Here at Black Spot Books, we read a lot of books -- and we have a lot of opinions.
From brilliant self-published titles to some of the biggest names in fiction today, here are some of our publisher's favorite non-Black Spot Book titles read in 2017.
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (2015)
This title from St. Martin's Press started off as a quick-grab inspired by the cover (I'm a sucker for a great cover) and quickly became one of my favorite reads of the year. This story begins with a young librarian on the brink of bankruptcy, homelessness, and complete and utter loneliness, Simon Watson, who receives an old, somewhat derelict copy of a circus master's diary from a stranger. To make this even odder, the book contains the names of members of his family lineage, a rather unique and mysterious troupe of women. Overall the novel is odd, eerie, and it involves slightly-inhuman women who can both read your future and drown without dying. Mermaids, literally.
The story weaves through the interesting, and often speculative, tale of Simon's family's past and present, with unsettling prophecies of the future seemingly coming to fruition. I read it cover to cover on vacation with the sounds of the waves crashing in the distance. I bought several copies for friends--it was that good.
The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley (2013)
A bargain-bin find, this book had me in tears within the first few pages as the doomed tale of star-crossed lovers Matt and Elle began to unfold. Childhood sweethearts turned spouses, Elle an astronaut, Matt a neurosurgeon, have been trying to conceive when a freak accident leaves Elle braindead. Grief-stricken, her husband prepares to pull the plug when the family discovers that she's pregnant. Does he keep her alive to see if the baby will live? Or does he let them both go? It's two impossible choices, and a burden too heavy to bear--especially when other member's of the family escalate an emotional battle into a legal one.
On a personal level, this book was one that was incredibly cathartic. I lost my grandmother in 2014 and could relate strongly to the plight of Matt and Elle's family members and the agony that comes with letting someone go--particularly when their body is still around. Sibley, a nurse by trade, was able to tap into these emotions and express them eloquently, finally putting into words some of the things I had been feeling for years.
I credit this book with my own personal healing. This poignant novel asks profound questions about life and death and grief. It simultaneously broke my heart and filled it up again.
Prince Lestat (The Vampire Chronicles, #11) by Anne Rice (2014)
I'll be honest: this was the second time I read this book. Not because I loved it so much, but because it had been so long since I had the opportunity to glut on my favorite bratty vampire of all time that I wanted to do it twice--and because I have a *signed* copy of Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis on my bookshelf that I'm too scared to open.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I've been hooked on Anne since the late 90s when I read Interview for the first time. I love Lestat, Louis, Armand, Marius--all of them, but of course most especially Lestat. Unfortunately, this book was not my favorite in the series. Frankly, the introduction of so many new characters and relationships was a bit overwhelming at a time when I really just wanted to focus on Lestat. Then, I started to get obsessed with the complexities of their stories until, eventually, I was hooked and I couldn't put the book down. A slow start built to an extremely satisfying finish, although I'm still a little iffy on how this addition to the Chronicles will affect the future of the series. Long Live Prince Lestat!
The Pirate Round (The Brethren of the Coast #3) by James L. Nelson (2002)
This summer, I said goodbye to a series that has captivated me end fulfilled my love of pirates for years by finally reading the final novel in the series (for the record, I have not read Nelson's Norseman series, but I have heard that it is excellent as many members of my family are quite obsessed). I put off reading this last book because I wasn't ready to say good-bye, and James Nelson if you are reading, please please give us more Marlowe!
I'm not typically a fan of historical fiction, but I am a huge fan of pirate folklore and seafaring tales. I read the first novel in this series somewhat reluctantly, but found the characters to be complex, relatable, and inspiring--plus, as author Nelson is a true nautical man, I've learned quite a bit of technical bits about sailing, too, which has been great for a girl who spends a lot of time on the water. Still, it's not often that a series can push me through the emotions that this series did, like crying over the loss of a pirate (who isn't Geoffrey's Rush's Captain Barbosa or Zac McGowan's Charles Vane), or rooting for the bloodthirsty slaughter of a foe, or falling a little bit in love with a man who while honorable isn't quite honest...but this series had it all. It's like a grown up version of The Princess Bride but with less Humperdink and more futtock.
I am looking forward to a new reading year in 2018, with several new titles from Black Spot Books authors adding to my list of great reads!
Fair winds and following seas,
We receive a lot of incredible submissions. Unfortunately, sometimes the project might be amazing but we have send that dreaded of all responses: the story is just not for us.
What does that mean anyway? We get it; it's vague.
So, what are we looking for? I'm glad you asked! Here are the top five things we look for when we review submissions for our manifest.
1. A well-written, well-developed plot.
The first critical ingredient, is--obviously--the story itself. It should be well-written and well-developed, meaning: it should have a clear beginning and end, clear climax, and clear resolution. Stories should come full circle, answering any questions and tidying up any loose ends along the way. Each book, even if it's part of a series, is its own little island of potential, and we look for projects that leave us wanting more from the author, but being satisfied when we see THE END.
