This is the sort of thing I chew on, questions about writing, when I really should be writing. But this is kind of bugging me.
“This” is the question of what to call a series of novels of indeterminate number. I will be coming out with a novel about storm chasers soon, and I’m in the middle of writing a sequel. I’m not sure if there will be a third novel, though I’m thinking about it. But I’d hate to label it a trilogy (or a duet, as I found in one instance) without being sure, and “series” is too prosaic. In addition to the title, I can call the first one “a storm chasing novel,” but it would be convenient to say it’s “Book One of” something. I don’t want to call it The Storm Chasers Chronicles or some variation thereof, because (a), there are already at least two novels with some permutation of “storm chasers” in the title (I haven’t read them, for fear of compromising my brain), and (b) “Chronicles” seems a little, well, grand.
“Chronicles” also doesn’t seem to fit the subject – a contemporary adventure with humor, drama and romance. I’m not saying “Chronicles” is pretentious, but it brings to mind any number of fantasy series that I once devoured. It sounds magical, historical, or epic. So what’s the alternative? “Series” is a snooze. “Stories” implies short stories. “Tales” – well, I think of something between Chaucer and Peter Rabbit. And then there’s “Saga.” “Twilight” is billed as a saga. I’m pretty sure most sagas should include Vikings or multigenerational family soap operas. By those standards, Charlaine Harris’ amusing Sookie Stackhouse novels should be a saga, because one of the major characters is a Viking vampire, but she circumnavigates convention (and has it three ways) by calling the books the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Talk about appealing to multiple genres, and that’s without even mentioning the hot sex scenes. “Mysteries” on its own is a convenient alternative to “Chronicles,” but it helps to have written a mystery.Often series are marketed with their characters – i.e., “Book One of the John Smith Mysteries” or simply “A John Smith Mystery.” Then one must have a character to hang them on. I actually do have a central character who will travel from one novel to the next, but he shares the spotlight in the first novel, so I don’t think that works, either.
Novelists who cultivate famous characters don’t necessarily start out calling their novels after them. Ian Fleming’s first edition of “Casino Royale” doesn’t say “A James Bond Novel” on the cover. Instead, it displays a rather disconcerting array of girly hearts. (If you have one of these, by the way, it’s worth a freaking fortune.)
Should one make something up, the way Spike Lee calls his movies “A Spike Lee Joint” instead of “Film”? Maybe you can’t go wrong with “novels.” “Book One of the whatever novels.” Whatever “whatever” is. Enter creativity and a strong sense of identity. E.g. the Millennium Trilogy or The Lord of the Rings, which asserts that it is not a trilogy, but one massive book, and therefore not needful of silly appellations such as “trilogy” or “series.” Jasper Fforde chucks all convention with “First Among Sequels,” which is (to be excessively literal) not the first sequel but the fifth book in the clever series starring Thursday Next, and the American edition went ahead and put the character’s name on the cover above that original UK title.
There’s a lot of talk about how important marketing is these days, and I’m sure a good series name or gimmick is part of that, along with the ability to tell people which one comes first. A good book cover and tagline are great, too, but what it comes down to, I suspect, is writing a good book. Word will spread. And then you can worry a little more about what to call its successors.
I was doing some social media surfing this morning, catching up on the good stuff at Writer Beware’s Facebook page, on another literary agency helping its clients “self” publish e-books, and checking out random thoughts on Twitter. I was led to the blog of Amanda Hocking, whose career I’ve been following with interest, since she’s been such a mega-success with self-published e-books on Kindle. And anyone who is considering publishing an e-book, myself included, can’t help but wonder how she did it. Obviously, people like her books, and they’re cheaper than a cup of gourmet coffee. To make my own judgment, I just read her “My Blood Approves” on Kindle for iPhone, a very tiny way to read, but convenient for airplanes and solo lunches. It’s a simple story in the teen vampire-lust genre, and if I hadn’t read “Twilight,” I might have been more intrigued, but I found it derivative. Then again, aren’t all vampire stories derivative? As she has confessed, there are also some irritating errors a copy editor would have caught, but the writing is mostly clean and direct, and I can see why younger readers might get into it. I don’t feel compelled to read the rest, but it was a bargain at 99 cents. Hocking’s new trilogy, which is being reissued by St. Martin’s, may tempt me later on, but for now, my curiosity is satisfied.
As a very recent graduate of a long career in newspapers, much of which was spent writing about books, I’ve found the decision to self-publish agonizing. I’m about 90 percent there, now. Self-published books are slowly getting more respect, but the majority of them simply aren’t good, and when one came across my desk as a writer or editor, I viewed it with skepticism that was often validated. Yet a self-published book that is well-edited, with a good cover and interior design, will get more props than a crappy one any day.
I’ve been through the mill of agent rejections, often getting to the stage of them wanting to read the entire manuscript, but it hasn’t worked out. Maybe because the story is hard to categorize. It’s not pure thriller, romance, Literature or comedy, yet it’s an adventure with elements of all the above. I believe in the work. And I’m not getting any younger. It’s time to put it out there. I have no illusions of success like Ms. Hocking’s, but then again, I’m not writing vampire novels or mysteries featuring cocktails or long-legged dames on the cover. Yet!
