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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Warning: this product may drive you nuts

Okay, guys, there's something I've been wondering about and I'd value your feedback. Looking over reviews and general response, the book is doing just dandy - but there's an issue that may need addressing in the light of some newfangled technology I've gotten involved with.

Basically, the problem is this: to some people, the words 'werewolf' and 'female lead', taken together, promise a book that will be like Laurell K. Hamilton, Kelley Armstrong, Underworld, or generally speaking, a female empowerment fantasy involving a kick-ass, wise-ass, generally positive-ass heroine. I've got nothing against empowerment fantasies in themselves, but that ain't the kind of book I wrote; if anything, it's a study of disempowerment. This tends to piss the empowerment types off. Expecting something larger-than-life and cathartically gratifying, they run into characters and situations that I worked quite hard to make naturalistic and life-sized, and then they get bored and frustrated. They assume that, at best, they bought the book due to false advertising, and at worst, that I was trying to write an empowerment fantasy and messed it up. The underlying assumption is that there's only one way to write a book with werewolves and a female lead.

Now, using werewolves is not, to my mind, a binding promise to write a book just like other books that also have werewolves in them. Frankly, I think that's silly; I wrote about working in an office as well, but that doesn't mean I've promised to write like Ricky Gervais. Come to that, J.R.R. Tolkien was very fond of trees, and so am I - proofreading the novel, I found that I mentioned trees repeatedly. Doesn't mean I've promised to write The Lord of the Rings, though. It's that old genre stereotype rearing its ugly head again; people are assuming I must be influenced by books I hadn't even heard of when I started writing my novel, and getting all impatient when they find that I'm not.

I feel like I ought to issue some sort of a warning: this book may contain werewolves. It has, however, been factory-tested and found to contain no larger-than-life female empowerment fantasies, and asses will only be kicked in naturalistic proportions. Among other things, I fear the assumption may be putting off readers who don't like empowerment books but might like mine. I don't want to rob empowerment fans of their hard-earned money when my book isn't what they want, either - I know how annoying it is to find you don't like a book you've bought. (Okay, in strict honesty, part of me doesn't want to rob people. The rest of me has bills to pay, but I'm trying not to listen to that bit.)

This is particularly a concern since my MySpace page is now up and running, and has over a thousand people on the 'friends' section (how about that, eh? What do you think of your little friend now?). MySpace is freely available and many a person may simply see the full moon and think, 'Oh great, another one of those books I like.' Followed by 'Yuck, this isn't what I wanted at all!' I do not want a thousand people pissed off at me, and a statement of some kind might lessen the risk.

But is there a way of doing it without sounding like a lunatic? Or like I'm having a go at writers I've got nothing against, just don't want to be mistaken for?

Random House are going to put the first chapter of Bareback online, and my plan is to put a link to it on the MySpace page, so people can decide whether or not they like my style without having to buy a copy; is that enough?

Or should I just shut up and hope for the best?

Well, I think you should keep shtum because the reviews already on the book give quite a good idea what it is about. Why is it your fault if someone gets the wrong end of the stick because they impose expectations on the book which are at best unreasonable? For example, you have one review which says that you "... takes the noir crime novel and does something exceptional..." or words to that effect. You DO NOT have reviews which say "This is real kick-ass chick-lit - buy it now if your b/f has just dumped you and you need reaffirmation!"
Your book is intelligent and provocative, and I don't see how anyone looking for some light, fluffy beat-em-up stuff could get confused - or rather, if they do, I'd hazard a guess that it may be their own fault. Just a little.

In my opinion, your book does exactly what it says on the tin (well, in the reviews and synopsis), and as long as potential readers get as far as picking the thing up and looking at it, you should be in the clear. Maybe you could think about making the reviews/synopsis more prominent on your myspace page, rather than actually issuing a statement?
Look, you've taken a risk, there's no doubt about that. But the book is out there so what can you do? I say it's going well so far so if it's what you want to do, why not keep riding it as long as possible? And if that means that some people pick up Bareback/Benighted and expect to discover Buffy the Werewolf Slayer, then oh, well. They'll either move on or you'll have picked up some new fans. Probably a little bit of both.

