Posted in Book covers, Genres, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

The dumbing down of ‘chick-lit’

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I already know what ‘serious’ writers are going to say: chicklit is ‘dumb’ by definition. I beg to differ; however, I also think that the derision isn’t entirely without foundation. My own reading and writing habits have led me to this conclusion. But let’s start in broader terms to address the question of whether writing and the literature that is the result has, overall, suffered from the dreaded ‘dumbing down.’ Many believe so.

In a 2015 piece by Stephen Carter, a Blomberg View columnist (he also happens to be both a law professor at Yale and a novelist), he quotes prominent science fiction writer Ursula K. Leguin who refers to what she sees as the twenty-first century formulaic creation of best sellers in this way: “The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food…I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese.”[1]

Of course she refers to the influence of Amazon and its well-pondered algorithm for determining best-seller status. Carter, however, isn’t buying it. He believes that perhaps a more important part of the issue is that readers’ tastes have changed; attention spans are shorter. Perhaps we have done it to ourselves. But others take a different view.

There is much grumbling in the ‘serious’ writers’ communities about the perceived negative impact of self-publishing on current literature; there is a significant sentiment (not held by all self-described serious writers, I might add) that it has been the proliferation of unedited self-published books that has had the most serious effect.

One online writer has suggested that “with self-publishing it seems like the editors have all disappeared. Ten or more books on recent New York Times Best Sellers List are there because the millions of fanboys and fangirls have bought their hero’s book…maybe the bar is set a bit too low.”[2]

So there seem to be two issues that people consider to be characteristics of ‘dumbed-down literature.’ The first one (and a big one for people like me who have taught writing over the years) is the issue of actual command of the language including grammar, syntax, spelling, word choice and all those things that our English teachers tried to inculcate in us over the years. The second one is the substance – or lack thereof – of the books that are popular today.

In my view, the truth is that quality writing can be practiced in any genre from literary fiction to popular erotica and everything in between. The topic seems secondary; if you’re passionate about writing it, you’re good at it, and your readers love it (or at least the first two if your readers haven’t found you yet), then I say write on. Even if what you write is derided by some as merely ‘chick lit.’

In general, the term chick lit means any literature that appeals mostly to women. So, what’s wrong with that? Does that make it dumb? If chick lit is dumb, then women are dumb by extension. Don’t say that to my face. But has even literature aimed at women been dumbed down? I have a personal hate on for many pieces of chick lit and it isn’t for the reasons you might think.

In my view, women are infantilized by their chick lit not so much by the stories or the writing, but byu the covers. Have you looked at any lately? I’ve been examining them as we contemplate the design of my new book which is women’s fiction. Is this really how women see themselves?

final-promo-art-uk
Need I say more?

 

chk_jpg
Okay, just a bit more!

 

 

Well, I’m a smart woman and I write #litforintelligentchicks. In fact, I love to read chick lit, but I can’t get to your really great story if I feel infantilized by the dumb cover – whether it’s an illustration or a stock photo depicting a sweaty clinch and a few bits of a six-pack.

Okay, my rant is over. Back to the drawing board for that new cover.

Sources:

[1] Stephen L. Carter. June 11, 2015. Don’t Blame Amazon For Dumbing Down Literature. Bloomberg View. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-11/why-ursula-k-le-guin-s-amazon-pan-is-only-half-right

[2] Self-publishing and the Dumbing Down of Literature. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/21/1452940/-Self-Publishing-And-The-Dumbing-Down-Of-Literature

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Posted in Book marketing, Book trailers, Fortune

Book Trailers: For fun or profit?

Clapper BoardIt happens every time I finish a book-length project. I begin to think about marketing the book to readers who might like/love/need/enjoy it. Of course if it’s a non-fiction book, I’ve given it a lot of thought up front because publishers these days want a fairly well-fleshed-out marketing plan from an author as part of the book proposal long before the book is even completed. If it’s a piece of fiction, I write what I write then think about marketing it after it’s published. I can’t help it; I’m a writer not a content creator! But, what about that marketing?

Well, it’s like this. There are lots of places these days that will purport to be the best places to get your book in front of readers; however, on closer inspection, the members are usually other wannabe writers trying to get their books in front of readers. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. But, if you have a book that takes off, good for you. The elements of a well-constructed book marketing plan may or may not be part of it. But, what precisely is included in that plan?

One of the elements often touted these days is the inclusion of a book trailer. What is a book trailer, you say? Glad you asked, because I love developing them – whether or not they are really useful marketing tools (more about that as we proceed).

I’ve written about book trailers before – almost every time I have a new one I can hardly wait to write about them – not because they are so wonderful, but because I think they are fun. Yes, that’s it – I think they’re fun.

As I defined them in a long-ago blog post, “…a book trailer is a short video clip that presents a small sample of a book in a similar format to that of a movie.” When I wrote that original post (Book trailers Part 1) and its follow-up (Book Trailers: What’s the Point?) way back in 2011, book trailers were very new. There was very little information on the impact they may or may not have on books sales, but what I did perceive at the time was this: quite apart from the unknown of whether or not someone would actually be inclined to buy a book based on seeing a trailer, how that trailer made its way onto someone’s computer screen would be paramount in finding out if it could be be an effective sales tool.

Fast-forward five years, and here we are still discussing the same issue. Again, I’ve been searching for data on the impact of book trailers.

