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Friday, May 11, 2012

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY -- GUEST AUTHOR SHELLY FROME


Our Book Club Friday guest today is Shelly Frome, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts. His latest mystery, Twilight of the Drifter, is a southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey. Visit Shelly on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @shellyFrome. -- AP
  
                     What is the Story Here?

To keep up with the times, I thought I’d take out a subscription to a few writers’ magazines and add some more websites and twitter accounts. I was curious to know how far things had gone in terms of our new era in publishing.  

And lo and behold, within the pages of the magazines, I found this statement to be typical: “Readers of fiction are faced with saturated genres and a limited amount of time and money. Any title has to immediately grab their attention. The market doesn’t lie.”

In one issue, someone calling herself a literary change agent claimed that  reaching readers is a matter of blanketing social media, blogging anywhere and everywhere, and “passing out fliers on street corners” if need be.

To meet these demands, contributors billing themselves as successful pros offered sure-fire tips like these:

“Use plotting strategies that make the book a winner. Give readers a hook at the get-go. And be sure to leave them with a take-home thought.”

“Make them laugh and cry. When readers laugh and cry they’ll get that emotional high they’re looking for along with that walloping payoff.”

“Before you start, come up with a logline that make buyers sit up and say ‘gotta read it’.”

“Try this for a ploy. Redesign an old hit TV show for the texting, tweeting, Lady Gaga generation. It’s a great reminder how important it is to always have your readers in mind.”

Ah, yes. Oh, well.

The added blogs and tweets echoed the same mindset. In fact, the dozens of new daily e-mails snowballed into a promotional frenzy. Urging everyone to check out a free book, the fourth winner in a row; or take in a crime series and get really hooked; latch onto a P.I. story everyone loves because it’s an ultra rare extraordinary read; and/or get set for a page-turning thrill ride. One lady outdid herself shopping her hair-raising gypsy escapade by tossing in a war-horse. And she continued to push this angle with every post.

One of these networks was caught up in an ongoing harangue over eliminating all middle men. Agents weighed in claiming they alone can wade through the slush given their knowledge of what’s really trending.

As if this wasn’t enough, Linked-in offered me four more networks I could join.

Seeking a quieter approach to the topic, I began watching conversations with writers on Charlie Rose’s show. Arguably, there’s no more easygoing host than Charlie Rose and no more casual writer willing to share his secrets than John Grisham. Soon, however, it was back to more of the same. Grisham claimed that readers have an insatiable appetite for crime stories about lawyers and scandals. Once they pick up a book, the trick is to make sure they don’t put it down. Novels that don’t work use too many words. You have to keep it moving, said Grisham. And the generator is your big idea. To locate it, you steal something. “Everything is fair game when you’re writing fiction. We all steal, that’s what we do.”

He went on to say, you simply narrow it down to a half-dozen one-sentence pitches and run them by someone. He chooses his wife who never fails to pick the one with the best instant hook.

Not that there’s anything wrong with any of this if you want to write externally. It’s just that it smacks of this same vendor-on-the-street-corner mentality. 

Next, I came across the interview with Lee Child. He suggested that a key to his Jack Reacher series was the fact that his main character never changes. Readers always know who Reacher is and are reassured that he’ll always be taciturn, smart and ruthless, guaranteeing page-turning action.

Again, whatever works for someone is fine. I personally hate to think that readers nowadays are flipping through their touch screens while on the go looking for some way to pass a few extra minutes before boarding their plane or what-have-you. Along these same lines, I recalled yet another reference to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in The New York Time’s book review section—e.g., utilizing “a badly garbled version” of historian Elaine Pagels’ analysis of the early church, eliminating characterization as Robert Langdon and other stock figures keep running. The outcome of the mayhem formatted to quickly “blow the minds of many readers.”

To reassure myself, I went back to the book review and took solace in author Sylvia Brownrigg’s guidelines:  “Will I believe in these characters? How distracted will I be by implausible dialogue or forced plotlines? Hopefully after only a page or two there will be a sigh of relief. I don’t have to worry. She knows what she’s doing. She won’t let you down.”

From there it was only a few pages more to Marilyn Stasio’s Crime Reviews. There, as usual, I found myself drawn to stories designed for readers who were in no particular hurry. Who preferred events to unfold organically. 

I also found myself remembering something Raymond Chandler once wrote:

“A good story cannot be devised: it has to be distilled. You can never know till
you’ve written the first draft. What seems to be alive in it is what belongs.”

Perhaps Mr. Chandler also found himself contending with the hustle and bustle of his day and opted for something more genuine.

At any rate, I’ve cancelled the subscriptions and limited the e-mails. For now, at least, I’ve decided to just follow my own course.

Thanks for joining us today, Shelly! -- AP

12 comments:

Anne K. Albert said...

As you've so clearly stated, Shelly, what's pleasurable and works for one person may be unbearable torture to another. To each his or her own in reading, writing, marketing and promoting!

P.A.Brown said...

I check out the 2 writer's magazines that our local library carries. I'll flip through them, but only occasionally do I find anything worth reading. It's usually a rehash of the same old writer's rules or tips from bestselling authors.

I no longer buy that idea that you have to flood the social media and handing out fliers simply sounds ridiculous. If you do everything these experts tell you is a must, you'll have no time to write.

Personally, I don't think there is any magic scheme that's going to propel you to best sellerdom. You need to write a book people will talk about to their friends. Sounds simple and very very hard to do. And not something you can put in an article that will do anyone any good.

Joan Kane Nichols said...

Shelley, I so agree. I've been thinking a lot about this lately. So many writers seem to have hurled themselves smack into the market economy. Some even refer to their books as products, like Doritos and Tide.

