I believe novels should start with a bang
I've been working on The Far Beyond, the second book of a trilogy, since shortly after finding a home for its predecessor The Just Beyond with 48fourteen. I set it aside for a while during the first book's editing, but with The Just Beyond's release a couple of weeks ago and the flood of positive reader feedback, the new book is back on the front burner with the flame on high.
The Far Beyond continues the story of Michael Chandler, this time following his journey into the dark reaches of the Afterlife in search of his lost brother Max. I've got it scoped out chapter by chapter, and much of it actually written, but for months I had been struggling over exactly how to open story.
I believe novels should start with a bang, and The Just Beyond does. But there is a certain amount of flashback early on, unavoidable given how essential Michael's life history is to later events. I wanted to tighten things up in The Far Beyond -- which will be a shorter, more intense book -- to keep the characters in riveting peril from start to finish. I'd thought up many options to accomplish this, but none of them quite captured what I was after -- until now.
Like the first book, The Far Beyond is a self-contained story even though it's part of a trilogy, written to leave readers feeling fully satisfied even though the over-arching tale doesn't culminate until Book 3. Still, for people who never read The Just Beyond but find The Far Beyond in their hands, some basic foundation from the first book would no doubt be helpful. Besides, many TJB readers -- quite possibly most -- will have forgotten key elements in the first book by the time they read the second, and will need a refresher. I wanted to avoid flashbacks as much as possible in serving these objectives, but as I thought it through, that proved harder than anticipated.
Then all of a sudden, kaBOOM! The answer came to me. Without revealing too much, the solution involves recounting the necessary background in the form of tense contemporaneous conversations. It's one of those things that makes perfect sense, except before you've thought of it. Having been enlightened in this way, the first chapter now zings just as I wanted it too. Book 2 is well on its way to being a crisp, compelling read in its own right, which was the whole idea.
Nobody would care about the book I'm writing now if The Just Beyond wasn't doing so well, and I am humbled and smiling over readers' reception so far. For that, and for the resulting interest that's building for the sequel, I owe a debt of gratitude to 48fourteen. The editing was long and brutal, but necessary, and I learned a great deal from both the publisher and the editor who handled my book. I feel like I'm writing smarter because of it, and I hope that discipline will make The Far Beyond a sequel worthy of your time.
If you haven't read the first book, grab The Just Beyond while it's still on holiday pricing, and post an honest review on Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com to help others who might enjoy the book find it. If you liked it yourself, keep watching here for news as The Far Beyond takes shape. :) - Mark
your feedback is more critical now than ever
The quote at left is emblematic of the comments I got while writing The Just Beyond with the aid of a readers group. The group helped me tremendously with ongoing feedback, chapter by chapter, on what was working in the book and what was not. That same invaluable counsel is helping to shape the sequel, The Far Beyond, which I am in the middle of writing.
Obviously, it's great to receive a positive response -- it makes the whole tedious and sometimes lonely writing process feel worth the effort. But the criticism is even more important. I'm confident in my general writing style, but I find it difficult to assess the worth of my work in artistic terms. I do my best to write convincing dialogue, set an exciting pace, and weave a plot that is both credible and full of pleasing surprises. But I never know if I'm succeeding until I hear it from someone else. And there's nothing like reader critique to point out where concepts are too vague, characters are not engaging, the plot is dragging, or I've missed the opportunity to resolve a certain scene in a more satisfying way.
Now that the book is out, there's nothing readers can do to make The Just Beyond better. But that doesn't make criticism any less important. In fact, your feedback is more critical now than ever. For one thing, your suggestions will help make books two and three of the trilogy stronger by helping me understand what I've done right and wrong. For another, I don't know about you, but I always read customer reviews before buying any product online. And even a lukewarm review can help identify something that's right up my alley, even if the reviewer themselves were none too impressed.
So I'm asking you -- you who have so honored and humbled me by taking a chance with The Just Beyond -- to make your voice heard. Comments entered on this site (bottom of the main page) will be published here, but reviews posted on Amazon and the other retail sites exert the most powerful influence on potential readers that an unknown writer can hope for. The good ones will bring in more sales, and the critical ones will make the rest of the trilogy better. So hop to it! Be honest -- brutal, if necessary; I need your candid feedback to give me a realistic perspective and your word of mouth to inform potential readers. Thank you for helping -- it makes a big difference, and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. - Mark
what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility
It's finally here -- The Just Beyond is scheduled for a firm ebook release date of Monday, December 9, 2013. It will be available from Amazon, Nook (Barnes & Noble), or directly from 48fourteen Publishing. YES, I'm excited. :)
So how does it feel to be poised on the brink of your first novel being released for sale? You'd think it might be a relief, and in some ways it is -- I'm certainly glad all the editing and waiting are over. But honestly, what I'm feeling more than anything is an enormous sense of responsibility. Partly that's because a product that has consumed most of my creative and emotional energy for the past two years is about to become available to lots of readers I don't even know, and I feel responsible to fulfill whatever hopes for entertainment and satisfaction may have drawn them to my book. There's not much I can do about that now -- this book is done, although it's very possible the two subsequent books in the trilogy will be influenced by reader feedback on The Just Beyond. But there is something I can do, in fact MUST do, with respect to TJB coming out -- promotion. Tireless, thoughtful, energetic, positive, appealing promotion. I've been preparing that for a while; I've got a large box of business cards with the cover image and web purchasing information sitting here waiting for the release, I've set things up for as broad a social media outreach as I can manage, and I'm coordinating with other people and organizations on the rollout marketing. And for all that, I feel tremendously, singularly responsible.
The book has been written, has been edited to a fine polish, has been packaged with lovely cover art and truly beautiful ebook formatting -- it's as good as it could have possibly been, given the constraints of my personal talent. But the whole purpose of writing fiction is to share a story with other people, hopefully to inspire and delight them and maybe even bring a tear to their eye. None of that will happen unless people actually read it now that it's coming out, and no one (well, maybe my mother) is going to buy it because of my name. Yes, I've sold a few short stories and I've been writing for quite some time, but as a novelist, in the marketplace I'm unknown and unproven. And while I can't make a single person buy, read, or promote The Just Beyond through word of mouth, it's my responsibility to do all I can to bring them to exactly those actions. And internally, this is a very big deal. Because I can live with the novel not selling well if people dislike the story or the writing -- I'm content that I've done the best I could on those elements. I can NOT live with a sense that the book failed because I didn't work hard enough AFTER the writing. So now, more than ever, what I'm feeling inside is a firm and not altogether comfortable compulsion to GET TO WORK.
Don't get me wrong. If this is a person's most pressing trial in life, feeling burdened by responsibility for shepherding a work of their own love and passion toward success, that person should just shut the hell up and thank God for the incredible blessing. And I do. Believe me, I do. This is a very emotional time for me, and frequently the past few days I've found it difficult not to just pace, thinking of all the things I need to look after. But that doesn't blind me to the realization of how lucky I've been. If The Just Beyond starting next Monday brings people some of the joy and comfort the writer intended, I'll be able to enjoy that blessing with a clear conscience. And regardless of what happens with the book, I'll never stop being grateful just to have had the chance. :) - mark