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Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marketing. Show all posts

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Business of Titles

On one of my local writing organization forums, an aspiring writer, ready to start submitting his work, got worried when he discovered that the title he'd chosen was already in use. He immediately started trying to come up with a new one. I threw in my two cents, of course, and thought it might be useful to summarize my contribution.

Titles definitely matter. Titles set reader expectations. A title might be totally cool and unique, and yet totally wrong for YOUR book. Titles speak about genre and scope and epoch and most certainly the kind of read one might anticipate - humorous, serious, mythic, adventurous, fast, slow... Think Nymphos of Rocky Flats vs Ysabel vs Blood Drive vs Breath and Bone vs The Bell at Sealy Head vs The Fellowship of the Ring. All are fantasy. All very different.

Should I panic if my title has been used?

No. A quick check at an online bookseller (yeah, Amazon is really good for this) can tell you if the exact title or close variants have been used and how frequently. You can also get an idea of how relevant that usage is. That is, who wrote the books, when were they published and by whom (a publisher you would target?). Are they in the same genre as yours, and are they still in print? (If the works are not being sold "new" by Amazon, it likely means that edition is out of print.) If you're not familiar with the author, look him or her up. You can figure out pretty easily if this is a conflict that's going to bother an agent or editor. An older book or a book by an obscure author, especially in a different genre, likely poses no conflict IF yours is the perfect title for your work.

On the other hand, if the books are fairly recent, in your genre, and by a prominent author from a publisher you might target, there might be some merit in changing the title. Yep, avoid Carrie or The Da Vinci Codex. If you can think of something better...and by better I mean more original and more evocative - giving a better feel for the theme of your work - it would behoove you to do so.

You should always reconsider your title when you finish a book. That's when you actually know what the book is about. That's when you really know whether the book you started as a comic myth turned out to be an angst-filled, serious adventure. (Mine always do that!)

Bottom line - think, don't panic. If you can come up with something better, great. If not, it's not the end of the world and you can work with your acquiring editor to create something better.

Does the title make a difference when submitting a book to an agent or editor?

Well, sure! A good, evocative title can pique the interest of an agent or editor in the same way an excellent log line can, so definitely spend the time to come up with a good one. A good title shows that the author has a handle on both the marketing world and what the story is really about. Both are good signs when you are selling yourself as well as the book.

Will my editor change the title?

Maybe. Some editors will encourage you to rework a weak or conflicting title on your own. Some will suggest alternatives right away or will pass on suggestions from the marketing department. Titles are hard and some people are good at writing them and some aren't! In a big house, you can be sure that a book won't be published without a title that the marketing department approves, because titles ARE marketing. If you sell to a small press it will behoove you to make sure the research and "marketing think" that a marketing department might supply gets done. This might mean ditching your beloved title for something that sets the right reader expectations.

Historical note: Out of my 13 (11 published, two forthcoming) books, I've been asked to consider a different title for only two of them. In the first case, my UK editor thought the original title was more evocative of horror than fantasy. A moment's reflection told me he was right. In the second case, the original title was very close to that of another book already on the schedule from my same publisher. In both cases, being forced to THINK about it, gave me much, much better titles. The resulting titles were Revelation (the first case) and Breath and Bone (the second), two of my favorite titles.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Events and Deadlines and the Partridge in the Writing Tree

A nice crowd at the Boulder Book Store
Hello, hello. anybody there? Yep, I'm alive. Poking my head up from the hole like the February groundhog after a seriously overwhelming few weeks. Last night I was feeling pretty awful about having written so little (deadline for The Soul Mirror 4/30) and blogged even less over the past six weeks, but then I started counting. Over the past seven weeks, I've done:

  1. Nine bookstore events - two of them here my own town, one in San Diego, the other six elsewhere in Colorado. Each involved program preparation - whether it is readings or coordination with a couple of fellow authors who shared a few of the events - as well as email, snailmail, forum and facebook notifications, and coordination with the bookstore involved. Thank goodness for Shannon Baker and Janet Fogg, two author friends who shared the coordination of our four-stop Three Adventures Tour and made gorgeous posters, and launch party invitations, and to Karen and Julie, who organized the most fabulous launch parties in Boulder and Denver.

