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For Book Titles That Sell, Make it High Concept

There was a time when I would have argued titles don’t sell books. I would have been wrong. Now there is good reason behind my previous thinking. More often than not I don’t remember the actual title to the last book I read. I remember characters or plot or author, but the title, especially with romances, tend to fade. And in a bookstore I don’t grab up a book for the title…cover yeah, but title? No way. But the fact is titles can sell a book. They can sell it to an editor or an agent. They can sell it to readers. They can even sell it to Hollywood.  Here are a few examples of titles that I believe helped sell the book: The Naked Duke Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Eat, Sleep, Poop Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom Do any of these titles get your attention? They do mine and I guarantee they have helped the success of these books. Why? Because they are high concept. They in seven words or less grab your attention and tell you this book is going to be different while also playing on some concept you already know and love. The known and popular, but fresh. It’s a killer combo and if you can relay it in a book title you have a very marketable gift. Another thing about these titles is they all show contrast. They put the unexpected together. Think Duke. You think aristocratic, noble, if you are a romance reader, maybe alpha. You do not think naked. Pride and Prejudice? Well, before this book, your brain certainly didn’t go to zombies. Eat, sleep….fill in the blank. Love? No POOP. (Dreamworks by the way just picked up the rights to make this into a movie. A how to book being made into a comedy! I have to...

Writing a book? This better be personal!

A friend of mine, Intrigue author Ann Voss Peterson, has a mantra concerning books and the main characters’ goals and motivations. It needs to be personal and it needs to be important, very important at least to the character—to the world is even better. (but that doesn’t work for every type of book) Now, I KNOW this, Ann has told me enough times I should, but somehow knowing and doing don’t always go together. Right now, I’m revising a paranormal young adult novel that my agent had sent to seven houses. Two of these houses in particular had a lot of feedback and said they would be interested in seeing the project again if I chose to revise it. So, I’m revising. First seven houses is not the world and if two professionals have given me some feedback I’m at least going to give it careful consideration before sending it out to anyone else. Neither of them said—Hey, dummy, remember the protagonist’s goal should be personal and important. But then I’ve found when people have an issue with a book they seldom pin it to the board quite that neatly. They say things like “I’m not believing this character.” or “I didn’t quite care as much about (fill in blank) as I wanted to.” So, ignorant to the fact that I had made a basic error that I know darn well better than to make, I started reading. And there it was—or wasn’t. My protagonist’s goal was personal and it was important…kind of. But it wasn’t important enough. And as I read further past the first plot twist when things start to go south, that personal connection faded. She still had the personal thing going for the initial goal, but now the “get us out of trouble right now” goal…that was weak. It felt like she could have walked...

How do you know you are reading a romance?

This may seem like a strange question, but it is one I encounter a lot. Maybe not in the actual question form, but from people who think they know the answer and oh so obviously don’t. In fact, even writers who say they write romance don’t always know what makes a romance, at least when looking at the term in the genre romance sense. I, like many published romance authors who are members of Romance Writers of America (RWA), judge RWA’s big contest, the Rita. I haven’t started my entries this year, but in the past I have received books entered as romances that just weren’t. In fact I have received books that had zero romance in them. Yes, there was a boy and there was a girl….uh and that is where it stopped. (An aside…the Ritas have a box for judges to check that says either “not a romance” or “wrong category”. If a certain number of judges check the box for one book, it will be disqualified from that category.) So, what makes a book a romance novel? Romance. Not a clear enough answer? Okay, I’ll go a little deeper, but first let’s clarify a bit. My definition is for today’s genre romance. It is not for classic romances written two hundred years ago, or even literary books that might be romantic. This is for genre romances. Okay, so there is romance. Someone (in mainstream fiction this still means two people) falls in love. But and this is huge, not only do these people fall in love, but the story of their romance is KEY to the novel. How key will vary by sub-genre (in romantic suspense the romance plot may take up less than half of the book), but if you yanked the romance plot out of the book, the story would fall apart. You would...

