Thursday, January 29, 2009

When is New Media Too Much New Media?

I've been contemplating this question for a while...I feel like I could spend my entire day on things like Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, MySpace (which, actually I never really deal with anymore), but there are so many new sites/tools out there to connect with other writers and/or readers that it's almost become a job in and of itself.

As I mentioned a week or so ago, I decided to join Twitter....and to be honest, I'm not sure if it's for me. I suppose that you get out of things what you put into them, but between writing my book, working on my celeb interviews, doing TOML stuff (still doing that months after its release) and the 1000 other things I have to deal with in the time when my sitter arrives and when she leaves (including but not limited to: walking the dog, squeezing in a workout, planning dinner, running errands, going to meetings, going to dr's appts, going to a million different things, oh...and working), and I'm not sure that I have it in me to keep up with this tweeting thing. But, on the other hand, as someone who recognizes the value of these online marketing opportunities, I'm hesitant to discard it altogether, even though I fully recognize that it probably isn't my bag.

It's interesting what the internet has done to book promotion and author accessibility. Gone are the days when book tours were a must. Now these days, what is a must? Tweeting? Facebooking? Blogging? Websiting? I don't know - where does it end? It feels like every year, something new will crop up, and I'll be honest, I was iffy on FB originally and now I can't live without it, though I try to use it strictly for personal, not professional, reasons. (I.e, I don't use it for networking and don't friend people I don't know - and vice versa, but regardless, it's been invaluable in terms of promoting within my pool of friends and people with whom I'm back in touch.) So it's not as if these places don't have a lot of value; I recognize that they's just...where does it end? An author could spend all of her time networking and blogging and tweeting and whatnot and never actually devote herself to the important things.

I dunno. It's just food for thought right now. For me, this blog has been the best marketing tool I've opted for, but when people ask me if they should start their own blogs, it's hard for me to say affirmatively yes because, after all, who knows how well they'll use them? Maybe Twitter is a better choice or maybe nothing at all. Maybe they should just spend their time writing. I don't know. The possibilities are endless. Maybe it's just up for each person to decide. For now, I'm hanging onto my Twitter page, even if I don't make much of a tweet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Titles

Question of the day: Where do titles come from? I feel like I'm asking "Where do babies come from?"! ;-) Seriously, though, how do you come up with the titles of your book?

Well, for starters, I actually didn't come up with the title The Department of Lost and Found. My agent's boss did. Yes, really. I'd originally title the book, Round Trip, as in, the book is divided into chemo rounds, and I also thought it spoke somewhat metaphorically about Natalie's journey. But my agent, before shopping around, deemed it not marketable enough, and thus her whole firm brainstormed potential titles. (I chimed in as well.) We batted some things around, and TDLF was finally anointed the winner.

I think the key is to come up with a title that isn't so, so esoteric, isn't too generic, and at the same time is catchy enough to stick in readers' heads. Oh, and it needs to also represent the larger themes of the book. Yikes. No small feat.

So when I came time to name TOML, I knew that I wanted something that really captured the ethereal feel of the book but at the same time had a certain, if I tell someone the title, he or she won't have a hard time remembering it. (For example, I know that one of my all-time favorite books, Then We Came to The End, got some flack because critics thought the title was hard to remember...I dunno, I thought it was fine, but maybe that's an example of something that's a little too out-there to really stick in readers' brains? Not that the book had any problems: it was a huge smash seller, but I'm trying to think of an example to represent what I'm talking about. Conversely, another one of my favorite books, Good Grief, as what I deem a perfect title: catchy, sticky and the complete embodiment of what the book's overall themes are.) So, anyway, back to TOML: because I'm so inspired by music and listen to it 24/7 when I'm not writing, I actually started searching song titles for inspiration. (Actually this is after I'd thrown out several clunkers to my agent and editor...we gave it a title after we sold the book with the first 100 pages written.) I think I probably found 7 or so that could have worked well...some played off song titles, and some, like what we ended up with, is obviously an actual song title. (Pre-David Cook!) I fired off an email to the two of them, and we all just had that light bulb moment that you hope to have: yes! This is the perfect title for the pages inside.

