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Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Category: Writing

Ultimate Star Wars Give-Away

I’ve teamed up with an amazing group of authors to offer an amazing Star Wars give-away.  It’s open to everyone, worldwide, so hurry before entries close. You could win all this:

Just fill in the form to get your first entry, then optionally share on social media and follow the authors for bonus entries. Simple!
But hurry — entries are only open until 20 March @ 12pm AKST.

Enter Now

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Blood Capital Progress Update

** This is a repost of my latest update to backers on Inkshares **

Hello everyone, welcome to 2018!

Work on Blood Capital has been progressing at pace since NYE and we are now close to completing the developmental edits (at last!). Check the progress chart below and you can see I’ve almost completed the rewrite, and that all of Acts One and Two have had my second pass. Once this is complete, it should just be a matter of getting the final development notes from my editors and incorporating them, then we move into copy editing (grammar and spelling).

Everyone has been wonderfully patient with me over the past year, and that has made this process so much easier. Thank you. I’m aware the journey has been long — I had no idea how long it would be when I entered the competition back in 2016. To provide an idea of the work behind the scenes, I’ve been averaging almost 18 hours a week on the novel, which multiplied out over nine months (roughly how long I’ve been working on edits), adds up to more than six hundred hours so far.

We are now on the home straight, and Blood Capital is set for release at the end of July. A marketing plan is coming together to support the launch, and I’ve now seen an early version of the cover art. As soon as the cover art is finalized, I’ll send out a special update, but for now, I can tell you it’s going to stand out on shelves.

Take care and thanks again for all the support!

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I'm alive, honest

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and any other holidays that have come and gone since I last posted. I've been quiet on this blog for a while (since November, apparently). I hope to return to regular programming soon, but am wading through edits with some hefty deadlines looming, so blogging is on the back-burner until I get the new pages in.

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Managing information in your scenes

I recently had an insightful meeting with my publishing team as I work through edits on Blood Capital. One phrase stuck with me, partly because it is so perfectly crude, but also because the resulting conversation has helped improve my process. The sentence was, “Don’t blow your load too early.” The context for this was a single chapter early in the book where I’d strayed from the path in two ways:

  1. I’d allowed too many info-dumps to creep in.
  2. In an effort to paint a complete picture of the world, I’d allowed my POV character to notice things they probably wouldn’t (things we would find shocking, but to him were just part of daily life).

Oops.
Unpacking the above, I could see exactly what they were getting at, so I’m jumping confidently into the rewrite. However, it’s led to an expansion of my scene-writing process I thought I’d share.
Previously when commencing a scene, I’d rough out what I intended to do with it:

  • What was the purpose?
  • What basic events should happen?
  • What state of mind are the characters in?
  • What’s the environment like? Time, temperature, lighting / visuals, sounds, smells, etc.

I’ve now added some additional dot points to these scene plans to help me better control the information I’m supplying to the reader:

  • What information do I want to reveal during this scene? This could be world-building, character information, foreshadowing, whatever.
  • What information should I be trying to withhold during this scene?
  • What foreshadowing should I be working in?
  • What misdirection should I include?

We’ll see how the next version of the chapter turns out, but I feel the new rough-out is already much more helpful than what I’d been doing previously.
Do you do anything different?

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Title Announcement: Blood Capital

I have a special announcement. For sometime I've been posting on here about my science-fiction novel and the publishing process it is going through. Up until now, I've been referring to it by the working title Human Resources. Well, I'm finally ready to reveal the publication title — it's going to be released as Blood Capital next year!
Choosing to move away from the working title was a hard decision. I was (and still am) fond of the title Human Resources. It was understated and linked back to the corporate dystopia, as well as the way humans are treated in the novel. However, despite that, there were signs it would make the book harder to sell. Some of the issues were:

  • Human Resources is not a unique title. There weren’t any other science-fiction books I could find with that title, but hundreds of business books. That meant searching for the book could be difficult.
  • It confused people. Right throughout my campaign I encountered people who thought I’d written a non-fiction business manual. This can be addressed to an extent with a good cover, but I still had people misunderstand after I started including a cover image of a person with a big sword.
  • It’s out of genre. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but by switching it to a title that is more recognizably from the genre of the book, it makes it stand out to people who read that genre.

It was for these reasons, in discussion with my publisher, that we decided to search for a new title. We settled on Blood Capital. This title isn’t as subtle, but ties it firmly in the genre. It also links back to the corporate dystopia, the treatment of humans in the world, and (bonus) the city the novel is set in. Work is underway on the final cover image, and I can’t wait to share the outcome of that. In the meantime, Inkshares have posted a (short) video of Matt Harry (Head of Story Development at Inkshares) talking about Blood Capital.

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Contents of a book proposal

This is my second post summarizing notes I took during a masterclass on getting published run by Bradley Trevor Greive (who gave permission for me to write these posts). You can read part one here, which covers introductory information on book publishing and pitching strategy. This post will focus on what should go into your book proposal.
What is a book proposal? It’s what you submit to a publisher or an agent when asking them to take you on, introducing yourself and your book. If they like your book proposal, then you may get to give them your completed manuscript. There’s more information on how the process works in part one.
As we drop into this, remember, your book proposal is a sales document, a fact that should sit foremost in your mind as you craft it.

What goes into a book proposal?

There are three parts of a book proposal:

  1. Cover letter
  2. Book proposal
  3. Writing sample.

Cover letter

The cover letter is exactly what it sounds like; a letter of introduction you write to the agent / editor you are pitching to. Outside of your book, this is the most important thing you write; a bad letter can kill your submission. “If you can’t write a letter, you can’t write a book.”
The purpose of the cover letter is to:

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Introduce your book.
  • Make them want more.

