Wednesday, 24 August 2011

How to speak publisher - C is for Character-led fiction

Yes, we've slipped back to C after only a brief foray into D-land. Sorry.

Character-led fiction is those series of stories that are initiated by the publisher and often written by a whole team of writers. The first famous one was probably Animal Ark, written not by Lucy Daniels but by a collection of writers-for-hire. Publishers like character-led fiction because they don't have to pay very much for it and these series usually sell lots of copies.

The degree of control you are given over the story varies between publishers and lists. You may be supplied with a title, a set of characters, a plot outline and a 'bible' that will cover all the details that need to stay the same between volumes, such as the name of the protagonist's dog, their parents' jobs and do on. It really is like painting by number but with words. At the other end of the scale, you might just be given a title and the characters. Although this gives you more freedom, there is also a much greater chance of the editor coming back with niggles such as 'your plot is too similar to writer x's plot' or 'oh dear, the dog is called Slug in the other book...' (Problems which could have been avoided by having a bible.)

You won't have your name on any character-led fiction you write, which is probably a good thing as it tends to be anodyne and unchallenging. If you're given a full plot, it's not very interesting to write. But it can be a useful way of giving yourself a bit of training (at least in obedience) and gives you the chance to write in a style you might otherwise never try .

The pay varies. You might get a small royalty, or you might get a flat fee. You should try to make sure you get the PLR. If you can knock them off quickly and don't mind feeling like a writing slut, they're quite a useful source of income. It's not high art, but you can get some satisfaction from writing within strict boundaries and it can hone your plotting and character development skills. It's the equivalent of practising your scales, really. If you want to give it a go, Working Partners is a good place to start.

Before you attack my snobbish attitude, I'll just point out that I have actually done it and I am absolutely a writing slut - I'll write almost anything if someone is going to pay me.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Title troubles: Munching on the winding-sheet?

Which comes first, the story or the title? Or even the cover image?

Are you any good at titles? I am sometimes good at titles. In the current week, I'm having to come up with no fewer than seven titles. Yes, seven. (But in case you think I am some kind of title-machine, you should know that I have a book I've been working on for years that doesn't have its final title yet.)

Four of the needed titles are for books in a series that includes books by other writers and have to fit into the greater scheme of things. They are rather formulaic and only one is proving at all difficult.

The other three are more important, and wholly mine, as they in my Vampire Dawn series. They have to work with books that are not yet written. We have likely cover images for two, and some content for two (not the same two). I came up with three titles today, but will probably keep only one of them, and that's Shroud-eating for Beginners. But maybe the publisher won't like it, and it will go back in the box of titles, perhaps to resurface later. Some titles are too enticing not to use.

One of the Vampire Dawn books, Dead on Arrival was inspired by the cover picture (you can see it on Facebook). It was one of a batch of pictures my lovely publisher found and sent to me - it was far and away the best and has set the style for the series.

But where does a title come from? I drove back from St Albans today trying to think of three Vampire Dawn titles. I think the process went like this: 'Think of words associated with death: dead, death, cemetery, graveyard, coffin, winding-sheet, shroud - ah, weren't vampires once called shroud-eaters? This is for new vampires, so...'

How do you come up with titles?
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