Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breakthrough on Comparable Novels and Genre

Whenever I see a book that has a concept- however trivial-that is remniscient of something in my book, I feel a bit sick. What if someone has my idea-gasp-and they've already published it?

A book featuring sinkholes as spiritual portals churned my stomach- until I realized their concept was totally different than mine. Big sigh.

But...what if...that attitude is wrong?

Genres get hot because bestsellers leave people wanting more. Haven't we all picked up a book hoping it will be as good as ______?

Writers should wish comp books a great run in the same way that homeowners want houses in the neighborhood to sell high when theirs is going on the market.

I'm going to read some reviews and see if anything resonates with the themes, plot, world-building, etc. of my novel, then pick a few books to actually read and see if anything makes the short list.

Finding comps is a problem because my paranormal romance is not full of heaving bosoms, ripped clothing, or even sex. Anybody know of a 'clean' paranormal romance? Do they exist?

Outside of Christian Lit, all I can think of is Twilight, and it's YA. Can I say that I am glad that Twilight is big? It has proved that you don't have to show everything to take the reader back to the thrill of first love.

My book is comparable to "The Giver" by Lois Lowry (for the theme of the need to experience all of life- the good and bad) crossed with "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer (for the romantic tone), plus some Jewish mythology thrown in. The problem is my book is not YA. Are there any adult fiction books that sound anything like this? Is this Urban Fantasy? Except the main section of the book takes place in the country, which would make it Rural Fantasy.

Seriously, the line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy is very fine. I pulled this Gwenda Bond quote from Wikipedia, which got it from Publishers Weekly, 2009-

"T]he terms urban fantasy and paranormal romance are often used interchangeably. But most of the category's major editors work on books that fall into both categories and caution that while the two frequently cross over among audiences, there is a key distinction. Avon executive editor Erika Tsang explains: "In paranormal romance the relationship between the couple is the focus of the main plot. In urban fantasy, the world that the couple exists in is the focus."
I suppose that the focus is on the couple, which would make PULSE paranormal romance. It just doesn't fit in with the paranormal romance I've read so far.

In a side note, I would never compare my novel in a query to "Twilight" because it can't be done without coming off as presumptuous. Unless you are Stephenie Meyer. Then it's fine to say "I've been working on something a bit like Twilight."

But it's an indicator of unrealistic expectations and uncontrolled ego for an unknown author to do so. And I don't want to admit my unrealistic expectations straight off the bat.
Glutton for Punishment?

The Last Apprentice

The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

I haven't read the whole series- just the first four books-which right there tells you that these are a great read. I might read one book in an okay series, but not two, and certainly not four.

Tom Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son with some odd talents like seeing the dead. His parents have run out of money to pay for a more "mainstream" apprenticeship, so Tom is sent to the Spook to learn the art of fighting witches, warlocks, and other evil creatures that make life hard for folks in the County. It is lonely work, and some of it is scary, but Tom is a natural. He soon meets a girl in pointy shoes (the exact kind of girl in the exact kind of shoes that the Spook warned him to stay away from!) and struggles with if she is a benign witch or a malevolent one. Tom can't trust her...but there's something about her that makes him want to.

The Last Apprentice has the most innocent 'romance' I've seen in a recent series- it's very believable and doesn't push kids into adult situations. There's no mention of kissing until Alice's cousin tries to entrall Tom in a later book.

It reads a little darker than early Harry Potter, but is on par with the later ones- there are boggarts and witches, spirits and demons, and Tom spends a lot of time digging pits and lining them with his iron and salt mixture to trap them.

There's an interesting theme about the role of a Spook versus the role of a priest. In the beginning books, Tom seems to think that the priests just pray and aren't active enough in their fight against evil, but his tone changes as he becomes more experienced. I don't know how that will turn out, but the Spook respects his brother the priest, though the reverse is not true. 

