Saturday, January 31, 2009
And Why Misbranded Novels Hurt the Franchise
I just read a bad medical romance. The story made a good tender romance but it was misbranded as a medical romance and was thus very disappointing. Since this book was issued in a specialty Medical Romance line, it could very well hurt the Medical Romance line or franchise with new readers. If this were my first Medical Romance, I would think that there was nothing special about the line and probably not buy any more of the line’s books. Fortunately, prior to reading this book, I had already read six other Medicals that were excellent examples of this subgenre.
What are the essential elements of a Medical romance?
1. The medical aspects of the story should take on the importance of a major character. If you can easily switch the hero and heroine from being doctors to being lawyers, then you do not have a medical romance. Instead, you have a general romance that features doctors.
2. The medical elements in the story should be detailed and accurate. The general reader should learn something he or she didn’t know about the medical profession or medical procedures after reading the book. This is what makes the Medical Romance a genuine subgenre.
So there you have it; just two essential requirements.
The Medical Romance I just read (and I won’t give the title as I prefer to review outstanding books and let the others be) failed on both counts. In fact, the story was even hurt by being a Medical.
The story opens with an industrial accident in which many people are hurt. The hero and heroine are with some other medical people when they get the emergency call to rush to the accident scene. However, bad gasoline has disabled the ambulances so they take their own cars. On arriving at the scene the hero and heroine, doctor and nurse, stop at the first injured person and administer first aid. This is a child with a head wound. The wound is not very serious but still they spend crucial time with the boy asking about his parents.
After this they go to the next patient they come to and start with the treatment. In the meantime there are very serious injuries going untreated. It is very possible that some victims are bleeding to death that could otherwise be saved with immediate treatment. I kept thinking “triage”! “Do your triage!” You always do “triage” when you reach an accident scene with multiple victims. Not doing triage is such a basic mistake it undermines the rest of the book. It would be like having Julius Caesar looking at his wrist watch before crossing the Rubicon.
In this novel, Medicine did not play an important part. In fact, it actually hurt the story. The heroine had given up on men because after her fiancé saw the very bad scars the heroine had on one side of her body, he was said to be disgusted though he tried to hide his feelings. He gradually backed out of her life. After this experience, the heroine never wants to let it happen again. However, she would like to have a husband and children. This then is the conflict. She is very much attracted to the hero who shows an interest in her.
The heroine keeps putting off the hero’s advances because she does not want him to see her scars. This does not compute with me. Of all the men in the world, a doctor who has seen a career of scars, is the least likely person to be disgusted by seeing her scars. I remember thinking as I read, “if I’m the hero, I would comment on the nice work the surgeon did after seeing the scars”. And do you know what? That is exactly what the hero did.
In short, the story didn’t seem creditable. Now, if this story was released as a general romance, it would have been acceptable. However, I feel that placing it in the Medical subgenre is a case of misbranding. Unfortunately, misbranding can create disappointment for the reader who bought a Medical to enjoy the subgenre’s unique medical elements.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
If you have a deep interest in author branding, it might be useful to consider that branding originally was designed to make your product identifiable to the illiterate population. Consider the barber’s pole. The basic idea is identification.
Modern branding got a major boost from Rosser Reeves’s book: “Reality in Advertising”. Reeves outlined the USP, Unique Selling Proposition. Example: Ivory soap is pure. (It’s 99 and 44/100% pure”). Dove soap is one quarter cleansing cream. To stand out it was thought that a product had to have a USP.
The USP concept dominated much advertising thinking until Ries and Trout came out with my favorite advertising book: “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”. Both these books are very short and written so clearly that they were best sellers even outside the advertising industry.
The big idea behind ‘Positioning’ is that there is only room for one or two brands-- in any one category -- in a customer’s mind. It is also very difficult for a new product to break into the prospect’s mind after the first one or two get established.
Example: we may remember who was the first man on the moon, but how many can remember the second man? Some remember the first man to break the four minute mile, but who was second? Some remember the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, but who was second? You get the idea.
This is serious business. It is very hard to break into a prospect’s mind unless you position your product in a category that is empty or you spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Therefore create a new category! Gatorade created a new category of drink. OK, now, tell me, how many other brands can you name in this sport’s drink category?
I consider ‘author branding’ to be a subset of the USP and Positioning approaches.
When you are doing author branding several decisions need to be made:
1) are you ready to be branded? Do you really know yourself as an author? Think of branding as getting a tattoo. It can come off but it is difficult and costly to do.
