Monday, June 14, 2010

So I changed my tagline ...

You might or might not have noticed a slight shift in the profile image on the Facebook page yesterday. It’s repeated here on the blog. The mock cover used to say, “A novel about truth, justice, and making life up as you go,” and it now says, “A novel about truth, justice, and growing up with secrets.”

The reasons for the change are many and mostly uninteresting. The old slogan sounded too much like an Indiana Jones line; Trevor is more or less an over-planner, so he’s not really making life up as he goes and thus the slogan is invalid; several people told me to put something about growing up in the tagline to convey that the book is about teenagers (though in my experience, growing does not happen to everyone, and may occur outside the teen years if it occurs at all). Personally, I wanted to get away from the Courier font on the old image and go with the Batik Regular font I prefer for Masks materials.

But mostly, I was tired of the old tagline bugging me.

Marketing is a tricky proposition in the book world. The kind of temperament that can write a really good story—something exciting and truly original—generally is not very good at marketing. Great stories involve surprises at some point; marketing is very much about making a product fit into the way people already see the world. And in the case of books, it involves boiling the story down into a catchy line that people can remember—but of course, if the idea of a book could really be condensed like that without losing anything important, the author would have written a catchy line in the first place and not a book.

But with some recent and not-so-recent developments in the publishing world, most authors now accept that they have to do a fair amount of book marketing, including in the early stages before a book is published. This requires that the “message” of those materials be simple, consistent, and memorable. And because I am an inveterate do-it-yourselfer—my childhood toybox full of pipe-cleaner action figures, my closet full of homemade apparel, my memories rich with imaginary friends and the universes they inhabit—that meant coming up with that message myself, at least until I have someone else to help me out.

I’ve got a notebook lying around somewhere with a dozen “truth, justice, and” lines in it. The construction naturally suggested itself as de rigeur for anybody writing about superheroes, but the third word in the list is problematic. “The American Way” will not sell even if I should own the copyright to it; too many people now believe the American Way is, for example, Abu Ghraib, and it will be a while before that changes for the better, if it ever does. (And I’m not going to say what I think it means, because it doesn’t matter for this purpose what I believe about it—if I use terms whose meaning my readers cannot correctly interpret, I am using the wrong terms.)

I’d played with the “truth, justice, and” construction before. A Masks story I wrote and put out sometime around 2002 was titled “Truth, Justice, and My Way,” and involved a Frank Sinatra joke and the debut of one of my more popular villains. “Truth, justice, and secrets” worked nicely in the first trailer, but the more I thought about it, the more vague it seemed. Anybody can have secrets. I have secrets myself—but most of mine are fairly boring. What was so special about secrets in a book that was already about people in masks?

Ah, but growing up with secrets … that spoke to me. Rae and Trevor are still developing as people. Rae and Trevor at the beginning of the book are not the same as Rae and Trevor at the end, and by the time their saga is finished they will be still more different. And the secrets they keep—from each other, from themselves, and even from the reader—shape their growth the way a trellis shapes the growth of a vine. When the novel begins, Trevor has wrapped his life around the secret of the Very Bad Thing that happened to him while he was searching the world for his missing mentor, and even when that secret is revealed, there is another secret, buried deeper, that threatens to make an enemy of Rae because he can’t bear to share it with her. Rae, meanwhile, has patterned her masked life after a secret of her own connected to the coyote—a secret glimpsed in the flashbacks that appear occasionally in the book.

And somehow, those three ideas worked together in a way they didn’t manage separately. Truth—so much of this book is about Rae and Trevor seeking truth, or trying to prove it, or dealing with its ramifications. Justice—the story wouldn’t go anywhere if Rae and Trevor were not both convinced that justice matters, and that Cobalt’s behavior was fundamentally unjust. Rae in particular is concerned with justice, from her earliest experiences with a schoolyard bully (although I’ll admit she shades over into revenge for a while there). Growing up with secrets—they are both shaped by their secrets, and those secrets define the people they are becoming, for good or ill.

Plus, hey, this way I got to use the Batik font.

1 comment:

  1. You are really testing my memory with this one. Can you post the "old" tagline cover with the other font next to this one to make it easy on me?