A day of machine guns and helicopters in a huge gravel pit during production of the TV show La Femme Nikita taught me a lot about people. I recalled that horrible, exciting day while I was running the Toronto Marathon this year.
Tag archive: marathons
The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. Fitzgerald can write description that is so effortless to read that a whole page of it with no other action is still captivating. But I have to wonder if Fitzgerald’s great work would have made it to a second printing (it barely did) if it had been called The Incident at West Egg. That’s the original title. Not horrible, but certainly not as engaging as The Great Gatsby, and I think the novel really is more about Gatsby than the “incident” at the end of the novel.
My friend and fellow writer, Jill Edmondson, had a blog post about several novels that almost ended up with such mediocre titles. Another example is Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which nearly ended up as Something That Happened.
So when I noted that sales of my novel, The Book of Bertrand were nowhere near the sales of Vampire Road, I had to take a deep breath and ask friends and writers what they thought of the title. You guessed it. I found two fans but the rest totally panned the title AND the cover, even though they loved the novel. The most common comment: sounds too much like Sunday school and looks too much like a bible. Boring.
I had to decide whether I’d stick to the title I’d had in my head for years or try something new. The original title is actually a bit of an inside joke until you get to the fourth novel in the series, so it means way more to me than it does to a reader browsing through Amazon.
When in doubt, go for a 19 kilometer run. Okay, I don’t actually do that very often (the 19k) but the marathon is on May 6th and I’m well into training. During the run I had the inspiration that you can only have when fasting or exhausted beyond all reason and still running. It’s a shaman/spiritual journey thing I guess. I realized that my novel is not just about three people trying to survive the apocalypse. It’s also about three people leading a revolution against a government that is actively perpetuating the apocalypse. It’s about clashes with riot police and the rippers that support them.
So the new title is Apocalypse Revolution, and my brilliant wife suggested that before I change it I should name the other novels in the series to ensure that all the titles would mesh nicely. Since I’ve already outlined them all, that turned out to be less challenging than I would have thought.
Next challenge was the cover. I’ve hired a professional cover artist but he’s buried in other work for at least three weeks, so I decided to do a quick and dirty cover myself. That didn’t go so well. After three hours of cursing my way through Photoshop and hating the results–there’s a reason I’m not a graphic artist–I sent my feeble efforts to a pro and in no time at all he turned out the great cover that you see at the top of this article. He also created the cover for The Book of Bertrand, but it was all my idea, so its failure to generate interest is mine.
I fully admit that if I had a traditional publisher or agent they probably could have warned me that the original title and cover weren’t going to sell, but the great thing about eBooks is that an author can change these things if necessary. It is important though to have it all locked before doing the CreateSpace P.O.D.
Will all this help my sales? Who knows, but I’m happier with both, so I’ll keep you posted. Which would you buy?
Totally off topic but amusing nonetheless: The Globe and Mail posted a photo of me as one of eighteen “Faces of the Toronto Marathon.” I’m photo number twelve. What happened to all the photos he took of me smiling? He shot at least a dozen. Now if I had only thought of a way get that photojournalist to mention my writing, that would have been great self-promotion.
I placed 29th out of 1300 runners, 24th for men, and 3rd for my age group. 3hrs and 3 minutes to go 42.2 kilometers. Maybe that’s why I look so tired.
Writing–and I mean from the first moment fingers touch keys to the day someone buys something you wrote–is like running a marathon. I can say this because I ran one yesterday, so unlike journalists who report about marathon bargaining sessions or marathon fund raising, I actually know what running 42.2 kilometers feels like.
Writing the novel is the easy part, the first half of the marathon, when you’re still excited from the start line and hoping for a quick and painless race to the end, to crossing that finish line, to getting published. But once it’s written, you’re only half-way.
Editing is like 21k to 30k, when you realize that this is going to hurt, that you won’t get to the end without a fight. You begin to consider dropping out, or at least slowing to a walk. A lot of writers give up at this point.
Publishing is the wall at 32k. Your body begs to stop. Your mind starts to play tricks on you, like a cartoon devil on your shoulder whispering, “Just a little walk. Just stop for a little walk and then you can make up the time.” You’ll send to an agent next month. You’ll search for a publisher after one more draft.
But luckily the cartoon angel on the other shoulder whispers, “Keep going. Don’t give up. Keep those legs moving. Keep striving to get published, to get a reader to buy your book.
Promoting your novel is like the last three kilometers going uphill. You’ve got nothing left, and it’s the most important part. What’s the point of writing if hardly anyone reads your work? What’s the point of running a marathon if you give up with the finish line in sight?
There is, however, one big difference between writing and marathons. Marathons have a finish line. Always. You know success is there if you just keep going.
With writing there is no guarantee that you’ll reach a place where your sales are so good that it’s like having someone put a medal over your head and help you off to the refreshments tent with a pat on the back.
So when I think about it: running a marathon is a lot easier than writing and publishing.
But hopefully publishing doesn’t leave your muscles so stiff and sore.