  2. My first podcast reading for Broad Universe, a great organization that supports women writing fantasy and sf. This involved...

    ... downloading recording software, preparing a five minute reading - which is not simple - setting up microphone, learning to use the software, test reading, paring out words, more test readings, getting Exceptional Spouse help with setting up an amplifier so one could hear the reading, more test recording, paring out more words, editing out hiccups, etc. Now that I've done it all, it should only take a short time for the next one in April. Yeah, uh-huh.
    Flanked by fellow Adventurers Shannon Baker and Janet Fogg

  3. A five-day writing retreat in Fairplay. OK, I did get good writing done those days.

  4. Three critique group meetings with associated reading, of course.With Blythe and Kate in San Diego

  5. One extensive written critique I had donated as a prize to a writing organization.

  6. Travel planning for two convention trips.
  7. Planning for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers March workshop, called Words Words Words, to be presented with my most excellent fellow writer Susan Smith (aka Mackay Wood.)

  8. An extensive written interview for The Dallas Examiner and a shorter one for the Denver Examiner.

  9. Writing up proposed back copy (one of the most difficult tasks for this writer) and cover ideas for The Soul Mirror, due to my editor for a cover conference.
  10. Writing up workshop proposals for two writers conferences.
  11. Four doctors' appointments, three days working on income tax, two screening procedures (all is well), and a partridge in a ...

Yeah, they are taller!
Well, no wonder this felt like a fragmented season. That doesn't even count watching for reviews and references to the new book, and all those other things one should not fret about (but only non-humans could ignore).

So, with the schedule clearer for March, I hope to get back to regular blogging. In April, panic mode sets in with book deadline, Norwescon - doing not only the program of one of my favorite conventions but the Fairwood Writers Workshop, a terrific opportunity for new writers to get pro critiques - and the Pikes Peak Writers Conference - speaking at one of my favorite conferences.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Now That's What I Like To See

My agent sent me this photo of a bookstore shelf in the Atlanta airport.

Shelf space is at such a premium in airports, so it is great to see one of my books there. And Daughter of Ancients, which is one of my personal favorites of all my books, is often a forgotten child. Lots of people assume The Bridge of D'Arnath is a trilogy and never get to the fourth and final volume! Those who've read it can tell you that there is still much to be worked out in Avonar and in Gerick's life.

Please, please, if you don't see your favorite authors' books on a bookstore shelf, request them. Bookstores are looking for any reason to order fewer and fewer books in this tight economy. And if new readers can't browse and find them, they are much less likely to take a chance.
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Friday, May 1, 2009

The Truth About Writing Your Passion

Michelle Sagara West, FWE (fantasy writer extraordinaire), has written a wonderful and enlightening post about learning some hard truths re. writing what you love. She talks about why some of us do what we do despite greener (ie. more lucrative) pastures elsewhere.

Di Francis, another FWE, posts the grim reality of the present bookselling market.

The link to Michelle's post is, as they say, on another blog network. You'll need a (free) login to add comments, but not to read it or comment anonymously. [Thanks for clarification, Alyssa.]

Ditto for Di's post.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Titles Redux

This title search was truly difficult. I made word lists. I brainstormed combinations. I searched language dictionaries and pulled out my trusty thesaurus. The problem was, of course, that I was trying to think while madly producing words to reach the end. Until early last week, I could not have told you what the blasted stories are truly about.

First iteration - a set of Latin titles. I wanted to introduce a Renaissance feel to the names. The books are set in a world on the brink of an explosion of scientific advancement. I came up with Latin titles I loved for the second and third books, but I couldn't find one I liked for the book I was working on. A little survey on my Warrior of Two Souls Forum bore out my editor's conclusion - the only title that had come to mind-and wasn't in current use!-would not mean anything to readers who hadn't come across the term somewhere else. It could actually lead to the wrong conclusion. Bummed. (I still love Ars Maledicta, my planned title for Book 2, though!)

