The Successful Author

How to Find Out if You Have a Marketable Book

a book is marketable

Have you ever wondered if you have a marketable book? Most people have, especially anyone who wants to make a living from writing.

You can pay someone to give you their opinion on what’s marketable before spending hours writing. Although you can do internet searches to find them, I recommend going to the websites of agents you respect. Some provide writer services on the side and would gladly charge you a fee to offer their opinion on if you have a marketable book. Other sites provide lists of respected service providers.

However, the operative word here is an opinion. Aside from some basic book tips, the best anyone can do is offer their opinion. Ask two people, and you will likely get two opinions. Often they may conflict with each other.

Consider all the stories we hear about agents and editors rejecting submissions, based on their opinions that the novel won’t sell. But then after twenty, forty, or even more rejections, it crosses one person’s desk who doesn’t reject it. In her opinion it’s marketable. Sometimes that proves correct and becomes a best seller.

All of this to say, you can ask around and even pay for advice from someone to tell you if you have a marketable book idea. But in the end, just go with your gut and write what you’re passionate about.

The Successful Author

Writers Must Read to Know What Is Marketable

Reading helps us understand what is marketable before we spend hours writing something that’s not. So does talking to others in the industry, especially agents, editors, and publishers. Also, look at the publishers’ current releases.

As a starting point here are some general principles of what is not marketable. Though there are exceptions, they are rare:

  • A book that’s too long or too short for its genre
  • A book of poetry, unless you’re famous
  • Your autobiography, unless you’re famous or infamous
  • A book of short stories, unless you are an established fiction author
  • A nonfiction book for which you have no authority or credentials
  • A topic of personal suffering that many others have already covered

Aside from that, don’t chase trends. It takes about two years to have a book traditionally published, so by the time we write our trendy piece, the trend could be over, and no one will want our book.

Instead, write what you’re passionate about. Just verify it doesn’t fit into one of the categories of what to avoid. And then write it!

The Successful Author

Using Clip Art in a Book or Blog Post: Learn How to Protect Yourself

clip art in a book or blog

A writer found some clip art they’re interested in using in their book, but they also had concerns. The terminology is “Royalty-free clipart for commercial use.” Is it safe to use?

First, let me say that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Given that, in my opinion, the phrase gives you the protection you seek for this clip art image. However, I recommend going to a reverse image search engine, such as You can upload the image in question, and they will check their index to see if anyone claims ownership.

If it’s okay to use, keep a record of the results, and then consult a couple more sites just to be sure. (Just search for “reverse image search engines“ for other options).

If it’s not legally permissible for you to use, then buy a royalty-free license (not an editorial license) or find alternative artwork. If you buy a non-exclusive license than others can use it as well. A more expensive exclusive license means only you can use it.

You can learn more about using clip art and other important book publishing info in Helen Sedwick’s excellent book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. (Check out my review.)

The Successful Author

How to Use Blog Categories for Greater Impact

Use blog categories.

There are three purposes for blog categories.

1. Search Engine Optimization

One use of blog categories is that it helps with search engine optimization (SEO), which allow the search engines to better find and list posts.

2. Reader Engagement

The second use of blog categories is to help readers find similar content. For example, if we blog about three subtopics and a reader is only interested in one of them, then they can click on the category and see just those posts.

3. Writer Organization

A third benefit of using blog categories is to help us in our own organization. Here are two examples: I recently tweaked the focus on one of my blogs, and some of the old posts no longer fit my new vision. Since I had these old posts in one category, it was easy to find and remove them.

In another instance, I decided to draft a book using old blog posts. They were all in one category, which made them easy to find and access.

Selecting Blog Categories

Here are some other items about categories:

  • Having only one category offers no benefits.
  • Having too many categories is confusing. Aim to have three to eight.
  • Using the default of “uncategorized” is unprofessional and accomplishes nothing.

Don’t confuse categories with tags. They seem similar but work differently and have different applications. To learn more, check out my post about categories and tags.

The Successful Author

Citing Sources for Quotes in Books

Sources for Quotes

Each chapter in my friend’s book starts with a quotation. Most of the quotes came from internet sites. She wonders if she needs to include a page citing sources where she obtained each quote. Here’s what I said to her.

For Traditionally Published Books

For traditionally published books, your publisher will have its own requirements for you to follow. And each publisher likely has a different approach. In addition, they also have a legal team that will help keep you and them out of legal trouble.

In general, they will want you to attribute your source. I’ve even heard of one publisher who insisted on a signed release for each quotation. This is burdensome and a good reason to not use quotations.

For Indie Published Books

If you are indie-publishing your book, my opinion (not legal advice) is to cite all your sources. In my books, I try to avoid using any quotes, in any way, from any source. That’s the surest way to avoid getting sued for plagiarism.

