As a reader, it’s always annoyed me when cover art doesn’t match the book description. I believed the writer just didn’t care enough about their work. They went to all this trouble to describe a character but didn’t care enough to make sure the artist portrayed their main character correctly! *Outrage*
When I began researching traditional publishing, I learned how little control the author sometimes has on the cover art of their book. And it horrified me. The saying is “you can’t judge and a book by its cover,” is more true than one might know. Sometimes publishing houses commission artists and give them no description including within the book, only an idea of what THEY think will sell the book (which may not be what’s in the book). When the cover isn’t accurate to the book, you might need to blame the publishing house and not the author.
BUT, the cover sells a book. I may know better than to pick books based on covers (and have loved many books despite a less than amazing cover) but I’ve also put down a book based on a horrendous cover.
AND I’ve been mad at books because the cover doesn’t match the content. As a person who tends to finish books once I’ve started, I’m more likely to be mad regarding a false cover than I am to have not read a book due to a bad cover… but I’d love stats on how most readers react.
A cover is important. Composition, what you show, how you show it, all of it matters. Does it have to be accurate to the book though?
If current covers are anything to go by. The insides don’t have to match the outside, but where is the line one can push before readers feel tricked?
Food for thought:
What’s the most important part of your book/ what do you think would compel a reader to pick up your book?
Do you know what you want your cover to be of?
How accurate should it be to the writer’s description? Does accuracy matter more than visual layout or imagination?
What’s the difference between an artistic rendering and deception?
Do you have a favorite cover, does it align with your favorite book?
My writing is intensely personal. Sometimes I want to explore a theme or idea. Sometimes I’m writing through an emotion (usually panic). Sometimes I write for control. Always, my writing process is 100% about me.
But my writing is not so self centered. After the first explosion of words, I read. If there’s value, I edit and revise the work to best stress what’s good. For example: I wrote Nimgauana’s Undertaking because I was afraid after the election of Donald Trump. I kept revising and working on the story because I enjoyed the message of hope in the face of cruelty.
Blood Moon also shares post election desperation. This short work rocks because it features a female character owning her own persona. In “Blood Moon” I hope others get a taste of the emotional state living next door to darkness and danger may provoke.
Many things inspired Follow Me: Tattered Veils. It central action comes from a dream. While ruminating over the dream, thinking of the full possibilities of that dream if played out, I saw how much I missed writing, and I realized how miserable I was in a job stealing over 60 hours a week from me. I wrote Follow Me to take back my identity and to find my joy again. Imagine my surprise when I shared parts of it and realized I wasn’t the only one who thought it was good. My book could be so much more than my escape and that made me want things for it. I think loving something like this and wanting others to see what I love in it, has to be deeply personal.
But Follow Me: Tattered Veils is about to live in two worlds. On one side lie my hours of work, my emotions, my intentions, my joy and heartache. On the other side, are the readers and they won’t have any relation to me or my book except for a cover (someone else designs) and a back of the book description.
It’s like my book is all grown up and going on blind dates.
This isn’t a plea for readers to be kind to my book. Part of what’s exciting about releasing a published work is hearing feedback on something that’s lived alone in my head for so long. It’s more an essay on how a book can mean something specific to its authorand readers can and should get something different when they read it. To me, this is a cool phenomenon I don’t think we explore enough.
Both readers and writers shut down the conversation by arguing who has the “right” to assign meaning to a work. Readers will tell a writer “if you meant X you should have been more clear.” and writers retort with “I wrote the thing, I know it’s meaning.”
Let’s end the debate on who has a right to interpret the book. We’re both correct.
As the writer, I created Follow Me: Tattered Veils and I could do a chapter by chapter review of what each line means and why it’s there. I could tell you about all the other options I considered and why I discarded them. While those kinds of conversations are interesting, they are not the definitive end all be all to what Follow Me: Tattered Veils could mean.
How do I know this?
