Identity Crisis: Author Amanda Bonilla Conquers Title Drama, And Lives to Tell About It

I have been following Amanda Bonilla's progress since I "met" her years ago on the Query Tracker Forum boards. It was so exciting to see her progress from a querying hopeful author to an agented writer to... three book deal! Then her first book came out, and a few months later I realized that she was enduring a case of Title Drama. Authors have probably succumbed to Title Drama since titles were invented. (Hmm... Egypt? "Hey! That's the name of MY papyrus.") Amanda has shown such perseverance as an author, and such grace with her successes, that I had to ask her to share her story.  --Sarah P.

Amanda's Latest
Identity Crisis
By Amanda Bonilla

I wrote my urban fantasy, SHAEDES OF GRAY in 2009. The title was something that I agonized over. In fact, I think in the very first draft of the manuscript, I dubbed the story “Shadow Book” or something to that effect. It wasn't until the first draft was complete that I settled on Shaedes of Gray for the title. I wanted to make sure that it would stand out when it popped up in an agent’s inbox and so, before I queried the novel, I checked Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Borders, and Google, to make sure there weren't hundreds of books with the same or similar title. At the time, I could only find two or three books titled Shades of Gray in one variation or another and so, confident that my title would stand out, I began to query.

Fast forward a year. When the book sold, I thought for sure they’d change the title. Often times, editors change book titles, as has been the case with both books 2 and 3 in the Shaede Assassin series. But Shaedes of Gray stuck. No one even suggested changing the title. Honestly, I attribute it to the fact that Shaede is spelled unconventionally. I admit, I never thought the spelling would cause any problems but people have told me that they've found it hard to find the book because they don’t know the correct spelling. If I’d had the foresight to consider the confusion my spelling choice would cause, I might have reconsidered my title. Okay, probably not. I love the
title. Period. ;)

Fast forward another year. Shaedes of Gray debuts in December. A blogger mentions the book on Twitter to which someone responds, “You know that used to be Twilight fanfic, right?” Cue me, totally bewildered. The last time I’d checked, I hadn't written any Twilight fanfiction, so I wasn't sure what was going on. I did a little research and discovered a former Twilight fanfic titled FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and finally everything made sense.

No necktie on the cover here, people!.
Fast forward a few more months. Fifty Shades is blowing up! It’s everywhere. It’s on every booklist in the universe. It’s being featured on The Today Show, CNN, The Daily Show… Blog posts and websites are popping up with: Your Guide to the Different Shades of Gray books (which by this time, there are several). During the height of Ms. James’s popularity, I get an email from someone asking if I chose the title of my book in order to ride the wave of the Fifty Shades popularity. Uh…. What? And then a few weeks ago, my daughter went into the local B&N and asked, “Can you check to see if you have Shaedes of Gray in stock?” the clerk led her straight to the display with stacks of Fifty Shades of Grey. Daughter to B&N clerk, “Um, no.”

This is about the time I hit the brakes.

Was this the start of an identity crisis? Or more to the point, a book identity crisis? I worried that my book would be lost in the shuffle. That readers would see the cover and think, No. That’s not the book I want. But, honestly, the anxiety passed quickly. I realized that there’s room on the shelf for a hundred books with “shades” in the title. And just because one of those books was a pop culture sensation, it didn't mean that my book would be ignored or disregarded. In fact, sharing a similar title sparked conversation about my book. If it wasn't for the many titled “shades” books, mine wouldn't be listed on one of those which-is-which websites. Also, when you type “shades of gray” into a search engine, chances are my book will pop up with all of the others. It might draw the attention of a reader who might not have noticed it otherwise.

This is how I try to think of it: I have a friend, Amanda Carlson. We’re both Amandas. We both go by Mandy for short. We’re close to the same age, and have kids almost the same age. We both write urban fantasy. Chances are, our books will be pretty close to one another on the shelves. But despite all of those similarities, one truth remains: We are not the same person and our books aren't the same. And what about all of the other Amandas out there? Amanda Stevens, Amanda Quick, Amanda Hocking, Amanda Ashley, Amanda de la Garza… I could go on and on. There’s room for all of us. Just like there’s room on the shelves for Shaedes of Gray, Between Shades of Gray, Fifty Shades of Grey, Shades of Gray, Shades of Grey, and so on… The more, the merrier! 

How do you feel about similar book titles? Does it confuse you? Have you ever mistaken one book for another?

You can visit Amanda on her website or follow her on twitter.


Cover Drama: An Author's Guide to Surviving the Big Reveal

Will you have any control over your book's cover?

