Write a book that is both publishable and marketable
Something all writers aspiring to become published should think about before they write a book is whether its concept translates to the book being “marketable”. This is completely separate from the book being “publishable”, but the two things necessarily go hand in hand. For a book to be publishable, it must be of a very high standard in every aspect. This encompasses many elements that make up the finished product. It is the “product” that has to be “marketable”. This article focuses on the aspects and techniques that will help to make a book tick all the boxes and achieve success.
Publishing is a business – so is becoming a successful published author
Publishing is a business, and the business owner needs to be as certain as they can be that the products or services they offer for sale will sell and make money for them. No matter how much a writer thinks their book deserves to be published, the Editor of the publishing enterprises they submit to are entitled to make the decision to accept or reject the “product”. It is no different from a boutique owner deciding to stock one dress style and not another – or a building contractor using the same sub-contractors because they have demonstrated a superior service in the past.
One factor that influences an Editor is “quality of product”. Editors do not have time to coach writers when they submit work that is not close to publication standard. Writers need to have the good sense to hold back from submission until their writing, manuscript presentation and book marketing skills are at a high level. It is naïve to think just because you have written a book it will be snatched up for publication. There are too many factors that make a book publishable and marketable for that to happen early in your journey towards success. It can happen, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
Here are some of the elements a book must have for it to be in the running for a serious review by an Editor:
The most important element for any book is its originality. Here are two examples of books – non fiction and fiction – that have succeeded because of originality:
Housewife (Rachael Bermingham) from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia co-authored the 4 Ingredients Cookbook with her friend Kim McCosker. It was the second best selling book in Australia in 2007. In 2009 it became the best selling book overall in Australia. Following the outstanding success of 4 Ingredients, Rachael and Kim decided to partner up again to write a sequel - 4 Ingredients 2. Released in August 2008, it was just as big a success as the original book. What made the first book such a success was its originality, simplicity and its wide appeal to ordinary people wanting to make time and cost effective meals. You could say it was a recipe for success!
For writers on non-fiction, the bottom line is coming up with a book idea that nobody else has thought of which is also going to appeal to the wider community or a large sector of it.
If you are fiction writer, the path to success is not clear-cut, but the premise is the same. A story that is original will have a better chance of publication than one that is just like a hundred other books by other aspiring writers.
Recently, I met a young man who had just signed a publishing contract with a major Australian publisher for his first book. Most writers realise that not many first books succeed at first submission. During our discussion, this proud author showed me the cover of his soon to be released book. It became obvious during out discussion that he had hit on a very original concept for his story. I promised not to reveal anything about the book, but I am surprised nobody else thought of what he did ages ago. The door is now open to this young man for follow-up books that are sure to be accepted for publication in the future. He was “first cab off the rank” with the type of story he formulated. No doubt the book was also well written for a major publisher to take him into their stable.
From these two examples, it is apparent that originality is one of the key factors that made these books both publishable and marketable.
With non-fiction, the structure of the book must flow in a logical configuration. Because a non-fiction book relies more on fact than imagination, it is not too difficult to formulate an acceptable structure for the book by organising all the content in a sequence that makes rational sense. This order of topics can be changed to suit the content as it is plugged into the structure.
Of the many other elements contained in a fiction book, good structure is crucial. Without this, a story can become disjointed. New writers should always stay within the bounds of convention while they are trying for publication. There is no substitute for the Chapter containing 1-5 scenes with strong transitions and scintillating end of chapter hooks. Don’t try to be “cute” by opting for some obscure pattern for your story with lots of flashbacks. Stick to a timeline that takes the reader from the beginning to end of the story. Don’t jump all over the place. Introduce backstory in strategic places – enough to give the reader what they need to know at the time – not the life story in five pages of the central characters. I also advise never to put dialogue into backstory. Keep the dialogue immediate, spoken by characters who are “on stage” when they speak the words.
