This week I have been considering the reader which brings me to consider the writer. Too often as a writer, we tend to underestimate our reader. We do this by adding too much exposition in our dialogue or by explaining feelings. Sometimes you have to give the reader the benefit of the doubt. To be a successful writer you need to remember the skills you have learnt as a reader. (Please tell me that you do read!)
I have spent the last couple of week’s, since the Writers Conference, editing. I have been editing and cutting a lot of my own WIPs. I have also been editing and critiquing my critique partners’ WIPs. To be able to edit, you need to put on your reader’s eyes. As a writer it is so easy to get caught up in the story you are telling. It is too easy to forget, that if publication is your goal, strangers not familiar with your thought processes will be reading your story with the hope of getting caught up in it as well. Since they are not familiar with you as a writer, how will they be judging or critiquing your WIP? They will be judging from their experience as a reader of other writers. In the end, they will be holding up your story in comparison to other stories they have read.
As a fledging writer, you often read and hear, via blogs or direct advice, that you need to know your peers: your market. Does this mean you must copycat other published authors? No. But for anything to be saleable it has to find a market in which to base its pitch.
Think of a bookshop. Is everything just alphabetically arranged like a library? No. The books are arranged by genre and comparative authors/storylines. I love libraries as much as any reader but I do get frustrated when I am just browsing the books without knowing where the genres that I love are placed. If a bookshop were like a library, you would have very few sales in books.
In my day job, I work in sales management. In my daily day-to-day duties, my whole goal is to maximize both the buying experience for a customer as well as maximize my profits by increasing salability. No matter how great a product may be, if it is not marketed correctly – through visual merchandising and advertising – it will not a find an appropriate market for customers. This is particularly true with a brand new product. The customer needs to know what this product is comparative with. Once they have something known to compare the unknown with, you have hooked them much like a fish on a hook.
This brings me back to knowing your peers. Your WIP is finished and is perfectly edited. It is submission time. First you look for an agent. Do you approach any agent? Do you hold a lucky draw for the agent that will love your work? If you submitted your YA fantasy to an agent that specialised in medical thrillers, do you think your bait would take? In all probability, even if the agent is intrigued, the agent will reject your WIP. So how do you know which agent to submit to?
You research. You compare. You do your homework. It is safe to be said that the largest accomplishment of actually finishing your WIP is the hardest part of writing. Suffice to say, the creative end of the process is basically complete but now the business end of the process begins. Your precious WIP that you have spent hours of grueling energy over is now just a “product” in the “shop of publishing“.
Firstly you need to have decided which market you are writing for. Hopefully this thought entered your mind before starting your WIP. So you have decided that your book is going to be the next “Harry Potter” of the publishing world. You need to approach the agent that took on JK Rowling. You will not be approaching John Grisham’s or Danielle Steele’s agent.
You have made a choice on which agent you will be pitching to. Now comes the query letter and the submission. This query letter is your first rung on the sales game. You have to consider that your prospective agent has very little time to waste on reading every submission on the “slush – or unknown writer’s – pile”. So this is your chance to sell your novel. First you have to give them a marketable audience. Tell the agent whose writing you most compare to. Then give the agent a killer sales line that will make them sit up and take notice. In this query letter it is important that you not think like a writer but that you think like a salesman. If you have followed all the rules of submission for the particular agent, you can leave the rest up to them. If they decided that yes, you may have a story that will market to Harry Potter fans but is a different enough story line that it will leave the reader entertained and not bored, you will have hooked your first customer for your book. It is then up to a collaboration between agent and writer to take it to the next level and submit it to a publisher.
Each step of the publishing game from submission to an agent to being accepted for publication is a sales game. It takes market savvy to be able to market and sell your book. You have to realise your prospective reader is going to put down hard-earned dollars to buy your book. Give him something he recognises and then WOW him with something fresh. Think like a reader throughout the entire process of writing your WIP. Are you talking down to the reader? Are you entertaining/boring the reader? Are you antagonizing the reader? Are you leading the reader into a maze in your imagination or are you giving the reader tools to solve this puzzle? Are you giving away too much/not giving away enough of the story? Are you giving the reader the benefit of doubt? Are you respecting the reader?
The reader is ultimately your customer in the business of publishing. Do you want your book to be published and sold? Then respect the reader’s credibility as a customer first and a reader second. After all they have to buy your book before they read it. Writing your book is a creative and personal process. Submitting your book for publication is a marketing game. Publishing your book is a sales game.
Give them something they recognise but give them a new way of looking at a familiar subject. Be market savvy. Be reader savvy.
© All rights reserved Kim Koning
- Arielle Ford: 3 Key Elements of a Great Query Letter (huffingtonpost.com)
- How to Get Published: Take the Leap of Faith (blogher.com)
- Never give up when it comes to getting published: Soren Paul Petrek (cballan.wordpress.com)
- DIY MFA: How to Get an Agent (Part Five) (stirrup-queens.com)
- Follow-Up on Writers Earning Money (rejecter.blogspot.com)
- The Future of Publishing (advancedfictionwriting.com)
- Avoid these traps for your readers (billbennett.co.nz)
- Lighting Up Your Reader’s Brain: Can Neuroscience Teach You to Be a Better Writer? – Forbes (blog) (blogs.forbes.com)
- How do You Help Your Readers? (theantisocialmedia.com)
- Spread the word: The rise of the literary night out (independent.co.uk)
- Writing with specific readers in mind (Rachna’s Scriptorium)