All that aside, at the bottom of Hocking’s blog, which is well worth reading for its inside view of both self-publishing and “real” publishing, there was a neat little gadget that completely absorbed my attention for five minutes. It’s the fish (above). They follow your cursor around, and when you click, they eat the “food” you leave. We live in a world of gadgets, widgets and apps, all designed for our short attention spans. Distractions are everywhere. But now I have to get back to photo editing and writing. Go fish.
It’s always nice to hear about winning something other than millions from a Nigerian prince. Though if that were true, it would be nice, too.During my storm-chasing trip I got the news that I’d won a first place, Division I, from the Society for Features Journalism in the Reader Engagement category. It was for an interactive project I worked on at Florida Today called Bon Appetit Brevard. A lot of people were involved, but I wrote the stories, took photos, and shot and edited videos of the 10 semifinalists in this contest, which featured fabulous amateur chefs making their favorite recipes. I also shot and edited a half-hour TV show featuring the finalists making their dishes and competing to win a scholarship at Keiser University in Melbourne. Fun stuff! You can still see the videos online. Taryn Ireland won, and Francisco Abalo and Renee Durette were the other finalists. All the dishes were great, but I could use a piece of bread topped with Francisco’s chicken liver pate about now.
At least, the storm driving has begun. I started Friday afternoon in Florida, and now I’m in Norman, Oklahoma, missing my dogs and hubby but enjoying the Mexican food.
I should admit that I’m a little bit obsessive. If I want to get something done, I’ll dive in until it’s done. If I want to get to storms in northern Nebraska, I’m willing to get up before dawn to drive there. And it looks like that’s what I’ll have to do to get into play, possibly near the South Dakota border, in time to catch whatever might fire. And, as always, I hope whatever fires gets into the juicier air before dark. A lot of ifs, as usual.
I’ve already had a lot of alone time in the car and caught up on some of my “This American Life” podcasts and listened to Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” a funny, quirky memoir that convinces me I have a lot of her neuroses and southeast Pennsylvania background, minus the mostly gay theater camp, but only 1 percent of her success. I also came up with some ideas for the novel I’m writing and took some audio notes. But I can’t really write that way. I need a chauffeur so I can write while he is driving. Meanwhile, I’ll stockpile ideas and hope I still have the inspiration when I have more than five minutes to sit down and write.
As more and more writers self-publish or, at least, find themselves pushing their own books more than their publishers do, writers are getting creative about promotion. GalleyCat highlighted some of these means of promotion today, and it sent me looking for the Amazon forum where that blog found lots of good tips. Writers are posting Craigslist ads, doing serious networking on writing and reading sites, paying for targeted ads on sites such as GoodReads, and selling their e-books cheap.
Some are even promoting their books the old-fashioned way – by telling their local newspapers about them. As a very recent graduate of a couple of decades in newspapers, where I did a lot of writing about books, I can say that it’s always a good idea to contact your local newspaper or other media outlet (magazine, TV station, etc.). At the same time, you need to be professional about it. So much of what is self-published is still, let’s face it, bad. Simply presenting yourself professionally, and having a professionally edited and designed book, can set you apart from the guy who waited 50 years to publish his handwritten book of poems about alligators and the woman who has penned a scintillating memoir about washing the dishes.
I have a lot to say on this subject, and I’ve spoken on the topic, but let’s just start with one bullet point: the initial contact. First, make sure you are contacting the right person at the media outlet. It’s OK to send your press release to more than one person, but “spamming” everyone is frowned upon. Call and ask for a newsroom office manager or editorial assistant and find out who writes about books, and who covers the topic your book may concern. For instance, you’ve written a biography of a tennis star. The books editor (if one has survived) and the sports editor, or even a sports columnist, may be interested. A cookbook might be directed to the books writer, a food reporter and the features editor. And anything with a local topic can be directed to the person who covers that beat, too. Have I mentioned that it’s a good idea to have at least looked at the publication first? That’s a wise way to discern your targets.
Make sure your press release – whether sent by e-mail (which most journalists prefer these days) or on paper – has contact information for you or your publicist, including a phone number and an e-mail that you actually check. The e-mail should not have a spam filter that will make the editor fill out a form in order to speak to you. I hated that, especially when I’d taken five precious minutes to pen a response. Also, use spell-check, uppercase when appropriate, and write in full sentences. You are not in an AOL chat room.
As for content, if there is a news hook appropriate to your book (for instance, you’ve written a book on tsunamis, and tsunamis are in the news), make sure you spell it out in the press release. Include a paragraph of biographical information that emphasizes your local ties. And if you can be an expert source on anything relevant to the book, offer yourself up as such. Even if you don’t get a big feature written about you and your book, you may find yourself being called upon to be quoted in an article about your area of expertise – a great way to get a plug for your book and to cultivate a relationship with the editor/writer that will pay off in more mentions or even a feature later on.
Last tip for now: Have an online press kit on your web site. (You have a web site, don’t you?) Include a summary of the book, bio, and good, high-resolution JPG photos of your book cover and you that the editor can download. This doesn’t even have to be a public link (though that would help), as long as you include the link in your press release. Don’t send giant files attached to the e-mailed release. They fill up editors’ mailboxes, and some attachments never get opened because of virus concerns.
That’s just for starters. Then there’s that other trick, finding time to write.