2. Convincing, dynamic characters.
Characters are how we connect with a story. They don't have to be good guys, or even likable, but they should be genuine. Each character should bring something important to the plot and have a distinct personality, and they should contribute to the overall goal of the story. They are what give your story life through ideas, dialogue, personality, and motivations.
3. A fresh idea that sparks emotion.
At Black Spot Books, we publish speculative fiction, so we're not necessarily looking for warm fuzzies here. What we are looking for are stories that engage our senses--be they spooky, suspenseful, or downright uncomfortable. We look for stories that have the ability to bring out emotion--yes, even mixed emotions! Are we going to laugh? Cry? Shudder in terror? Sneak out of bed to lock our doors? Feel our heart race? We'd better.
4. A clean, formatted manuscript.
The best manuscripts to read are those that are clearly formatted according to our specifications. They don't have to be perfect--that's what our editing team is for--but they should be clean, proofread, and not contain any wacky formatting that we're just going to have to clean up later. And, your query letter and synopsis should give us the details we need to know, too!
5. An author who's eager to share.
No one can tell your story better than you can, so we love finding authors who want to participate in their success. We look for authors with a platform, meaning authors who are already actively on social media, building a following and talking about what we love most--great reads! Not having a huge following is by no means a deal breaker, but we do give preference to authors who are ready to take an active role in promoting their new release and participating in things like authors Q&As, book tours, and more.
Now that you know what we're looking for, we hope you'll submit your next novel to Black Spot Books! Our full submission guidelines are always online, and we are currently accepting submissions!
Fair winds and following seas,
As a writer, one of the most important things you need to understand--especially when pitching your book--is which genre it falls into.
Why? I won't get into the nitty gritty details here, so here's the simple version: the genre determines just about everything about your book and how it will be marketed and sold, from how it's programmed into databases, to its cover design, to where it's sent for reviews and where and how its promoted for sale. Really: everything.
Write in whatever genre you like--just know exactly what it is when you're selling it.
Black Spot Books specializes in titles of speculative fiction. This literary genre is a broad umbrella term that touches upon most genres, so we try to break it down clearly in our submission guidelines and materials for aspiring authors. Still, for many the term "speculative fiction" can be a little murky, so this blog is an attempt at a crystallization process to make the term as clear and approachable as possible.
Let's start with a basic, simple definition:
Speculative Fiction encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supranational, futuristic, or other imagined elements. This includes science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror and supernatural (or paranormal) fiction.
Still with me? Good.
Basically, if the novel is one that's outside of the grounded-in-realtity everyday world and explores something "unusual," it's quite possibly a work of speculative fiction.
Here's a few of my favorite works of speculative fiction, broken down by genre with familiar titles as examples:
Fantasy | Includes elements and beings divined from imagination, like mythical creatures (dragons and fairies), magic and magical elements (sorcery, witchcraft, etc.)
Example: The Hobbit, Harry Potter
Science Fiction | Features natural sciences and technologies that do not exist in real life (but may in the future), including robots, interstellar travel, flying cars and beings and societies (aka aliens) from other planets.
Example: The Martian, The Windup Girl
Horror | Similar to fantasy, but focusing on terrifying, evil and often powerful beings, such as monsters and ghosts. Aims to transmit fear and, basically, scare the hell out of you.
Example: The Shining, Interview with the Vampire
Utopia | Takes place in a highly desirable society, often presented as advanced, happy, intelligent or even perfect or problem-free.
Example: Ecotopia, 17776
Dystopia | The anti to Utopia, these take place in a highly undesirable society, often plagued with strict control, violence, chaos, brainwashing and other negative elements.
Examples: 1984, Brave New World
Apocalyptic | Takes place before and during a massive, worldwide disaster.
Examples: Heart of Darkness, The Map of Time
Post-apocalyptic | Focuses on groups of survivors after a massive, worldwide disaster.
Example: World War Z
There are, of course, other genres that fall into this list--like superheroes and alternate history--but I've focused on those represented by Black Spot Books.
I hope this helps the murky waters of speculative fiction become just a little bit more clear--now, don't be afraid to dip your toes in these waters and get to writing!
Fair winds and following seas,
It's November, which for many in the writing world--especially aspiring authors--that means one thing: NaNoWriMo.
November, in addition to be the time of year when men decide to stop shaving and start growing delicious facial hair, is National Novel Writing Month (hence, NaNoWriMo). It's a time that storytellers everywhere commit to writing 50,000 words in one month. What makes NaNoWriMo so interesting is that it's not just a goal, but a community, with a website, a large social media following, community forum, daily sprints, coaches, and a huge network of writers everywhere engaging and supporting each other.