The answer varies widely depending on what sort of publishing house you're with, and what size. One rule of thumb (although there are many exceptions) is that the bigger your publisher, the less control you have over cover design.

I asked Ash Krafton, author of the recently published BLEEDING HEARTS (Pink Narcissus Press 2012) to describe how the process worked for her.

Artist Duncan Eagleson was assigned to my project. Duncan was one of the slush readers and my book’s champion, as he pushed for the company to accept my book. When it came time for cover work, I had full autonomy, even though I was wise enough to let the experts work their magic. Editor Mambert had asked me what I envisioned for my cover and I gave a description—which, honestly, sounded better in my head than it did in my email.
Thankfully, Duncan KNEW the story—he knew the characters, he knew the important plot elements, and he knew the tone.There were two rounds of covers—the first round was character-based and the second was more graphic (and ultimately the basis for the book’s cover.) We discussed the cover look through several emails and I knew that I could trust my publisher with the outcome. They loved my book as much as I do and they wanted nothing but the best for it.
To this day, I adore my cover and I adore the vision Duncan has for the rest of the series. He is planning a similar design with regards to title placement and central graphic (although I was less than helpful with a suggestion for the second book, Blood Rush. All I could tell them was that I pictured something red and fizzy-looking, like red Mountain Dew. I swear I heard Duncan’s palm hitting his forehead). Ah, well. He’s a genius. I know he’ll think of something.

It sounds great to have such a productive back-and-forth between the author and the art department. How would you describe that relationship to a first time author?

If a writer was having worries about their art director...I think my initial advice is...just remember—YOU write, THEY paint. Two different jobs, right?
You can make yourself feel better by researching their past projects. Read the books, look at the pictures, and ask: did they “get” those books? You may be able to find the confidence you need by doing so, allowing you to relax and trust them.
Thank you, Ash! You can read more about Ash Krafton on her website and her blog.


Hooray, My eReader is Spying On Me

This post also appeared on the Huffington Post, so if you frequent that site, feel free to friend me there!

By Sarah Pinneo

Twenty years ago, the cops chased me for trying to learn who buys books, and why.
The recent Wall Street Journal article detailing the way that ereaders report consumption data back to Barnes and Noble and Amazon will raise some eyebrows. There will be horrified comments, and some fresh fears about invasion of privacy. If enough consumers are angry, the vendors of ereaders might even choose to allow consumers to opt out.
But the charming world of publishing has lived in the Data Dark Ages long enough. Authors and editors have long bemoaned the fact that publishers know very little about who buys their product, and how it is consumed once it leaves the bookstore.
Exactly 20 years ago I began my publishing career as an intern in the marketing department at Random House. The sales system was newly networked, and publishing executives were getting timely data on how many copies were shipped. But they didn't know to whom, and they didn't know why.
On the marketing floor, we knew we were ignorant. But the data just wasn't available.
So off we went -- a marketing manager, an assistant and me. Three subway tokens later, and we stood in the middle of South Street Seaport, armed with clipboards and a four-question survey we'd hacked together the previous day. "Excuse me, sir," we'd say. "Can we ask you a few questions about your book buying habits?" We'd even brought gifts -- a copy of Flashmaps New York for anyone who would help us out.
But there were two problems. First, everyone we stopped seemed to be from friendly European countries where little English was spoken. And secondly, the cops chased us away. In truth, they were security guards. "Sorry, miss. This is private property. There's no soliciting here." It was a big rush, actually. Book nerds like me aren't often chased by anyone in uniform.
Fast forward exactly twenty years, and I'd like to applaud the makers of ereaders for collecting some of the first usable readership data in the history of publishing. If they want to know how quickly I tore through the new Christopher Buckley novel, or that I never finished War and Peace, so be it.
I wasn't aware that my Nook transfers user data back to Barnes and Noble, yet I can't think of a way that it harms me. When I browse titles at the retailer's website, I assume they're already using cookies to follow my e-footsteps around their store. In 2012, that's a given. I willingly donate this information in exchange for the ease of shopping at home. It seems naïve to assume that a miracle device which plucks newly purchased titles out of the ether shouldn't blip a few post-transaction details back to its maker.
If you don't like it, you can always buy a hard copy.
Sarah Pinneo is the editor of the book publicity blog Blurb is a Verb. She is most recently the author of Julia's Child (Plume 2012).