2) is your work ready for a large audience? Nothing kills a product faster than effective marketing because it gets more people to sample your product and they remember who you are. If they don’t like what they’ve read, you may have lost them for good. They may also tell a lot of other people that you are no good. It might be better if some readers actually don’t remember your name. (I just read a very bad romance and the best thing for that author would be if I didn’t remember her name.)
4) if you are ready to go ahead with branding yourself then you need to position yourself in a way to win a place in the prospect’s mind that is not already occupied. (I would tell real estate agents in my marketing classes to ask the infrastructure questions before branding themselves. For example, “Who is the best condominium expert in town. If two or three names keep coming up, then the position is taken. If no names come up or a lot of different names but no leader, then the position is open. (The infrastructure is made up of people in the business: real estate agents, appraisers, lenders, inspectors, real estate reporters, insurance agents, and so on.)
5) you need to develop a USP which is compatible with your positioning. “Let Our Condominium Specialists sell you unit quicker and for more money.”
6) you need to practice ‘fusion’ by making sure all your contacts with the public are consistent. That is, all your avenues of outreach should have the same ‘look and feel’ and support your USP and positioning.
One last thing: marketing is great and can be very powerful but it will not improve your writing. The very best marketing tool is to produce the best “reading experience” for your readers and leave them at the end of the book with a strong desire to run right out and buy your next book.
Should they be preachy at all?
Sometimes a reviewer will write that a given inspirational novel was too preachy. There are some fans who take offense at this because they think the word of God can never be too preachy. One blogger just wanted to know the difference between being ‘acceptably’ preachy and ‘unacceptably’ preachy.
Consider the Bible quote in Matthew, Chapter 7: “By their fruits they shall be known.” I believe one preaches loudest when one silently lives the model Christian life. That is, when one witnesses by example and not by harangue.
I think an inspirational should not be preachy at all. Consider this question: Can a romance be too trite? It shouldn’t be trite at all. I don’t see a need to be preachy unless being preachy is actually part of the plot.
I can even imagine a wonderful ‘Christian’ inspirational in which there is no mention of the Bible or of Christ. The story could be about a good man in a pagan world living an exemplary ‘Christian’ life with his actions being guided from an inner light. The story could show how this man’s example positively affects his neighbors.
C.S. Lewis wrote many Christian allegories that never mentioned Christ or the Bible. It can be done but you have to be a very good author.
The question could still be asked, what do you think makes a novel too preachy as opposed to acceptably preachy? How about if I put it this way:
You Know an Inspirational is too preachy if:
1. Parts of it read like a sermon.
2. Actual sermons are delivered which are not required by the plot.
3. The author takes insider shots at another denomination (like an attack on predestination.)
4. Self-standing Bible quotes are given in italic that are not sufficiently integrated into the story line. (Often the quotes are just there to turn a ‘tender romance’ into an inspirational in order to provide another market for the book.)
5. When on reading it, you think it is too preachy. (In this case, 'thinking makes it so.')
In other words, “walk the walk, just don’t talk the talk.”
Friday, January 16, 2009
I have never been philosophically comfortable with the writing dictum ,“Show, Don’t Tell.” ‘Showing’ and ‘telling’ do not comprise a true dichotomy. Logically it’s like the statement, “Be a man, don’t be human.”
Why is this so?
Consider the two statements below;
All men are humans but not all humans are men.
All showing is telling but not all telling is showing.
For example: I can write:
“John left the room angrily.“ This would be telling.
I can also write,
“John stomped out of the room slamming the door so hard the picture frames on the walls shook for thirty seconds afterwards.” This would be showing.
But how did I show it? I had to tell you what John did. I can’t show you anything without telling you something.
Do you see? While I don’t have to be showing anything, I always have to be telling something. Even as an author, if I write a full page objective description of a sunset that seems like pure ‘showing’, what I am actually doing is telling you what you would see if you were on the spot and could observe the event.
I have read passages where it would be very hard to say whether the author was showing or telling. Why does this happen? Because ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ do not comprise a true dichotomy.
Why is all this important? After all, “Show Don’t Tell” is just a harmless ‘rule of thumb’. It’s not a premise in a syllogism.
My problem with “Show Don’t Tell” is that it is an example of muddled thinking, (good intentioned ‘muddled thinking’), but ‘muddled thinking’ none the less.
The problem with muddled thinking is that it can hide a deeper truth. There is something more fundamental going on here. Discovering this underlying truth can lead to better writing or, at least, to better writing advice.
The deeper truth is : Your characters need to emote. It is essential that your reader feels, to the degree this is possible, what your character is feeling at that point in the story.
I don’t want to be told the character is angry. I don’t want to be shown the character is angry. I want to vicarious feel the character's anger. I don’t really care how the author achieves this. You can show, you can tell, you can do any combination of either, but I want to "feel" the story.