As a reader, I’ve created essays on meanings of other people’s books. I’ve gone chapter by chapter, line by line sighting how they built point x or built in a secondary plot y. People bring their own viewpoint and life experience with them to any piece of fiction. This combined with the words an author provided makes its own truth.
And I can’t wait for Follow Me: Tattered Veils to go on that second journey. We’ve traveled together for so long, but our paths are about to diverge. While I work on my next story, I’ll look at a parallel road and see “Follow Me: Tattered Veils” traveling with new companions, and experiencing unknown response. It creates a butterfly feeling in me that’s not quite joy or fear.
What do you think? Does an author release their “right” to the end all be all interpretation when they release their work? How you you see reader feedback, is it meant for reader and writer to build something together, is it meant only for other readers, is it something else all together? Published authors/creators: what is your relationship with your readers/viewers? Does their interpretation of you work affect what you do next or how you approach other projects? Does it change how you feel about your own work?
Do your feelings on the viewer’s rights/abilities to interpret creative work change based on the media (painting, sculpture, movie)? Does who the person is affect their right to create meaning from a story?
Creative writers often debate the wisdom of publishing fiction and short stories to their blogs or posting a creation process behind their creations. In this post, I will explore the “pros” and “cons” of content. The topic includes posting short works to a blog or through another site for free, posting spin off works, and posting a “how I made story x”style posts. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m in favor of all these style posts and my bias shows. Please consider checking out part one in my Be Bold Series regarding posting site metrics on my personal blog
-You are wasting a story you could have gotten published for profit
-The story you post may be stolen by an unscrupulous person and they may get it published for profit or collect credit on their better known site
-You may have held onto the story, continued to work on it and come up a longer, more complete story instead of the short work you published
-Offering work for free reduces the market for paid work. Why pay money when you can get writing for free?
-Your work may be and the work of your peers may be devalued. Some believe that free writing is bad writing. There’s a further idea that free blog writing is writing that could not have been “legitimately” published so they released it “on the cheap.”
-There are concerns around formatting and presentation of fictional works posted to a blog, just as there are formatting challenges through epub.
-You as a writer offer readers a sample of your style and theme so they can make a better informed decision if they want to commit to a longer work. The works I’ve published highlight elements in writing I specialize in and may help me find the right audience home.
-Alternatively, you may have a one off story that doesn’t fit your genre and still wish to share it. I have a drama piece that‘s out of place with my over all portfolio I‘d one day like to publish. I don’t want to learn all the ins and outs of the drama genre for one piece, a simple answer may be to publish it through a blog.
-You’ve written a work for fun. Our writing group exercises often fall in this category. We were challenging ourselves and just want to share the results.
-You want more direct interaction with your audience. One thing I love about publishing to a blog is that readers post their thoughts and I enjoy that. Yes I can get feedback via a review on a work, but reviews are for other readers. A comment is for both the author and other readers. It’s nice to have an open conversation with my readers.
-Your shorts may be companion pieces to a longer work. For example: I have a “Downtown Huntsville Tourist Trap” book written from the perspective of the characters from “Follow Me: Tattered Veils”. I also have a drink recipe guide and a tarot guide, all a possible collections for people who enjoy my novel and want more from the voices of these characters. I have deleted scenes I may publish to add to the novel hype when I launch the book. Here, I’m selling my novel but adding free bonus material because giving away some writing doesn’t mean I don‘t charge for other works.
Since I have posted flash fiction and short fiction, it’s obvious I’m in favor of releasing my writing through blog posts. However, I will add that it comes down to a case of audience or career. I accept that writing can never be a career for me (for many reasons). My writers’ goals include finding and keeping the largest audience the themes and style of my writing will allow. Is that ten people or a million: I’m not sure. Adding short stories, blogging, and a social media presence are all tactics I’m incorporating to find out.
I’ve never been shy regarding posting my stories. There are a few I regret sharing, but those are from a long buried high school account. Even then, it’s more about the cringe factor than the “missed opportunity” or “devalued work”.