My book isn't a "product" in that sense. And neither are the books I choose to buy and read. Having book titles flashed at me on the internet, even those with killer hooks, is not what entices me. A recommendation from someone whose taste jibes with mine, an intriguing review, an offhand mention in an article, a book cover that somehow says to me, "that's my kind of book."

I want readers who choose their books the same way I choose mine. Readers who value the books the books they read as products of a writer's mind and heart, not as made-to-order shoddy goods.

I've read John Grisham and Scott Turow. I don't read Grisham anymore. Too cookie-cutter. But I'm always on the lookout for a new Turow.

I'm sure Grisham makes a lot more money. So be it. That's not the path I choose.

Anonymous said...

In the middle of all the how-do-I-sell-my-book- brou-ha-ha, I’m starting to see more and more writers go back to the core of all book-marketing concepts:
“Write the best book you can, get it out there, and then write the next one.”
Yes, we absolutely want people to buy our book(s). But once we’ve hooked them, what next? They’ll spend a little of their precious time in the world we’ve created and – if we’ve done our job as writers – go looking for more. And if we, as writers, have been faithfully following the magazines’ advice and spending all our time promoting our book, our want-to-be-loyal readers will come up empty-handed, call us a choice (and hopefully, creative) name or two, and move on to the next writer with a world they can immerse themselves in.
I don’t do a lot of promotion for my work – instead, I’m working on building up a collection of stories for my soon-to-be-amazing-fan following to find and drool over (I’m up to two titles in my “Hit Lady for Hire” series now, one long and one short, with another one in progress).
In my opinion – and the opinion of more and more writers – the best publicity for your book is your next book.
(Which is why I’m now going to get off the internet and get back to writing!)
Thanks, Shelly, for writing this post, and Lois, for posting it.

Lauryn Christopher
www.laurynchristopher.com

Vonnie said...

I agree Shelly. Plot your own course. You can't do everything and still write gripping stories. I spend more time fiddling with emails and sites than I do writing. There are way too many 'experts' out there. I've decided to hell with it all. The writing is the point.

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Thank you for writing this. I too have backed away from some of the "must dos" for all the reasons you mention, plus it's exhausting just to try to keep up with all the things we're "supposed to do," let alone do them. My first mystery (not first book) is coming out in October, and I'm trying to be creative and selective with my marketing efforts so that I can keep writing and doing all the other things I love. Life isn't just about marketing! So thanks, Shelly.

Dr. Madison Muttnick aka themadmutt aka Dr. Lewis Preschel, author of Madison Muttnick Murder Mysteries said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Madison Muttnick aka themadmutt aka Dr. Lewis Preschel, author of Madison Muttnick Murder Mysteries said...

Like everything else in life, having success as a writer is a mixture of luck, talent and je n'sais quoi. The first object is to write a manuscript that entertains the reader, without that how does everything else matter? The craft of writing - storytelling on paper - wins the reader's heart. But for unpublished authors the next trick is to be found. In today's literary world being found by your readers has become more difficult. The availability of so many books of such varying quality conceals the interesting and stimulating within a maze of forgettable and ordinary.
The sites such as goodread, librarything, etc. are social networks aimed at mapping this maze.
Findability is the author's goal. How to be come findable is the object. Once found the book will stand on its merits or fall like a stone dropped in the ocean.
Good Luck to any author who has to create his celebrity to sell his manuscript.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

Good post; great that you tackled this topic (glad I saw it on the Sinc feed this am). As a real GUPPIE, I see a lot of the same stuff and am amazed at the number of writers writing about writing instead of writing. I believe we all need to find our own path, and it helps to hear of alternate methods (heck, I'll try anything once, sometimes twice - I'm an experience pig :) ) but I really enjoyed your writing in this, and the description of your book at the top, so I'll do more research on them as well. To thine own self be true; you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself (really from an old Aesop Fable, not simply the words from a song). What's old is new. Carry on. Thanks for this quick run-down of what's out there.

Lauryn Christopher said...

In the middle of all the how-do-I-sell-my-book- brou-ha-ha, I’m starting to see more and more writers go back to the core of all book-marketing concepts:

“Write the best book you can, get it out there, and then write the next one.”

Yes, we absolutely want people to buy our book(s). But once we’ve hooked them, what next? They’ll spend a little of their precious time in the world we’ve created and – if we’ve done our job as writers – go looking for more. And if we, as writers, have been faithfully following the magazines’ advice and spending all our time promoting our book, our want-to-be-loyal readers will come up empty-handed, call us a choice (and hopefully, creative) name or two, and move on to the next writer with a world they can immerse themselves in.

I don’t do a lot of promotion for my work – instead, I’m working on building up a collection of stories for my soon-to-be-amazing-fan following to find and drool over (I’m up to two titles in my Hit Lady for Hire series now, one long and one short, with another one in progress).

In my opinion – and the opinion of more and more writers:

The best publicity for your book is your next book.

(Which is why I’m now going to get off the internet and get back to writing!)

Thanks, Shelly, for the post, and Lois, for posting it.

Shelly Frome said...

Thanks for your reassuring responses. After fending off this street vendor mentality from all quarters, I was beginning to think I wasn't made for this "new era of publishing" and would just have to go it alone.
All the best,
Shelly Frome

Joanna Aislinn said...

Just catching up with this post, Shelley, and liking that I feel so NOT alone in my feelings. I've done exactly that just recently: tuning out all the external how-to chatter and going back to my write-by-my-gut route. It's worked before. I just need to trust that it will again. Thanks for sharing this.