I hope this gives you something to think about.
"Don't Tell, Don't Show, Emote!"
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Not long ago there was a question on a blog about how Christian Inspirational Romances could become more creative.
Like a good philosopher, I approached this question by asking another question. “What Inspirational stories would I love to read -- if only someone would write them?”
It didn’t take very long using this approach to come up with eight stories I’d like to read. These are given below.
I make no claim to these story ideas and any author who wants to should feel free to use any part of these examples. I’d be delighted to have another good inspirational to read.
The Reverend Boy
When Barry-Joe was five years old he was America’s “boy-wonder” preacher. He raised a fortune at revivals and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine. His preacher father, who ran the traveling ministry, cheats on his mother and steals the church money. The ministry dies in disgrace. Barry-Joe is so ashamed that he hides his identity and changes his name. He still believes in God but is afraid that God is not very happy with him.
Twenty-five years later he meets the Mary Woods who is a new minister in a church which has just had a doctrinal dispute and is falling apart. He could easily help her build her church with his preaching and money raising skills but he does not want his past revealed.
Here there is conflict where everyone believes in God – it is the hero’s secret past that is keeping hero and heroine apart.
Two churches are fighting in court for a $1 million bequest. The woman who died, once attended both churches and the churches have very similar names. Both churches have worthy projects to which the money will be put to use.
Hero and heroine are on different sides of the issues. The bequest dispute mirrors dilemmas the hero and heroine are facing in their personal lives.
Solving the bequest problem will also go a long way to providing a key to solving their personal problems. This story should display a good knowledge of probate law and the court system. Here you have conflict while everyone still believes in God and wants to do the right thing. The dispute is about which right thing should be done. It is also about human pride and failings.
Henry Hanson is a driven businessman who considers himself a far better preacher than any he has ever heard in church on Sunday. At 35 Henry sells his business, moves to a large country retirement community, and builds a beautiful church and makes himself the minister.
He gives great sermons but few people come to his services. The heroine comes because the church in near her apartment. She is a widow with two small children. She is not that welcome in the senior retirement community and is trying to get her kicked out.
She shows the “businessman-preacher” the difference between “preaching” and “ministering” by centering on the needs of his flock.
The conflict here is the hero’s confusion over “preaching the word of God” and “living the word of God”. The heroine helps him see the light by taking him to other church services and showing how seemingly poor preaching preachers were actually great ministers caring for the needs of their flock. I just love this heroine.
Ted Martin inherits a 160 acre farm which just happens to have a 100-year old church on it that has long been abandoned. He decides to fix it up and use it as an antique shop. He is a fine furniture craftsman. As he begins work on the restoration people drop by and ask if they can help him with the repairs. They also tell him stories about the history of the church.
As the restoration progresses people ask if they could come pray in the church. Later an old couple asks if they could repeat their marriage vows in the church where they were married fifty years earlier.
The heroine is a historian who has a high interest in finding the hidden church cemetery. She thinks a famous person is buried there.
Conflict: here both the hero and heroine come to God as non-believers because of what they see happening in the restoration of the old church. As the building is restored, the lives of all who come into contract with the church are also restored. This story will have a very strong nostalgia element and a series of small miracles.
Marc Denison is a troubled veteran who hears music in his dreams. He seeks help and his therapist is so intrigued by the vividness of the dreams that he wants to hear the music himself. The therapist sends Marc to the Anne Wentworth who is a song writer, composer, and classical musician.
He hums the melody while she writes it down and plays it back later on the piano. The music sounds very spiritual so Anne sets it to Bible verses. She plays it in her church and it becomes tremendously popular.
The conflict here is how the hero and heroine come to an understanding of the meaning of this 'heavenly' music and how it helps heal the wounds in their lives. The hero is not a musician but he did heard the music in his dreams. There is something real here. Faith made manifest.
The Ancient Gift
Hiram McKay is a minister who receives a gift of ancient documents from a mysterious stranger who soon departs. Hiram calls in Carlotta Sardis who is an expert in ancient Biblical languages. Hiram’s church is in dire need of money and he hopes these documents can be sold for enough to save the church.
What Carlotta reads seems to be a “lost” gospel of Thomas, Jesus’ twin brother, and many of the miracles in the Bible are claimed by Thomas. Hiram and Carlotta argue over what to do about the documents. “It’s the devil’s work” says Hiram. “The paper and ink are authentic to the era,” Carlotta answers.
The conflict here seems to be what should you tell believers and what should you withhold for their own good. The underlying conflict is between belief and science. While hero and heroine have a very strong attraction towards each other, this conflict is keeping them apart.