However, in your case, this gets messy because the website where you found the quote may have copied it from someone else—that is, they stole it from the original author. Then you perpetuate their plagiarism—and their crime.

Final Thoughts about Citing Sources

If you can remove the quote and put the concept in your own words, that might be your best approach.

I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice about citing sources. It’s just my opinion. For a great resource on this subject—as well as other important legal considerations for writers—check out Helen Sedwick’s excellent book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook.

The Successful Author

Literary Agents Handle Books and Not Shorter Works

What agents handle?

I’d love a literary agent who would handle shorter pieces, such as articles, short stories, or poems. Unfortunately, they don’t. Literary agents handle books. They only deal with book-length projects.

Agents earn commission on projects sold. The payoff for shorter pieces is too small for them to spend time pitching them. They need to invest their time in bigger works that pay better.

That’s why literary agents handle books and not short pieces.

The Successful Author

Should You Sell Full Rights for Your Writing?

sell full rights

A publisher is interested in some devotionals a friend wrote. They pay an honorarium of $35 per item, and then they want full rights forever. My friend wonders if this is typical and fair to sell full rights for a piece?

First, I don’t think anyone can make decent money writing devotionals. They do it for other reasons.

I earned $15 each for some I wrote several years ago. They wanted full rights for one year after publication. Now the rights have reverted to me. I heard of another publication that pays $60 per piece, also with a one-year stipulation.

In another case, I did sell full rights in perpetuity for some teen devotionals for $30, but it wasn’t for the money. I had other motivations. Though they wrote fast, by the time I had finished several rounds of edits to make them just right, I suspect I made minimum wage for my efforts.

I don’t give anyone exclusive rights in perpetuity—unless I have a strategic reason to do so. To be able to say my work appeared in a prestigious publication is one good reason, but I wouldn’t give them something I wanted to use elsewhere or was part of a series.

The publisher’s offer isn’t untypical. (Fairness is another issue.) It boils down to are you willing to give up your words forever for $35?

The Successful Author

A Career Writing Mistake

A Career writing mistake

For too many years my goal in writing was simply to write faster, but I did nothing to learn about writing or how to write better. That was a huge writing mistake.

Yes, the experience of writing so much was good, but I wasted a lot of time by not studying the craft. It’s only been in the past decade that I’ve focused on improving as a writer.

My writing has improved—a lot. I only wish I had started working on getting better much sooner in my career.

The Successful Author

Scale Up to Writing a Novel

Scale up to writing a novel.

To write a novel, first, start with short stories. Many of the elements required for short stories carry over to longer works. In addition, it’s better to experiment on a 1,000-word short story than an 80,000-word novel. Once you’re comfortable with short stories then you can move on to longer works.

Short Story Tips

Writing short stories lets us experiment. We can have fast successes and failures. I’d rather try something on a short story than commit it to a whole novel only to find out it wasn’t working once I finished writing the entire thing.

As you hone your skills and find your voice with short stories, voraciously read novels. Read classics and contemporary works. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read for enjoyment but mostly to learn. This will give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as to identify what you like and don’t like. This will pay off huge when you go to write your novel.

Start Your Novel

Now you’re ready to plan your novel. Whether you are a planner (plotter) or a discovery writer (a pantser—you write by the seat of your pants), you should have some ideas before you begin to write a novel.

I like to start with a list of characters, their bio, a story arc, the key elements, and a chapter outline. After all, if I’m writing that many words, I don’t want to waste effort.

For others, this prep work would stifle creativity, but it motivates me. Pick the method that works for you and start writing.

By the way, many novelists admit to writing several novels before one is good enough to publish, so don’t expect your first effort to write a novel will be a success. If it is, that’s great, but be prepared to crank out a couple before you find much interest.

The Successful Author

Beta Reader Questions That Writers Should Ask

beta reader questions

When working with beta readers, it’s important to set expectations with them or the feedback you get may not be helpful. To guide this effort, ask the same beta reader questions of each person.

Three Key Beta Reader Questions

1. What parts did you like? Your first question will let you know what parts not to change. This is key.

2. What parts confused you? Identifying confusing parts is also important. If even one beta-reader is confused, many more readers will be confused later.

3. What parts bored you? The third question is also insightful. Boring parts will cause readers to stop reading. You might never get them back. Be sure to fix all the boring sections. This may require rewriting, replacing, or deleting them.

If your beta readers answer these three questions, they’ll give you a lot of valuable information.

Beta Reader Strategies

There’s one other item about beta readers.

Some writers send their work to several beta readers at once, while others send it out sequentially, applying feedback from the first reader before sending it to the second one.

The first approach is faster. The second approach will help you craft a better book.

(Check out “7 Things to Look for in a Beta Reader.”)

Discern Beta Reader Feedback

In all this, the important thing is to get feedback. Then discern what feedback to follow and what to disregard. Don’t do everything your beta readers suggest but only what makes sense to you.