Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolution Road's that time of year again - the very last day! I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed, and much like my protagonist, Jillian, I often wish I could press the pause button to have a moment to step back and appreciate it all. But...since I can' thing I like to do, come the end of the year, is take a deep breath and reflect on both the milestones and the slip-ups from the previous 364 days, so I can better arm myself for the next 365.

As far as resolutions? Well, I'm sure that I have some - have morCheck Spellinge patience with my husband, eat one dessert fewer every night (I tend to sample one of everything in the house, sigh) - but they're not yet concrete. What really helps me is to assess the path of the prior year and see what changes I might like to implement, because without doing so, they're just sort of blind promises that are bound to fail.

So, that said, my past year has been pretty spectacular. It's felt like the sort of year that comes along only so often every lifetime, and part of me is a little nervous that I'll never top it. But then I think of the conversation my husband and I had before our daughter was born, the one in which he worried if he'd love our second child as much as our first - because we really, really loved our first - and now, we both look back on that and crack up because, of course we love her madly, and of course, just because you have one great thing happen to you (or one banner year), doesn't mean that it can't repeat itself!

I guess the key for me is to figure out how to replicate those results...and it really all boils down to writing a book that is as appealing as Time of My Life. And I'm doing my best. I'm 40 pages in, and I'm working like hell to make it all that TOML was, but ultimately, and this may simply be my resolution, I also have to let go the comparison-game. (Not unlike that first vs. second child thing.) It's hard. It's very, very hard. I reread passages and think, "Is this as snappy as TOML? Is this BETTER than TOML?," and then I get out of my head and out of my writing groove. So, yes, I think this may very well be my resolution because, as I've said here before, all I can do with this book is make it the best possible 300 pages that I have in me. I didn't write TOML with the intention of a future movie or of hitting the NY Times list. That these amazing things happened were just the cherry on top. Before they did happen, however, I was thrilled with and proud of the book...and that would have been enough for me.

So the lesson, in thinking through my year, and where I am at present, is that the big stuff is probably out of my control. What has to matter is what is enough for me, and that would be to set aside expectations that are now attached to me, and simply to write. Maybe this is the same goal as last year - I'll have to go back and find that post - but it seems like a worthy goal, nevertheless.

So you heard it here: if I ever blog about how I'm stuck because I feel paralyzed with the expectations of TOML on me - remind me: Just write the dang book already! As an author, that's what I should be doing all along.

I'd love to hear what your resolutions (work and non-work) are this year! Spill! And have a happy - and SAFE - new year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is Chick Lit the Kiss of Death?

Question of the Day: Is there a difference between "commercial women's fiction" and "chick lit"? I think the novel I'm writing could fit into either category; i.e., it's the funny/sad/triumphant story of three young women figuring out their spot in life (and running a marathon-- shout out to a fellow runner :). They're single and young in a city, albeit Pittsburgh rather than NYC. I've thought of it as "chick lit"-- I embrace the term, actually, but I know to many it carries a stigma. Plus, my story contains more Nikes than Manolo Blahniks, and I've heard that the Chick Lit trend peaked a few years ago. When I'm ready to pitch the book to an agent, which term do you think I should use? Does it matter? Do you deliberately avoid the "chick lit" categorization in your own writing?

Great question. (Or questions.) I'll start by addressing the first question: is there a difference between CL and commercial women's fiction? And the answer, in my mind, is slightly. But before I get into this, I want to say that I think they're both equally great and that the only people who really delineate between all of the various categories are INDUSTRY folks, not consumers, and at the end of the day, it's the consumers who matter. But, yeah, when pitching your agent, I suppose it matters how you categorize it, if only to boost its appeal to said agent. And then, once signed, it matters how your agent pitches it to editors and then, once bought, how the marketing and cover design people perceive it, because all of these interpretations help shape the final presentation of your book to the buying public...but...still, I don't think consumers walk into bookstores and think, "Gee, I want to buy a commercial women's fiction book today." Does that make sense? What I'm saying is that these categories matter, but they are not the holy grail.

Anyway, in my opinion, the difference between CL and CWF - and this is just the general perception, and again, I'm certainly not taking away from either - is that CL is slightly less weighty. Breezier, less grave subject matter, if you will. I don't even know that the married vs. single thing matters so much anymore - I think it's more about the overall plot and the issues it addresses. I also think that CWF can skew a little more literary, though this definitely isn't always true. Think of it this way: my first book, The Department of Lost and Found, was classified as CWF, though I've seen plenty of folks call it chick lit. I don't really care what people call it, as long as they buy it. :) But it was classified as CWF because of the gravity of its primary plot device: cancer, and because it was deemed slightly more literary than your classic beach read.

These days, certainly, CL gets a bad rap. The industry bought so many CL books a few years back that they oversaturated the market, and ended up publishing a lot of not-so-great reads, even though there were plenty of great ones published at the same time. And yes, there's still a market for it - just look at the trade paperback new release rack at your bookstore. But some agents will cringe at the term because so many insiders have said that the CL market is dead. I don't think it is. I think they've just repackaged a lot of these books - Emily Giffin, Jane Green - they're great writers who are called both CL and now, CWF, and really, does it matter? And do I write with one in mind? Definitely not. I write with the voice that I find suits my characters and my story best. That the industry has deemed this CWF is just fine with me because I adore my covers and the support I've gotten with marketing, etc, but I write what I write, as well as I can, the end.

But, that said, I have read a lot of editors saying that they're more apt to buy CWF (again, because of perception, whether or not they're the same thing as CL), so I might use this term in your query letter. Not because one is better than the other, in terms of writing (I just want to be clear on this, because I have plenty of friends whose work I admire who write CL), but because the industry is in such disarray right now, that I think agents might find any reason to pass on your query letter and the term CL might be it.

Of course, what REALLY matters in your query letter is a strong voice, an engaging plot and a few sentences that leave the agent wanting for more. The rest? Not nearly important.

What say you readers? How would you advise her?