Paperback Writer

good game

Paperback Writer has a great post up here. It’s one of those rare magical posts that gives you a way to work that actually feels like procrastination.

She’s asked the characters from her next novel (Evermore) to write blurbs for the book. I suppose you have to know the earlier books in the series and all the characters in order to appreciate the humor but believe me: it’s there.

So now I can’t get this out of my head. What quote would Elizabeth or Jennet or Curiosity (or anyone else) give for the cover of Queen of Swords? How about Angie or John or Miss Zula, what would they say about Tied to the Tracks? I can imagine Curiosity saying something like this: Don’t you know a good story when you see one? You look simple, staring that way. Buy the book, I need people to listen to me talk.

The Trouble with Titles

Settling on a title for a novel is a very slow and laborious process that can go on long after the darn thing is written and sold.

Pretty much any author can tell you title battle stories. Paperback Writer just resolved one such set of negotiations for the next book in her StarDoc series. She reports about the new title (now called Omega Games) in a neutral tone. When a writer strikes a purposefully neutral tone on a subject like this, you know he or she had to give in on the one thing they really, really wanted to keep or really, really hated and wanted to lose.

Example. The novelist says: My publisher is very excited about the artwork for It’s All in your Head. Translation: Is it too late to take my name off the cover? When we get closer to the pub date, I’ll be reporting in a purposefully neutral tone about the hardcover jacket for Pajama Girls.

Some highlights from the past:

The title of the second volume in the Wilderness series was supposed to be The Farthest Shore but ended up Dawn on a Distant Shore. Which sounded overly dramatic to me, and reminded me of those awful Native American romances. But I lost that battle.

For the fourth volume in the series I wanted Thunder at Twilight but got Fire Along the Sky. Now, I don’t dislike FAsS, but it wasn’t what I wanted. The publisher said my title sounded like those awful Native American romances. Go figure.

So if it’s hard to find a title for one novel, you can imagine what it’s like to find titles for weblog posts. I’ve got near 1,500 of the little buggers, and titles are more difficult all the time. I thought about just following the meteorologists’ example and naming them randomly. This post, for example, could be Elvira. I fear I wouldn’t last long naming my posts, and anyway, it would be poor practice. The title is supposed to give you some idea of what the post is about.

My troubles are many, but very small.

I know I still owe you the community story for this week. With any luck you’ll get it tomorrow. I have to write another thousand words today, and then there’s the Pajama Girls page proofs. I’m trying to think of a way I might give away this pile of paper. You could call it the advanced reading copy of the advanced reading copy. I’ll see if I can come up with something.

the midlist/midlife crisis

It’s no secret that the publishing houses are spending ever less resources on marketing and advertising novels. More and more it’s up to the author to handle these things, and most of us don’t really know how, or really don’t want to. Paperback Writer has an excellent post on how different authors handle (or fail to handle) the necessity of self promotion.

Because it’s the only way to survive, these days. Here’s the reason why:

You sell a book to a particular editor at a particular press. The offer is made, and the agent and the editor start to hammer out the details. Royalties, copyright, all those crucial matters are discussed. Somewhere in the negotiations, the agent asks the editor for details on marketing and advertising. What will the house do to promote the novel? The agent wants specifics: print and internet advertising, ARCs, media promotions.

Here’s where Alice falls into the rabbit hole. Because somehow or another, your novel is unlikely to get any real marketing no matter how enthusiastic the publisher sounded when you were in negotiations. Unless you are already a big, well known name. Then you will get a decent marketing package. There will be product placement in the big chain stores, sometimes special cardboard stands designed specifically for the novel in question, posters, national print advertising, guest spots on talk shows.

Most authors get none of that. Instead, this is what often happens:

A novel comes out in hardcover. The publisher has great hopes for this novel, but they aren’t willing to invest the funds for a real campaign; if the author wants to pay for a publicist of his or her own, great! But the house isn’t going to do it. The sales staff go to meetings with the buyers from big chain stores but they have dozens and dozens of books to pitch, and instructions on which ones to push hardest. They focus on certain novels — the ones by the big names. The chains are conservative, because they too are responsible to their shareholders. They buy lots of the new novel by the big name, and token amounts of the midlist.

From here it spirals downwards.

When the softcover comes out it won’t sell because it’s not in the stores. It’s not in the bookstores because the big chains didn’t order it. The chains didn’t order it because the hardcover didn’t do very well. The hardcover didn’t do very well because the big chains didn’t order it. They didn’t order it because it was clear the publisher wasn’t really behind it, no marketing, no advertising. The publisher didn’t make the effort, because…? That’s the mystery. Publishers these days seem to be indulging in a lot of magical thinking.

Imagine you go into a gardening center and buy a big, leafy, healthy plant. You pay a lot of money for it because by gosh, it’s exactly the kind of plant your neighbors have had such luck with. Once you get home with the plant, you put it in a closet and neglect to water it. A few weeks later you open the closet in the hope that the plant will have doubled in size and be heavy with big beautiful flowers.

Now you are peeved. The plant is dead, and you’re put out because really, if the plant had been any good to start with, it would have taken care of itself and not demanded things like sunlight and water. You clearly made a mistake when you bought that plant. It failed you completely.

That is the situation for hundreds and hundreds of novels. More every year. Every year authors get more inventive — and desperate — about self promotion. I predict wild stunts. Come see the author walking a tightrope twenty stories up, and no net! Can I interest you in this free, glossy full-color five page introduction to her newest novel? Do you think the head buyer for Barnes & Noble might like expensive chocolates?

The publisher and the bookstore chains are responsible to their shareholders; they watch the bottom line and cut back on the cost of things they hope to do without. Authors need to get their books into print and so they grit their teeth and sign on the dotted line. Thus another co-dependent relationship blossoms.

Sooner or later, something has got to give.

writing prompt: dialog

This book I mentioned the other day? I should have been more specific. Here it is, as you can see. The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 prompts to ignite your fiction.

The friend who sent this book to me is a very profilic author and also one of those people who has a nose for finding interesting books you wouldn’t have run into any other way. This book is a case in point. There are three kinds of prompts: situation, dialog and assignment. The example from the other day (about the phone sex worker) is a situation prompt. Looking through the book, the situation prompts are pretty uneven. Some don’t work for me at all, some would work with tweaking. Some are pretty good.

The dialog prompts are really interesting. Starting a scene or a story with a bit of dialog is very effective, but hard to pull off well. I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the dialog prompts in this book of matches. Here’s one:

“Helpful hint: wait until you’re sober before trying that again.”

As a first line this has a lot of possibilities. The pov character is talking to herself, I think. She’s looking in the bathroom mirror at her hair, which yesterday was shoulder length and reddish-blond, but today is hacked off, purple and moussed into spikes. She’s late for work, where she will undoubtedly run into her older sister, who is also the CEO. And wasn’t today the day the auditors were coming? Which would mean that the drinking as got out of hand, and she’s got two choices: give up booze, or quit the family business.

I could come up with three or four other possibilities for this opening dialog. One roommate to another as they contemplate a completely disasterous birthday cake made under the influence. A stranger in an expensive suit to a teenager who has wiped out on his skateboard. In that case I see violence coming.

Any thoughts on where this opening line might go?