Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: July 2012

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 4

I put up two chapters of Soulwoven this week, to make up for the fact that I'm going to be deep in the woods and out of Internet range next weekend. Unfortunately, Chapter 4 went up a little late, because I spent the weekend being chased off of mountains by thunderstorms and having adventures in automobile repair (if anyone knows what on earth a neutral switch does, other than cause your reverse lights to be on semi-permanently if you confuse it with your reverse light switch while replacing the latter, please let me know).

And with that out of the way, on to the craft breakdown for Soulwoven Chapter 4 (Spoilers to follow. Go read it here first!).

Chapter 4 is one of several of what I think of as "breather" chapters in Soulwoven. We've just had two chapters of pretty intense action, and I want to give the reader time to take a breath, put the book down (I mentioned I was going to break rules, right?) and go grab a cup of tea, walk the dog, do some math homework, talk to a family member--whatever--and process. I do this because a lot of my favorite books have these moments, and because I want my readers to be thinking. Dan Brown writes great page-turners, but I don't remember having a single productive thought while reading The Da Vinci Code. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, writes books that I frequently put down, but I gain much more overall from reading them. Somewhere in the middle falls George R. R. Martin, who can keep seven or eight page-turning plots going in every book, but gives me time to take breaks between them as I switch from character to character.

So. Action is slower in Chapter 4. Litnig has his dream. It's weird, and then it's scary, and that's about it. The chapter is very short, even by my standards. In terms of plot, I'm working mainly on deepening the mysteries surrounding Litnig. We already know that he had a dream and it was weird. We then ran off on a big adventure through two other characters' heads. I want to remind the reader that Litnig had a dream, and it was important, so I bring them back to it in this chapter. Hopefully, the reader understands that Litnig's dream is not an ordinary dream, and will not be surprised when it keeps popping back up throughout the book. I'm not entirely sure if the repetition and positioning of the dream alone achieves this, but I hope that it does.

Because this chapter doesn't have a lot of action, it's also a bit of a litmus test for my writing. I mentioned Martin above. One of the reasons I think he's successful is because he has enough faith in his own abilities to do things like break the tension or kill off major characters and trust that he can keep the reader interested in other ways or develop new characters they'll love just as much. I aspire to that level of writing, and I figure the best way to learn how to get there is to attempt it. In this chapter, I'm counting on two things to keep the reader interested. One is the shock of horror Litnig gets once the dark statue starts moving, but that happens three-quarters of the way through. In the meantime, my writing has to carry the burden alone. For a few pages, my descriptions, my voice, my capability to generate a creepy and threatening atmosphere, are all I'm counting on to carry the reader forward. If I can pull that off, I'll know I'm in a good place as a writer, and the reader, hopefully, will respect the hell out of me. If I can't, the chapter will fail.

I don't think I've talked much yet about taking risks in these posts. But as a writer, as a reader, and as an editor, I love writers who take risks. They may (and in fact do, in my experience reading submissions) fail more often than not. But when they succeed, that's where the magic happens. So I do the same in my writing, and I do my best to make it work, and then I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I want to make a brief mention as well that this chapter is more of a horror story than a fantasy story in my mind. I've structured it that way---I start with a character in a situation that he knows is wrong, then allow him to pull himself deeper and deeper into it against his instincts because he can't rationalize why it's wrong, and finally show him why it's wrong when it's too late for him to get out of it without being scarred. Another thing I respect in other writers is weaving multiple genres together, and I'm trying, briefly, to do that here as well.

So that's it for Chapter 4! As I said, it's a risk-taking, rule-breaking, genre-bending effort, and I'm more than a little nervous as to how well it works. I'd love to get some opinions on it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Uploading on Authonomy

So this week I finally crossed the 10,000 word threshold and was able to start putting chapters of Soulwoven up on Authonomy. My thoughts below:

The website has a clean, slick, step-by-step interface for uploading stories. First, you input a title, your pen name, a 25-word pitch, and a 200-word pitch, each of which is compulsory. Next, you have the choice of either uploading your own cover image or choosing from a range of stock Authonomy covers. I suppose that's a nice enough feature, but really, I can't see a book being successful without a unique cover, and I think Authonomy ought to at least make mention of that during their upload process. Personalized covers must also wait for Authonomy approval before they will be shown.