Summer Re-run: Meg Wolitzer's Answer to the Little Black Dress

New York Times Bestselling author Meg Wolitzer had just completed a book tour for her novel The Uncoupling when she wrote this.  I am utterly charmed by her approach to touring with her book, specifically her wardrobe coping mechanism!  Thank you so very much, Meg, for graciously allowing me to share your post on Blurb.  --Sarah

Meg Wolitzer writes:
This morning I am heading home from Seattle, having completed my book tour mission, which I chose to accept.  All the people who met me at the various readings and interviews had no idea that they were seeing a slightly unclean version of me, since my little black reading jacket held up remarkably well and gave the illusion of cleanness all the way from Atlanta to Washington State.  But truly, a writer on, say, day three of her book tour is just a few steps up from someone who lives in her car.  I decided to go for the rumpled but brainy look, figuring that if it works for Cynthia Ozick, it can work for me too.
This black reading jacket is indestructible, absorbing Pinot Noir stains (reception in Portland after reading at Powell’s) and ink stains (someone’s leaky pen after a reading in California) alike, and serving as a kind of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat garment (you see that I take every opportunity to put in a reference to Donny Osmond, the inexplicable crush of my formative years) for me as a writer.  When I wear it, I feel strangely calm.  Regardless of the crowd size, be it big or small, I am happy to read to them from my novel.  Honestly, one night I decided to switch things around and wear something sort of nubby and beige; I made it as far as the hotel elevators when I suddenly freaked, turned around, ran back to the hotel room, and changed into the black reading jacket.  Things went well.
I have no faith in, or interest in, the talismanic.  But I do think that the black reading jacket is to the writer (or at least this writer) what the little black dress is to any character on “Sex and the City.”  When I wear it I am protected from the fact that, as people sometimes say, Americans don’t read fiction as much as they used to.  When I wear it I feel that they do.  When I wear it I am certain that fiction rules.  In this jacket I live in a kind of Fictionlandia, where everyone either wears their own black reading jacket, or holds a ragged copy of a beloved novel, and goes running after their favorite writer to have her sign it, even with a leaky pen.
Okay, home now.

Sarah: Would it be bad luck to send it to the dry cleaner afterward?  Can its power survive?
Meg: I really, really think the dry cleaner is the thing to do.
Thank you, Meg!  
More of Meg Wolitzer's book tour wisdom can be found on her blog, Written on Ambien.  The Uncoupling was published on April 5th and can be found at your neighborhood independent bookstore!

Author Dan Kalla on Finding the Groove

Dan Kalla is one of those super humans who can manage both a literary career as well as a medical career. He began writing medical thrillers with PANDEMIC in 2005. But this time, he's changing genres. His new book THE FAR SIDE OF THE SKY is an historical novel about German Jews who escaped to China. I had a few questions for Dan about the publicity challenges of changing genre.

Q. As a doctor who first wrote medical thrillers, did you feel that promoting those titles got easier over time? Is there a "groove" you found in the process, or was each book launch a completely new experience?

A. Easier? Not really.  I will say this: with each book I have become more comfortable in promoting the book through means such as traditional interviews. I don’t get nervous on TV or radio any more. Also my skin is thicker when it comes to review coverage. However, the actual mechanics of promoting, if anything, have become tougher for me. First, while my passion for writing is stronger than ever, I cannot say the same for the art of promotion. I have yet to find my groove when it comes to the book launch. I’m often disappointed to learn that others are not as obsessed with my latest effort as my mother is! Seriously, it’s so competitive out there. Also, I’m not as social media savvy as everyone tells me that I should be. But I’m working on that.

Q. While there is clearly a strong medical thread running through all your writing, it appears that your new book is a departure from the established thriller genre into something at once literary and historical. And the book has been beautifully reviewed. Do you feel at all that the departure means you have to start over in finding your readership?

A. Yes and no. My most dedicated readers are giving this book a chance. After all, it’s a war novel that is loaded with suspense and medicine, so possesses many of the elements of my earlier thrillers. Still, it does represent a new genre and only time will tell how readers will embrace it. But this novel was so personal and the history—the amazing and little-known story of war-torn Shanghai and the twenty thousand German Jews who escaped there—is so important to me that I’m thrilled just to see it in print. And the very positive reviews from bloggers and reviewers have been incredibly validating but even more so, the wonderful feedback I’m hearing from readers has made the whole effort feel even more worthwhile.

Q. I notice that you do not list a Twitter account on your author website. Not every author can use every platform, and I'd love to know how you decided which electronic "tethers" to embrace, and which to live without.

A. At the urging of the professionals, I just signed up for Twitter. And my relationship with Facebook has thawed over the past few months. I cannot explain it. I have always been fairly computer savvy and I embraced the Internet early. And yet, I have been so slow and clumsy when it comes to social media. I realize what an amazing tool it is for raising awareness of a book, but somehow I have never been comfortable with the platform. But I’m determine to improve. After all, my daughters live on Facebook!