What do you think? Do you read short stories from blogs and free sites? Do you post your own stories for free? Is there a situation where you would give away content? Are there situations where you would never give away content? Share any thoughts you have on getting published for free or reading work that’s been published for free.
Once Upon a Future Time: up to 15,000 words a scifi story that incorporates a fairy tale or folklore. ALL AUTHORS RECEIVE FEEDBACK on their writing. pay is $50 and royalties plus a copy of the book
Arsenika: up to 1,000 words all flash and micro flash or poetry. They respond in 14 days of submission pay is $60 for flash and $30 for poetry
Matter Press: ???words suggests short? looking for anything that deals with the idea of compression. Response time is 1-3 days and the pay is $50
Smoking Gun Press: 1,200-6,000 words “We welcome stories involving all types of supernatural beings… witches, zombies, vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other were-creatures, demons, and anything else we’ve left out! Mixing and matching of different types of beings in the same story is acceptable” all genres are acceptable pay is $20 and a copy of the anthology
Iridium Press: up to 5,000 words any story so long as it has QUILTBAG+ content pay is $.03 a word.
Belanger Books: 5,000-10,000 words “this collection will feature all new traditional Sherlock Holmes adventures with a science-fiction edge. Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Steampunk will feature Holmes in a futuristic Victorian setting. See him deal with airship pirates and steam powered robots. Maybe he’ll even deal with a time traveler or with alien invaders. ” pay is royalties
Selene Quarterly Magazine: up to 100 words between 101-1,000 words 1,001-1,500 words 3,000-7,500 words “Selene Quarterly Magazine publishes quality fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art that dwells in the shadows. SQM desires stories and poetry that are thrilling, reflective, and imaginative.” pay scale varies for length but all are at least $.01 a word
Ulthar Press: 2,000-5,000 words ” looking for strange, gothic, and fantastic fiction in the manner of E.T.A. Hoffmann between 2,000 – 5,000 words in length. Stories that merely graft his characters into a new story will not be accepted.” response time is 60 days and the pay is $.02 a word
Thuggish Itch: 1,000-4,000 words theme is theme park looking for horror, scifi, and speculative works. pay is $5.00 under 2,000 words and $10 over 2,000 *to make this ‘worth it’ you need to write a 500 word pieceD
Space Opera Libretti: 2,000-7,000 words “The short version of what we want: Silly, diverse sci-fi that involves music. If it’s actually about operas in space, all the better!” pay is $.06 a word
Inkling Press: up to 5,000 words “The first anthology released by Inklings Press was Tales From The Tavern – a short collection of five fantasy stories by some of the early, happy crew that thought it was time to have a go. You can still read that – it’s collected in the Tales From The Tower anthology that rounds up the first year of Inklings Press.” flat $50 pay
Vex Me No More: up to 5,000 words “We want your witch stories! Though they do not necessarily have to be female-centric, they do need to be tales of powerful, unique beings. Remember, this is a horror anthology, so while you can have elements of other genres, we want to be scared.” pay os $.02 a word
Bad Dream Entertainment: 1,500-8,000 words “Bad Dream is now accepting submissions of humorous dark fiction. Editor Brett Reistroffer is looking for original horror fiction with a strong sense of comedy, and most themes, subjects, and settings are welcome but standard genre tropes are definitely discouraged (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.). The comedic aspect can be goofy and slapstick or black and morbid, just as long as there are equal amounts of darkness and humor” pay is $.06 a word plus split royalties
Curse the Darkness: 3,000-10,000 words “For our inaugural anthology, Curse the Darkness*, we’re throwing our doors wide open and inviting submissions on the theme of darkness. That could be the absence of light, the presence of evil, or the sinister thoughts of the afflicted. However you choose to interpret the theme, just make sure you leave us afraid to turn out the lights.” pay is $75 flat rate
Alternate Peace: up to 7,500 words “is to feature alternate history stories where the divergence from our timeline comes from some kind of peaceful change to our past. It must explore the consequences of this divergence, not simply introduce the divergence. Stories featuring more interesting historical settings and twists on the consequences of the peaceful divergence from our timeline will receive more attention than those with more standard changes to the course of history. ” response by end of Feb 2019 pay is $.06 a word
