Never interrupt me while I'm reading a book...

I saw this video a long time ago and forgot all about it until the song popped into my head the other day. Had to share with all my reader friends. So true! And look how simply saying "Don't you ever interrupt me while I'm reading a book" can make you look like a pop star!  :)

***Warning... this and other Julian Smith clips are hard not to watch over and over (I made this for YOU!) See video below:

Identifying with Characters: For the love of covers

Before we delve into this blog post any further, let's highlight the point of this post:

1) Identifying with characters as a reader


2) Placing yourself into that character's situation AS the character


3) The cover enabling either 1 or 2 to happen with the reader

4) Figuring out which cover readers like more, depending on 1 and 2

I'm going to be upfront about this--there will not be an answer at the end. I'm simply posting this because I'm curious: Do most readers prefer to get into the MC's head and know everything about them as a best friend? Or do they prefer to step into the character's shoes as the character themselves? And how much of a part do covers have to do with this?

Let's go over a couple of examples (some more overused as others--keep in mind we are not reviewing the books; I chose these examples based only on the covers):

Example #1 

Twilight (Twilight, #1)

This book series is insanely popular because the reader can very easily step into the MC's shoes. Bella does not say much about her appearance throughout the series, and in staying vague about it, the reader can share those experiences in a more personal way if they choose. Being as the series is romantical and angst-y and all, what better way to ensure that the readers feel Bella's feelings on a more personal level than to keep from sticking everyone with a specifically described MC on the cover (or in the books as well)?

Example #2

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Logline: Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

From a reader's point of view, I'd say it's not too hard to get into the MC's head and feel she could be you. It's also pretty easy to imagine you could be the girl from the cover view... the picture of the couple is small enough that you notice the word LOVE more than you see the MC. (So if the picture were a close-up, and a dark, straight-haired reader saw a blonde with long, curly hair, would that keep her from wanting to read it?)

Example #3

Stolen: A Letter to My Captor

Logline: It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him.

This is my story.

A letter from nowhere.

In Stolen, the MC's thoughts take precedence over everything else. You have an idea how she looks, but it doesn't get too technical. Description and thought processes are what make everything in this book matter--therefore, feeling that you personally could be the one "stolen" makes the book (in my opinion). If a girl's face had been put on the cover, some readers wouldn't be able to identify with the situation as much.

Example #4

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Logline: Girl Meets boy. Girl loses boy. Girl gets boy back... sort of.

You can see the guy holding the girl's hand... again, that hand on the left could be the reader's. If two faces were on the cover, the reader might be separated from the MC's emotional state a bit--they'd associate all the feelings with the face they saw, instead of how they would feel themselves in the same situation.

Example #5

Girl, Stolen

Logline: Please let me go, I won't tell.

Knowing the MC is blind and can't see anything as the events become more and more perilous is much more serious when you feel as though you've stepped into her shoes. You see what she sees (if you have read this, you'll know what I mean), vs. what could have been if an entire MC photo was on the cover and you simply read her thought process.

There are so many examples of full-on character covers, that I won't even bother trying to use my own example. Just go to this article called Uncovering YA Covers: How Dark Are They? (a post from back in 2010 regarding YA covers--it's actually a pretty interesting read) and you'll see how often a thin, (usually white) MC is wrapped around the book for all to see.

So, here's the question. In which books can you relate to the protagonist on a more personal level? I would guess the top five, not the hundreds shown in the examples on that blog post I shared. Here's my thinking on this: In seeing the person on the cover and knowing it is obviously not you, you feel distanced a bit.

Am I right? Does this even matter to people?

You tell me.

Would you, as a reader, prefer to get into the MC's head and know everything about them as a best friend would? 

Or would you prefer to step into the character's shoes as them? 

And how much of a part, if any, do covers have to do with this?

Writers and genre pigeonholes

Considering the fact that a few short days ago I'd stated we were going to go over dealing with being stuck in specific genres as writers, I was excited when a rather timely article appeared yesterday on Flavorwire titled, 10 Great Authors We Should All Stop Pigeonholing. In the article, Ms. Temple highlights ten authors whom most readers and writers alike are very familiar with (including Ray Bradberry, Jack London, and C.S. Lewis).  She points out that though we have labeled them in our minds and in the marketplace (some for many decades), all ten writers could have (and did/do) write/sell work in other genres.

I looked up the word "pigeonhole", just to see what kind of definition would come up. Oxford's online  dictionary actually uses a writer as one of its examples:


[with object]
  • 1assign to a particular category, typically an overly restrictive one:I was pigeonholed as a ‘youth writer’
  • 2put (a document) in a pigeonhole:he pigeonholed his charts and notes
  • put aside for future consideration:she pigeonholed her worry about him

Notice how the category is described? ...typically an overly restrictive one. I guess in a way, it's nice to know that this problem isn't new--writers have been dealing with the lack of categorical freedom for a long time. (Because in the long run--and the short run, too--it's all about the way to make the most profit. And not necessarily for the author.) That doesn't exactly make it any easier, however. Does it? I came across a few articles while going over this, and thought I'd share two.

