I read your novel. Are you a painter?

I want to send you not just one, but two free* Lifelike bookmarks, and I want you to deface one of them.

Last week a reader sent me a note:

If I didn’t know better I would think that you were a painter/artist by profession.

Question: When someone reads your novel and thinks you’re probably a painter, is that like saying, “You have a great face for radio”?

I’m a terrible painter. If I were to take the “easy A” high school art class today, I’d get a B. I can appreciate a painting, even intellectually understand how the artist made it look the way it does. I simply have no talent with color, shadow, or texture; my attempts always fall far short of my vision.

But a writer who is also a painter sent this to me after reading the rough draft of Lifelike:

Are you a painter also? I am, and I am very surprised that you have such an accurate sense of how an artist feels about a sense of place and light and thought.

So at least I can fake it, which is good enough for me.

But about the bookmarks: I designed them with a line sketch of one of the characters from Lifelike on the back, meant to be painted or colored in.

I’ll send* you two bookmarks if only you ask. One will be personalized–painted by me!–and the other will be blank–for you to paint! Just send me your postal mailing address (US only, sorry). The only thing you have to do is color or paint the blank, then send me a photo or scan of your finished work. Your bookmark will hang in my virtual gallery (coming soon).

     
* Free to you, for a limited time. I have to pay for the bookmarks, envelopes, paint, and postage. Which is why this is only open to people in the United States. Sorry, most of the world. But if you send me a self addressed, stamped envelope, I’ll send you back a few bookmarks.

Lifelike Cover, Preorder, and Launch Promo

I’ve put Lifelike up for preorder in the Kindle store.

But don’t preorder it!
The list price is $5.99*. If you preorder it, you will pay full list. But on June 16 I’ll drop the price to $0.99 for a few days. So wait until June 16 to buy it. If you absolutely positively must have it before then, email me and I’ll send you the file (but promise to buy it for 99 cents on June 16 so I get credit for the sale). If you have a bad sense of finances, you can buy it for $5.99 now through June 16 (ebook publication date is May 16).

To sum up:

  • Wait until June 16.
  • Buy it for $0.99 before the promotional price expires.
  • Read it.
  • Write a review.

A side effect of offering it preorder is I uploaded the cover to the Kindle store. So this isn’t really a “cover reveal” post (which I find almost as curious as those “gender reveal” parties that are oh so premature) because the cover has already been revealed. But I’m revealing it to you here, now!

Lifelike Cover - Wendy Russ, designer
Sexy, isn’t it? That’s Jewel, the main character, in the blue dress holding the roses.

What do you think? Sexy, dark, intriguing? Bewitching? Let me know with a comment here.

So put June 16 on your calendar. If June 16 is already on your calendar, write “Purchase Lifelike for 99c!” on the spot where June 16 is. Then write in the URL for the Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Lifelike-Peter-Dudley-ebook/dp/B071421YB6/

* Apologies to non-US friends. I default to USD because I’m an arrogant American in that way.

State clearly; ask clearly

If you can’t make your email easy to understand and act on, don’t send it.

Most of work email is about one of three things:

Any questions?
  • Informing people of something important,
  • Asking someone to do something for you, or
  • Amusing your closest friends with clever snark.

If your email isn’t one of those, don’t send it. If it must be sent, then respect the recipients’ time by doing these three things.

Be clear and concise

Most people who think they are great communicators are, in fact, terrible writers. My wife (an experienced teacher of writing) and I were lamenting yesterday that school teaches kids that good writing requires more words–add description, adjectives, DETAILS! Dead wrong, especially in business writing. More on this in future posts, but about work emails I want to say just these two points today:

  • Stick to the central point(s). Eliminate backstory. Eliminate details that are already known to the recipients. Eliminate distractions. The longer your email, the less attention your main point will get.
  • Use clear, direct language and sentence structure. Your reader should understand your point on the first reading. This isn’t always possible for complex topics, but it should be your goal. Don’t strive to make your email understandable; strive to make it impossible to be misunderstood.
No “quick question” email has EVER had a quick answer.