Once you choose a cover, you get to fill in some metadata. You can select up to four genres in which to classify your book, but there aren't a whole lot of choices. I ended up going with Fantasy, Young Adult, and Fiction for Soulwoven. You can also denote your story's age appropriateness as either Universal, Moderate (which means it has some scenes unsuited for children), or Over 18. I chose Moderate.

Like Wattpad, Authonomy allows uploaders to select tags. Unlike Wattpad, the site offers a tag cloud (and mentions it in its FAQ), though it takes some digging to find it. I ended up choosing "fantasy, magic, dragons, teens, serious, intense, love, romance, young adult, relationships, family, brothers, action, adventure," based in part on my own thoughts and in large part on popular cloud terms that fit my story.

After your metadata is in, you can upload your work itself. You have to upload each individual chapter as a separate document (.doc, .docx., or .rtf), and you need to scrub it of chapter titles or headings, because Authonomy puts those in itself. The conversion process it uses from .doc and .docx, unfortunately, is less than perfect. My chapters ended up with a lot of deleted paragraph tabs, and I hate the way its reader adds blank lines between paragraphs. It took significant, time-consuming tweaking in order to get the formatting to look decent, though the site's FAQs were able to help. And going back in to re-upload chapters or add chapters is needlessly time consuming, because you have to re-approve all your previous steps (title through metadata) before you can return to the "upload a chapter" page.

On a side note, I uploaded in several steps, and I was pleased to notice that Authonomy saves your book even if you don't finish uploading it all at once (I assume it saves when you click "Next" as you progress through the steps, but I didn't check that specifically).

Overall, I'd say Authonomy has a fine, very workable uploading system. It's a bit of a pain to have to wait for your cover image to be approved, and the monkeying around with formatting it required to get my book looking right was a pain, but it could have been much worse.

It took my cover several days to get approved, but now that it has been, and I'm over the 10,000 word mark, Soulwoven is up on Authonomy. We'll see how things go from here! In the meantime, you can keep reading on Wattpad as well. As of this posting, Chapters 1-5 of Soulwoven have 221 reads and 6 votes on the site, which puts my votes-to-reads ratio much higher than some of the most popular books on the site.  I'm pretty happy about that, and we'll see how things progress going forward.

I'll be on vacation next week, but when I get back I'll do a quick roundup of how things have gone on Wattpad and Authonomy so far, and I'm scheduling a couple of craft blog posts to go up while I'm absent.

Happy reading!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Chapter 3

Quick update on the cover situation: Cover variant #3 is leading variant #1 by a few votes, so it's most likely to be the one I put up on Sunday when the next chapter of Soulwoven goes up on Wattpad.

But for now, here's what I was trying to do with Chapter 3 (spoilers below! Go read it first!).

Chapter 3 starts off immediately after the events of Chapter 2, but it takes place in Ryse's head instead of Cole's. As it starts off, Ryse is recovering from and trying to remember what exactly happened to her before the brothers Jin arrived. Before she's really got her feet back under her, she starts trying to heal people and save lives, which leads to her seeing a vision of the dragon that's now in danger of being released. Eventually, she leaves the brothers and returns to the Temple, where she gets raked over the coals for seeing the broken heart dragons, lies to protect Litnig and Cole, and decides to run for her life.

The biggest thing I'm doing in Chapter 3 is expanding the narrative. There are other things going on as well (introducing Ryse, introducing soulweaving, continued worldbuilding), but Chapter 3 is the point where the story really starts to balloon in scope. In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, we're following two brothers who are really only concerned with their own lives---they have no reason to be concerned about anything else. In Chapter 3 we get a third p.o.v. character, and we get a powerful one. Ryse is a magic user. She has access to the corridors of power in Eldan, and through that access she and we learn that some weird and dangerous things are happening in the world. Most importantly, Ryse is the type of person to do something about it. When she sees the heart dragons broken, she can't just keep quiet and hope that everything will be alright.