Temporally Deactivated: up to 7,5000 words “is to feature stories where the author explores what the phrase “temporally deactivated” could mean with regards to a person, place, or thing. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the twisting of time and how it is integrated into the story will receive more attention than those with more typical twisted time stories. We do NOT want to see stories where “temporal deactivation” means simply death.” response by end of Feb 3019 pay is $.06 a word
Portals: up to 7,5000 words “is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that contain a portal opening up between two different worlds and the consequences that come from that portal. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories and half with fantasy stories. ” pay is $.06 a word
Nothing Without Us: 1,000-3,500 words “All works must be fiction—fiction based on lived experiences is welcome. The lead character must be disabled, blind, Deaf, Autistic, neurodiverse, and/or live with mental illness. We do not expect all of these in one character, although we’re sure that character would be amazing. We are accepting fiction in all genres with the exception of hard-core erotica. We are also only interested in previously unpublished works. ” “We welcome writers across the disability, mental illness, developmental disabilities, neurodiversity, blind, and Deaf spectrums. We welcome those who manage invisible and visible disabilities and/or chronic conditions. We welcome those who count spoons! We’re just looking to have an entire work where we elevate the stories written by the folks in our community. We welcome the communities that intersect with the disabled, neurodiverse, mentally ill, blind, and Deaf communities, such as the LGBTQIA2 communities.” pay is $.03 a word
Allegory Online Magazine: up to 5,000 words but between 500-2,000 seems best “We specialize in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres. We will consider other genres, such as humor or general interest, provided that the work possesses an original, “quirky” slant.” pay is $15
Cafe Irreal: up to 2,000 words “This fiction, which we would describe as irreal, resembles the work of writers such as Franz Kafka, Kobo Abe, Clarice Lispector and Jorge Luis Borges. As a type of fiction it rejects the tendency to portray people and places realistically and the need for a full resolution to the story; instead, it shows us a reality constantly being undermined. Therefore, we’re interested in stories by writers who write about what they don’t know, take us places we couldn’t possibly go, and don’t try to make us care about the characters.” pay is $.01 a word min $2
Crystal Lake Publishing: 500-5,000 words a non themed anthology in the dark fiction genre with fleshed out three dimensional characters pay is $.03 a word
Nexxis Fantasy: up to 15,000 words “Nexxis Fantasy has a twice a year publication. Our goal is to publish an exquisite science fiction anthology filled with the greatest works from across the galaxy.” the upcoming theme is “Lost” pay is $1 per 100 words
To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word. Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.
Speculative City: open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count. Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days. pays $20-$75
Shooter:2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story
Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word
One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies
Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies
Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word
Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism. ” pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story
Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate
Nothing’s Sacred: 3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title
Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word
Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties
The Twelfth Planet Press:17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties
Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word
Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story
Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word
Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word
Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word
Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details. Pay: royalties
2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.“
It’s that time of the month again! The time I round up all the open calls for submission I can find. This time around I took a queue from Chris’ post on Dragon Con and only added calls where the writer is paid at least $.01 a word. Until I looked for it, I didn’t realize how little some of these venues pay.
Shifters United: 20,000-35,000 words on urban fantasy involving shape shifters ideally non-traditional variety pay is a royalty structure
NonBinary Review: up to 5,000 words that have a clear connection to Dante’s Inferno could be the themes or the characters or setting. pays $.01/word
Heroes of the Apocalypse: 5,000-15,000 words with stories of “end of the world” author’s choice of how the end happens but the heroes must fight against the end of the world. pay is royalty based.