Tom does make a lot of poor decisions, but some young men do *wink*, so it's not unbelievable. I'm not prone to nightmares, and didn't find the images particularily scary, but a lot of other reviewers have. I will wait until my son is at least 12 to introduce him to Tom Ward, but I'm sure they'll be good friends!  
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review of Tender Graces by Kathryn Magendie

I recently started reviewing books for the Richland County Public Library. Here's my review for Tender Graces.

"Virginia Kate left the mountains of West Virginia when she was a girl- sent away with her brothers to live with her well-intentioned father and new stepmom. She grew up, but the whispers of her mountain never left her heart.
So when her mother needs her again years later, Virginia Kate returns, bringing the ghosts of her childhood with her. She struggles to understand why her mother gave her up and to retain hope that her mother ever loved her.
Virginia Kate relives the humorous, the heartbreaking, and the joyous as she reconciles her childish understanding with wisdom.
TENDER GRACES feels like walking down a new path with an old friend, and the characters are believable and immediately engaging. The dialogue is so real that you feel like an eavesdropper, the scenery is beautiful without being overwhelming. You'll shut this book with a tear in your eye and a smile on your lips. Really."

I've enjoyed chatting with Kathryn, and you can get to know her at her website. Or Kathryn is also an editor of the literary magazine, "Rose and Thorn". They've just updated their website, so take a look. I enjoyed the short story "Can't Sleep" by Tai Dong Huai, about an older father talking to his daughter about his own father's death. Have a great weekend!

Glutton for Punishment?

Review of 'BUY-OLOGY' by Martin Lindstrom

I'm reading the recent books on marketing and neuromarketing in the public library, and I started with BUY-OLOGY by Martin Lindstrom. At the end, I relate this to keeping reader interest. It's basically the same skill set.(I got the cover from Amazon. You can't really click to look inside. Sorry.)

A few things stuck out-

1. Warning labels and pictures of tumors etc. on cigarrette packaging light up the craving centers of your brain.

2. Sex is Extremely Interesting- too interesting, in fact, for people to remember the product clearly.

3. We are emotional creatures, pretending we're rational.

First, a message from our sponsors. Ivory Soap. Is it a little warm in here?

Okay, back to cigarrette packaging. Back in the day, I had a developmentally disabled client who picked the skin on her fingers until it bled. My job was to determine the cause of the behavior, and give her caretakers a procedure to follow to decrease the behavior.

I discovered that the mere sight of a bandaid would start her picking. In behavioral terms, this is called a discriminative stimulus. A really great example of this is the Krispy Kreme "Hot Now" sign. That neon lights up, and you get hungry.

It sounds like the same mechanism. Your brain doesn't look for appropriateness when it makes associations. It looks for reliability. And the warning labels--designed to be noticeable--are very reliable at predicting a nicotine rush. Can you imagine seeing this and getting a jolt in your brain that it's time for a smoke?

Warning--yucky picture of a tumor below.
The hair is kind of nasty, too.

THIS PHOTO ACTIVATES PLEASURE CENTERS in smoker's brains in the UK, where these labels are used. If advertisers were smart, they'd plaster these health warnings all over billboards and magazines as public service announcements. Oh, wait...they do. It seems like a warning, but acts like a trigger.

It appears the most effective advertising is low level and insidious. Lindstrom writes about American Idol and Coke. The judges drink it; I knew that. But did you notice the warm-up room?

Concerning point number two-Sex. Our brains get so jazzed looking at sexual images that few brain cells are left to remember our names, much less which restaurant has these burgers. Seriously. I checked McD's, Burger King and Wendy's before I did a general search for "sexy hamburger commercial" and came up with Hardees. Don't click on this if you are a recovering pornaholic.

Overtly sexual advertising is less effective, according to Lindstrom, than merely being sexy, and he predicts that in ten or so years, after things have gotten MUCH more blatant, there will be a down swing in sex in commercials.

I doubt we'll ever go back to the simple sexuality of Schrader Universal Valve Caps, but advertising will be more integrated- though not neccessarily more subtle. Like the product placements in 'Heroes'. The cameo of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" made me poke my husband and say, "Ohh! That's an ad!"