First, quite a while back I watched a documentary on type-casting. The director featured famous actors--some who had been stuck in the same stereotypical role for a long time, and others who'd been able to step over that "pigeonhole labeling" category and move on to something different (and many times, even better). Now, I can't remember many of the actors anymore (it really has a been a while since I watched it), but I'll never forget this guy:
Stephen Tobolowsky Picture

(picture courtesy of Todd Wilson/ IMDB)

Recognize him? His name is Stephen Tobolowsky. More often than not, he's played quirky, awkward characters who never had a chance at much of a social life.

The documentary pointed out that though Mr. Tobolowsky was a great actor, he had definitely been type-cast, and that action wasn't an easy thing for him to reverse. Some of you may not know Mr. Tobolowsky's face, but he has a very distinct voice. And things have obviously changed over the past few years, because he is now the voice of the Discover Card's 5% cashback commercials. Doesn't sound awkward at all in those commercials to me! You go, Mr. Tobolowsky!

So see, no one is doomed to be type-cast forever! Same goes for writing. The problem is, we writers usually don't get to make that choice.

Back in September, author Dan Thompson posted a blog titled "Avoiding the Genre Trap"  on his blog, Making It Up As I Go. He specifically talks "the literary equivalent of type-casting". The part that really stood out to me is below:

One author described how his advances became something of a trap, because he felt he could no longer afford to branch out and try a different genre or experiment with some of his stranger ideas. While it might make a fabulous novel, even a commercially successful one, he knew he could never sell something that different on a proposal. So he stuck with what he knew, living from one advance to the next.
Most of all that, of course, is second or third hand information, but I confess that this is one of the things that pushed me towards self-publishing. I did not want to find myself in the position of writing a particular book simply because it was a lot like the last one. That’s hardly the only reason I went that way, but it did enter into my thinking.

This is exactly what so many authors are stuck with, worrying about, or trying to determine whether or not they want to push through on their own without the help of a traditional publisher. It's kind of the same problem I am having--PITY ISN'T AN OPTION is dystopian, technically, and yet agents have specifically told me that it is "not dystopian enough". Here's the deal, though. I do not want to make it any more dystopian. Therefore, we're at an impasse... because unless the entire storyline changes (taking away from the whole point of it in the first place), PITY has to stay like it is. (Am I holding anything against these agents for their comments? No. It's not their fault the market is labeled so black and white, nor is it their fault that I'm just another anonymous person out in the writerly world trying to get my book into people's hearts.)

So it looks as though more and more writers are going to go self-pub. To think that writing one way actually inhibits you to write another later on is strange. To think that writing what you love makes it difficult to share is just plain sad.

Funny how, even five years ago, this was more faux pas than it is now. Funny how, in a few short weeks, you can go from editing the last draft of your manuscript to publishing it on a website, and boom.... There it is for all to digitally purchase and read. Funny how agents and (famous) writers alike like to say, don't worry about a specific genre or if it's insanely marketable, "write what you love!" (There are articles all over the internet but one example is here.*)  Then, they immediately tell you "Hey, yeah... I can't market this."

Okay, so it's really not that funny.

Way back when, people thought self-publishing was a curse. Interesting how now, writers all over the world consider it a blessing. (As do readers lately, it seems). Things are a-changing, my friends.

Consider what agent Sara Megibow, from Nelson Literary Agency, tweeted yesterday: If publishing becomes more like music (possible) then there will be a few HUGELY commercially successful authors (both trad and self pub)...

See, now, I'm fine with that. I think *most* writers who are struggling to get their work under readers' noses would be fine with that, too! The whole point of getting through the drafts and the words and the love and the angst of writing isn't to stuff it under a box and walk away, it's to allow others the gift of seeing the end of your journey!

So, friends, what is your take on all this? Would you 

a) write FOR the market, and in doing so, label your work a specific genre in order to have a higher chance of getting it to go somewhere (and/or even completely revise your work to have more of a chance at traditional publishing), 

b) write for your HEART, and then after all is said and edited, go about trying to squeeze it into one genre


c) try to do a little bit of both?

And if the genre label/type-cast/pigeonhole wasn't working for you, would you rewrite it all, or lean toward self-publishing in order to keep your story true?

I would love to see your responses (along with examples of genres people have used/bent themselves that aren't particularly traditional) below!


*I am in no way dogging this agent or her response to the question or her opinion on the matter... just showing one quick example of advice offered all over the interwebs from the literary world.