I participate every year in NaNoWriMo, whether it's a story that ends up published or not. Usually, if I'm being honest, I never quite make the deadline, and you can just forget about me actually remembering to update my daily word count--which sucks for my participation badges. For me, it's all about the experience and the encouragement. It's freaking fun. This year I'm working on a paranormal thriller. I can't stop writing.
As a publisher, NaNoWriMo presents another really fun thing: a ton of new submissions. As writers finish up their manuscripts and revise/edit over the holiday break, come January I get a treasure trove of new projects, new writers, and new stuff to read!
This year Black Spot Books has set up a special waiting list for NaNoWriMo authors eager to get a jump on the submission process.
You can add your title here.
Fair winds and following seas,
Look, I get it. You've spent weeks, months, years--YEARS--crafting the perfect story. It's been edited, then edited some more, then edited again. You added scenes and deleted them. You changed a main characters name. You've started to forget this is just a work of fiction and instead feel like the whole damn thing has come out of your memory rather than your imagination. You've stayed up countless nights writing. You've told everyone about your project. You've probably swilled a lot of rum, especially somewhere around word 67, 831 (or maybe that's just me). You've decided to name your next pet after your protagonist. Visions of cover art are dancing in your head.
You are ready to see this baby on the shelf.
But first, you have to convince someone who reads a lot of manuscripts that yours is something special, something unique, and something worth investing in. That's not nearly as easy as it may sound.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Writing queries and putting submission packages together sucks. I've written three novels and two textbooks, so I know firsthand just how tedious this process can be. In fact, I think it was querying my third book, more than any other thing in my life, where I earned my first gray hair. There are so many questions: How do you find the right agent/publisher? How do you boil down this beautiful saga into a three-sentence query blurb and a two page synopsis? How do you wait out the painful two weeks to three month timeframe for someone to read and--worse--judge your work? And how in the hell do you handle the inevitable rejection notice when it comes?
I'm on your side -- trust me. There's not much I hate more than sending out rejection letters.
Every agent is different. Every publisher is different. Trying to give boiler-plate advice on how to write the Most Amazing Query Ever is useless, wasteful, and--frankly--kinda stupid. But, there are a few best-practices that you should know before you query to help you make sure your submission is read and doesn't get quick click into some agent's Trash box.
I can't speak for every publisher, but here's some tips to help you write a successful query letter for Black Spot Books:
1. Know what we publish, and what we don't publish.
Do your research, and make sure you know what the agent/publisher you're submitting to actually reads and represents. Why would you want to submit your work and (im)patiently wait 8 weeks only to get a rejection because the agent doesn't accept poetry or religious fiction, or whatever genre you're writing in that isn't on their list? Knowing that you're submitting your project to an agent interested in your genre saves both you and the agent time and frustration.
For more on what we are and are not looking for, read here.
2. Follow submission directions.
Submission directions are specific. They ask for certain details for a reason. Don't skimp on providing these--it tells your possible agent/publisher that 1) You didn't bother to read the submission instructions, and 2) You aren't worried about the details--both of which are incredibly important to your agent. Be clear and explicit when providing these details in your query.
For more on what we ask for in a submission, read here.
3. Proofread your query.
Alright, there's an art to writing a query letter, and this isn't the place to discuss it (we will in a future blog, so don't forget to subscribe!). That said, writing a query is as much art as it is science, and there are a few mechanics you should master.
4. Get to know us.
The publishing market is one that is constantly in flux. While most publishing houses specialize in certain genres, that doesn't mean that they don't change, too--new agents, new editors, new titles, new pathways in the book-buying market, new audiences.... All of these have an impact on how publishers grow and evolve over time.
Reach out on social media and connect with a publishing house. Many small presses, like Black Spot Books, put an emphasis on building meaningful relationships with authors, and also want to see that authors can build networks--this is an important aspect in selling your books over time.
Take some time, also, to research the agent/publisher you're submitting to. Check our their blogs and see what they're reading. Follow them on Twitter and see what they're tweeting about, and who they're following. Building a relationship with an agent is just that--a relationship. Agents love when you query them individually and provide a reason, such as, “Because you represented such-and-such book, I think you’d be a great agent for my work" or "Because I know you enjoy the works of Author X, I think you'll also love mine because..."
5. Have your manuscript in its best shape possible.
Before you submit, make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished. Peer review is a crucial step, so be sure to have trusted peers give you an honest critique or "beta read" and incorporate their feedback as necessary. Consider seeking a professional freelance editor to evaluate it. And never query an agent for a novel until the work is complete--trust me, I know the thrill of sending out a query, but you can wait the few extra weeks to finish a novel before you start trying to sell it. If and when an agent asks for a partial or full manuscript, they expect to have it immediately. Again, trust building.
Ultimately, be persistent. Every famous author has a story about how many agents rejected their work before they made a connection--Stephen King, Anne Rice, even JK Rowling.
Remember, too, that publishing is a business. Agents/publishers simply can't accept everything, so make sure your work is in tip-top shape to give it the best chance of success.
Fair winds and following seas,