Why is this so interesting to me as a writer?

Covers are their own type of branding. There's a well-muscled man with shoulder length hair, and buxom woman held tight against his chest. You know EXACTLY what you are getting when you buy a romance. A dude on a horse with a sword, a slightly grizzled, gray-bearded man in cloak beside him, and a thin woman with pointy ears and a long bow. Epic Fantasy. Etc. If you're a well-known author, the prominent feature of your book is your name (I can read KOONTZ on my bookshelf from across the room).

Covers do the same thing an ad in a magazine does. A cover should be familiar so you have some positive associations, and fresh, so it offers something new. Which is what agents seem to want in manuscripts. Different, but not too different.

The most effective covers will tell a story on their own. They will make the reader FEEL.

Third item gleaned from Buy-ology:we are emotional first, then rational.

Psychological phenomenon like Sour Grapes and Sweet Lemons are a part of every intro psych class. We talk up what we have, and downgrade what is unattainable, i.e.- I never wanted that promotion. I'm better off without him. I'm glad I got in a car accident; my car was old.

We roughly value things based on how much we pay for them. The interesting thing is, according to Lindstrom, we also enjoy them more. We enjoy them even more if we perceive them as high value, and perceive that we've gotten a deal.

Thus, the existence of 20% off stickers that drive me nuts. Can't people see through this? Do people think a store could stay in business if they weren't getting money to cover costs plus a mark-up?

This also explains why carpet stores are perpetually going out of business. But it still helps us assign value as we make a decision. It makes it easier for the consumer to feel good about the purchase.

So, I'm thinking about offering my book on Amazon for $34.99. And the 'perfect condition' used books will be $19.99. What a deal!

And I'm going to infuse the pages in Chapter Nine with the smell of campfire. Maybe Chapter One will have vanilla and frangipahi. Scented books are coming, I promise. (Scent is the biggest portal into our emotional brain. Sensory BrandingTM. Publishing example- Paper books have a sensory brand that is vastly different from eReaders.)

Marketing has parallels to basic storytelling. Don't let your character sit alone, musing about the terrible situation he's in, let him interact with another character. Better yet, he thinks she is hitting on him, but she's saying he's hot temperature-wise, not hawt. Interaction is interesting to our brains.

I get thirty pages into my book before you know my character's hair or eye color. I'm not sure if that will stand once I get editors and agents involved, but it's deliberate. A hundred pages in I give a concrete age for the protagonist.

I want women from 14-40 (and beyond) to be able to easily fit into her head. I don't want to put up a barrier in a first-person narrative, and I deliberately start with a scene that is familiar across the world- climbing a tree, afraid of falling. I'll let you know if it works.

If you find this interesting, please let me know and I'll keep writing about it.

One of life's disappointments is discovering that the man who writes the bank's ads is not the one who makes the loans.

Glutton for Punishment?


First of all, the Tooth Fairy visited last night. Emma's trap for fairy dust did not work, but the Tooth Fairy inadvertently (so we guess) walked across the dollar she left, leaving a very clear trail of high heel prints in gold glitter, about a size .03. Kapow! Take that, neighbors and friends parents! Our Tooth Fairy ROCKS!

Second, I have decided to split my writing and personal life into two separate blogs. Because "Ink Well" has been used, I am keeping my url "" for my personal life and have created a new writing blog "Book Readress". Get it? You are all welcome at either one. I just want to be free to talk about potty training without coming across as unprofessional:) I would also like to encourage you to click the button that says "Follow" because I'm not linking on Facebook every time I blog.

Third, I have a new publishing plan called "Live to be a Hundred". I was looking over Slate's list of powerful octogenarians, "80 over 80", and noticed that 18 of them were listed as writers. This is not counting the # 1 pick, President of the Mormon Church, Thomas S. Monson. He's written several books, so it should be 19/80. So roughly one out of four of the powerful octogenarians have written a book. Many of them are memoirs, but still. I tend to procrastinate, so I gave myself an extra twenty years.

