Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Problem With Catch Phrases

My homework for my publicity class is this: “Seriously evaluate your work and look for the threads or core story that pull at your readers’ emotions on a subliminal level. Once you find it, you may have to simmer and boil your message down to get it short, snappy, and concise.”

I have a small problem.

The theme of Tall, Dark & Dead is actually one that a number of readers are reacting to negatively on A couple of reviewers have written in to say that they find the main characters somewhat (or entirely) morally reprehensible. I didn’t intend for readers to find my heroine and hero unlikable (and, it should be noted, *most* readers aren’t finding them unsympathetic), but I did want my protagonists to wrestle with a fairly hefty moral issue honestly. That is to say the theme is a prickly one: “When is killing acceptable?” I think that this bigger issue, especially when diffused by a chick-litty chatty, romance heroine, is perfectly acceptable, even laudable in a vampire novel. Vampires, after all, by their very nature, are killers. Who better to have this kind of thematic conversation with, right?


Well, it worked enough to sell the book to my editor. I mean, I feel that this kind of moral question is very effective as a theme for a novel and as a conflict for a character, but I don’t know how well it’s going to boil down into a happy, snappy catchphrase with which to brand myself. “Tate Hallaway, the funny violence philosopher!”

Somehow I’m not hearing the cha-ching of bestsellerdom with that one.

The other approach, I suppose, is to try to position myself as the vampire chick-lit lady, except that brand already belongs to a number of authors. Probably the best well known being: Charaline Harris, Kim Harrison, MaryJanice Davidson, et al. So, how do I stand out, especially when my core story is so prickly?

Even my locale has even been taken. Whereas Harris is the Southern Vampire writer, Davidson has claimed the Midwest (being from and placing her novels in Minneapolis/St. Paul). My novel takes place in the Midwest also, but in the quirky capitol city of Wisconsin -- Madison. My main character is a Witch, but then so is Kim Harrison’s. My novels have an astrological element, but it’s not terribly strong in the second book. It’s probably not enough to "brand" myself with at any rate.

You begin to see my problem?

I suspect this tendency of mine to want to write about things that… well, matter (at least to me)… continues to get me into trouble (I believe this may have been part of my downfall in my other persona). I’m difficult to “brand” because, while my themes might be universal, my answers are personal. And, not, as the reviews are showing, always entirely things people who pick up a cartoonish covered romance really want to think about.

A better person would know how to spin this. I don’t.


Marlee said...

Hmm that's a little harsh for a first book, characters we just met. I like it when we get to grow with them and not know deepest feelings right away, like a real relationship. Like you said Vampires.

Waiting patiently for "Dead Sexy"...

Wendy said...

Your "brand" is you. Your writing style, your Garnet isn't Sookie, isn't Betsy, she's Garnet. Unlike Raye's Dead End Dating (which, IMO, is a Betsy knock-off), your book is unique, even if you fret over your place among the sea of supernatural fiction.

Garnet is a gem (ha!) and I look forward to reading more from you!

tate said...

Hey, thanks!

Paper_whore said...

I never saw your characters as completely lacking morality. The people complaining are the ones who need to go back to reading the cheesy harlequin romances where not even a bug is hurt and everyone lives happily ever after. They should just leave your books to those of us who can handle a little more realism. Well, as real at a vampire/witch/zombie/crazy nun story can be. ;-)

I LOVED your first book (and all the characters) and I'm recommending it to all my friends.

Yasamin said...

I just finished your book and was so excited when i got it from SFBC but I'm going to be totally honest with you. i think the issues that the people on Amazon are having is the confusingly rapid pace of deciding what was the more difficult and immediate issue. Sure the vatican issue was a biggie. but this whole new boyfriend that goofs in bed and bites Garnet, then she turns around and starts to screw old boyfriend on floor of her place, then turns around, and with no retribution in any way goes right back to new boyfriend. I kept thinking, if she was so worried about the vatican coming to kill her, she probably wouldnt have been jumping from bed to bed, leaving the issue unresolved.

It left me feeling like too much was left out there in the open.

I dont want you to think i dont like your book because honestly i do and im probably going to buy book two and so on. but im just wanting to give you another view of the story.

sure murder is wrong, but people do the strangest stuff when they are threatened. Its understandable. but if thats the case, then stick to it.

i hope your not pissed. just my opinion.

Paper_whore said...

Correct me, if I'm wrong, Tate, but I felt like those things were left open on purpose. I can see those themes continuing or being resolved in later books. I don't know all that much about Wiccan, but there seems to be a karma-like theme to it and I can't see Garnet getting away with two-timing the vamps forever.

tate said...

In the next book, in fact, Garnet has to decide between the two vampirs in her life.

However, I totally understand Yasmin's point. Garnet jumps into bed with Sebastian rather quickly (other people have commented on that on Amazon), and all I can say in my defense is that in an early draft they are in bed even faster. My editor made me slow things down. I guess this is just a matter of personality. Garnet is kind of randy... a bit like me, honestly. Most of the things in the book, I asked myself -- would I do that?

It doesn't mean that it works for everyone. I don't expect it to. I'm glad you liked the book enough to read all the way to the end.

Yasamin said...

Honestly I was intrigued by it and it did interest me. I did finish it. I did feel it was a little smooshed together, like how fast everything happens, but like you say its just how that story works. I understand that.

I'm working on my own story and it makes my eyes cross how many times i re-write something. I think whole editing process is going to kill me.

Tate, i want you to know that i do look up to you because you made it when quite a few of us aspiring writers are getting tossed around. I havent even gotten to that level yet but it scares the hell out of me.

Don't take what people say harshly (including me) because its all a matter of opinion.

lastly, I really like william. Please staighten that poor kids head out. lol

tate said...



And please don't worry about criticizing anything I write. I don't think I could have come this far if I couldn't take constructive criticism. I actually kind of thrive on it... why? It means that someone read my stuff and had a strong enough reaction to it that they continued to think about it long after it was over. That's a HIGH compliment in my opinion -- especially when it comes from a fellow writer.

Kimberly Raye said...


So sorry that you think my book is a knock off of the Betsy series. What's so hard is that books are in production often for years before being released. The first DED book was conceived and sold four years ago before the Betsy series hit the shelves. Readers don't often realize this. In our business, however, timing is everything. Sorry you didn't enjoy my writing. For Tate, I thought your book was wonderful and wouldn't worry so much about "branding" as I would just writing from the heart. I'll definitely be picking up your next book!