With HAPPIEST DAYS, I did something similar - scoured song titles and went with something that I thought would sum up the book best. But this time, it was a little trickier because I hadn't (and haven't) written the entire book. Still though, knowing what I intend to write, I think I'll be fine.

One thing to keep in mind, when naming your book, is that once you sell it, the marketing dept may well change it. There's a lot of emphasis on finding just the right title to embody all of the things I mentioned above, so if you feel like yours isn't quite on the mark, don't worry, someone will let you know. :)

Writers out there - how do you choose your titles, and published authors, have you ever had your title changed? I'm curious to hear.

Monday, January 26, 2009

For Better or Worse

So I've talked a lot on this blog about how I think it's important to be open to constructive criticism, and this advice has really hit close to home recently, as I attempt to shape my next book and hopefully grow as a writer as I do so. One thing that I've found myself doing is replaying some of the common criticisms from readers in my mind. (Yes, I know, it's hard to believe but there are folks out there who didn't like TOML! LOL. Really.) The truth is that I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many authors who don't read their reviews and, well, on the internet, people feel free to say just about anything (especially when it's anonymous), so we writers really can see and read how we disappointed readers, and of course, conversely, when we made them happy.

So it's been interesting as I write HAPPIEST DAYS, both in the positive and negative sense of the word "interesting." Because, to be honest, it's hard to erase some of those criticisms from clanging around my brain (they linger long after the positive reviews flee your mind), but maybe that's an okay thing. One thing that a lot of readers have written to me about personally (yes, people actually take the time to write me to air both their raves and their grievances) is the foul language in the book. Huh. It actually never even occurred to me, to be honest, that Jillian's inner-monologue, complete with curse words, might offend people. And truthfully, I felt and still feel that this was her honest dialogue with herself and I wouldn't change that even today, knowing that it upsets some readers. It would be disingenuous to both the character and the writing process. But with Tilly, my next protagonist, I AM keeping this in mind. She's softer than Jillian, and maybe I'd have dropped more F-bombs in this one if not for those readers, but I realize now that I don't have to...and trying to please them is actually okay with me. I can find other ways to say what I wanted to say without swearing.

That's an easy concession. There are other criticism that are harder to accommodate, but I'm trying to listen to what readers had to say and use it wisely. Some readers complain about lack of character development, which I really don't get, but maybe that's because I knew these characters so well in my mind. But I've read this complaint a few times, and thus, maybe it makes it a little more valid, a little more worth considering. NOT that it shapes my writing, but maybe it can make it stronger. Maybe, when I'm thinking about Tilly, I can dig a little deeper to create a more dimensional character. I don't know. The truth is that I truly don't know if I can because I really felt like I laid Jillian pretty bare. But I'm trying to learn from these comments and see what I can do with them.

The truth is that once you're published, it's probably easier to rest on your laurels. But it's also a little scarier. At least for me. I absolutely DO NOT want to put out a book, which I deem as wholly representative of my capabilities, that isn't up to my standards. And thus, it only seems wise to listen to these reviews, and when there is somewhat of a collective agreement on my weaknesses, to see where I can bolster up my writing. I'm not going to get rejected by agents or editors anymore - these objective readers might be my only outlet for honest (and sometimes down right rude! LOL) criticism.

Obviously, there is a fine line to walk here: you can't become so absorbed with these reviews that you become paralyzed. I admit that it's tough: I keep thinking: character development, character development, character development, and it might be hampering me. But better that I'm aware of these things - and at least making the attempt to improve myself - than to have my head stuck in the sand and think that I can't make myself a stronger writer.

So...I don't really know where I'm going with this! :) Only to say that I know that a lot of you guys are still honing your writing and are often faced with criticism. So maybe this is my way of saying, hey, you can use it to your advantage - at least, I'm going to try to.