The key to your cover letter (and every other part of the submission), is to be brief and compelling. These people receive hundreds or even thousands of proposals each year, do not waste their time. “Get in, get out, delight.” Some basic rules:

  • No more than 300 words.
  • Don’t share your life story (that first time you read Harry Potter and knew you wanted to be come a writer? It isn’t going to make them buy your manuscript).
  • Do tell them why you want to work with them (see part one for information on strategically targeting agents and editors).

Book proposal

As noted in part one of my notes from the masterclass, getting a book published can be a lengthy and complicated process. To maximize your chance of success, you need to do more than convince the agent / editor you have written a good book, you need to make it easy for them to sell it up the chain. The book proposal should include all the information and selling points that will:

  1. Sell the book to your agent, and
  2. Help your agent sell your book to your editor, and
  3. Help your editor sell your book to your publisher, and
  4. Help your publisher sell your book to the publishing board.

The following is a basic outline of what the book proposal should include:

  1. Book title and author’s name.
  2. Overview
    The elevator pitch / longline. A brief, compelling description explaining what your book is about (genre and subject). Keep it very short but try to inject your personality into it.
  3. Market comparison
    Compare your book to two best-selling titles that your work resembles in some meaningful way. If you haven’t seen a “comp” before, they tend to be in the format “Puff the Magic Dragon meets The Walking Dead”. Ensure that at least one title is a current or recent release.
  4. Target audience
    Who will purchase this book / What is your primary audience? Demographic information on who reads books in your genre may not be easy to obtain. Search the internet, read book reviews of similar books. If all else fails, put
    “women 18-45”. This is the largest demographic for books overall and is the “default.”
    Note: you can list more than one demographic.
  5. Production notes
    Does the book require anything specific to be produced? Colour images, special paper stock, finishes, or new technology?
  6. Additional resources needed to complete this book
    Is there anything you need the publisher to provide to help you finish the book? Photographs, illustrations, a paper engineer?
    For example, if you have a specific illustrator you want, name them. If there’s a specific style of illustration you want, provide examples.
  7. Completion date
    When will the manuscript (and / or your illustrations) be finished? The correct answer for a new / emerging author is typically “now.”
  8. Launch / Promotion
    Marketing advantages and suggestions to maximize the impact of your book. This is your chance to be creative and come up with ideas.
  9. Media / Social Media Presence
    Do you have a media profile of note? How big is your social media following? How strongly do they engage? Do you have a strategy for building that platform?
  10. Commercial extensions
    Could your book be the basis of TV / Film / Theatre Production, toys, greeting cards, video games, board games, apps, clothing, etc?
    Note: this can be useful, but keep it all “on brand.”
  11. Future projects
    What else do you have planned? If you’re planning one or more sequels, talk about it here (none of these projects need to be completed). If you have unrelated projects planned, you can talk to those too. Ideally, you want a long-term, positive relationship, so show them you have more than one story in you.
  12. Author Bio
    Keep it short and surprising — this is the least important part of the submission. Unless you’re famous, or there’s something in your story particularly important to the current story (e.g. a PHD in the topic of your non-fiction book), it isn’t that important.

Writing sample

This is your actual writing — the thing you want them to publish. However, when submitting your initial book proposal, you don’t give them the whole thing, only a sample. If they like what you’ve submitted, they’ll ask for more.
The length and format of your writing sample will vary publisher to publisher. Each will have a guide for submissions and you must follow it. If your proposal is for a novel or other long-form work, you will likely be asked for a synopsis as well. Again, each publisher will have their own expectations for a synopsis you must follow their guidelines. Look these guidelines up online — if you can’t find them on the publisher’s website, check writer’s marketplace.
The sample itself is fairly explanatory — select a section of your work that best shows your writing style / skills (hit: it doesn’t need to be from the beginning). Follow the guidelines for length and format and you’ll be right.
Synopses can be more confusing, and a search of the internet will reveal countless authors complaining about them. At their heart, a synopsis is a breakdown of the story, showing the structure, key events, and proving you’ve planned everything out. Some publishers like a relatively long, detailed synopsis, whereas others prefer a two to three page “cliff notes” version. Either way, the goal is to summarize the important plot-points of the novel. There is a huge amount of discussion and material on synopses out there, and I’m not going to reproduce all of it. The best piece of advice I’ll relay is this:

  • A synopsis may be heavily summarized, but it is still an exercise in story-telling. Try to inject your voice into it and give it personality.
  • Don’t focus on the physical events (though you will include the important ones), focus on the drama. What are the events that impact characters? What are the impacts of those events? What choices are the characters faced with? What sacrifices must they make?

In summary, for the writing sample:

  • Read / follow the submission guidelines!
  • Do not send your entire book.
  • Choose the best sample of your work, not the first chapter.
  • Keep your synopsis brief, showcase structure, highlight drama.
  • Add your personality to everything.
  • Less is more.

Final Submission Checklist:

  • Intro letter (300 words or less). Compelling intro / sales document, not your life story.
  • Book proposal summary (less than 2 pages).
  • Writing sample as per submission guidelines.
  • Additional flourishes to set you apart / make you memorable (no gifts).
  • A very small selection of credible press clippings and / glowing reviews. One, maybe two.
  • Don’t forget to include your contact details.

How to submit

Electronic submissions are fine. If you are submitting a physical submission, don’t use regular mail.
If you have a contact you are targeting (agent / editor), don’t send to the standard submission address — you’ll go straight into the slush pile. Send it to the person you are pitching to.

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