It goes without saying that the story must be dynamic. It isn’t enough for a writer to take the reader through a sequence of events, one after the other, without offering the type of dynamism that keeps the reader’s attention, page after page. Inject anything into your story that “ups the ante” and provides more drama.
Good story structure also assists the writer to maintain the right pace for the story. Planning the highs and lows allows creative control. A savvy writer needs to judge exactly where to quicken or slow the pace of a story to give the reader time to catch their breath or to reflect on what has just happened and what might happen in the forthcoming pages.
It have to mention here that many writers prefer to write a story without putting any type of structure in place prior to commencement. This “fly by the seat of your pants approach” can work for some writers, but I have seen very little evidence in the hundreds of submissions I have reviewed that beginning, intermediate and even some advanced level writers can manage a story in this way. It takes a special skill to be able to control everything in a book-length fiction story without some type of reference material to guide you through the tedious process of producing a publishable and marketable “product”. If you can do this without giving structure a second thought – go for it! Otherwise, put time into getting your book structure right before you start writing it.
Successful fiction stories hinge on the characters getting the immediate attention of the reader – and keeping it. Spend time on devising your characters and get to know everything about them as if they are real people. Let the dialogue and introspection drive the story so the reader can get inside the characters’ minds to know what they are thinking and feeling. To reiterate an often touted writing fundamental - show your story evolving, don’t tell the reader what is happening.
Knowing how to manage all the available writing techniques will allow you to be more in control of your story. Not knowing the basics shows up immediately and brands a writer as a novice. In my submission reviews, I use an electronic testing method I have developed to “prove” that a manuscript is worthy of further scrutiny. In most cases, it is basic errors that cause a manuscript to fail my tests. It doesn’t matter how good a story is, if it is not written using correct writing techniques, it will fail to interest an Editor. Take time to really know how every writing technique works because Editors discuss things in detail when they get to the manuscript development phase prior to publication. Writers need to understand writing technique terminology to be able to interact with an Editor in a credible way. Remember – getting published is business, not a writing course.
I always look for style in submissions because it imperative that each writer shows the Editor that they “get it” when it comes to having an individual style. It is difficult to teach a writer how to develop their own style. All I can say is that time, practice and experience, and a willingness to learn how to manipulate the various writing techniques to your own advantage, should enable you to slowly develop a unique style for your writing. To coin a popular advertising tag - it won’t happen overnight but it will happen. At least every writer hopes so.
Re-writing and editing
Finally, it is lack of intelligent re-writing and editing that can be the deciding factor about whether a manuscript moves forward in the editorial process or goes into the reject pile. Most manuscripts I see have not been edited properly. It is all very well to be able to write a book, but the most important part of the project if a writer is serious about aiming for publication is learning how to deal with both structural and line/copy editing.
The formula I use for my own writing is – one-fifth writing and four-fifths re-writing and editing. This can involve six drafts with at least 20 separate passes for known writing flaws. That equates to 120 passes of the book before I am satisfied it is in good shape editorially. Even after such rigorous attention to detail, I do another pass that I call fine-tuning. Does this seem excessive (even obsessive)? It takes a big commitment to any book-length writing project to maintain interest through such a rigorous editing phase, but there is no substitute for the meticulous process of making a book the absolute best it can be before letting a publishing editor see it. After that comes proof reading.
I know several writers who employ a professional editor to advise them about their pre-submission manuscripts. This is not “cheating” - it is “common sense”, especially if a writer is not confident that they can complete the meticulous editing process themselves. Even so, there will still be a mountain of work for the writer to do to bring the manuscript up to publication standard after taking a professional editor’s advice.
Publishable and marketable wins every time
The realities of the publishing industry are harsh to new and enthusiastic writers. It often seems unfair that what a writer believes to be a great book never makes it through to publication. All I can say, from the publisher side of the fence is that the publisher that takes the financial risk with a book. They have the right to choose the books they want to publish and to demand excellence so that what they publish will be marketable and ultimately make money for publisher and author.