But as I neared the end of the book, it suddenly dawned on me that everything in this book...and the series...had to do with seeing. Both physical and metaphorical. Seeing into secrets. Seeing through deceptions. Seeing into hearts and souls. Seeing through lenses - spyglasses, prisms, spectacles. Looking through a device and seeing something wholly unpredictable. There is even a scientific demonstration of "the nature of light" in the book (based in part on a historical demonstration of Isaac Newton's). And this started me thinking about optical devices.

Second iteration - Despite what I said in the earlier post about shying away from objects in titles, I realized that "seeing devices" could represent the "scientific side" of the Sabrian world. But if I were to go in that direction, I wanted to juxtapose a word that would convey "magic" or the "spiritual" side of the world, referencing the balance and harmony of the two sides (or lack thereof! Picture evil grin here.)

After much whirling, I came up with "The Adept's Lens," adept being the reference to magic. But I didn't like the specificity. This story isn't about one person or one instrument, and certainly not about one person's instrument.

I finished the book at 1am last Wednesday. And Thursday I woke up with the titles. And they are...

The Spirit Lens

The Soul Mirror

The Daemon Prism

This story is about seeing. Each title is an object, but each is also a metaphor for seeing, so you can expect that each part of the each title has multiple references. And to impart a slight flavor of the Renaissance, instead of a series title, each will be appended with

a novel of the Collegia Magica

I am happy. My editor is happy. The marketing folks are happy. So far, so good.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Genres and Sub-genres

For you aspiring writers: Here is an interesting post from agent Lucienne Diver about fantasy/sf and romance subgenres.

And, it's good info. Not just because she lists me alongside George RR Martin. Read more of this post!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cover Input

I don't want to design my book covers. I love writing, but I just don't have the visual skills to design covers or the marketing skills to know what sells (lots of writers who do design their own covers don't know this part either, I fear!)

That being said, I DO want to have a say in my covers. I know what I don't like. And I certainly know what fits the book - even if it doesn't represent the exact image I had in my mind.

Take the Restoration cover, done by the marvelous Matt Stawicki. The characters look nothing like the images of Seyonne and Aleksander that live in my head, but when I pulled that cover out of the envelope, I went, "Wow!" It is gorgeous. It will draw a reader's eye and make readers wonder about the book - which is the entire reason for cover art, of course. The Stawicki Revelation cover was actually more beautiful than I had envisioned the ice palace in Kir'Vagonoth. I also love the Luis Royo covers for the Lighthouse books, but, sorry folks, he isn't quite Valen and the beauifully rendered masks are wrong - they should be vertical half masks. But I think the covers are gorgeous and feel very fortunate.

So the time has come (already?) and my editor, bless her, is asking for my ideas for what should be on the cover of the [as yet untitled] new book.

Probably not an action scene. They are not "stylish" for trade paperback originals. So, there's more thinking to do. I've got three investigators, a burning ship, ghosts, horribly-- Well I can't tell all, can I? I need to send them several ideas to explore - and pages for my editor to read, but they're not ready yet...yoiks.

And then there is the matter of cover copy - the ubiquitous back cover blurb that may be even more important than the cover, and is likely the second thing a prospective reader looks at. I don't get to write it, but thanks to some cooperative behavior (I think!) I get to make suggestions. Hooray. This part has to be done accurately, as far as I'm concerned. No revelation of secrets. No cliches. Vivid words. OK, I tend to get too wordy, but at least I get to contribute. I was really happy with the Lighthouse cover copy.

Something else to be working on in the next week or so.
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's in a Title?