The resolution: a Medieval expert recognizes the documents as a 10th century forgery copied on genuine first century scrolls. The forgery is still worth over a million dollars and the church is saved. “God really does work in mysterious ways,” the scientist heroine says.
A church and a neighborhood association are in a bitter dispute about a zoning change. Both sides have worthy goals and noble intentions. Hero and heroine are on different sides of the issue. Hero is the preacher; heroine is the social worker. Both think they have God on their side.
The zoning conflict mirrors spiritual conflicts in both the hero and heroine’s lives. In the dialogue it soon becomes hard to tell when the hero and heroine are arguing about the zoning conflict and when they are arguing about their personal lives.
The solution, a zoning board approved land swap; this comes as a surprise to the reader. This solution answers both the pressing problems of the church and the community and was the result of ‘thinking outside the box’ by putting the problem first and not just seeking a stated objective.
This ‘thinking outside the box’ approach also solves the personal conflicts between the hero and heroine. There should be a symmetry between the two problems. This story would really take great writing skill.
The Miracle at Saint Andrew's
Allen Sparks is a minister of a dying church in a dying coal town in West Virginia. Mary Beth Higgins is a fierce non-believing reporter for the religion section of a big city newspaper. She loves to debunk religious claims.
A statue in the church begins to sheds tears during Sunday services and the local paper runs the story. More people come to the church, see the ‘tears' and believe. The dying town needs hope more than anything else.
Allen maintains that this is not a miracle; that there has to be a natural explaination. A science teacher from the local high school cannot find any source for the tears. More papers pick up the story and more people come to the church services.
Visitors come from all over the state. The more Allen claims it is not a miracle, the more people belief that it is. After all, if the preacher is denying the miracle, then it has to be true because it is not being done for the publicity or the money possibilities.
Finally, big-city Mary Beth comes to debunk the miracle. Allen Sparks gives her full access and even tries his best to help her debunk the story.
In the end it is shown that there is a natural explanation for the tears but by then the town has been transformed into a folk art and local cultural center. The church as a thriving new membership.
There actually was a miracle within the hearts of the people if not in the marble of a statue. The town and church and the people’s faith have all came back to life because, for a short time, they all believed. They liked the community their belief created and they act to keep it going after the truth comes out.
These are eight story ideas. I hope someone can make use of some of this material. Good luck.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
“Why do women love vampires?”
“How could a philosopher ask such a question?” you think. After all, “most women don’t read romances and, of the ones who do, most do not read vampire romances.”
O.K. What I should have said is “Why are ‘Vampire Romances’ so popular that they constitute a viable romance sub-genre?”
Could it be that there is a shortage of blood-sucking men in the real world?
No. That doesn’t seem probable.
Could it be the masochist thing? You know, that thing about women being natural masochists?
No, that’s been debunked. Have you read any of the Medusa books? Today’s heroines can take care of themselves. Besides, there already is a pure masochistic romantic sub-genre.
Then, could it be the ‘nurture’ thing? You know, the pop psychology view that women are the nurturers while men are the warrior-killers?
Well, there certainly could be merit to the ‘nurturing’ theory. Just think about it: how much more nurturing can you be than giving your life’s blood so that another may live?
Yes, but that is Romanticism, like in “Love Story”, it’s not Romance like in HEA.
Well, then, could it be that the men out there in the real world are so anemic that blood-sucking, non-human, creatures-of-the-night are seen as an improvement?
No, I don’t think so. Men do very well in traditional romances. Especially men in uniform. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a Maureen Child or Linda Howard hero?
You got that right.
But then a vampire can offer a lover eternal life (even if as one of the undead).
By the way, I’ve got “Undead and Unwed” by MaryJanice Davidson next up in my TBR pile.
“Undead and Unwed” you say? That makes me think: wouldn’t it be a real bummer to have eternal life and still not be able to find a husband? I hope the heroine finds a guy in that story.
But I digress. Maybe women love vampires because vampires are just better lovers. After all, they’ve had a very long time to develop their techniques.
I agree. It just has to be technique. Remember years ago on the fantastically popular soap opera “Dark Shadows”? The vampire on that show was old and ordinary looking. It was the werewolf who was the hunk.
That’s right. Quentin was the handsome werewolf but the women still liked that ‘Barnaby Jones’ guy with the fangs. It would seem that vampires don’t even have to be good looking. It doesn’t seem fair to us everyday heroes.
You have a valid point. But actually I think ‘Barnaby Jones’ was on another show.
