Not only to fly, but to bring the world's eyes...skyward.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why I Quit Querying and Proceeded to Publish, Part 4

Though the ring in my story is the tie that binds two families, it does so in a rather understated way. Sometime in 2010 I learned  today’s covers need to look good as thumbnails, and I just couldn’t see any way to make a ring discernible in that format without making it utterly dominate the cover, so I had to find another symbol. I remembered a famous war photograph of a lone B-24 bomber flying low over a burning oil refinery in Ploesti, Rumania, and since the B-24 and the spectacularly costly raid on Ploesti play no small part in my story—I had my cover symbol.

I did the best I could with the photo and software I had (Microsoft Office), and when I was finished I thought it looked pretty good, all considered. But Cassandra was always such a great critic (as in honest, balanced, and definitely not wont to dish up unwarranted praise), I thought I’d run it by her—and a few hundred other friends on Facebook. Predictably, everyone loved it except Cassandra. I asked her to tell me honestly if it screamed “self-published” and, a little sheepishly, she confirmed my fear.

Then she sent me a potential cover featuring a photo of a man in what she didn’t realize was a Vietnam-era flight suit standing next to a C-23 cargo plane, smiling like he’d never even been forced to spell ‘combat’. With our mutual honesty policy established, I told her it looked like any other of the garden-variety pilot and other “career” memoirs keeping vanity publishers thriving these days.

She asked me what I wanted my cover to convey. Thinking about my story, how a lot of nasty stuff that happens to my characters in the 1940’s gets buried by the war, only to be uncovered at a rather inopportune time in 1986, I said, “I want it to look mysterious and foreboding, and I want it to feature this airplane” and attached the picture of the Liberator. In way less than an hour, she sent me something very close to what’s now my cover.

I said out loud, “Oh my God. That’s it."

“Wait. You don’t mean you actually want to use this, do you? I was just messing around. I do this stuff for fun all the time. Kind of a hobby.”

“I can’t imagine it any better. It’s absolutely perfect. Except the letters—can you make them silver?”

I had my wife, Pam, a published artist and writer in her own right, standing by to help me with my cover design and even had another artist/author friend of hers, Chrysti Hydeck, offer to help me if I wanted another professional’s take on it. When I showed them Cassandra’s design, they both abdicated. Put the fork away and just trust me—we’re done.

Now all I had to do was select a printer and figure out how to turn my Word and .jpg files into usable .pdfs. Memorial Day was upon me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why I quit querying and proceeded to publish, Part 3

Knowing well and deeply desiring to transcend the often-deserved stigma surrounding self-publishing, I resolved not to undertake it unless I made a book that would stand up to any other, self-published or otherwise. I didn’t want it falling apart in readers’ hands, I didn’t want someone else’s ISBN on it, and I absolutely, positively would not stand for the typos, grammatical and other glaring errors I often see even in conventionally published books. To do that, I knew I’d need to pay a professional for a comprehensive edit.

I know it’s another cliché, so I’ll throw this in, if only to entertain the sardonic experts out there who refuse to assign it any value: I’d had my old English teacher edit my first draft. Now, if you knew Mr. Robert Webb, you wouldn’t see any humor in this. Kids didn’t get A’s from Mr. Webb; kids got psychological damage (which we overcame years later, after testing out of college English). I still recall him remorselessly reducing to tears one of the hardest-boiled smart-asses in my class—a kid who actually bullied another, less confident teacher. Mr. Webb found lots of mistakes, but he loved my story, and he read it when I had the whole trilogy—161,000 words’ worth— in one book.

Nevertheless, I felt I needed someone actually in the industry to check my work. I looked around at various editor’s sites, marveling at the prices charged by some, the obvious lack of qualifications of others, and the sheer caustic hubris of one, whose following still amazes me. It wasn’t very difficult to winnow the field to a manageable number.

Around this time Cassandra Marshall had just begun offering her services as an editor. Cassandra and I met very soon after I joined Twitter. Her old handle, @thatwemightfly, had me thinking she might be a pilot, but we got on the same page soon enough, became friends, and she gave me tons of help with my queries, never asking for a thing in return. Needless to say, she was the early favorite. I thought her comments on my queries were good, I’d read some of her own writing and her CV and knew she was a well-educated, well-read “organic” linguist, and her price was reasonable.

We came to terms quickly, she got my markup back to me on time, and a few months later, I’d finally found a way to incorporate nearly every change she’d recommended and many more she’d inspired. I felt like my novel had transformed from an awkward teenager with clear potential to a beautiful, fully developed young adult. All that was left to do was the cover. And deciding on a printer. And converting the Word manuscript to a .pdf file. And converting that to a different format for e-books. And the audio book. Oh, and there was that whole marketing/promotion plan to figure out. Easter was over, and AirVenture was in late July. I needed to get a move on.

An aviation love story...

Twilight landing at LAX

Martinez Canyon Rescue