know, quite well, how to deal with it…

    It’s Roz Morris again in today’s re-blog — adding insight about The Process…

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