Bookshelf Browsing- Why Judging a Book By Its Cover is Totally Okay by Me

I read somewhere that writers aspiring to be published should

(A) Read as many books in the genre they are writing in as possible


(B) Support other beginning (or non-famous) authors by buying their books.

Well, if you’ve been reading my blog regularly you’ll know my financial situation as of late hasn’t really allowed me to purchase many books (or any at all), so I’m dreadfully out of touch with what is out there in book world right now.

For Christmas I received a couple of gift cards for Barnes and Noble 🙂 and I decided I should use them to go out there and fulfill A and B.  Okay, so I can’t really fulfill them, the gift cards aren’t bottomless, but I can do something small.

So I browsed the shelves at my local B&N for a while today.  My goal was to find a book where the genre wasn’t formulaic romance but had a romantic storyline.  I also wanted to find an interesting title and, if possible, I wanted a book by a first-time author (well, first time published).

I got 2 out of 3.  The book I choose is called The Smart One and The Pretty One by Claire LaZebnik. The title immediately caught my eye, though it was on the bottom shelf, as did the cover.  (I tried to find a picture of the cover online to add here, but none that I found were downloadable, so I’ll have to describe it to you, sorry!)  It has a plain white background, a stack of books and a bright pink purse sitting on top of the books.  The “Pretty” in the title is written in a pink cursive font while the rest of the title is written in a straight, brown print.

I know the old adage goes: don’t judge a book by its cover, but I can’t help it.  I’m a FIRM believer in judging books by their covers.  At least for selecting ones to buy.  This cover told me SO much about the story even before I read the back jacket.  I assumed that I hadn’t just picked up a crime or mystery thriller, that the main characters would be female, and that the dynamics of their relationship would be affected by their status as either “smart” or “pretty.”  And obviously, the choice of books present on the front cover drew me in because I love an MC who reads.

Then, I turn the book over and I find it fits the genre specifics I want!  It’s about 2 sisters, one who, I must admit, sounds A LOT like me (another reason I eventually choose to purchase the book- that whole, relating-to-the-MC factor).  I assume this is the “smart” sister.  The sister I assume is the “pretty” sister tries to set “smart” sister up with an (quoting from the back jacket here) highly inappropriate, twice-divorced, but incredibly charming guy.

I’m hooked!!!

It didn’t meet my first novel criteria, the author has 4 other books published, however, The Smart One and The Pretty One was the only book of Mrs. LaZebnik’s on the shelf at B&N. (Well, the fiction shelf at least, 2 of her books are non-fiction, I think.)

I’m very excited to read the book and let everyone out here in the blogosphere know how my experiment worked.  I have one gift card left, so after I finish it, I’ll go on the hunt for another hidden treasure.

I encourage everyone to try this experiment out for themselves.  Even if I don’t end up liking the book, the hunt for it was a bit thrilling and gives me the hope that someday (maybe, keep your fingers crossed!) someone out there will be browsing the shelves at their book store of choice and just happen to spot MY book, pick it up, and feel compelled to buy it.

After writing the above, I googled The Smart One and The Pretty One to see if I could find a website to link to for anyone interested in learning more about the book.  I found Claire LaZebnik’s blog!  It’s linked above to the page for the book, but I’m going to link it here to her homepage as well and I’ll be adding her to my blogroll.  I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit.  After google sent me to the page on her blog for the book, I clicked on the homepage and her latest blog entry is about her love of Jane Austen and how she feels connected with her through a very personal experience in her own life.  I cannot wait to read more of her blog and it makes me even more jazzed to read the book!

What’s at Stake

My desperate wish is for someone out there to see something valuable in the stories I’ve written.  I’ve been feeling really pessimistic about Twenty-Five lately, but deep down, I don’t think it’s a bad book.  Even though the subject matter isn’t really unique, it isn’t a formulaic book about love.  That’s where I have a problem in writing my query letter.

I keep getting the suggestion to answer three questions in my query:
1. What does the MC want?
2. What does she have to do to get it?
3. What happens if she fails to get what she wants (the stakes)?

Okay, so I’m going to try, but this is where I’ve been having problems, answering these questions.  You would think this would be easy, but I don’t think it’s so black and white as these questions seem.  Here goes:

1. Abigail wants love.  She wants it so badly she doesn’t believe she’ll ever find it.  She wants to be a journalist, she wants to have a column published in the magazine she works for.

2. To get love, she just has to be open to it.  She has to believe that Ben really does care about her and that she deserves his love.  To get her column, she has to persevere and write from her heart.  She has to not care what others think.