So my editor wants to talk about titles for the new series. Titles are sometimes easy - Transformation, Song of the Beast, Flesh and Spirit. They can bubble up early out of the story, sometimes before I know what they really mean - The Soul Weaver, Daughter of Ancients.

Some titles are just hard - Son of Avonar. That one took me a while because I had to step back and see that the core of the story, the prime motivator, the piece that changed EVERYthing, was the "son" in question, even though the protagonist and narrator was Seri. His fate was the driver and the Bridge was the arc that spanned the four books.

Out of my ten books, only two titles have changed since the book went under contract. They happen to be two of my favorite titles. They are...

Revelation - changed from the original because my UK publisher feared the original title evoked the "horror" genre rather than fantasy. He was right. I searched for the right -tion word for weeks.

Breath and Bone - changed because my first pass was too close to another book being released from Roc in 2008. I was so unhappy, until I happened to use the phrase breath and bone one day in the text and I knew it was perfect.

Both of the new titles were infinitely better than the originals.

So my editor didn't say exactly why marketing doesn't care for Unholy Alliance, but I suspect because there are about five hundred titles (search Amazon!) that incorporate the phrase - and most of them are history or psychology. Fortunately, I am not wedded to this particular title - I had to call the book something when I was proposing it. And because of my previous experience with the changes, I'm hoping that I can come up with something I like much better.

There are so many words out there that apply to this story - and lots of them are SO cliched in fantasy titles. Blood is significant - but I don't want people to think vampires or urban fantasy. Shades, shadows, ghosts, spectres...getting into horror territory...and triteness. If I get too far into the secret agent aspect, I'll have people thinking "thriller" and risk losing the fantasy association. Tough.

What do you think are words that are overused in fantasy titles?
I'll keep you posted.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 4

Once I return the copyedited manuscript, I feel as if the book is truly complete. I go back to work on the next project. But there are a few things left to look at: cover art galley proofs, and ARCs.

Sometime in the next weeks, my editor will send me a jpg cover image or an actual cover flat. This is the first time I get to see the cover and it is always a "gulp" moment. Will it match my vision? Will it be striking enough to draw new readers? Will the back copy give away secrets? Will it reflect my own words? Would it make me want to read the book?

I have been fortunate with covers. All the artists have been excellent, even if their vision didn't match mine. Several of my covers have actually given me goose bumps! (Revelation, Restoration). Some covers have fit my image exactly (Daughter of Ancients, Son of Avonar) or even taken my vision one step farther (Revelation). Some have been beautiful or striking - which is the most important function of covers - despite not fitting my image of the person or scene depicted (Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone, Restoration). Only two have disappointed. Proof is left to the reader...

Once I have the cover image, I need to start thinking about marketing tasks - making bookmarks, fliers, updating the website, and so forth. Mostly I procrastinate...because I don't like the marketing stuff, but I DO like starting a new book!

But at sometime a month or six weeks after the copyedits have gone in, I'll receive another bundle of pages in the mail from my editor.

These are the galleys or proof pages, the typeset pages printed just as they'll look in the book. For a mass market paperback (the smaller format) I'll see two facing pages per 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. For a trade paperback, I'll see one page per sheet.

This is the first time I see the "book design," the typeface, the chapter headers, the beautiful drop caps they have at the beginning of the Flesh and Spirit chapters, or how they handled the narrator sections in Song of the Beast or the "Part" divisions in Breath and Bone. This pass is really for hunting typos, misspellings, or any other mistake that might have been entered in the typesetting process. These are typically very few.

The tricky thing is that the lines and paragraphs are now set tightly on the page. R
emoving or adding a word or even a comma requires the whole line to be re-typeset. If the word or punctuation is in the middle of a paragraph, the entire paragraph must be reset. If the length of the paragraph changes, it pushes or contracts the text that follows it. Typesetting is expensive.

