Author’s notes are short passages deployed in both fiction and non-fiction books to add information that doesn’t fit into the main text about the book’s contents or to expound on the author’s intent. Sometimes these notes show off how much research the writer did in creating the book. Readers, if they bother to check the notes at all, may (or may not) find them edifying.
However, I think author’s notes are an under-recognized element in promoting the book’s unique qualities and enticing readers to buy it.
Using examples from my two novels, The Lords of Powder ( https://amzn.to/2HqdqU5 ), a mash-up of modern fantasy, adventure, and historical fiction, and The Lords of Oblivion ( https://amzn.to/2tSgK1s ), a modern fantasy, I’ll describe my own ‘non-standard’ author’s notes.
We’ll start with The Lords of Powder. First, why create an author’s note at all? Isn’t this usually boring claptrap? Or information that could have been included in the main text if it were so damned important? Good questions. Here are the reasons that I chose to include a note: 1) to further intrigue potential readers who’d seen the cover and the back jacket blurb, but hadn’t quite determined to buy the book; 2) to explain aspects of the characters, setting and text thereby facilitating reader understanding and enjoyment of the work.
To render this discussion more concrete, let’s look at The Lords of Powder’s author’s note(s):
A Note on Pharmacology
The effects of illicit drugs are occasionally exaggerated with regard to their speed of onset and duration of influence. This makes the characters’ behavior more interesting.
A Note on Flying
This novel isn’t an endorsement of flying C-47 planes without a copilot.
A Note on the Setting
Readers may notice that a few features of Miami circa 1978 and its cultural milieu have been altered to suit the story’s needs. For example, ’70s-era music cognoscenti will know that Visage’s “Fade to Grey” wasn’t released until 1980, though in this story it shows up in a DJ’s club mix in the summer of 1978. The song worked in conveying the scene’s tone.
A Note on the Text
Italics are used for passages of dialogue in Spanish and German (set off with quotation marks) and for characters’ thoughts with no quotation marks. Dialogue is not italicized in a chapter where all the characters speak Arabic. Infrequently, italics are also used for emphasis. The context hopefully will make this clear.
For starters, unusually, there are, not one, but four author’s notes and at least the first two are quite tongue in cheek. Virtually every other novel has one note – or none at all – and these are written in a dry as dust style.
My notes are admittedly a bit over the top reflecting the overall tone of the story. The Lords of Powder’s magician protagonist is occasionally high or coked up as are many of the Rabelaisian secondary characters, and I’ve sometimes exaggerated the drugs’ effects on them for dramatic effect (the first note). The protagonist is also a drug smuggler and pilots planes transporting tons of marijuana around the Caribbean and south Florida. He flies without a copilot to involve as few people as possible in his nefarious activities. Most responsible pilots, of course, would always have a copilot (the second note).
The third note addresses more prosaic aspects of the novel particularly its late 1970s Miami setting and indicates that I’ve taken some license in describing that milieu. In fact, I’ve done this by name checking an old synth-pop classic that might intrigue readers familiar with this musical genre. The fourth note is where I’ve hewn most closely to a ‘typical’ author’s note where the reader is coached on some mechanical aspect of the story or text, in this case, how italics are used to highlight when characters aren’t speaking English or for a character’s thoughts (they do a lot of thinking in my stories!).
So, in four notes, I’ve alluded to titillating features of the story and hopefully been entertaining in the process.
For The Lords of Oblivion ( https://amzn.to/2tSgK1s ), I followed a more typical approach. A single note alerts the reader that I took a few liberties in describing the novel’s San Francisco setting:
Discerning readers of The Lords of Oblivion may notice, but hopefully will allow, my occasional lapses in describing the Bay Area’s geography accurately…Perhaps the city and park planners would make the same alterations if given a story teller’s license.
To give the author’s notes prominence in both novels, I placed it in the front matter immediately following the copyright page and epigraph and before the main text. While traditional publishing houses may have rules defining the purpose of author’s notes and their positioning relative to the main text, as an indie author, I can arrange then in any way that I believe promotes the book and/or enhances the reader’s experience once they’ve bought it.
A future post will discuss my approach to acknowledgments.