I want to talk briefly about how I introduce Ryse, because in my last revision I learned something about how to do it that might help others as well. The sympathy for Ryse (I hope) comes from two angles: her selflessness in helping people in the graveyard and her identity as an orphan who came from nothing. In the last draft of Chapter 3, neither of those things was apparent right away. Ryse spent the whole first page thinking about herself and what had happened to her in the graveyard, and we didn't learn about her past in the slums until close to the end of the chapter.

So I moved the revelation that she's an orphan up and combined it with her selflessness. It feels a little unsubtle to me, but I think it works---the reader has an immediate reason to care about Ryse. And the reader always needs a reason to care about a character. Without it, his or her interest will wane dramatically.

It's also worth talking about the introduction of soulweaving in the chapter, which was a little difficult to do as well. In my opinion, the easiest way to introduce magic is from the point of view of a character who's just learning it, because then he or she is experiencing everything for the first time. Because the sensations are new, it makes sense for him or her to describe them.

Unfortunately for me, nobody learns soulweaving for the first time in the first book of Soulwoven. So I was left to describe magic through Ryse's eyes. I was able to do that effectively (I hope) because she's in a calm, slow, introspective moment. She's just had a traumatic experience, and she feels a little skittish and nervous, so she moves slowly with her soulweaving and takes her time making sure everything feels okay with it. Then, after something goes wrong (she sees the dragon), she has extra reason to be wary of the magic, and because she distrusts it and there's tension coming from that (both she and the reader are wondering whether she's going to see the dragon again when she soulweaves), it again makes sense for her to be thinking about and describing the magic.

When I'm reading submissions as an editor, I often find that writers go bananas describing their magic as soon as it comes into play, but that doesn't always make sense. Someone in the middle of a fight for his or her life, for instance, is unlikely to have time and headspace to start spouting out elegant descriptions about how they feel. More on action scenes when we finally get to a proper one (Chapter 13, I believe), but for now, that's worth noting.

Finally, themes and tension. I mentioned in Chapter 1 that one thing that drives the tension in the first scene is that Litnig is worried and his father, who's the adult and should be the protector, isn't. The same dynamic comes into play again and again throughout the book, including in Chapter 3. Ryse is worried that the heart dragons are broken. The Twelve, who are supposed to be the responsible ones and the protectors, do not seem to be taking it seriously, and react threateningly when Ryse lets slip that she knows what happened. So that's tension from the same type of dramatic situation, which, I suppose, is one way of describing a theme.

The tension itself comes from several sources, each of which blends seamlessly into the next. First, it's "What happened, and is Ryse okay?" which is a holdover from the last chapter. Then, as that question is answered, it's "What's this dragon? What do these visions mean, and why are the characters so scared of them?" That question is answered as well, and then it's "What is Ryse going to do about this, and what is this Twelfthman going to do with her?" There's a brief interlude of "Will Ryse give up Litnig and Cole?" and the chapter ends with "How is Ryse going to escape? What will she do? Where will she go?"

There are plenty of things I'm not completely certain about in this chapter. The worldbuilding, in particular, I'm just sort of crossing my fingers on. I introduce a lot of new concepts and organizations (the Twelve, Twelfthmen, the heart dragons, the legend of Sherduan) and two antagonists (Aegelden Elpioni and Sherduan itself). Because of that, I run the risk of the reader getting lost, and I find as a writer that it's very hard to figure out where exactly to draw the line on how much information is too much. As a rule of thumb, I try not to do more than one new concept per page, but that's kind of an arbitrary choice and I still worry about how well it works.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Covers!

