Tag Archives: polishing

“He drinks WHAT?” Product placement in novels

At one point near the beginning of my work-in-progress (a contemporary romance set in a small mountain town in California), my hero sits in a greasy-spoon cafe and thinks about how much he misses being a Starbucks customer.

I didn’t put that thought in his head on a whim. You see, he’s a small-business owner, so he tries to support other small businesses as much as possible. He’s a sensitive guy with strong moral character (even if he totally screws the pooch when it comes to his heroine).

I’ve been getting some feedback from my husband and crit partners about this scene, and it’s funny the different reactions they’ve had. Two of my crit partners said things along the lines of: “Man, I know how he feels about Starbucks! Love that place.”

My husband (a lefty intellectual) asked why I was advertising for Starbucks, and whether I’d get paid for product placement.

Sometimes as writers, especially those of us writing contemporary novels, we use brand names as a sort-of shorthand. When I needed to think of an international company synonymous with taking over the world, I thought of Starbucks.

If my story had been set in the UK, I might’ve used the name of a supermarket chain (which shall remain nameless here, in the interests of not being sued) which is often the subject of documentaries because it seems to open supermarkets across the street from independent shops that can’t compete. There’s lots of worry here that small towns are becoming generic because big-name companies suck the life out of them.

In historicals, Ye Olde Name for products can help plant the setting in a reader’s imagination. Think about all the gratuitous capital letters and superlatives companies used to use when trying to sell The World’s Most Perfect Jar of Oil Ever Created, Known For Its Laxative Powers And Abilities To Regenerate Hair On Balding Gentlemen’s Heads. Okay, I made that one up, but I love it when historical writers introduce me to an authentic (or authentic-sounding) product.

But that shorthand won’t work for all readers. In fact, like with my husband, it can backfire and make a character less sympathetic.

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Filed under Thoughtfulness

How agents think

A couple months ago, I wondered out loud what kinds of questions agents and editors ask themselves about your manuscript when they’re reading it for the first time.

As if they’ve been pondering my post for several weeks,* three agents wrote blogs this week giving insight into how they think.

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Filed under Writer's toolbox

My first readers

On Friday I sent my synopsis and first three chapters to a few trusted friends. It felt like a truly momentous occasion. These were, after all, the very first people who would see anything I’ve written (well, for this novel, at least).

In return, I got the sound of crickets. Nada.

So I emailed them all and it turns out none of them received it. My email must have some kind of filter that considers romance novels unworthy.

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Questions to ask your manuscript

If you do get a critique partner (or, say, you have a wonderful PhD-candidate husband who’s studying literature and who looks at your last post lamenting the lack of a critique partner, and says in his most sympathetic voice: “I’ll be your critique partner”), what exactly do you get them to comment on?

It seems to me that it’d be handy to have a list of criteria agents and editors use to judge whether a manuscript is worth taking on. I’m sure this will be different for every agent and editor to some extent, but there must be certain questions that guide their decision-making process.

My initial thoughts are:

1. Are characters drawn realistically enough, or do they feel flat and one- or two-dimensional?

2. If they are realistically three-dimensional, are there any scenes or pieces of dialogue where they let themselves down and start to sound manipulated?

3. Are there scenes where your mind starts to wander to your to-do list? If so, how could I jazz the scene up or improve its structure?

4. Does the conflict help build tension, or is the story arc too flat?

5. Are there any scenes that seem to come from left field, in an unpleasant way?

What do you think? Do you have a list of questions you and your critique partner use to guide your discussions? If you’re an agent or editor, do you have set questions you ask yourself about manuscripts you receive?


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