In Which I Reveal A Cover

The “cover reveal” is apparently a big thing in the book trade these days. I have no idea why. But who am I to argue with the zeitgeist?

Okay, I argue with the zeitgeist all the time. But whatever, here is my cover:

Now you have seen the cover, you will be irresistibly drawn to read The Wistful and the Good. But be of stout heart for you will have to wait the best part of a week. Chapter One of The Wistful and the Good, book one of the series Cuthbert’s People, will start serializing here in this newsletter on Saturday, November 27. Tell your friends. No, seriously, tell your friends. I really need you to tell your friends. I need readers.

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There really is nothing better you could do for me now than to share this with anyone you know who might be interested in an historical novel set in Anglo-Saxon England that is not written by Bernard Cornwell and is not just about hacking and slashing. (Don’t worry, there is some hacking and slashing. But it’s not just about that.)

The Bernard Cornwell reference is not incidental. A literary agent literally told me that my novel was great but that you can’t sell a novel set in Anglo Saxon times today unless you name is Bernard Cornwell. Which mine isn’t. Timing, alas, is everything.

So here is the plan. I will be publishing a chapter weekly in this newsletter, starting Saturday, November 27. After each chapter is published I will be publishing a background post on the historical and/or literary questions raised by the chapter or by the writing of it. Come the new year, I plan to make these background posts available to paid subscribers only.

I have not turned paid subscriptions on yet, and I don’t plan to do so until the new year at least. (Mostly I don’t want to complicate this year’s tax return, because I don’t know what line to enter newsletter subscription revenue on.)

Why should you pay for a subscription? Most fiction writers on Substack offer the first few chapters of their novel for free and then restrict the rest to paid subscribers. I don’t plan to do that with The Wistful and the Good. It will be available to free subscribers all the way to the end. What I will do with its sequels, St. Agnes and the Selkie and The Needle of Avocation, I don’t know yet. This is all an experiment, and I will have to see how it goes.

Creating the background posts is an experiment too. I’m not sure it would work for other genre, but historical fiction readers are often fascinated by the history behind the story. The background posts will be something akin to the historical note that many historical fiction authors provide, but more in depth and a wider range of concerns.

My decision to make the background posts paid, after a time, is not because I think that they are more valuable than the novel. The novel is the main thing. To be frank, fiction writers deserve to be paid for their labor as much as any other profession. But I am trying to build an audience, and this seems like a way to do it.

Paying for a subscription to a fiction newsletter is at least as much about patronage as it is about paying for a product. It is about supporting the writer and enabling them to continue the work they are doing. A consumer buys a product because they want it for themselves. A patron supports an artist because they think it is good for society that that person’s work be in the world. Art has traditionally relied at least as much on patronage as it has on payment for consumption. The web has made it possible for many people to be patrons in a small way for potentially several projects or artists. Subscribing to an author’s newsletter is one way of providing such small-scale patronage.

Whether you take a paid subscription because you think the novel and the background posts are worth paying for, or because you wish to patronize them in a small way, I will be very grateful for the support. I’ll be looking for ways to return the favor, but I honestly don’t know what that looks like yet. I’m new at this. I need time to figure out what works and what I am comfortable with.

And if you choose a free subscription, I will still be very grateful for your attention to my work. I shall take great satisfaction in simply being read. But if you could help me out by spreading the word as well, that would be every bit as valuable to me now as taking a paid subscription.

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But wait, you ask, what is the novel about anyway? This is where the blurb comes in. Writing a blurb is way more difficult than writing a novel. I didn’t believe this when I first heard people say it. Then I tried to write a blurb.

Here is the attempt that I still like the best:

The Wistful and the Good is a story about a girl who stowed away on a ship and was brought back; a young woman who pines for the sea but is betrothed to the land.
It is the story of a young man who seeks refuge for his family on a foreign shore.
It is a story of Viking raids and illuminated manuscripts and football on the beach; of wine and moonlight and a kick in the shins; of lips that yearn but can never quite meet.
It is a story of open hearts and good intentions and the wise who give up their lives for the foolish.
It is a story of the rules of hospitality and the rules of trade and the finer points of property law.
It is the story of a young woman who gets exactly what she wants, and weeps for it.

I submitted this to a blurb contest at a conference. The judges really liked the voice. But I didn’t win, because it does not actually tell you what happens in the book.

Many revisions later, I tried a high concept blurb:

The great rival to contented love is not another lover, but the love of what is other and unknown. Why else does Elswyth sit gazing wistfully out to sea, when she is about to marry the man she loves? Drefan is the son of a nobleman. As his wife she will become lady of a great hall and welcome kings to her table, and secure forever the fortunes of her mother and her sisters. And yet she sits on her clifftop perch, dreaming of ships, of Spain, and of sailor men.

That did not quite work either, so then I tried a “main conflict” blurb:

Elswyth will marry Drefan, become lady of a great hall, and host kings at her table. But Elswyth is consumed with wistful longing, her eyes ever to the sea, her heart ever in the wind. Drefan, who lost a beloved mentor in the great Viking raid on Lindisfarne is bent on seeking revenge on any Norseman he can find. And when Elswyth's longing finds an object in Leif, a Norse trader and old family friend who is trying to raise his father's ransom, Elswyth must strive to keep peace between Drefan and Leif. But her wistful heart betrays her and Drefan quickly sees what both Leif and Elswyth are at pains to conceal and suppress.

I should say here that these blurbs were actually written to be part of agent queries, which is (or is not, depending on who you ask) different from the blurb on the back of a book. The blurbs you see on the back of traditionally published books are written by the marketing department of the publisher and often have almost nothing to do with what the book is actually about. Once I have finished serializing the book I may have to write one of those blurbs for the published version. I am still all at sea.

All of these blurbs touch on what the book is about in one way or another, and yet not really. Can any blurb actually capture the style and spirit and substance of a book? It would be a pretty thin book, I think, if a blurb could do all that for it. Which is why blurbs are so hard to write, and why writers should leave them to the mercenary functionary in the publisher’s publicity department.

Anyway, it won’t cost you much time or any money to judge for yourself. The first chapter will be here Saturday, November 27. Tell your friends. Seriously.

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And if some good person shared this with you, or you arrived from somewhere else, subscribe now so you don’t miss a chapter:

Oh, and let me know what you thought of the cover. I know, it’s an historical novel, so the cover is supposed to feature a woman with her back to the reader looking wistfully towards a new adventure. But I argue with the zeitgeist all the time. Come along for the ride. It is a pretty good argument, if I say so myself.