It is thirty years this month since I wrote my first book for publication. And after thirty years in the business it’s long been clear to me writing is a hard nosed profession. It’s rewarding. It’s a lot of hard work. But writers also have to be realistic – and tough about the realities.
The reality, especially these days, is that traditional publishing is in upheaval. It’s fighting to stay afloat – which means opportunities for lesser known authors are limited. Meanwhile, everybody and their dog is trying to self-publish via the internet, creating a flood of ‘noise’ that swamps the good stuff. It’s harder than ever to be discovered. Harder than ever to sell
That dictates the approach, and the questions authors have to ask when concocting a book these days have little to do with the art of writing.
When I come up with an idea for a book, I ask these questions – first:
1. What is the target audience? Specifically.
2. Why will they buy this book as opposed to any other?
3. Is anybody else doing the same thing?
4. What point of difference can I make in this book to set it apart?
5. How can I make that point compelling for buyers?
6. Which publisher or agent will look seriously at this idea?
Often I’ll extend that to the practicalities:
7. What price-point and presentation will best work for this book?
Publishers have their own expertise in this field, but it helps to conceptualise the book around the way they think – and publishers don’t necessarily publish because a book is brilliant literature. They publish because it’s going to sell – and questions of packaging, price point, presentation and target audience are the first ones on the list.
This is true for fiction and non-fiction alike. Or for a feature being pitched to a magazine, or a short story. These days, if I can’t answer those questions – and, maybe, get some hard data behind them – then I don’t write the book
What? What, you ask –but surely you write where the muse goes? Yes, writers write because they must – and it’s fun. But if it is to be more than a pastime, more than hobby entertainment with ambitions of publishing, it also has to be run as a professional business, with a bottom line. And that business is getting very difficult these days.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up: More about writing, more humour – watch this space