But as with any time I read the manuscript start to finish, I find things I want to change. Can I do that? Yes, within reason.
1. Certainly errors must be fixed. Those aren't optional. Typesetting errors aren't "charged" to me!
2. I can certainly tweak a word, phrase, or even a sentence, if I see a critical need. The trick is to replace a removed word with something of similar length. I've even gone through and changed a made-up word or a character name - simple replacements are the easiest to deal with.

3. For slightly more complicated changes, if I can make restricts the resetting to a single paragraph, not changing the page length, I'll usually do it.

4. The toughest pieces to deal with are places where I think the prose needs to be tightened, ie. words removed and not replaced. I have actually squeezed this through on one book, in places where the actual chapter page length has not changed. My editor was merciful.

I absolutely cannot do anything that will change the page numbering. The entire rest of the book would have to be reset = Very Expensive.

Once I've made all the changes and fixes, I pull out those pages. I make sure the marks are very clear - don't want to introduce more typos or errors! And then I count the number of pages. And then I try to figure out if that number will make my editor nervous or, heaven forbid, cause the publisher to charge me the cost of retypesetting!! I don't have a set number I'm allowed, but I can get a creepy feeling if the stack of pages is more than about 25. I read each one and decide if this is critical. I keep all error fixes that I've found. But some of my own changes... Honestly, some things a reader will never notice, and I reluctantly pull them out.

I ship off the proof pages that contain corrections, and now I'm really finished. The next time I see the book it will be bound. First, I'll see the ARC (Advance Reader Copy). This bound book has no cover art, and the text is essentially the uncorrected text. It is produced at the same time as the proof pages, and is sent out to reviewers, bookstores, and the like. Sometimes they show up on ebay!

But one day a padded envelope shows up in the mail with my first real copy of the book, real cover, corrected text, and I sit and read and say, "Wow, did I really write this? It looks like a real book!"

Any questions?

My cover artists
Luis Royo: Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone

Matt Stawicki: Revelation, Restoration, Song of the Beast, Son of Avonar, Guardians of the Keep, The Soul Weaver, Daughter of Ancients

Kevin Murphy: Transformation

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Epic Fantasy Week

Check out epic fantasy week on my agent, Lucienne Diver's blog. There have already been postings on promotion from Lynn Flewelling, and series and story arcs from David Coe. Next up...

Diana Francis on worldbuilding, me own self on developing fantasy heroes, and then Sarah Hoyt on writing fantasy in a scientific world. Enjoy! Read more of this post!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Peripheral Matters

It would be lovely to think that a full-time writer gets to spend full (work/creative) time writing. But just this week, the variety of other endeavors involved in a writing career struck me especially hard. So what's going on?

Preparing for the World Science Fiction Convention

First, logistics: I don't fly this time, but I've got two airport runs to make, one for a good friend traveling in from Vancouver on Tuesday to be my roommate, and the second for two more good friends flying in from Baltimore to attend the con. Then I've got to schedule a dinner with my agent, a critique group meeting on Wednesday night to arrange as our remote member will be in town for the con, a lunch with readers from my online group, and decide matters like "do I take the car and pay the exorbitant nightly parking at the hotel or have the ES (Exemplary Spouse) drop us off?"

Second, prepare for my program items. Some are fun - like choosing what to read at my reading - Breath and Bone or teaser bits from Unholy Alliance. This can take time, and usually involves tough decision making. Some are easy, like preparing for the Torture panel and the Joining the Convention Community panel - that's just making a few notes. But the "SF as modern mythology" panel which I am to moderate is a bit more obtuse. What does that topic mean? Who are the other panelists? Do I know enough about this topic to ask intelligent questions to keep the discussion on track. I've been peeking at Joseph Campbell sites and exchanging emails to the panelists to get their take on where the discussion should go.