Late Tuesday night and this morning, I spent several hours that should have been dedicated to other things revamping my Soulwoven covers for Wattpad. I knew I wanted something crisp, modern, and more abstract than concrete, and I eventually settled on the following three finalists:

Cover #1:

Cover #2:
 Cover #3:

Trouble is, I can't decide between them! So I'm reaching out to you all for help. Let me know which design you think is best! I want to get the new one up before I post Chapter 4 on Sunday.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 2

Exciting news! This blog, with 49 posts, has already surpassed my old blog, with 159 posts, in terms of total pageviews. That happened much more quickly than I expected it to. Also, Soulwoven is now RANKED on Wattpad (#94 in Fantasy and #134 in Adventure)! I would eat a gummy worm in celebration, but I decided to be good today and not buy the 3 lb. bag of them that I saw on sale.

Right. On to a breakdown of Chapter Two of Soulwoven, which has now been up on Wattpad for a week. If you missed it, you can find the breakdown of Chapter One here.

Chapter Two is one of my favorite chapters of Soulwoven, mostly because I get to describe Eldan City for the first time, and because we get into Cole's head, which is a place I really like to be.

Spoilers below the fold!

Unlike Chapter One, Chapter Two takes place in one, unbroken scene. We start off in Cole's head as he and Litnig are leaving their house and stick with him as they discover that the Old Temple has been broken into and there's been a slaughter in the graveyard behind it. The chapter ends when the brothers find Ryse lying untouched in the midst of all the grisliness.

I'm doing several important things at once in Chapter Two. First, and most importantly, I'm letting the reader get to know Cole, who shares main character status pretty equally with Litnig in the book. Second, I'm continuing to develop the world. Third, I'm introducing several new sources of tension. And fourth, I'm showing the reader the alternating point of view structure that will continue throughout the book.

The continuing introduction of Cole takes place mostly through his narration. The point of view is very limited third person, so the reader only sees the world through Cole's eyes. And because Cole has opinions about everything, the reader gets to see a lot of them through his internal monologue. This chapter also provides a bit of a crisis point for Cole. On the one hand, he wants to help people, like his brother does. On the other, he's much more realistic about his own capability to do so, and he knows it won't help anyone if he gets himself hurt or killed. The second part of his brain tells him that the chances of he and Litnig doing anything useful are low at best and that they should clear out and keep themselves safe. But that part of him is wrong. Nothing bad happens to them. And Litnig is able to help Ryse. So in the back of his mind, Cole knows that if he had gotten his way, his friend and a bunch of innocent people would be worse off, and he and his brother wouldn't be any better off. Characters being wrong about important things, in my experience, almost always makes for an interesting situation.

At the same time I'm developing Cole, I'm continuing to work on Litnig. One of the reasons I chose the alternating point of view structure is because it offers incredible opportunities for character development. We've just had a chapter where we're in Litnig's head, seeing the world as he sees it. Now we get to see the world, including Litnig, from another point of view. Every time Cole describes Litnig, we learn a little more about both brothers, because we get to compare what we know is going on in Litnig's head with what Cole thinks is going on in Litnig's head, and we get to see what Litnig is doing without seeing his rationalizations on top of it.

The worldbuilding takes place primarily through Cole's descriptions of the city. The fact that Cole loves Eldan City helps with that. The city, and his relationship with it, are a big part of who he is. So it makes perfect sense for him to be thinking about what Temple Hill looks like, or how the River Eld smells, or the festivals and the Temples. Those are the things he thinks about every time he leaves his house. He's also among the smartest characters in the book. He connects old information with new information more readily than his brother, and he has more experience with violence, which makes him better equipped to describe the action in this chapter in particular. Trying to do the same descriptions through Litnig's point of view would be more difficult because he just doesn't see the world in the same way.

As for tension, right off the bat, we have the lingering question of why Cole decided to come with Litnig. That's resolved fairly quickly---we learn that he had a nightmare too, and he wants to get away from it. But he also feels less than convinced that it was a normal, run-of-the-mill nightmare, which continues to build tension around Litnig's dream and the events connected with it in the first chapter.