3. Here’s the issue.  She can’t have both, but she gets both.  Ben falls in love with her, she falls in love with Ben.  She gets her “Facing Your Fears” column and then she gets offered a column in London.

She can take the column in London and advance her career, but doing so means leaving Ben behind.  Why does it mean leaving Ben behind?  Because she’s scared- her old insecurities pop up and once again she thinks she’s not good enough for him.  She thinks that he won’t be willing to do long distance and when he doesn’t encourage her to take the job she takes that as him saying their relationship can only exist while she stays in America.

She could pass up on the column and stay in America with Ben, but to her that means facing a lifetime of regret and resentment.  Regret that she didn’t take the opportunity to advance her career further, knowing that turning down one job puts her in a negative light with her editors and the possible chance that she won’t be given any more opportunities.  And resentment of Ben that he didn’t support her and allowed her to pass up the opportunity.

To her it seems like an impossible decision.  She chooses to take the job and break up with Ben.  She’s wrong- but that’s the decision she makes.  He would have been willing to do the long distance, but she never asks him to.  Of course, the fault isn’t all on Abby, he doesn’t offer it either.

So what’s at stake?  Her relationship with Ben and her job.  In the end, they find a way to make both work, but it’s a long time coming.

So now, how the HELL do I put all that in a query letter?

Oh ho, Check Me Out

I spent my afternoon/ evening today outlining The Death Effect with index cards, multi-colored pens and pushpins, and a cork-board.  And I was completely wrong about feeling pigeon-holed.  I feel completely the opposite.  I am inspired!

I went through the word document where I’ve been writing TDE and I made a notecard for each chapter/scene.  Each character POV got a different color pen/ink.  I then put the notecards in chronological order by character and pinned them to the board.  If I’d already written the first draft of the chapter, the notecard got a clear pin.  If I’d already written a partial first draft of the chapter, the notecard got a green pin.  And if it was just a concept/idea for the chapter, the notecard got a blue or purple pin (I didn’t have enough of one or the other color!).

As I wrote out these cards and put them in order, I found myself thinking about what happens to each character- where the story takes them.  It was amazing.  I was visualizing scenes again!  In fact, I imagined the last scene of my semi MC, Taylor, and she’s been causing me major problems lately.  You see, I tend to base my main characters on myself and the people close to me.  I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am.  One of these days I’ll write an MC who is in no way like me or anyone I know, but for now…  Okay, so back to my original point.  Taylor has been giving me a hard time lately because I like Taylor, but the person in my life who she is based on has really been pissing me off lately.  She’s been a flat out B*tch to me.  I’m sure she doesn’t read this blog, but just in case, I won’t mention her by name.  Anyways, because this real person has been pissing me off, I haven’t been able to write Taylor with any degree of objectivity or feeling.  But, this outlining exercise has really worked to get me out of my funk!  I was able to separate Taylor from my real life drama, because Taylor is experiencing a much different kind of pain than I am, and  now I know exactly where her story is going.  I’m so excited.

I’m sure that my outline will change.  In fact, when I typed it up (because I’m OCD like that- I mean what if something happens to all the cards, I needed a backup!) I already changed things.   And I’m sure that I’ll add more chapters than I have planned right now, but I feel rejuvenated.

God, I needed this.  I needed some hope.  I need something in my life that feels like it’s on an upward climb, not a downward spiral.

Part of me feels like this book is going to produce some of my best writing, yet another part of me is so scared that it will be just another thing I don’t finish.  Hopefully with this rocking outline, I’ll continue to remain motivated.

So, it’s 2010…

Another year begins.

I have no idea what this year is going to bring.  I wish I did.  I only know a few things.

1.) I’m going to (try to) be a better person.  I’m going to try and be less selfish, less moody, less sad.

2.) I’m going to (try to) stop doubting myself.  I wrote a book.  Not everyone can do that.  Even if I can’t finish a second book, writing one is a huge accomplishment.  It may never get published, but if it doesn’t, who cares?  People have read it and like it.  That’s enough.

3.) Life is hard.  A new year doesn’t necessarily bring a fresh start or a bright, shiny new life.

4.) The only person I can rely on is me.  I have to make things happen for me if I want them to happen to me.

5.) I’m going to be a nomad again for a while.  My house-sitting gig has kicked back in.  WAY better than living with my parents seven days a week.

So, it’s 2010.  Life soldiers on.  I’m the same person I was in 2009, but hopefully this year will bring about some happy changes.  For me and for you.