To love a Trickster

Last weekend I was on a panel at OddCon titled People and Animals. It’s a pretty wide topic and the conversation varied a lot, but one thing that came up (Okay, I think I brought it up…) were tricksters. I love tricksters. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the trickster (or don’t think you are, I’m sure all of you have seen a trickster or two), tricksters are(quoting Terri Windling) “contradictory creatures: they are liars, knaves, rascals, fools, clowns, con men, lechers, and thieves — but they are also culture heroes whose tricks can do great good as well as great harm, and whose stories serve to uphold the very traditions mocked by their antics.” They are also frequently shapeshifters. In Norse mythology (which I base my Unbound series on) you have the god Loki. Loki is always poking a stick at someone. In Native American lore you have coyote and raven. In African the god Anansi, a spider. Rabbit is also a trickster in various cultures–obvious U.S. examples are Br’er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny. In literature Neil Gaiman had an entire book about the trickster Anansi (Anansi Boys). Terri Windling edited an anthology The Coyote Road and Tony Hillerman wrote the novel Coyote Waits. In Amazon Ink, I use rabbit in the form of an actual rabbit, but I also have a character who plays the trickster role. The trickster is often seen as mean, but really he is teaching a lesson. Without the trickster, other characters would go unchallenged and without challenge we get comfortable with the status quo. Tricksters promote growth and from an author’s point of view, provide conflict. But they do it in an entertaining way. They don’t walk up and poke a finger in the hero’s chest saying “You need to change.” No, they, knowing the hero’s weaknesses, set him up....

The Process…from manuscript to book from author’s point of view

Galleys for Amazon Ink arrived yesterday; corrections are due back to Pocket by Monday–which means I’m busy groaning and dreading. :) I posted a tongue in cheek note about this on Facebook and a number of people replied with congrats. Got me thinking maybe people didn’t understand what galleys are, and probably weren’t even familiar with the process of producing a book from the author’s POV. So, I decided to do a quick informative post here before starting in on the galleys (not that I’m putting it off or anything…). I have now worked with three different publishing houses and they all pretty much work the same way. We’re going to start this AFTER you have completed the book and it is sold. The first step is revisions. My most extensive revisions were on my first book, but even those weren’t too terrible. Revisions can come though in the form of say a 20 page letter. The tough thing about revisions, no matter how minor, is getting past your initial gut reaction to pitch a fit. :) Thoughts like “if it is so bad why did they buy it?” are pretty common. At this stage it is wise to stay away from all forms of communication with anyone anywhere except maybe a trusted writing friend who understands your moment of temporary insanity. So, you work all that out and send in the revisions. Life is good again. Then come copy edits. Copy edits are after a copy editor has (in addition to your regular editor) gone through your book and made changes by marking on the manuscript manually. These changes range from grammatical to good Lord knows what. My favorite part of CEs (and I mean this sincerely) is the continuity check–things like pointing out your heroine had blue eyes on page 6, green on page 200 and brown...

Turning points what they are and why we need them…

As a writer I think we “know” a lot of things, and probably do many instinctively (automatically following story structure because we have read so much, etc.), but that is different from really “getting” something. For some reason, I recently had an epiphany about turning points. I could have told you what a turning point was a long time ago and I put turning points in my books (they’d be near unreadable without them), but I didn’t really “get” them. So, assuming I am not the only slow one wandering around in the world, I thought I’d chat about them a bit. A turning point is a place in the story where everything changes, where the character is forced to do things differently, where they can’t go back to life as they knew it before. Turning points are essential to entertaining fiction–ESSENTIAL. I’m sure you could have too many and give your reader whiplash, but in general I think writers are far more guilty of writing books that don’t have as many as they need. Let’s look at some examples. Stephanie Plum loses her job as a lingerie salesperson (that’s what she did, isn’t it?), she is forced to search for a new job and all she can find is one as a bounty hunter. Turning point–everything changes. In the current TV series Chuck (which I love BTW), the series has been progressing with the assumption a certain character was dead. Guess what? He isn’t. Everything changes. I particularly love this example because it pushed the series to a new level. Rather than watching Chuck go through the same motions over and over, it mixed things up (at least for a couple of shows). You don’t tend to see that in TV series too much. Another TV example, in Charmed Phoebe discovers her new love interest is a demon....

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