On the heels of that, the brothers see the murdered guards at the Old Temple, and the tension comes from a new angle, because we know that Ryse is inside and we suspect the brothers are going to go in after her. That question of, "Where is Ryse, and is she ok?" keeps tugging throughout the chapter, but there are other questions that start to crop up around it, like "Where did all these bodies come from?" "Will Litnig and Cole be able to help anyone?" "Are the people who did this gone?" and "Where did they come from and what did they want?" At the end of the chapter, the brothers find Ryse, but the question of whether she's really okay (Cole certainly thinks she isn't, but she and Litnig are acting like she is) remains unresolved, which I'm counting on to get the reader to turn the page again.

On top of all that, there's tension between the brothers. Cole doesn't want to be there, but he won't leave Litnig, and Litnig takes advantage of that to drag him into a dangerous situation. It's one thing to put your own life in danger. It's another thing entirely to feel like you've been dragged into it by someone else. That's a theme that will continue throughout the book.

To be honest, there isn't a lot I don't like about this chapter. On a sentence to sentence level, it's still not perfect. My writing isn't at the level of someone like China Mieville or Neil Gaiman. But the voice holds up okay, I think, and I'm reasonably certain I've done a good job of getting the big things right.

Chapter Three of Soulwoven, in which we get Ryse's point of view and the questions of "Is Ryse okay?" and "What did the people who did this want?" are resolved, goes up on Wattpad tomorrow! Check my Facebook page or Twitter feed for a link sometime in the afternoon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Grand Experiment: My First Week(ish) on Wattpad

So The Grand Experiment has ticked on into its second week now, and I thought it might be a good time for a little progress report. Quick rundown of the stats so far:

On Wattpad, I have posted two chapters of Soulwoven. They have received 80 reads, 1 vote (Still unclear what exactly the voting is for. Investigation to follow), and 5 comments, several of which are from me responding to other comments. I also have three fans, only one of whom I know in real life.

Book Country I gave up on before even starting, because I disliked their Terms of Service.

Authonomy I have not yet posted anything on, because you can't post anything less than 10,000 words in length there, and that's still several chapters of Soulwoven away.

So I've been spending most of my experiment time on Wattpad, exploring the site and trying to get to know the community a bit. There are a lot of people on there, including a rather astonishing number of teenage girls. In my head, I've broken the community into several groups. To wit:

The writers---the people who write and post stories on Wattpad. I think the age skews a little older in this group.

The readers---people who read lots of stories, but don't have any of their own posted.

The socialites---this group skews younger and seems to be on the site mostly to connect and chat with other people.

Wattpad's social scene revolves around its forums (called "clubs"). I poked around a bit on the clubs last week, started a couple discussion threads and participated in a couple of others. None of them really got any traction. The lion's share of my reads have come either immediately after posting a chapter, when my book floats to the top of Wattpad's "What's New" lists in its various categories, or in the day or so following a thread I started in Wattpad's Writers Club about craft elements in Soulwoven.

All things considered, I feel pretty good about my results. My cover, while I like it, is far from eye-grabbing. I have still barely interacted with the community at all, and when you see Soulwoven on Wattpad's search listings, it reads "2 parts, 6 pages" because of how Wattpad breaks things down. Not exactly impressive. It looks half-finished and amateur.

But over time I expect my plan to post one chapter a week to bear fruit, because it makes the most of those What's New lists. The craft thread I started in the Writers Club, which I intend to keep updating, may draw in more people over time in as well. And I've been posting and updating my status and fiddling with the tools Wattpad gives me for communicating with my fans.

I think of everything I'm doing on the site at this point as laying a fire. I'm putting the infrastructure in place that will be necessary to take advantage of my story blowing up if and when it happens. In the meantime, I'm enjoying myself immensely, because I'm actually, honest-to-God connecting with the people I want to read my book. And some of them, at least, like it.