There is little doubt that in the past five years online video in general has seen an incredible upsurge. That by itself, however, doesn’t bolster any data supporting the usefulness of the book trailer. According to one video trailer producer, “Readers are 64% more likely to purchase your book if they see a book trailer that effectively promotes your book. (Source: ComScore)” and “Visitors to your author website stay an average of 2 minutes longer than on author sites that do not use video. (Source: ComScore)”.[1] FYI: according to their web site ComScore is “a leading cross-platform measurement company that precisely measure audiences, brands and consumer behavior…”[2] Of course, MacLain reiterates the notion that distribution is key. You can have the most fantastic, well-planned and well-executed video but if no one knows it exists, its going to be for your eyes only.

Of course there are reasons you might want to skip the book trailer production all together. Marisol Dahl, writing on The Write Life Blog suggests that a bad book trailer is worse than no trailer at all, and further reiterates that it can be difficult to determine return on investment (and the investment can be massive).[3]

The truth is that most of those touting the value of book trailers are usually individuals and companies who actually produce trailers. Unless they have hard data, their promotion of book trailers as a sales tool is pretty self-serving. Book trailers certainly should be useful marketing tools if we just had a way to track their success after wide distribution.

I personally love planning and writing scripts for book trailers then giving that script to my trusty video developer (my husband) and letting him loose on the material. I keep them brief (certainly under two minutes, generally under a minute-and-a-half), and share them as widely as I can. So, if you’ve considered a book trailer I can give you several caveats as a writer for their production.

You probably want a book trailers if:

  1. You think it’s fun to have one;
  2. You can write a brief, tight script;
  3. You can give the potential reader a glimpse of the material without giving it all away;
  4. You can afford to produce one;
  5. You have somewhere to post it; and
  6. You have no illusions about how many sales it might garner.

If you can’t fulfil all of these, you might want to step away.

Anyway, I think they’re fun. If you a minute, here’s my latest trailer for my new medical thriller The Body Traders.

 

 

[1] Jerome MacLain as quoted in “Book Trailers And Using Video For Book Marketing” by Joanna Penn (March 2, 2015). http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/03/02/book-trailers/

[2] https://www.comscore.com/About-comScore

[3] Marison Dahl November 5, 2015. “Are Book Trailers a Marketing Must-Have?” http://thewritelife.com/are-book-trailers-a-marketing-must-have/

Posted in Backstory, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing books

Reviving old manuscripts: 5 things a writer might consider

life without endMany years ago – in a former lifetime even before my academic career – I worked in the field of organ transplantation. I was called an “organ procurement officer.” An odd title, you say? Yes, odd indeed. My responsibilities included overseeing the transplant coordinators who were tasked with ensuring donor organs made it to appropriate recipients (kidneys and livers mostly in those days), and the public education programming for increasing organ donations. This latter responsibility involved developing strategic promotion plans, writing about organ donation and making copious numbers of public presentations. All in a day’s work.

While I was working in the field I became fascinated with the myriad ethical dilemmas posed by the transplantation process itself, but more so by the way the health professionals involved in transplantation demonstrated a kind of fervour, often bordering on the religious, about their chosen medical field. It was this fascination that led me to research and write my very first non-fiction book many years ago.

Life Without End: The Transplant Story was my take on the ethics and politics of organ transplantation in Canada at the time, and I think it’s fair to say that not all of what I wrote made the folks I had worked with happy. Some of them were very unhappy indeed.

That was my last job in the real world before I started my academic career, but stories about organ transplantation never really left my monkey mind. So, not long after that first book was published I started writing a novel about what might happen if that kind of religious fervour about transplantation got out of hand. When I finished the manuscript I shopped it around to agents which resulted in finding one who actually loved the story and decided to take it on. She did her job (or at least I guess she did – we never did meet only talked on the phone), sending me detailed lists of where she had sent the manuscript and what the results were. She never did sell it, so I filed it away in the depths of my electronic writing files and almost, but not quite, forgot about it.

With the advent of electronic publishing the idea of reviving old manuscripts in my files began to take shape. I’m a firm believer, though, that not everything we write needs to be published, or even should it be published. Sometimes our writing is either for our eyes only (or ought to be) or it is our writing practice. I had never thought of this novel as being practice, though; rather I had believed it was ready to make its way out into the world. So I finally decided that The Body Traders would see the light of day.THE Body Traders cover FINAL for print front

First I reread it and found that I still loved the story. Then I spent a lot of time over the past year rewriting and updating it. You can well imagine that a book written more than a decade ago would need a tweak or two: for example, back when I worked in transplantation we carried pagers – no one even had a cell phone! Updating was indeed required!

I considered shopping it again, but in the end decided to self-publish. So, what did I learn from this process? I learned that there are several things you need to consider when deciding to revive an old manuscript.

  1. Ask yourself why you want to publish it now. Do you just want to see it in print (electronic or otherwise)? If the answer is yes, I suggest you need a better reason. There are a lot of books out there these days that no one will ever read. If you really don’t care if anyone else reads it, perhaps you need to put it away. “Publication” and “publish” both refer to “public” meaning that the work should be for the public.
  2. Reread it to see if you still feel as enthusiastic about it now as you did when you finished it. If you don’t, put it back in the electronic drawer and step away.
  3. Analyse it for it currency. Are the ideas still resonant? Will current readers appreciate the themes? If you aren’t sure, ask someone whose opinion you value to read it. Perhaps even consider beta readers.
  4. Edit the manuscript for specifics that will bring the details up to date. For example, if the protagonist still uses payphone, unless it’s part of a quirky character trait, you need to do a bit of updating.
  5. When you have finished the rewrite based on your own analysis, feedback from others’ and your update, read it again to see if you still feel enthusiastic. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to press the publish button!