Read Me, Seymour!

October 3, 2020

Author Unknown

You’ve written three novels. After years of toil, most of it pleasurable (an apt definition of writing), enduring countless maybes, the quite interested and even an option from Hollywood, you ended up self-publishing. Not the happy ending you envisioned, with heady book tours and glowing reviews on myriad websites. But parking your books on the computer like an old tax return? No fucking way.

“Years of effort” is actually an understatement. You’d spent decades on these novels. High art or not you knew they were high concept. Your first, The Last Generation imagined a world bereft of children, slowly dying out. Yet, and this was the kicker, nothing else was wrong. For the remaining shrinking population, life simply went on. What does this last generation do with itself? Your marketing line: It’s not the end of the world, just the end of us.

Your second novel is a modern fable about God and advertising, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God, frustrated by a world lacking belief, puts an angel on earth to find an ad agency in order to market spirituality. In the third act all hell breaks loose.

Your third story, Sweet By Design is a romantic comedy (!) about a disillusioned gay man and an aging female socialite, brought together on an improbable road trip.  This one you wrote to prove you could be whimsical and, being honest here, entirely commercial. Whatever your motivations and inspirations, you never worked harder in your life than on these three books. In doing so, you developed a keen appreciation for even the shoddiest novels at the airport bookstand. Readers who weren’t writers would never comprehend, couldn’t possibly, the effort required to scribe 300 pages of anything. Thinking. Rethinking. Writing. Rewriting. Losing weeks of content. Fighting demons. Overcoming doubt.  And then, when you honestly thought it was finally done, the painful discovery of a typo on the very first page, then another and another, a repeated paragraph – How did that happen?  How many more things were wrong?

To be continued…

(If interested in any of these books please click on the links right side of this blog!)


Great tune. Too bad I wasn’t there. Or am I?

I’m reading Bill Flannigan’s book, U2: At the End of the World, about the band’s epic Zoo TV tour in the early nineties. The book is equal parts fascinating and cloying (like the band!) but one thing is certain the dude was there for all of it: back stage, in the vans, on the plane, in the pubs, at the hotels and, most importantly at the concerts.

And now because of the miracle of Internet, so am I. I can find high quality footage for any number of these amazing U2 shows online. I know we take it for granted that anything and everything is now available to us if we have a computer; hell, even a phone.

But back when Flannigan wrote this book, and U2 did those concerts, none of that was true. One could only imagine how cool the stage was and how bombastic the band. Flannigan’s words could only do so much. In the end, we are left with that great old saying: You had to be there.

Not anymore. Not now. Now I can literally find the very concerts he was writing about, and watch them. In Sydney. In Dublin. In my hometown of Chicago. All those big, fantastic shows I/we could only read about are right here right now.

I am able to do the same thing for Guns and Roses, upon reading Slash’s recent memoir. Or Keith Richard’s. The idea of being able to read about a specific event and then find that event online and watch it is, to me, one of the coolest things about the Internet.

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See and hear what he’s talking about…

I was so captivated by this notion, I took my entire third novel, Sweet by Design and committed it to a blog and gave virtually every reference in it a link to some relevant piece of content. A character goes to Water Tower Place to get a blow job (read the book) I provided a link to Water Tower Place. Every restaurant, town, street or landmark I gave a link. The reader could click on the word and see for himself what the character was seeing. (It takes me a couple hours or more to produce a single blog post. You do the math on a novel.) I even crowd sourced the cover, should it ever get published in -egads- paper. Check out the winner. It’s a pretty sweet design.

Did I expect people to actually check the links? Maybe a little, here and there. Honestly, I didn’t expect very many people would even read the damn book! But I did it anyway. It took hours every night and many months. I didn’t care. That’s how much I loved the idea.

I still love the idea. It still blows me away. A kid reads about the JFK assassination and she can watch the Zapruder film. And countless other related pieces. That’s amazing kids.


Brutal… but available.

Many of you can’t relate, I know. But I’m old enough to remember when none of this was possible. To support a lecture, professors told students to read this book or rent that movie. And a lot of times there was no supporting content, or if it did exist you had no way of accessing it. It wasn’t free. It wasn’t for you. Try and imagine that. Can you even? Oh well, I guess you had to be there.