And that's a very gratifying feeling.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Craft Breakdown! Soulwoven Ch. 1

Greetings gentle readers. For a while now, I've been kicking around the idea of doing blog posts about Soulwoven, and breaking it down structurally in terms of what happens when, why it does, and what I'm trying to do as a writer in any given chapter. The big problem with the idea has always been that most visitors to this blog probably haven't read Soulwoven, and certainly don't have it front of them to take a look at.

Well, now that I'm posting chapters of it on Wattpad, that's not a problem anymore.

So without further ado, I'd like to inaugurate a series of craft posts about my writing and what I'm trying to do with it. Spoilers and technical writing bits to follow, so be forewarned. :-)

We'll start with Soulwoven Chapter One.

Opening chapters of novels are, I think, the most difficult thing to write in the whole world. I have rewritten this chapter more times than any other piece of writing I have ever produced. It's probably on its 20th or 30th iteration, if you go all the way back to when I started writing the book ten years ago. To be totally honest, I'm still not entirely comfortable with it, and I probably never will be.

So! Big points. There are three sections in Chapter One of Soulwoven, each containing its own scene with its own little arc. I'll break them, and what I'm trying to do in each of them, down below:

Scene One: Litnig, Cole, and their father are delivering groceries. There's someone watching them as they do it, which is weird and makes Litnig uncomfortable.

This scene has to do a lot of heavy lifting. It needs to establish the world, the main character, the voice, and immediate tension. And it needs to hook the reader along into going on to the next scene. To handle the first and the second, I drop us into the middle of a typical day in Litnig's life. He and his family are out delivering groceries, which is what they do. Litnig is curious but a little slow, Cole is sleepy and bored, and their father is grumpy and borderline violent. To handle the tension, I introduce something mildly creepy. There's a person watching Litnig. He's a kind of person Litnig has never seen before. He doesn't stop watching him throughout the whole scene. Litnig's father is dismissive of Litnig's worries. And the person watching has sharp, yellow teeth.

To establish the voice, I break rules. I open with a sentence that falls under several "thou shalt nots" of writing: it's got a cliche ("Once upon a time"), and it's got nothing particularly unique going on in it ("a young man opened his eyes"). It could be (and very well might be) the first sentence in any number of stories.

But it's also a one-sentence summary of this story, and one of my goals with it is to offer the reader the following information: I am going to try to do unusual and difficult things here. I am not going to follow all of the rules. If you're interested in that, and you think I can pull it off, then come along for the ride.

To get the reader to do that, I rely on the tension, and I end with a creepy image of the person watching Litnig smiling at him as he passes by.

Scene Two: Litnig, Cole, and their father return home. Their father starts beating Cole, and Litnig stops him.

By the time we reach this scene, things are hopefully flowing a little easier for the reader. They've made the decision to stick with me to this point, but I still need to hook them. This is the big sympathy scene in the first chapter. Cole does nothing wrong, and his father flies off the handle and starts pounding him. Litnig saves him. We learn a lot about both brothers in this scene---how they handle explosive situations (Litnig tries to defuse them, Cole sticks a firecracker into them), what they're capable of physically (Litnig is big and strong, Cole is not), and how much they think about what they're doing (Cole has a purpose, even when he's goading his father into hitting him. Litnig often just acts). Hopefully, by the end of it, the reader cares about both of them, and finds them interesting enough to continue.

Scene Three: Litnig has the first dream of his life. Something weird happens with the air and there's a scream. Litnig and Cole decide to try to find Ryse.

This scene is where we really start to dig into Litnig's head. I'm still trying to develop sympathy for Litnig, but I'm also sending him on his adventure. In the first scene, there's something weird going on, but it's unclear whether it's going to affect his life. In the third scene, there's something really weird going on, both for Litnig (the dream) and for the world he lives in (the scream), and it affects his life immediately. There's also additional world-building and a brief introduction of Ryse. And at the end, I try to set up a shift to Cole's point-of-view in the next chapter by moving the focus of the narrative from Litnig's actions to Cole's.