BTW, my copy of Benighted came from Amazon yesterday and I started reading last night. It's still early, but the thumbs are twitching in an upward direction so far. :)
I think linking to the first chapter and putting up quotes from reviews should be more than enough. Buying a book is always a venture into the unknown--or what would be the point? Personally I'm weary to death of kick-ass female protagonists. They make me feel tired. The pendulum will swing back eventually--you may yet discover you're 'ahead of your time' or something equally unlooked for.

Which isn't to say that I don't feel sorry for anyone who reads my story Sundown in the belief that it's a nice little story about a private eye who rescues wounded birds....
I think some of us would love to read your book, Buffy. Exactly where might we get it?
Sure, people buy books based on cover art and their own preconceptions about what a particular genre can and cannot hold between the pages...But just as you don't want to necessarily be defined and confined to the empowerment camp, neither do you want to do the opposite and make that warning statement of, If you don't like such-and-such, you won't like my books. Who knows? Maybe the empowerment groupies will realize there is much to be enjoyed in your story.

And I agree with what the others above have said. Buying a book is a risk. We all take them. You can't help it if someone risks themselves on your book and doesn't end up liking it. The chapter sample should be a great effort, and hopefully will draw in more people than it will turn away.

Right, well, I'm hearing a definite vote for keeping it zipped. I shall follow your advice. Thanks, guys; much appreciated. :-)
Thanks for asking, chris :). I'm still trying to get representation for my novels, but my short story Sundown is out in Issue 0 of GUD Magazine, available in both print and .pdf versions. You can read the first page in the .pdf teaser. Other stories I've written are available to read free at Alternate Species.
Thanks for the links Buffy! :-)

I actually wrote some thing there before I realised that you might not be the person I thought you were... If you see what I mean... Anyway, interesting places - thanks!
Now I'm worried! Am I the person I think I am?

Well, I'm still getting ignored in the GUD lobby... A bit like marriage really! :-)
Well I found out about you through your myspace page.

It/you sent my myspace a message mentioning that I liked James Ellroy and so perhaps I might like your book.

Then when I got to your page I was flabbergasted to discover that your book is nothing to do with James Ellroy as far as I can tell.

Sor perhaps thats some bad marketing.

Personally I have never read a book about werewolves and though I love Buffy and Angel on TV I wouldn't really ever think about reading a book that covered similar material. But if I did I would hope it would be realistic rather than unbelievable like all the best work of that kind is.

I may read your book at some point, the more I read your blog the more appealing reading it becomes.

Your subject matter does no doubt put a lot of people off and attract some other people.

Do you have much say at all as its author how it is packaged and promoted?
The reason James Ellroy was mentioned was that several people who read the novel said it had a James Ellroy feel - set in a police department where corruption is a fact of life, with a dark world view. Superficially it's different, but there are some similarities of tone. I don't know what you'd class as 'to do with' Ellroy, but I think you might be being too literal. Which is sort of the point I was making here. There are superficial resemblances and fundamental resemblances, and the superficial ones aren't a good guide.

I have a cordial relationship with the PR department. I suggest things, they suggest things; they respect the fact that it's my book, I respect the fact that they know more about marketing than I do. I don't always know everything they do, because a)I trust them to get on with things, b)I'm not the boss of them so they don't have to tell me every little thing they get up to, and c) telling me everything they do would take up too much of their finite time, and it's better for all concerned if they spend that time marketing. On the other hand, if I have an idea for promoting it, I ring them up and put it to them. It's a collaboration.
That sounds pretty nice. It is the big fear of every writer I know that they'll get a terrible front cover and/or dust jacket blurb. Glad its working so well for you.

I didn't mean to criticise your myspacing me about James Ellroy, I think that has worked well cos I was obviously intrigued enough to discover your blog. And the more I disagree with you about publishing the more I want to read your book!!
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