How Long Should It Be? (Poll)

Get your mind out of the gutter. That’s not what I’m talking about! I’m talking about excerpts posted on an author’s website.

I want to know because I’m getting ready to put up PDFs of the excerpts from all my books, and I’m putting some thought into making those excerpts longer in the PDF (with perhaps slightly shorter ones on the actual website pages) to give folks a better flavor for my work before they make the decision to buy (or, more accurately, hope I can hook you in so you can’t resist buying).

What I’m wondering is whether there’s a “sweet spot” for the length of an excerpt. I’ve generally gone with the first chapter, because my chapters tend to run relatively short, but I’m considering (at least in cases where my publishers don’t object) going up to three chapters or perhaps even more when the chapters are short.

So, do you have an opinion on the matter? How much of a story would you like to be able to read before you make the decision to buy (or not)? Please record your response in the poll or, if you have more to say on the subject, leave a comment. And thanks!

[poll id=”8″]

What’s Your Point of View on Point of View?

Although I’m about to set it aside to dig into writing the second short story under my Spice Briefs contract, I’ve been working on a manuscript for the past few weeks that’s giving me fits on the issue of point of view and whether to go with third person or first person narration. Although I’m not going to “reveal” the plot here (because, shhhhh, it’s super secret, lol), I can tell you it’s urban fantasy (ghosts, angels, werewolves, etc.) set in London at the turn of the 20th century. There are romantic elements in the story, but it’s not a romance per se, and I envision at least a three-book series with this heroine as the protagonist.

I started out writing this in third person with the idea that I would tell the story from multiple characters’ POV, but now that I’ve gotten into the story a bit further, I’ve realized that the plot demands that certain information be parceled out to the reader in the same way it’s parceled out to the heroine. Because the other characters know things that I can’t reveal to the reader before the heroine learns them, I really can’t write from multiple characters’ point of view without “spoiling” it. (I suppose in theory I could write the other charactres’ POVs and just not let them reveal anything I don’t want the reader to know, but I am incredibly annoyed by this tactic when I encounter it in other books. If I’m in a character’s head, I want the narrator to share with me any relevant information that character knows, or I feel I’m being manipulated by an untrustworthy narrator.)

Now that I realize I’m going to write the whole book in ONE character’s limited POV (as opposed to multiple POVs and/or omniscient POV), I’m wondering if the narration shouldn’t be first person rather than third person. I can’t remember the last time I read a full-length novel that was narrated in third person from a SINGLE character’s point of view. It seems to me that writing in third person almost demands that the author present multiple points of view.

On the other hand, as much as I like writing (and reading) first person narration, I’m aware that a fair percentage of readers (and editors) dislike first person intensely. Given that I like the voice of the third person narration in the book I’m writing, I don’t want to change to first person just because I’m afraid someone will be annoyed by the lack of other characters’ POVs.

So, that’s my dilemma, and it’s made me really curious how you all feel about point of view and person. I’ve added a little poll below on the subject, but if you have additional thoughts, I’d love to read them in the comments.

[poll id=”7″]

P.S. Totally appropos of nothing in this post, I notice that Behind the Red Door is back on sale for the bargain price of $5.58 at Amazon. That’s cheaper than most mass market paperbacks, so this is a good time to buy :)!

What Do Your iPod Listening Habits Say About You?

So, I’m sitting here this morning listening to my iPod and just really getting a kick out of my music. (Partly, this is because the darn thing wasn’t working for months. I thought I was going to have to take it to the Apple store to get it fixed, but my 12yo son figured out how to reset it manually, bless his heart. I must say his efforts on my behalf validate my decision to continue to feed, clothe, and house him.)

Because I have the iPod set on shuffle–and I have almost 600 songs loaded on it–I have no idea what’s coming next (except that it can’t be anything I’ve already heard). To start this morning, I got Thriller by Michael Jackson, then True Love Travels on a Gravel Road by Nick Lowe followed by A Day in the Life by the Beatles, Fame by David Bowie, and now, Shoebox by Barenaked Ladies. I’d never have CHOSEN to listen to those five songs in particular if I’d been scrolling through my music, but they’re all awesome songs.

My husband, though, hates it and complains vigorously when he has to listen to my iPod in shuffle. Some of that is that we don’t completely share musical tastes, but mainly, he hates NOT knowing what’s coming next and that it might be thematically/musically out of sync with whatever he just heard. When he plays his iPod, he always chooses either artists or albums and plays them straight through. He talks a good game about creating playlists, but I’ve never actually known him to do it except for specific circumstances (i.e., a Cub Scout meeting/event).

Anyway, it occurred to me that this difference in our iPod listening habits pretty well describes the primary difference between our personalities. I’m incredibly unstructured in my approach to life–one of the hardest things about having kids for me was the whole notion of having a schedule…or even a routine. I like spontaneity and unpredictability–to the point that some might consider me flighty or flaky (or both!).

My husband, by contrast, likes everything just so. If anything comes along and pushes him off his well-thought-out path, he gets cranky. Predictability and routine is the name of the game for him, which probably explains why we’ve managed to stay married for almost 20 years. A guy who likes variety and spontaneity a whole lot is probably not the best bet for husband material, after all :).

All in all, I think it’s a good thing that I married someone who is my polar opposite in this regard. He keeps me from flying off in fifty directions at once (keeping me to a solid 20 or so at a time, lol). And I keep him from being way too rigid and plodding. It’s a good match!

Anyway, this got me wondering about you all. What kind of iPod listener are you? And what, if anything, do you think your iPod listening habits say about you?

[poll id=”6″]

Thursday Throwdown: Are Most Bestsellers Good or Garbage?

With Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol hitting the shelves this week and almost certainly destined to be a blockbuster bestseller, I remembered a discussion I had about a month ago on Twitter about whether or not books that make the bestseller list are, in some objective measure, “good”–even if we personally don’t see their appeal. I said I thought they were.

Just because I don’t like a particular book and/or don’t think it’s well-written doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. And I think if large numbers of people are buying and reading a book, there has to be something worthwhile about it. I just don’t subscribe to the theory that popular culture has poor/low taste and can’t recognize quality. For starters, if I did subscribe to that theory, I’d a) think democracy was the stupidest form of government on earth and b) stop trying to write good books and try to write crap instead.

The reason the release of the Dan Brown book made me think about this is that his breakout book, The DaVinci Code, is without a doubt one of the most maligned bestsellers in recent memory. According to many of its critics, it’s poorly written with wooden dialogue and a boring protagonist and a plot that’s both derivative (“Hey, someone else thought of that whole Mary Magdalene bit first! How dare the author use it?”) and predictable (“I figured out the last clue PAGES before the protagonists! How could they be so stupid?”).

Now, all of that may actually be true, but I’m going to tell you a secret: I liked The DaVinci Code. Not as much as Angels and Demons (which coincidentally had an even more absurd and fanciful plot, but who’s paying attention?), but…it was, for me, an enjoyable read. No, I didn’t think it was high literary art or destined to become a classic in the canon of American literature, but as entertainment, these books worked for me–and clearly for several million other people as well. And when we get right down to it, isn’t that what books are supposed to be? How can people be wrong about what entertains them?

None of this is to say that deserving books always become bestsellers. There are a whole host of factors that go into determining which books hit the bestseller lists, not the least of them being whether or not the publisher markets it with the intention of making it one. But I do think publishers have a pretty good idea which books have the right elements to become bestsellers and they plan accordingly. They aren’t stupid. Of course, sometimes, they get it wrong (like all the publishers who turned down The Shack, which has since become an enormous bestseller), but by and large, they do a pretty good job of guessing which books will have the popular appeal to hit the bestseller lists.

So, that’s my opinion. I think most bestsellers are, in fact, good rather than garbage. Even the ones I either didn’t like or that I have no interest in reading (dude, Twilight). Hey, I don’t have any interest in reading Moby Dick, either. I escaped it in high school and I know it’s supposed to be great literature, but I also really don’t care that much.

But I’m curious what you think. Do you think most bestsellers deserve their status or do you think they’re mostly garbage or is it somewhere in between. Vote below and leave your comments!

[poll id=”5″]

P.S. Yes, I’ll be buying The Lost Symbol but I’ll be waiting for it to come out in mass market paperback. Not only because I’m cheap, but because I just don’t like reading hardbacks!

What Influences Book-Buying Decisions

One of the most persistent and pesky questions that authors and publishers deal with is what sorts of promotion are most effective for getting a book into readers’ hands. This is especially true now, as the whole world of advertising is changing so dramatically with the rise of the Internet and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Because of this (and because I’m infinitely curious about the degree to which an author can effectively promote her book independent of what her publisher does), here’s a little poll on how you make your book-buying decisions.

[poll id=”4″]

And I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours ;).

Author Blog Topics: What Do You Like to Read?

I was chatting with my best bud and CP, Emma Petersen, this morning and she mentioned she needed to go write a blog post. I said, “Yeah, blogging is like cleaning house…as soon as you’re done, you have to do it again.” And darn it, I’m always needing somethingto blog about.

Yesterday, I posted wondering how much readers really want to hear about writers trials and tribulations in the business of publishing. I’ve enjoyed the conversation that’s developed, but it’s been mostly between authors, so it doesn’t really help me in gauging what all the folks who happen to swing by my blog would like to read. So, in the interest of data collection, here’s a new poll. (You can choose more than one answer.)

[poll id=”3″]

The Title Battle

While I’m waiting to hear back on the proposal my agent has out on an exclusive right now, I’m noodling on other ideas in case it doesn’t go (which realistically, it may not because it’s a pretty quirky book).

In addition to my middle grade book (which I’m writing when I find the time, although that hasn’t been often lately), I’ve been thinking about several other stories:

  • An action/adventure/superhero-y YA  for which I have a main character, title, blurb, and hints of the plot, but nothing “writable” yet.
  • A contemporary with a suspense element; again, characters, title, blurb and hints of plot, but probably not yet writable.
  • A dark, angsty historical for which I have a lot that’s arguably writable (characters, plot, conflict) but for which I don’t have a title. And I hate trying to write a book without knowing what the title is!

I know it’s an odd hang-up, but it’s one I can’t shake. I pretty much always tackle writing a manuscript in this order: Title, Hook, Book. Of course, that’s not to say the title always comes to me before the hook (or blurb), but usually writing the blurb/thinking about the story will suggest the title very quickly. And many times, I get the story idea from the title (the contemp I’m thinking about started as a title and the story suggested itself from the title).

Anyway, before I can take my historical idea any further, I really need to settle on a working title, even if it doesn’t stick (although my hope is that it does stick at least until the point at which I send it to my agent and she sells it–then the publisher can toss it out the window, lol).

So, here are the three titles I’m considering. None of them strike me as 100% “right”–each seems to me to have its problems–but I’d love your impressions of the possibilities. Unfortunately, though, I can’t seem to get the “Insert Poll” option to work and place the poll inside of this post, so you’ll have to vote on the possibilities in the sidebar. (Sorry about that–there seems to be a scripting error somewhere, and I have no idea how to fix it!)

Thanks for stopping by and thanks in advance for voting. And if I get really motivated, I might even get up a WTF Wednesday post for today.