Generally speaking, I’m not one much for looking back, or second-guessing myself, or playing “Yeah, but what if I’d . . .?”
My first book – “The Garden on Sunset” – has been out for a few months now and I’ve been happy with both the way it turned out and the way it’s been received. And while I’ve facebooked and tweeted and blogged about it at every opportunity, I’ve also moved on to the next book: The Trouble with Scarlett. And I’m happy to report that it has progressed smoothly and according to schedule.
Now, that said, I’m also open to doing something better, more effectively, and smarter. So when I came across a blog which offers to give feedback on how you’re marketing your novel, I thought: What the hell. If there was something I could tweak about the presentation of my book (which largely means “How it looks on Amazon?”) which could encourage more people to take a chance and buy it, then I’m all for giving it a go.
It wasn’t until after I’d done it and was talking to several writer-type friends about it that I was told more than once how brave I was to open myself up to criticism like that. I was surprised because I really like the cover to the book, worked hard on the blurb to make the book sound as appealing as possible, and had gone through a dozen drafts of the opening before I was happy with it. I really wasn’t expecting too much negative criticism to be flung at me like horse poop.
Wrong! A total of 11 people, including the blogger weighed in what they thought wasn’t working. As a result, I got 11 different people telling me that nothing worked. The cover was wrong—too dark, too dim, too vague, misleading the genre. The blurb was a mess—too long, too wordy, not focused enough. The opening didn’t grab, they didn’t care much about the characters—too bland. And a number of them must have gone to my Amazon listing because they even criticized the reviews left by people there. Something about the fact there wasn’t a bad review . . . ? I’m not really sure about that one.
So I took a step back and tried to look at each factor—the cover, the blurb, the first 300 words—and see if (a) I agreed with them, and (b) if I did agree, should/would/could I do anything about it?
I decided that I loved the cover of my book and that it didn’t need any tweaking or redoing. It’s exactly what I was going for and I think it’s a keeper. Redoing any of the first 300 words, I decided, was an exercise in second-guessing that wouldn’t result in achieving anything productive.
But the blurb! Ah, now that was something I could do something about. In case you’ve never had to write a blurb before, let me tell you: it’s really, REALLY hard. You have to distill a 90,000-word novel into a punchy, catchy, intriguing, pithy sock-it-to-‘em pitch of 200 to 300 words that will make a finger itch to click “Add to cart.”
But when you’re looking at a book on Amazon or in a real, live bookstore, what do you look at to help decide if this book is for you? In most cases, it’s the cover and the blurb. As an author, those are your primary selling tools. If a potential new reader likes what he or she sees, maybe then they’ll go inside the book to read the opening pages. But if the cover and the blurb fail to ignite or intrigue, then who cares about the opening paragraph?
And, I decided, these people who bothered to respond to the blog (which, lest we forget, invited people to say what they thought wasn’t working) were probably right. I didn’t think my blurb was “a mess” as one person described it, but clearly it did need sharpening and refocusing.
So I started from scratch and wrote a new one. Then rewrote that, and then rewrote the rewrite. Then I called on some writer friends for their input and incorporated some of their suggestions. Then I rewrote it again, and then again. Then I sent it to my editor, Meghan Pinson, so that she could cast her wise eyes over it. She completely rewrote it, and then I rewrote her version.
And then I got a headache and then I went cross-eyed and then I got drunk and then I woke up and then Meghan and I rewrote several more versions of the parts which still weren’t working yet. And then I finally decided I was done.
And that’s when I went onto Amazon and posted the following new-and-improved blurb for The Garden on Sunset.
Right before talking pictures slug Tinsel Town in the jaw, a luminous silent screen star converts her private estate into the Garden of Allah Hotel. The lush grounds soon become a haven for Hollywood hopefuls to meet, drink, and revel through the night. George Cukor is in the pool, Tallulah Bankhead is at the bar, and Scott Fitzgerald is sneaking off to a bungalow with Sheilah Graham while Madame Alla Nazimova keeps watch behind her lace curtains.
But the real story of the Garden of Allah begins with its first few residents, three kids on the brink of something big.
Marcus Adler has a lot to prove after his father catches him and the police chief’s son with their pants down. He flees Pennsylvania for Hollywood with his mouth shut and his eyes open, and begins to write the lines all those starlets will say out loud. Can a smart, sensitive guy find his own voice in a town that’s just learning to talk?
Kathryn Massey’s childhood was a grinding routine of auditions, but she couldn’t care less about being a movie star. When she takes off with her typewriter, determined to become a newspaper reporter, she finds that breaking into the boys’ club is tougher than breaking free of her bossy mother. To make it in this town, she’ll need some serious moxie.
Gwendolyn Brick is a sweet Southern beauty who’s come a long way to try her luck on the big screen. She’s hoping the same succulent lips the guys want to kiss will land her more than a bit part on a casting couch. She’s going to need some help keeping everyone in line.
Nobody gets a free pass in Hollywood, but a room at the Garden on Sunset can get your foot in the door.
The Garden on Sunset is the first in Martin Turnbull’s series of historical novels set during Hollywood’s golden age.