Fourth, your comments make me smile.

I'm surprised we didn't get one of these letters from the Tooth Fairy.

Dear _________________ :

Thank you for leaving one [1] tooth under your pillow last night.

While we make every attempt to leave a monetary reward in the case
of lost or stolen children’s teeth, we were unable to process your
request for the following reason(s) indicated below:

( ) the tooth could not be found

( ) it was not a human tooth

( ) we do not think that pieces of chicken bone are very funny

( ) we were unable to approach the tooth due to excessive odor

( ) the tooth has previously been redeemed for cash

( ) the tooth did not originally belong to you

( ) the tooth fairy does not process fingernails

( ) your request has been forwarded to the Nerve Ending Fairy for
appropriate action

( ) you were overheard to state that you do not believe in the tooth

( ) you are age 12 or older at the time your request was received

( ) the tooth is still in your mouth

( ) the tooth was guarded by a vicious fairy-eating dog at the time
of our visit

( ) no night light was on at the time of our visit

( ) the snacks provided for the tooth fairy were not satisfactory,
or were missing

( ) we discovered evidence of unsafe tooth extraction as follows:
[ ] string
[ ] pliers
[ ] gunpowder
[ ] hammer marks
[ ] chisel
[ ] part of skull attached to tooth
[ ] no dental care
( ) other:

Thank you for your request, and we look forward to serving you in
the future.

Sincerely, The Tooth Fairy

From Funny Jokes blog.

Glutton for Punishment?

Why a Style Sheet? Or, How to Pretend to be a Professional Writer

I have a 382 page document sitting on my desk. It has 107,096 words in it.

Some of those words are 'gray'. Some are 'grey'. I didn't really think about it until I checked out a book on copy-editing. Some people actually pay attention to this stuff. Who knew?

They care, for instance, if you use:



Chapter One/Chapter 1/Ch. 1

Geroth (What is that? Only I know how to spell it, because I made it up.)

So, I read the book and started a style sheet. Now I can hyphenate consistently, use the same capitalizations, know which numbers to spell out and which to numerate, and generally look like a pro.

And when a real copyeditor gets my manuscript, I can give them the style sheet and avoid a few marks of the dreaded Red Pen. They'll know that 'geroth' is a real fake word, that Sleep is so important it's capitalized, and that I wear makeup, not make-up, when I want to feel la-ti-da. Or is it 'la ti da'? (I need a style sheet for the blog.)

But, you ask, how does one make a style sheet?

It's so easy.

On a legal pad, I made three columns and three rows. Nine boxes. Top left box is A-C, top middle is D-F, top right is G-I, etc. Under the G-I, I have written geroth. Then grey. Then Home. (I just started it. I haven't come across any A-C or D-F words yet.)

Then I have a space at the bottom labeled Miscallaneous where I demonstrated my chapter heading (I made a heading format on Microsoft Office, too, but sometimes things happen and I don't want to have to scroll to another chapter to see how I did it before.) And whenever I wonder, "Should it be 600, or six hundred, or six-hundred?" I can check in two seconds instead of 'finding' on the screen or flipping through pages if I'm working on a paper edit. The style sheet lets me pretend I'm organized, and that's a good feeling.

Another nice thing about the book 'Copyediting' is the inside covers give the copyediting symbols, so when I get my marked up manuscript back, I'll know what they mean. (It's not exactly what I learned in ninth grade english class.) Like making an 's' curve over and under words or letters means to transpose them. Or if you run a delete line through something, then change your mind, you put dots underneath it, meaning stet, or let it stand. (Stet will also over-ride the copyeditor's suggestion, but I'm just using this for my own edits right now. As a writer, I'd think carefully before ignoring their edits)

I learned the most doing the practice exercises. You, too, can develop your inner copyeditor. Then you'll get this joke:
Q. Does anal retentive have a hyphen?

A. Only when used in adjective form. Ha ha ha. That was a good one. Hey, why aren't you laughing?

Glutton for Punishment?