Monday, August 3, 2015

Time Sensitive Material May Hurt Your Books Marketability

So, you are sitting around one day and you have this great idea for a story. There is a hot new trend going on around you. Everyone is "in" on it and you are now thinking, "Hey, why not write a story based on that idea?" You might have heard a common phrase used over and over again so now you incorporate that phrase into your characters speech pattern. While this seems like a great idea, it might not be the best approach to take when it comes to your writing.

We are all told to stay ahead of those trends. Get on that wave just as it takes off and ride it for as long as it takes. While many of these "fads" do end up becoming trends, many more often die off within a short period of time. Incorporating those ideas into your book can really date it and could potentially hurt the marketability both now or in the long run.

Let's assume, you did get that book sold to an editor. Because the trend is going well, the book may just take off. You have a career and maybe you are thinking of building part of a brand around this new approach. But when that trend disappears, the readers out there will not be flocking to that book. They will be hoping you have something new, something a little "more current." As for that book that did so well, the odds are it will disappear into obscurity. Don't expect a lot in "back list" sales either.

Yes, I understand that book did well right there and then. Heck, you might have made a lot of money off of that one book, but this industry is about longevity. We want that book to keep on selling. We want people talking about that writing 5 years or longer.

I should note, I am not just talking about entire plots built around these trends. We are also talking about those little nuggets you toss into the story that might date it. I was recently reading a contemporary and was wondering why the book kept getting on my nerves. The problem was the phrasing. This author had the teenage character obsessing over "hash-tag" comments. Every time I turned a page, there was another "hash tag - this" or "hash tag - that". For me that ranks up there with the line I hear people using FAR TOO OFTEN...

"I know, right??"

That same limits to your marketability can also come from stories set around holidays. Think of those stories that come out at Christmas time. You have to understand that publishers have limited shelf space. This means that we are talking supply and demand. There are just so many Christmas stories that the market can handle. And that limited shelf space is not due to "the rise of e-books" but the simple fact that book stores have closed and the stores we used to buy books at are now filling the space with "as seen on TV" like items (but that is another story).

Think about, however, the stories that you have read over and over again. Although we know those stories were written in a particular time period, the author has focused his or her attention on the plot of the story and on the narrative. The author has also, painstakingly, kept those time markers to a minimum. By doing so, the book has remained, at some level, "timeless."

So, as you get ready to add that new "hot trend" stop and think about it first. Will this limit you with sales now or in the future?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Overusing Tropes Can Be Dangersous

A trope, by definition, is the use of a figurative language. In other words, authors would use a trope to get across a meaning, different than what the literature language would mean. But, within literature, tropes have taken on a new definition. Writers will often hear professionals talking about common tropes as being, reoccurring motifs or cliches within stories. Some of those common tropes we have seen can include (but not limited to):

  • Millionaire hotty heroes
  • Lost loves regained
  • Arranged marriages
  • Unknown baby stories
  • Overheard conversations
  • Ugly duckling stories
  • Marriage of convenience
  • etc.
Unfortunately, for the romance industry, many authors have missed the point when it comes to tropes and doing one of two things. Either A) they are assuming the trope is a template to the entire story; or B) believing if one trope is good, more is better.

What writers need to understand is that using a trope is fine, but misusing a trope (or multiple tropes) does result in a story that sounds formulaic. This will also lead to stories that come across sounding very forced and unnatural.

We see this a lot in series romance. Authors have this assumption that a particular series line has to have a plot that is constructed 100% around those tropes. Take, for example, the Harlequin American line. When you read the description, you can see how easily an author can fall into the trap of overusing tropes:

You love small towns and cowboys! Harlequin American Romance stories are heartwarming contemporary tales of everyday women finding love, becoming part of a family or community—or maybe starting a family of her own.

But here is the thing. The real element that makes a story great for the American line is the second part of that description. "...heartwarming contemporary tales of everyday women finding love, becoming part of a family or community - or maybe starting a family..." The comment about the small towns and the cowboys would be the trope elements, but this does not mean it IS the story.

Digging deeper into the submission guideline information further supports that the tropes DO NOT make the story:

  • Central romance is driven by the hero's or heroine's (or both) desire to be a part of a family or community
  • Stories showcase the comforts of home and a sense of place – particularly the charm of small-town America and the ruggedness of western locales
  • Must be set in the USA
  • Western heroes and heroines are very popular – cowboys (ranchers, rodeo riders), law enforcement (sheriffs, deputies, Texas Rangers), etc
  • All stories must feature strong family elements such as pregnancy, young children, blended families, etc
  • Warmhearted stories offer a range of tones, from light humor to drama
  • Level of sensuality is low to moderate
  • Word count of 55,000 means stories must be fast-paced and plot-driven

Stories showcase comforts of home
Strong family elements such as pregnancy, young children...

Please note, there are suggestions of certain tropes (cowboys, ranchers, law-enforcement) but this does not mean you have to incorporate all of these.

When we talk about using tropes, we are basing these ideas around common themes market research is showing that the readers like and gravitate to.

The thing to remember is the trope does not make the story. As seen is this single submission guideline, it is the theme that creates the story. It is the theme and the message that dictates the plot you want to use and the characters that you want to tell that story.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Marketing Your First Book

I remember several years ago, there was an advertisement, I believe for the military, that had these young men and women being turned away because they "had no experience." The argument was that to get a job, you needed the experience, but without a job, you couldn't gain that experience. For new authors, they too face much of the same struggle as they write those query letters to editors and agents.

As a part of your query, it is important that you demonstrate to that editor or agent that you are not a "one-hit-wonder." We know that unless that first book is the next Great American Novel, seeing a profit for the work we put in for that author is not going to happen for a while. It takes time to see that profit as the author builds his or her audience. So how do you show that you aren't a one hit wonder.

First of all, think about future projects. Sure, this might be the only book you have written, but what else is planned. Determine what that next book is going to be. Take the time to develop blurbs for that next book, or if the one you are marketing is part of a series, know what the next books will focus on.

Even better, take the time, again, before you send out that first query, to write a synopsis for that next story. Maybe even take the time to write the first three chapters of the next project. The point is that you know where you will be heading after this first book.

There is an added benefit to this as well. Let's assume the first book isn't quite right, but the editor or agent likes your voice. Often, we will say something such as "You know, this one isn't quite right, but what else do you have?" If you took the time to write that brief information for the next project, you won't be caught off guard.

Now what about the wording in the query. The first thing I would recommend is to not play up the fact that this is your first book. Doing so makes you come across as not being as strong as you want to be. Simply market the book, be confident and provide those blurbs for the other stories.

The point is, we all have to start out somewhere. But, if you take the time to focus not on what you don't have, but to focus on what you have to offer, you come across as being that author we are wanting to work with.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Motivation For Tuesday


If you remember the movie Dumbo, there is the scene with Casey Junior climbing that hill. It is a tough go but the little train doesn't give up. The puffing engine just keeps saying  "I Think I Can."

For writers, there will be a lot of times you have a tough go with your writing. You will want to give up. Some of you have and you are just sitting there doing nothing about your writing. But to truly be successful, you cannot just quit. You have to be just like that train.

And remember, when the train hit the top and overcame that obstacle, the next thing we heard was the excited puffing of "I Knew I Could!!!"

Now, get off your butt and get writing for the day.