Set up the right response

Before you send your email, know what you want, and who you want it from. Don’t send your email until you are clear on those two points and have made it obvious in the text. Bad emails fail this in two main ways:

  • Pussyfooting around the question, or burying it in the middle. Don’t make the recipient work to find your question, or to figure out what you need from them. If I have to dredge your question from a bog of muddy text, I’m going to think you don’t really know what you’re asking, or I’m going to suspect you’re trying to hide something. Make your question or request clear, and set it apart where I’ll see it.
  • Not asking anyone in particular. When your question goes to a group, often no one will respond because they hope someone else will. Perhaps you’re sending it to the group because it’s a complicated issue that needs input from multiple people and you don’t know where to start. I’ve found that either asking a pointed question of one individual on the list, or stating outright that I need help and don’t know where to start, gets things rolling.

Reread and rewrite

If you don’t take time to make your email easy for me to read and respond to, I am going to set it aside for later.

Did that sound arrogant and dismissive to you? Did you think, “That’s really rude. I would hate to be his coworker”?

When I get a wordy, rambling, ambiguous, or difficult email, I know the sender prioritized their own time over mine. They decided it was easier to make me decipher their word maze than to take a few extra minutes and clarify their message. They may have saved a few of their own minutes, but they cost me extra time and effort, which delays their answer.

Now imagine that multiplied by everyone on the distribution list. If six people get your email, that’s six times the deciphering effort. It’s far more efficient to the group for you to spend a couple extra minutes editing.

In other words

State clearly; ask clearly. Get to the point. Eliminate distractions. Guide the reader to your request, and make it obvious who needs to respond.

If you can’t do those things, you’ve got either lazy editing skills, or lazy thought. Either way, you’ll end up frustrated that no one is responding. If no one responds, reread what you sent before blaming them. Over time, your effort will be rewarded when your coworkers pay more attention to your emails than other people’s, without even realizing it.

The Editing Pony

The Editing Pony is a new blog series about good business writing. I’ll post periodic tips and gladly critique and rewrite emails or one-pagers for you in a blog post. Contact me to learn more.

Why a pony? A writer friend said she hadn’t edited in ages, but she was “getting back up on that pony.” Thus, the Editing Pony was conceived, to trample your words with ruthless, plush cuteness.

Inspiration

In June I will publish my next novel, Lifelike, an urban fantasy set in San Francisco. To keep up with release information, join my email list.

I’ve never understood why non-writers assume all my novels are essentially autobiographical. Many non-writers, even after reading my books, look for ways in which I’m secretly telling the story of my own life through my novels. I don’t do that.

Of course there are parts of me in every story I write; that’s what make them uniquely mine. And some of the settings in Lifelike are real places, like the De Young Museum, a beautiful place in the heart of Golden Gate Park.

But my stories are entirely fiction. The characters are not people I know. The plot does not consist of things that actually happened to me or to people I know.

This flummoxes non-writers. “Then where do you get your ideas?” they always ask. I guess it’s a fair question, though most writers I know will tell you that coming up with ideas is not the hard part; the hard part is picking which of the thousands of ideas we have is the one we’re going to commit two years of our creative energy and spare time to writing.

In the case of Lifelike, inspiration came from two sources. These two sources–two paintings in the De Young, and a song by Evanescence–struck me at different times. The story itself didn’t come right from these sources. They inspired a feeling, an idea, that ultimately became a story as I turned my thoughts over and over in my journal. A story rarely appears fully formed, and working out the details takes time and work. But the inspiration can come from anywhere.

The Evanescence song is The Only One, and I’m sure that the idea it created was not exactly what Amy Lee had in mind when she wrote it. It just created a feeling and sparked some ideas that largely fit the lyrics.

The other half of the inspiration came from a gallery in the De Young, where two paintings hung opposite each other. As I stood between the two portraits of young women, I felt an eerie connection to their history, even though I knew nothing about them. Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about that connection, which felt like an almost ghostlike presence in the room. I won’t explain how this turned into the story idea for Lifelike (no spoilers), but that feeling became the main theme that got entwined with the lyircs of The Only One and eventually became my novel.