Our Loss Anthology: up to 8,000 words on loss/pain looking for a creative way to incorporate the theme pay is a profit sharing thingy
The Realm of British Folklore: There doesn’t appear to be any word count but he is looking for British Folklore theme. No specification on traditional vs more modern settings. Pays $.01/word
Barking Sycamore: up to 1,000 words creative unthemed issue that appreciates neuroscience diversity, queer, or poc characters. pays $.01 word
PseudoPod: 1,500-6,000 words looking for horror, dark, or weird fiction pays $.06/word
Spring Song Press: 1,000-10,000 words “Steam and Laces Steampunk anthology” fantasy speculative fiction. Pays $.01/word
Millhaven Tales: 2,000-8,000 words winter guidelines are action/adventure/western payment is a royalty based scenario
The First Line: 300-5,00 words “As we trudged down the alley, Cenessa saw a small ___________” pays $25-$50
Concrete Dreams: 5,000-10,000 words on urban/modern fantasy is a kickstart campaign with a poorly laid out website (which is why I linked to HorrorTree instead of their junk site) but they plan to pay $.04/word
Unlocking the Magic: 3,000-6,000 words in the fantasy genre (no scifi) Looking for the common stereo type of the mentally ill person being susceptible to magic, but using self care to enhance instead of threaten their abilities. A healthy look at how magic/religion/ceremony can play with mentally ill pay is $300/story
When I queried agents over my novel Follow Me: Tatter Veils, I got one personal rejection. The agent (and I apologize as I can’t find the email to name him) told me a major stumbling block I might encounter in pitching my novel is that I suggested it for multiple genres.
My mind makes connections. If someone followed my thought process, it’s like one of those mind maps except almost everything connections to each other some way. In all my work pulling together this massive 75,000 word work, I’d never thought opening it up as a genre crossover would limit my ability to market.
Since then, I describe Follow Me: Tattered Veils as an Urban Fantasy. It fits considering the book happens in present day world and introduces magical/mythic elements into an otherwise mundane setting.
Except, it also doesn’t fit. Follow Me: Tattered Veils is at its heart a book about obsession and stalking. The protagonist, Roxi, is living her daily life when Gerry, an ancient unpredictable fae being, deigns to take notice of her. From there, it’s a cat-and-mouse game of near brushes and tense attempts from Gerry to lure Roxi into his world. The novel culminates in a chase through faery land where Roxi must either save her friends and escape this dangerous world or surrender her autonomy to Gerry.
Could be Magical Realism. I use the concept of fae glamour to make these otherworldly beings hide in plain sight. I suggest this idea of two realities, the one we know and this other layer waiting underneath that Gerry, Roxi, and others work with. It isn’t the traditional secret society type deal, more like an alternative experience of reality.
But, I think Magical Realism has more magic integrated that’s just a shoulder shrug. Everyone knows about it, accepts it, and moves on. My magic systems imply they are real like Christianity and like Christianity, few people have or seek a genuine experience.
My colleague Lionel Green, suggested the back was “terrifying” and he read straight through that part “non stop”. It makes me wonder, is my work horror? There are both the real world and fantasy elements of the book that are horrifying.
In my heart, the book is a lot more about how a woman experiences the male gaze. In that way, I think Follow Me: Tattered Veils might be women’s fiction. The men who have read the book suggest that they “enjoyed reading it. Good on its own, but I’d never buy this book based on the description.” Does this feedback mean I’m marketing the book badly for both genders or is the work intended for a female audience?
This sort of bullshit was why I wanted an agent. Don’t they help you find and speak to an audience? What do they do? Because I had the idea, wrote it, edited it, and submitted it. So I’m just wondering when someone else comes in to help or if publishing is a solo journey.
Alas, I need to choose the genre too. Is there any part of publishing that isn’t a struggle?
Does anyone else have trouble identifying their genre? Do you think being in the right genre is core to success? Have you written anything that someone has labeled a cross over?
What about summarizing long works or picking which elements are most paramount? I am so invested in Follow Me: Tattered Veils, sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s important. Any tips or tricks? Do I Google search what’s hot and sell it that way?
