For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

April 17, 2015
I just want to start this newsletter with a huge, huge, HUGE thank you. The reaction to the Truthwitch cover reveal was more than I ever could have hoped for, and I have NEVER had my Twitter feed so overwhelmed. I couldn't keep up! And it was the most AMAZING problem to ever have!!

So thank you. I'm now even MORE excited to finally share Truthwitch and the Witchlands with you.

You guys are seriously the freaking BEST.

For the Misfits:
Preorder Truthwitch + Free Bookmarks!

In case you missed it, Truthwitch went up for preorder on Amazon! Other sites should follow soon. And of course, you can always order a signed copy from Schuler Books once Truthwitch actually releases next January 5. :)

On a similar note, SIGNED SWAG. Signed swag is always available if you send me a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). I have SS&D bookmarks, Aim for the Knees stickers, and shiny new Truthwitch bookmarks! Learn more here! Or, if you'll be at RT or BEA, then snag some swag then!

(Note: I ran out of SS&D trading cards last month, but I got a sudden SURGE of requests for them, so I've ordered new batch and they'll be coming your way soon!! :D)

Last, but NOT LEAST, I have an official signing time for BEA (BookExpo America). Come find me (and get an ARC of Truthwitch!) on Wednesday 5/27 at 3:00 PM at the Macmillan booth!! I'll also be doing Teen Author Carnival the night before at the Jefferson Market Library on 5/26!


For the Daydreamers:
What Makes a Book Fresh?

I got this question in the forum a few weeks ago, and it's one I get pretty often--not to mention one I ponder pretty often.

I’ve been hearing how folks love stories that are “fresh” and “original” and “marketable”. When you’re writing or planning a story, how do you know if your story concept is marketable? (Especially, if you don’t have someone like an agent to give you advice.) How do you know if the stuff you’re writing is “fresh”? How do you maintain freshness for all your stories? (Especially for stories that use common tropes like a magical object.)

This is a tough question answer because...well, there ISN'T an easy answer. I can offer some advice and possible insight, but there's no magical "here's how" technique.

But to explain why, I'll need to break apart this question and approach it from two angles:

1) What makes a book marketable?
2) What makes a book fresh?

So let's start with marketability. There's this phrase, "high concept," tossed around all the time, but it's pretty hard to define. It's like porn or steampunk--you know it when you see it.

I like to qualify it as a story easily condensed into a single sentence + a BIG commercial hook.

Genetically engineered dinosaurs break free on an island and kill everyone. (Jurassic Park)

Teens in a dystopian future have to fight annually to the death for the entire nation to watch on TV. (Interestingly enough, that line could apply to The Hunger Games or Battle Royale--both of which are awesome.)

A high-functioning zombie works in a morgue, eats brains, and solves crimes. (iZombie)

I would consider each of those "high concept," and people in publishing (or Hollywood) are always chomping at the bit for it. Supposedly.

It turns out that just because your book is high concept, doesn't mean a publisher will want it. And even if a publisher wants it, when the book releases, READERS might not want it...

I mean, consider this: publishers have no IDEA what will sell. They are buying books knowing that there will be a two year lag time between purchase date and when the book ACTUALLY hits shelves. That's a HUGE stretch of time in which trends will change, new zeitgeist hits will explode, and what publishers hope will hit big might fall of the reading radar entirely...

Take The Hunger Games as an example. If publishers had known it would explode like it did, they would've bought up a LOT more ruthless dystopian at the exact same time that they bought The Hunger Games. That's not what happened of course, and for a while, there was no other series for us to glom onto after we'd finished THG.

Divergent was the next thing to come along, and...well, you can kind of see why it exploded, right? It was still close enough in time to hit that THG button--but also different enough to help expand the dystopian genre and grow into something entirely its own.

By the time the market was flooded with dystopians, though,The Hunger Games and Divergent had already been out for a while--and the market was starting to shift its fickle gaze onto something else.

Moral of the marketability story: there is absolutely NO guessing what will be a trend by the time you finish a book...and then by the time it hits shelves. And there's simply no guessing whether--even if you sell and hit a trend--readers will respond to YOUR book in particular. While you may try to fit into a nice high concept box (it can certainly improve your chances of catching an agent's/publisher's eye), it's much better to write a story that you love. I'm such a firm believer that love for what you're writing transcends the page and draws readers in more deeply than some hot, one-sentence pitch ever will.

Now let's move on to what makes a book fresh.

This is a different problem than marketability because now you're really concerned with what has already done and what is about to be done (or about to release).

So how do you know what's been done/is coming? Well, you can read a lot of books OR (an easier option) you can keep track of what's releasing in your target genre. Read books summaries on Goodreads, check out what's high on the Amazon
bestseller lists, and if you have a Publishers Marketplace subscription, keep track of what publisher's are buying.

I wish I had done this when I wrote Something Strange and Deadly. I knew what publishers were buying thanks to PM, but I hadn't been keeping of track of new releases. Cassandra Clares's Clockwork Angel released about two weeks after I sold my book to HarperCollins. I read the summary of that book on Goodreads and just about DIED. On the surface, our stories sound SO SIMILAR. I actually ran out and bought a copy right away--just to make sure I hadn't somehow, unintentionally, written a book identical to something already out there. After reading it, I can safely say the books are NOTHING alike in terms of plot or character. Do I think fans of Clockwork Angel would like SS&D? Most definitely--and vice versa--but the actual stories are completely different.

Still, I wish I known about that upcoming release before I even got an agent. I would have adjusted the name of my Victorian ghostbusters (mine are the Spirit-Hunters, Clare's are the Shadow Hunters! OOPS!) and I would have majorly tweaked a few plot points to be more distinct (at least on a surface, summary level) since both series are set in 1876 and both start out with a girl going after her missing brother!

Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, right?

But, as mentioned, once I had read Clockwork Angel, I knew that my books was wildly, wildly different. My voice is MY VOICE, and only I can write MY BOOKS the way that I do. Even if I had the exact same idea as a fellow author, the way I execute it will be completely different.

Now, if you're worried about tropes or cliches, then that's a valid storytelling aspect to consider. But notice I said that's a STORYTELLING aspect--not so much a marketability/freshness aspect. Tropes are going to appear in your stories (and mine) no matter what. How you HANDLE them and spin them to feel new--that's entirely up to you.

And it's something that, if you don't get right on the first try (I certainly never do!), then a trusted critique partner can call you on it--and then you can fix the trope/cliche in revisions.

But the only way to recognize something for a trope/cliche is to--again--read what's out there. Watch TV and movies. Absorb all forms of storytelling that you can. And for goodness sake, try to find a critique partner you trust (it can take a while! It certainly took me a while!!). An outside pair of eyes will always be better at spotting problem areas, and it's always, ALWAYS helpful to have a storytelling friend with whom you can discuss sticky issues in your story.

Moral of the freshness story:
Read widely. Keep track of what's selling (so you can tweak your own story for surface uniqueness if needed). And finally, find a critique partner to help you spot specific tropes/cliches in your story that need work.

Now, as always, if you have any questions about, drop by the forum to askThanks for reading, and here are a few links to wrap up your Friday. :)

photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2014
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 410
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.