There are several things that I don't really like about this chapter. I don't like that it's split up into three scenes, because we won't see that again for another eight or nine chapters, and one thing I feel it's important to do in an initial chapter is to establish the type of structure the reader is going to see. The scenes are short, as well, and the whole just feels a little choppier than I want it to be. But there are distinct arcs to every scene. Combining them just wouldn't work because of that. I also thought at one point about breaking the chapter after scene two and starting Chapter Two with the events of scene three told in Cole's point of view, but Chapter Two feels pretty tight to me the way it is and I don't want to disturb it.

So that's it for Chapter One, really. I want to emphasize that I don't think much about these things when I'm writing. I don't plan this stuff out like this, and this is the first time I've ever written it down (That's one reason, actually, that I'm doing this at all. It's good exercise). When I write, I follow the story. I put characters in a situation, and then I let them react to it.

But when a chapter isn't working, I do think about things like this. It's an editing tool. "What am I trying to do here?" and "What do I need to do here?" are two of the most important questions you can ask yourself, and I'm never comfortable with a chapter until I can answer them.

Chapter Two of Soulwoven goes up on Wattpad tomorrow. I'll break that one down as well a little later on in the week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Cover Imagery on Wattpad

As I think most of you know, I posted the first chapter of Soulwoven on Wattpad this week. Part of that process involved some significant monkeying around with the placeholder cover image I generated for it, but the blog post on putting a chapter up had gotten long enough that I thought I'd post separately about the cover.

Eventually, I hope to have someone from the Wattpad community do me a snazzy, proper cover. There are a lot of forum threads in which people volunteer to make book covers for others, and they're pretty amazing.

But in the meantime, I decided to mock up a cover using a Wordle of the entire manuscript and Microsoft Paint (Yes, I work on a PC. Apple makes lots of nice things, but I abhor them as a company). I came up with the following:

Which is a bitmap of about 700x900 pixels. Now, when you post a story, Wattpad auto-generates a cover for your book that includes its title and your picture. It's actually not that bad, but I wanted my own cover image on there. Wattpad requires a .jpg or a .gif and suggests a resolution of 256x400. So I went into irfanview, which is an awesome, free, image editing program, and resized my cover mockup. Unfortunately, it left things a little stretched out, so I returned to the drawing board and started from scratch. After some fiddling and wrestling (my kingdom for Photoshop!), I got this:

Which uploaded easily as a .gif (when I tried to upload the original bitmap, it just didn't work--no error message, no explanation. The cover just didn't change). I went with a .gif rather than a .jpg because the colors washed out less.

Unfortunately, once uploaded to Wattpad, something terrible happens to your cover image. It gets all blurry and lossy and just generally gross. I made several unsuccessful attempts to fix this, and it seems to have happened to many more covers than just mine.

So my cover is uglier than it should be. But at least I have one. :-)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Grand Experiment: Posting Soulwoven Ch. 1 on Wattpad

Ladies and gentlemen, we are go for the launch of Soulwoven on Wattpad. After two weeks of needling and noodling and stressing out over the first chapter, I've whipped it into what I think is decent shape, and it's time for it to go out into the world. (If you're just looking for a link to the book, it's here.)

So here's what it's like to post a chapter on Wattpad:

You can start either by clicking the big "Create" button at the top of the main page or selecting "Add a Work" from the "My Works" tab of your account. Either option takes you to a clean, simple writing interface that has a small text box for a title and a big text box for the main body. It also has a text box for inputting tags and gives you drop-down menus for sorting your story into Wattpad's categories, choosing an appropriate age level for your story, and selecting a copyright license and distribution options. Under an "Advanced" tab, you can also include links to YouTube, photos, external links, and toggle the story's visibility between public (readable to anyone) and private (only readable by your Wattpad fans and yourself).

It's a very cool suite of options overall, but the titling confused me straight off the bat. I was uncertain whether I was setting a title for the book or for the specific chapter that I was uploading. It turns out that you're initially doing both. You have to go back and edit some things from the "My Works" tab in order to have separate story and chapter titles.