And in a strangely related way, this bit of nonsense…

Debbie Pahls’ inspired cover “Wallpaper” is the winner of my novel slash social media experiment, Sweet by Design. Her design will be the cover of my new novel. She also wins an iPad, the better prize! Debbie Pahls is a freelance art director in Kansas City and my new best friend. Congratulations, Debbie.

Second place, and the iPod Shuffle goes to Dana Lambert’s exceptional cover design, entitled “Frame.”

In the words of celebrity judge, M.J. Rose:

“It was close between the frame and the wallpaper – wallpaper won. So integrated and creative… Most important, the elements work together to create a whole that is compelling, unusual and provocative… Nuanced and balanced. Well done! ”

I completely agree. As did many of you. Both Pahls and Lambert received the lion’s share of write-in votes. At one point or another I regarded each of the finalists as a personal favorite. Any one of them would make fabulous covers. Thank you all -readers, designers and the just plain curious. I could not have done it without you. Literally.

Pahls, on her cover:

“This typographical solution integrates the title of the book “Sweet by Design” and the name of the author as part of a damask wallpaper pattern. The sweet, flowery vintage feel of the wallpaper would fit in well in Audrey’s Chicago Gold Coast residence, and it is a nod to Jeffrey’s profession as an interior designer. This wall covering is beautiful and elegant, however it is a layer that is beginning to pucker and peel. It is starting to reveal the not-so-pretty wall that is it hiding behind it. This visual is symbolic of Jeffrey peeling away his layers to get to the truth and revealing his reality.”

What a week for yours truly…But like the man said, the show must go on! The “novel slash social media experiment,” Sweet by Design is finally over. It took a bit longer than I’d anticipated; reformatting the novel for WordPress was time-consuming. And since I was adding links and photography along with text the task grew even harder. But it was worth it.

In terms of the cover contest, it appears the added time allowed for some pretty terrific 11th hour creations, several ‘sweet’ designs submitted in the last 24 hours. Frankly, most of the covers were damn good -arguably better than my silly book! All 70 of them can be viewed on the blog and will remain there indefinitely. Thank you, each and every entrant, reader and observer for making my So-Me experiment a success. More people read at least part of SBD than the combined total readers for my previous two novels combined.

I’d also like to thank my co-judge, best-selling author and digital publishing pioneer, M.J. Rose. Her input was a key factor in helping me choose the winning entries.

This is how the judging worked. The panel was divided into three voting parts. M.J. had a third of the vote, me another third, and your voting comments represented the final third. Pretty simple. Through this process, we came up with eight finalists, one of which will be chosen for the cover of my novel, Sweet by Design as well as win the author’s unused iPad. The second place vote getter gets an iPod Shuffle. Those two winners will be announced next week. I promise!

Please visit Sweet by Design for designer credits, book chapters and other tidbits. Enough blather… Without further ado, here are the finalists:

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M.J. Rose is the international bestselling author of 11 novels, including Lip Service, The Memorist and The Hypnotist. The 2010 FoxTV series Past Life was based on her novel – The Reincarnationist.

She also co-authored Buzz Your Book. In addition, she is a founding member and board member of the International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: Authorbuzz.com. On top of all that, she runs the popular blog; Buzz, Balls & Hype.

Adding to these significant credentials, I’m delighted to report M.J. has agreed to help me choose a cover design for my new novel slash social media experiment, Sweet by Design.

As many of you know I’m publishing my third novel, Sweet by Design online, one or two chapters a week. In addition, I’m hosting a competition to find a cover for the inevitable paperback, the winner of which wins my Ipad. Fifty pretty terrific designs have already been submitted. Those designs, plus the novel and simple guidelines for entering the contest can all be found on the website.

Who better to help the crowd and me “source” a cover than Rose? In 1998, her Lip Service became the first e-book and the first self-published novel chosen by the Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club as well as being the first e-book to go on to be published by a mainstream New York publishing house.

Since then, M.J. has become a successful author and a beacon to many other writers, particular those of us navigating the frontiers of new media. Furthermore, and adding to Rose’s unique qualifications for this brief, she was once the creative director at the renowned advertising agency Rosenfeld, Sirowitz and Lawson.

As of this post, the cover contest is about half way through. That means there’s still plenty of time for you to catch up on the novel and/or design a cover of your own. In the parlance of the publishing world, M.J. Rose is a stunning get. She and I look forward to seeing your handiwork. My Ipad awaits. Have at it!