Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Follow-up Questions/Branding

A couple questions from yesterday, having to do with beginnings.

Camy: I'm a suspense reader. I only give a book a couple pages before I decide if it's interesting enough to continue. But is there such a thing as too little time devoted to help the reader understand and empathize with your character? How do you determine the fine line between too much information and too little info to gain reader sympathy?

Hard to give a pat answer to that question that will be appropriate for every novel. But since you’re writing suspense, remember that your readers will probably have that same short attention span at the beginning of your book that you have when reading books. So make the opening as compelling as possible. Where can you start your story with the biggest bang? It may not be the scene that immediately comes to mind. For example, you mentioned the prologue in Brink of Death, and how it drew you in. I didn’t have to start there. I could have started with the protagonist, Annie, pulled from bed when the sirens tear up her street. But the young girl’s third person POV was the more compelling start, even though the rest of the book would be in Annie’s first person account. Once you’ve decided on that biggest bang, how minimal an amount can we know about the character to pull off the scene? Sometimes this is really hard to judge in our own work, and we need the “fresh eyes” of critiquers.

D Gudger: If the I.I. happens apart from the main character who becomes entangled later on, is it okay to start with the character's entanglement with the I.I. and then sprinkle the I.I. in as back-story throughout the novel?

Yes, if the slow leak of details about the crime better fits your plot. (As I could have done in Brink of Death, mentioned above.) Just make sure the “entanglement” beginning really rocks.

Okay, a couple days ago we had some interesting questions on branding/marketing. As I answer, please remember I don’t think I’m any expert on this. Check my opinions against others’ opinions. I can only go on my own experience and all I’ve observed about others in the writing field.

ValMarie: I had a question about focusing on one genre and its affect on sales. One solution in the ABA world (if a writer is "fast"-able to produce several books in a year-and wants to work in more than one genre) is to use a pseudonym for the different genres. Is it common to use pseudonyms in this way in the CBA market? Is it a possibility at all?

It’s not common yet. I think we will see it more as the market grows and matures. But the writer would have to be selling a lot of books. To establish a pseudonym, a house is taking a known, sellable name and putting it back at zero. Mucho marketing dollars have to poured in to bring up that new name, even if it’s openly stated that the pseudonym is such-and-such known author’s pen name. And on the author side, all marketing also must be duplicated. For example, I have a newsletter, a Web site, a brand and logo, etc. If I adopted a pen name for another genre, I’d need to have the same for that name. I’d be doubling my time spent on marketing. (The mere thought makes me tired.)

And—perhaps the biggest argument against—an author only has so much time. Let’s say we’re talking about a two-book a year author, who writes in her name for suspense and a pen name for women's fiction. Instead of producing two suspense books a year, that author will now only produce one, then go do the women’s fiction. So while the name and brand thing might work, sales in each genre are still very apt to build more slowly, because the author’s energies are divided, and readers wait longer for their type of book.

Gina Holmes: I did not know The Romantic Times reviewed all Christian fiction. Very useful. Thanks!

Romantic Times is now known as RT BookClub. I think they probably changed their name to reflect the fact that they’re reviewing all genres of books. This is a secular magazine that accepts Christian fiction, reviewed by a Christian. Most Christian houses regularly submit their novels to RT to be reviewed.

Karen Wevick: I think the most sage advice I've heard about getting a first book published is to not worry too much about the advance, and push for marketing budget as much as you can. What's your take on that?

I think you’ll find this a controversial topic. The advice sounds logical enough, but it’s laced with problems. First, the less a house pays in advance for a book, the less dollars they have at stake. A house pays an advance based on a formula that takes into account how many books the house thinks it can sell in a given amount of time. This formula can vary from house to house. As an example, if a house offers, say, $50,000 as an advance, their set formula has shown that they can sell enough books in the first year to make up that advance. That amount of sales now becomes their goal. Do you want to take that advance down to $30,000 and reduce the goal for what they have to sell?

But, wait, you might say. If you take that $20,000 from the advance and put it into marketing for the book, they’re still paying out the same amount of money. Technically, yes. But reality is, it’s hard to negotiate certain marketing terms and then hold the house to them. This is an area where it’s easy to promise a lot, perhaps very sincerely, that in the end just doesn’t get delivered. At least this is what numerous agents have told me.

In short, I’d go for the money. Remember you get half the advance up front. (This is another argument for going for the dollars--the house has put up more money for your book up front, which means they have more at stake earlier.) If you want to do some extra marketing yourself, set that money—your money—aside for that purpose. At least then the choice is yours whether it ends up getting spent on marketing or a new roof for your house.

Tomorrow, further lessons I learned about branding.


Lynette Sowell said...

One of the things I've learned since signing my contracts is that my work is now focused on more than "just writing." My publisher (Barbour) has a readership, and I need to figure out how to stimulate that readership to --recognize my name, and --want to buy the books (in my case, anthologies). I know there are readers who aren't into novellas, and that's okay. I picture my reader as the lady on her lunch hour who has time enough for a fast read, or a harried SAHM who wants to read while doing the laundry. I'm fortunate in that my publisher knows what works in reaching their readers--they know what their readers like to read. One of the benefits I have is a group of readers who follow the publisher's releases. How do you think of your readers as far as your brand goes?

My focus right now has had to become narrower--my reader base more defined but hopefully larger than my circle of friends. I'd love to "break out" into a larger market eventually, but until that time, I'd like to learn what I can do to tap into the market I've got right now.
~~Lynette, who is far from branded at the moment.

Jason said...

I didn't get to say thanks yesterday for answering my question over the weekend. I think I'm going to write it both ways and then see which works the best. Of course, I want to punch up my prologue too.

Thank you so much!

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks Brandilyn, that was a plethora of great info. I've got another question in regards to branding.

If I write supernatural thrillers but then want to write a straight say, medical thriller. Is that jumping genres since they're along the same lines of taste? It just seems saying only supernatural thrillers might really limit. How many maniacal demons are there? (Don't answer that). Thanks!

Grady Houger said...

Gina H; It seems that some authors make their own catigory of a genre. Michael Crichton is a favorite of mine, all his books are thrillers, but some are more far-out futuristic and others are set in a current industry. His readers can't expect sci-fi or standard setting, but they know he writes thrillers with realistic technical details and an engaging voice. Or maybe Crichton is a bad example, he could write "How to Toilet Train Your Cat" and people would buy it.

Camy Tang said...

Thanks for answering my question, Brandilyn. What you've said makes a lot of sense, even though it's hard to pinpoint the most compelling start to a story.