30 December, 2005

Accounting for taste

Interesting post over on the UK Historical Romance blog (scroll down to the post headlined 'There's no accounting for taste' on 30 December 2005).
The author argues that current commercial publishing is too focussed on fast-selling books and is failing to produce interesting authors, particularly in historical fiction. She says "Don't forget, fellow authors - when you sell your first book, you are not selling to the reading public, you are selling to agents and publishers. When the public gets to know you, then you can create demand and write what you want to write, but until then, you are not selling to the public". Rather a bleak prospect, I think, for both reader and writer.

However, she then goes on to talk in the post and in the comment thread about the developing importance of the internet in connecting writers directly to readers. The Grumpy Old Bookman discussed some examples of this on 20 December. Then on 22 December he followed up with the example of Gerard Jones, who has made his book Ginny Good available on his website for anyone to read or listen to as an audiobook. The internet means you can write what you want to write. You may not get paid for it, but if you hope for readers, rather than for an income, the choice is there.

Now there's an inspiring thought to take into a New Year.

O ye aspiring writers, look upon the Crapometer and despair

Miss Snark is spending her holiday season critiquing synopses on her blog. For anyone who doesn't know her, Miss Snark is an anonymous New York literary agent who dispenses wit and wisdom to the writers (known as Snarklings) who email her with their questions. The blog is always worth reading, as much for Miss Snark's style as for the advice itself. Just now it's even more illuminating than usual. Before Christmas, Miss Snark invited her Snarklings to submit synopses of their novels and she is now running them through her Crapometer and posting the results. There were 106 submissions, so you have to admire the lady's stamina as well as her generosity. So far there are 57 posted, and Miss Snark says she is on track to finish by Sunday.

The synopsis is probably the hardest thing to write, even worse than the query letter and certainly far, far worse than writing the novel in the first place. Much advice is available on the web and in "How to Sell Your Novel" books. The trouble I have with said advice is that a lot of it is contradictory. Some sources say the synopsis should be a detailed summary of the plot and character development, others say it should be <300 words to convey that the story has some kind of shape. Some say it should be in very straightforward prose, others say it must convey writing style and 'voice'. Some say it's a selling tool, like the blurb on the back of a paperback, others say it mustn't attempt to sell the book and should be a simple description of what happens. Some say it should start with a 'hook' or a question, some say it should be split into sections such as 'Theme', 'Characters', 'Plot' etc., some say it should include snippets of dialogue. And so on. There are a few areas of agreement: the synopsis must be in third-person present tense, and it must demonstrate that the novel is fresh, new and original, but also fits neatly into a pre-existing popular market genre.

Confused? I don't blame you. Which is why Miss Snark's Crapometer posting is so valuable. There's nothing like seeing real examples eviscerated by an expert for an effective learning experience. Even if you're not struggling with a synopsis, some of the comments will surely amuse. Miss Snark's style is reminiscent of Dorothy Parker, though fortunately for the brave Snarklings not quite so merciless - no synopsis has (yet) been dismissed with the equivalent of "Tonstant Weader fwowed up".

So far my favourite is the crime caper 'The Wrong Pages', featuring glamorous New York literary agent Selina Snark, her selfless poodle, a vital state secret sent by mistake instead of sample chapters for a thriller, CIA agents, investigative reporters, Al Quaida, a subway strike and a date with George Clooney. It's Crapometer #10. Go on, brighten your day.

28 December, 2005

Winning titles

I always have difficulty coming up with a catchy, attractive title for a story. If, like me, you have the same problem, help may be at hand.

An article in the Books section of the Guardian reports the results of a statistical survey commissioned by Lulu.com on what makes a winning title.

Don't take it too seriously though, as the model doesn't accommodate the success of The Da Vinci Code, or the Harry Potter series. Content may have something to do with success after all.