Along my reading, I picked up Amy A. Bartol’sSecondborn. Even as someone who thrives on the drama of a YA post apocalypse world, I didn’t expect to like this book. I’d just been burned by the likes of Death Thieves and The Hundredth Queen. All three YA books trying to take advantage of my love of The Hunger Games and all three of books have 4 star reviews in Amazon and Goodreads. When will these writers get that what made Hunger Games amazing wasn’t just the kids fighting in the arena? So, curious despite myself, I picked up Secondborn expecting it to either disappoint or be a guilty pleasure.
Instead Secondborn and it’s sequel Traitor Born were a joy read and touch on larger conversations we need to have in today’s world. Bartol focuses on the heart of what’s great in post apocalypse YA: the transformation of the main character and their perception of the world around them. First, I appreciated Roselle as a savvy character who avoids the “ignorant for the sake of exposition” trope. From the beginning, Roselle shows she is a smart character aware of differing undercurrents even if she’s not sure of how deep those waters flow. Her thoughts and feelings change as she has new experiences and uncovers more schemes in the world around her.
Through Roselle the reader learns to empathize with many perspectives. By the time I finished the second book, Traitor Born, I was no longer sure there was a “good side” or “bad side”. It’s a rare risk for a writer to twist the bad characters into ones we might understand and to muddy the water so we despite the good characters. I read plenty ambiguous characters or where one “side” transforms into not the villain/not the hero, but leaving a reader with no character to trust or side with is bold and exciting. Even as I can’t “support” or “root” for any one outcome, I empathize with them. I want relief for these characters, but it’s not to accomplish their goals.
Amid this shifting terrain, Roselle sinks, struggling with PTSD, and a series of complicated interpersonal relationships. Her flashbacks, the way she falls to pieces in key moments and rises in others, and how she struggles with drugs feels authentic and relevant. I thought I’d decided about who I wanted with Roselle as allies or friends, who Roselle should work with and who she should keep at arm’s length, but Traitorborn makes me question the decisions I made. There’re dangerous edges on everyone and redeeming qualities. I resented my favorite ally from the last book, forgot how evil/distasteful another character was because he has these moments of genuine connection, and I thought someone who was once a snake in the grass might become a true ally.
And I haven’t even gotten to the science fiction. Unlike The Giver or The Hunger Games, that keep technology vague and only available to isolated pockets of society, Secondborn distributes the technology to everyone. The gadgets themselves aren’t innovative, chips in webbing or right hands to track and grant access, hover vehicles and airships, robots who are servants/guards/trackers/medics, and a weapon that seems a cross between a light sabre and a plasma gun. All ideas I’ve seen before right? Bartol re-images these ideas to give a fresh unique society. The world and the devices of it feel lived in and true. Beyond the existing tech, Bartol continues to introduce upgrades and improvements to her tech. It starts in one spot with these flaws and then a patch comes out. The upgrades make her world feel more real and provide new challenges for her characters to overcome.
I’m glad I read the first two books (even if both endings are cliffhangers) and am looking forward to the third installment. If you like a future society where teens and young adults have to fight for their lives, you will enjoy this series. While a simple premise, the layers of nuance make it enjoyable and thought provoking to many age groups.
Take Aways From Bartol’s Success:
1. Don’t be afraid to market an idea another book/work made famous just BRING VALUE, don’t expect other’s success to sell a sub par work
2. Have complicated dynamic characters and don’t limit quantity. Readers can keep up with you as long at each character has a personality-and embrace the baggage being in traumatic situations leaves these characters. Let them have flashbacks, PTSD, aggressive or tearful reactions to simple daily events.
3. Don’t shy away from near future tech in your science fiction. Embrace the evolution of these systems to make them feel real and dynamic within your world.
4. Female leads can be emotional and strong/combat oriented. Roselle is a great balance of action/battle training and intelligent emotional thinking.
5. Have a kick-ass looking personal website. Just look at Bartol’s website, the graphics and layout make me want to read her work more than her covers! She’s inviting her readers’ imagination to tackle fan fiction for her characters, and through their fannish excitement, spread her work to new audiences.