"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, March 1, 2010

How deep is your brand?

It all started this weekend, while I was in our bathroom, putting on my make-up. We were getting some kind of movie channel for free - we never pay for the premium movie channels, but Dale will watch them during those Subscribe Now! weekends. The latest Mission Impossible movie had just ended, I had stopped picking it apart, and Dale had left the bedroom, probably to escape my witty-yet-annoying commentary. Another movie started, but which one?

The stars rotated around the screen: Paramount Pictures presents. Then came an idyllic scene that might feature happy bunnies, except the music sounded like ominous and depressing drumming, along with a dash of moaning. I was pretty sure happy bunnies would not like this soundtrack, even if it was from Shangri-La productions. At that point, the idyll was replaced by what looked like a wall of dark rock, all grey and rust tones, with another company's name - ImageMovers on the screen.

"Oh for pity's sake, just tell me what movie it is," I told the TV. Then my brain said, I'll bet this is Beowulf.

Guess what? My brain was right. It was that hot mess from a couple of years ago that kinda sorta told the Beowulf legend in pre-Avatar live yet animated effects. Not only did I not see the film, I didn't even pay attention to the trailer, except to note that Angelina Jolie had taken her clothes off again.

But apparently the trailer had reached a piece of my brain, enabling me to recognize the movie from the music and the image of that rock wall. Either that or I'm psychic, and I'm pretty sure I can't see the future. If I could, I'd have better luck in Vegas.

This event dovetailed with a conversation I had at the SCWC with Andy Peterson. He's the author of First to Kill, a great thriller that was released in 2008. His next book will be out this year, featuring the same characters, and we were talking about writing series.

"My next book will be 'Forced to Kill'," he said. "To link the titles together. Are you doing something like that after Freezer Burn?"

Until he brought it up, I hadn't thought about giving my books similar names. I remember Barry Eisler talking about how much he hated his books' names, but the publisher wanted to capitalize on his character, John Rain. So there was Hard Rain and Rain Fall and Rain Storm, and - well, you get the picture. Clever, but nothing about the names told you they were thrillers about a Japanese/American assassin.

Barry's books were problematic for me, because I couldn't keep them straight and kept ordering the same one. Even Sue Grafton's alphabet series gets dicey for me. You can jump around from letter to letter, but I don't always associate the title of her books with the plots, and I find myself asking if I've read B or D.

That's the main problem with series, at least for me. If the title doesn't suggest something about the plot, I'm liable to forget whether I've read it. I bought Patricia Cornwell's All That Remains, read it, and almost enjoyed it (the ending felt unsatisfying). Then, I bought it again, because I loved the title and didn't remember reading it. By contrast, I bought Point of Origin, enjoyed it well enough, but won't buy it again because I know Point of Origin has to do with fire, and the plot has to do with fire. Voila! The memory connection has been made. Oh, plus they burned a bunch of horses in the plot and I'm still just a little sick about that, even if they are pretend horses.

So my first book is titled Freezer Burn, because it revolves around what is found in a freezer and how the twists of the mystery burn our heroine. The second one is tentatively titled Hit or Missus, because Peri must investigate a group of bored, rich women who may or may not have an Assassins-for-Hire business.

Having said that, I felt a sudden pang during my talk with Andy, as if I had done something wrong and needed to go home and figure out a title that plays on 'freezer' or 'burn'. I mumbled words about how I may have to think about it, and nothing's set in stone and sometimes publishers change your title anyway. Then I had a glass of wine and thought about my 'brand.'

By the next day, I had a plan of action. I would continue to give my books titles that represent their plots, but I would work with my publisher to include the bloody hand and martini glass on each cover. We could make it a game, like the Playboy bunny on the magazine. (Calm down, boys, I sincerely doubt ANY of my covers will look like Playboy.)

I'd love to hear some discussion about this - do you have any problems remembering individual books in a series? Do you like them to have similar or different titles, or does it matter? What do you think of my idea to tie my books together?

Or if you want, just stop by and say hi.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I find books that have similar titles are very confusing because I do have memory issues. I usually end up checking the publication date. I figure if it’s a few years old, I probably read it. If it’s a recent date, I might buy it and hope for the best. I prefer books that have titles that relate to the story.

I like your idea to include the hand and martini glass on each cover.

B. Miller said...

I think if the stories are somehow connected, a series of similar titles make sense. However, if your stories have nothing to do with each other, I'd separate the titles... With a recurring character like Peri, as a reader, a related title would make sense and tie the brand together in my brain. But I really don't think it makes much difference, as long as you have something to distinguish the books as going together.

condon said...

Good morning, Gayle. I can certainly relate and yes, I HAVE purchased the same book twice, only to take it to our hospital's Thrift Shop, where they LOVE new books.

You know the answer...it's not the title, but the COVER ART that counts. Sorry, but being an art major, that is what drives me to buy a book...and Freezer Burn is so darned attractive, you just have to model your new release after the last. Loved the typestyle for your name, too. Very chic!

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of tying books together. Of course Patterson does the nursery rhymes. Me, I like one word titles. My trilogy names are Breakthrough, Opening, and Escalation.

Stephen Tremp

Rick said...

Hey Gayle,

I agree with you and Barry. Just went to the library yesterday and couldn't remember which Rain titles I had already read. Please use different titles related to the plot. But Linda and I both vote YES to the handprint and martini glass.

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