Preparing workshops for two upcoming writers' conferences

If there weren't handouts due to volunteers by Sept 1, I wouldn't even be thinking about workshops right now. But one of my workshops for the Colorado Gold conference is brand new. "What is This Thing Called Voice?" It's a topic I've got several pages of notes on, but I need to choose a focus [hearing voice vs. writing voice] and formulate a coherent script before I can pass on a handout. This can take two or three days to do. And then I'll need to do some run-throughs before the conference. In October I'm doing the Surrey Writers Conference, and I've got one workshop that I need to expand from a two hour to a three-hour class, mostly choosing some good exercises, and one workshop that I need to review as I haven't done it for about four years. That's at least a day and a half prep, plus run-throughs as the con gets closer.

WD (Wretchedly Delayed) Postcard/Bookmark Development

Aarrgh. Here it is WorldCon and I've still not done new postcards/bookmarks for the Lighthouse books. Part of this is my dallying because using tools like Corel or Publisher or whatever is something I do rarely enough that I have to relearn them each time. And my version of Corel is very old and it is the one thing that just won't run right on Vista. C _ _ P! Part of the problem is that I have to DECIDE things like postcard vs. bookmark, and then figure out what is needed - CYMK , 300dpi bookcover, trimmed to the right size, and then the back - which quotes? same blurb as on the F&S cards, new one for the "series" card, which fonts...etc. I can't afford to just dump all this in the lap of a professional. Wish I could. Now it is very late and I don't think I'll be able to get them done in time for the con. Phooey. But I needed to do them anyway.

Travel arrangements

The only thing I have to book is my trip to World Fantasy in Calgary for early November. I've been trying to watch fares. See if there is any wiggle room. No doubt it will be more expensive than if I'd booked it three months ago. I'm going to be in Vancouver the previous weekend. It would make sense to stay over a couple of days with my friend in Vcr and travel straight to Calgary, but I think the fact that the writers conference is booking the Vancouver trip and I'm booking the Calgary trip is going to make the whole thing too complicated. I'll just fly home and turn around and leave again two days later.

Critique prep

Can't forget to read my partners' work. They give me such useful feedback, this has to be a priority. And, as many, many writers will tell you, doing critique is at lest as valuable as receiving it. It just takes more time.

Well, here I am. The days seem to race past, and I really do like to THINK before I write. Don't want to waste either my time or yours, dear reader.

These tasks don't even cover email, reading blogs/posts/whatever, or even just reading. I'm reading two manuscripts for blurbs right now. Just finished one. Now to write the blurb...it was good. Then to finish the other one.

Such is a writers' life. Each thing fun in itself, but the scheduling, ow...
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Mundane Side of Writing

For all the delights of playing goddess in my universe and the ever-strengthening lure of opening the file called UnholyAlliance.doc, I set this afternoon aside for other task pertinent to the writing life.

Caught up with email correspondence - a mess-up with a publicity flier for my regional writers group required me to retrieve my old Sent mail file from a CD to find out what exactly I had specified for my Breath and Bone blurb. And then I had to process several responses to a survey of former Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Writers of the Year. I volunteered for a task force to review and improve the process and the experience (I was the honoree in 2006), and I'm summarizing the data for the committee. I updated the web site with info about the blog. Read a couple of friends' entries in the Amazon Breakthrough novel contest and wrote a review for one. Read and critiqued the opening pages of a story from a student I'm mentoring. I spent some time looking at blogger functionality - the tech tips about displaying only the first paragraph or so and using a "Read More" button to expand it. Put it in the template, and took it out again. [Looks as if the "Read More" button will be there, even if there isn't any continuation. Not nice. Need more time to pursue alternatives.]

The biggest task of the afternoon [pursued while watching the NFL championship games - two pretty interesting games despite the lack of Denver Bronco involvement] was to work on the postcard design for the Lighthouse Books. I am about six months behind in printing postcards or bookmarks for the series. I should have sent out bunches to bookstores and handed them out at the fall conventions. But I was traveling and distracted and writing this book proposal and then it was Christmas...well, you know how it goes. When I choose tasks to squeeze into a busy time, I choose my favorite tasks and not the ones I struggle with.

I don't mind doing all these things, but I'd really rather write the story. Though I can't write while watching football.
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