I started out by copying the text of Soulwoven's first chapter from Microsoft Word and pasting it into the main text box. It worked pretty well, though the formatting got a little garbled. Wattpad doesn't seem to like indents or tabs. It also changes the font into something I don't like very much (I think it's Arial or Calibri. It probably looks good on mobile devices, but not so much on my laptop screen).

After getting the text of the chapter in place, I turned to the "Categories" drop-down menu. It sits next to a link to the site's category descriptions, though the link isn't automatically set to open in a new tab and could cause you to lose a draft when clicking it if you aren't careful (hint hint Wattpad!). After a quick perusal of the options, I chose Fantasy ("Stories in this category are usually inspired by mythology and magic") and Adventure ("Adventure novels involve an exciting and often risky task that the main character must successfully complete") to describe Soulwoven.

When setting tags, you just have to freehand. There's no tag cloud or other way to know what tags are popular on the site. Using my evil day-job powers as an SEO wizard, I tried to think of search terms my ideal reader might pop into a Wattpad or Google search box. I eventually settled on "teens, magic, high fantasy, sword and sorcery, lots of characters, epic fantasy." Wattpad adjusts these to its own format as well, but you can change them later, and I probably will.

After "Tags" comes "Copyright." Your choices are "Not Specified" (the default, which I hope means you are de facto reserving your rights), "All Rights Reserved," "Public Domain," and a wide variety of Creative Commons licenses (which allow others to use or reproduce your work under certain conditions). Wattpad has a not-very-helpful link nearby to explain the options. The page they send you to only describes the Creative Commons licenses, and the nomenclature that Wattpad uses for those licenses doesn't match up with what's on the explanation page. It's therefore difficult to tell which Wattpad options grant which Creative Commons licenses. I chose "All Rights Reserved" anyway, because I do still want to sell this thing someday.

Next comes "Rating." You can choose G, PG, PG-13, or R, and Wattpad provides specific guidelines for each. The last box, "Distribution," offers you a choice between "Keep my story on Wattpad only" and "Help me promote my story on other sites." No helpful link this time, just a tooltip that mentions the possibility of your story being available through Wattpad's "online partners such as Sony eBooks, Google Bookstore, and Scribd." I left it on "Keep my story on Wattpad only," because the thought of my book in an online bookstore without me getting paid is not one I like.

Finally, you need to check an "I have read the terms and conditions" toggle and either "Save" or "Save & Publish." I chose "Save," so that I could make sure my chapter looked reasonable before anyone else saw it.

I'm glad I did, because the formatting got quite garbled when I saved. Wattpad has a button called "Remove spaces" that resolved the problem, but it also got rid of much of my formatting. What I was left with is all left-justified, with no indents. The spaceless draft survived the saving process much better than the original did, however, so that's what I'm going to stick with for now. Once you save as a draft (or publish), you can edit your chapter any time under the "My Works" tab of your account. You can also upload a cover image, name your book, add another chapter, and write a description of your story.

So that's it! On the whole, I give the Wattpad interface a resounding B+. It's good, and its weirder wrinkles can be worked around, but it did leave me scratching my head a few times.

More importantly, the first chapter of Soulwoven is up on Wattpad! This means that those of you who have been clamoring to read it for ages can. It's viewable here, you don't need an account to access it, and I hope that you like it. I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether on Wattpad, here, on Facebook, on Twitter...wherever suits you.

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that Wattpad went down for most of the day, and its community was distraught. Lots of people, mostly teenagers, posted upset messages on Twitter and Facebook. This place has a real following full of readers who care very deeply about it, and who have chosen to spend their free time there instead of watching movies or playing games or even reading books that have been professionally published.

I think that's very, very cool. If I had spent my teen years doing that instead of sinking hours upon hours into hack and slash video games, I would be a better writer today.

So hats off to them, and hats off to Wattpad, and let's see how this experiment goes! :-)