It might be unfair but tell me this: how are men suppose to compete with ‘eternal life’ and centuries of experience satisfying the fair sex? A vampire can even offer a ‘HEA’ with a genuine ‘EA’.
Don’t be so sure! The ‘EA’ part may be possible but the ‘H’ part might turn out to be another kind of ‘H’. Don’t they say, “you can’t known a vampire until you live with him?”
I just thought of something! Do you think vampires say “As long as you both shall live” in their wedding vows?”
I understand they write their own vows.
BTW, how many vampire romances have you read?
Only one, “I Thirst For You”, by Susan Sizemore.
How was it?
Let me tell you now:
“I Thirst For You’
Susan Sizemore, Pocket Star Books, c.2004
(Originally a Pocket Book) Sony eBook format.
“I Thirst For You” is my first full length vampire romance. The book is excellent and I gave it 4 ½ stars out of 5. It is a contemporary romance with a modern day vampire who is only about 80 years old (but don’t worry -- he looks more like 30). He was captured by an evil and rouge government agency at the bequest of a rich patron who is very old and wants the vampire’s secret of eternal life before he dies.
The heroine is a commercial pilot who was involved in a crash in which passengers were killed. She has survivor guilt plus the guilt of being the pilot. She is scared to ever fly again.
At the start of the story, she is out in the Arizona desert 'finding' herself when the vampire-hero escapes his tormentors. The hero is near death when he runs into the heroine out in the middle of nowhere. He needs her blood and her SUV. He takes vampire drugs that let him exist in the daylight but direct sun is very painful. He really needs to be active at night. Given that there is a large force of dangerous armed men tracking him down, he has to hide and move quickly to get away. He takes the heroine hostage.
In “I Thirst for you” a vampire’s touch is highly erotic. Being bitten provides the ultimate in extended, erotic, pleasure. The vampire-hero has the power to control the minds of others. While the pleasure is addictive, the heroine can’t be sure she is truly attracted to the hero or if he is using mind control on her. The rest of the book is an “escape-thriller” with lots of loving along the way.
No human man will ever be able to compete in an amorous sense with this vampire-hero. However, P.C. Cast has a few Greek God heroes who prefer human heroines and who could give this vampire hero a run for his money.
“I Thirst For You” is a thrilling, fast-paced, story that will be read with great enjoyment. It is hot. XX hot.
Highly Recommended. BTW, there are more vampire romances in this series so, if you like this one, there are more on the shelves ready to read.
Susan Sizemore Rocks!
Friday, January 2, 2009
What Would a "Philosophy of Romance" Be Like?
Actually, there can be a “Philosophy of Any Subject” that has sufficient complexity to generate answerable questions like the ones listed below.
“What are the essential elements of a romance?”
“What conditions would exclude a work from being classified as a romance?”
“Are romances either good or bad ethically?”
“Can romances be said to be beautiful?”
“Can romance, with a guarantee of a HEA, ever rise to the level of serious literature?”
“Is romance even a genre?” (After all, any other genre can be a romance.)
“What kind of genre can also be any other genre?” (Spy, Vampire, paranormal, historical, cowboy, frontier, science fiction, fantasy, are all sub-genres of romance.)
“Is romance a super genre or a more general classification like ‘tragedy’?”
“Can romances tell us anything about what women want?”
“Is the same romance a different book when read by a man than it is when read by a woman?”
“What is ‘going on’ when someone is reading a romance?”
“Where do romances exist?” (In books on pages of paper and ink or only when being read and experienced in the mind of a reader?)
“What do the best selling romance writers do that the average writer does not do?” (Can this difference be quantified?)
“Are romances really a consumable product more like food than a durable like chinaware?”
“Are there specific cravings for different romance themes?”
As you can see, doing philosophy is often a matter of asking the right questions. I have been doing a philosophical investigation of the romance genre for the last seven years. I have read and reviewed over 1000 romances.
Not only can there be a “Philosophy of Romance”, developing even a prolegomena for its future study is a daunting challenge. Romance is as big as life itself.
I see romance as the last great unexplored continent that is still awaiting serious study. Political Correctness almost prohibits any serious and positive academic study of romance. This is too bad. Maybe someday the “American Mind” will open again but I am not going to wait.
I am writing this blog as the last act in the long process of writing my book on romance. You may not like this blog. Fans often do not want a serious review of the genre. The romance genre is just fine without having to look under the hood. But philosophers look everywhere. That’s just what they do.
This blog might be of most interest to romance authors as they are the actual practitioners. I will be reviewing romances. I will be making comments on what I would like to see being written. I will even suggest new themes. Mostly I will be thinking out loud and having fun. I hope an inquisitive few will find this of interest and drop in from time to time.