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.
Finding an agent is easy. Just do an online search for “literary agents.” However, getting an agent to agree to represent you is hard, very hard.
Unlike hiring an accountant or attorney to represent us where we can vet them and pick the best one to meet our needs, agents vet their clients so they can pick the best ones.
Remember that agents only earn money if they sell one of their clients’ books. So unless a client is a polished writer, there’s a good chance the agent will spend a lot of time working for the client and have nothing to show for it. Therefore, they have a strong incentive to only take on clients whose work they think they can sell.
How to Impress Agents
This means we need to sell ourselves to agents. Here’s what’s required:
Set up a professional online presence. They will check for one and will expect to find it.
If you’re on social media, make sure it’s professional and conveys you in a positive manner. Do everything you can to remove negative comments and unflattering photos. But remember that once something’s online, it never really goes away.
Learn about agents you’d like to have represent you. Follow their blogs and make respectful, thoughtful comments.
Ask other writers, who you trust, to give you an honest answer if your work is ready for agents.
Know that writing ability is only part of the equation.
What Agents Look For
Agents will also want you to have a platform so that you can help sell books. When I was looking for an agent, one agent declined to represent me, not because of my writing, but because they thought my platform was too small.
Be Patient When Finding an Agent
A final item is to be patient. Finding an agent to represent you takes time, usually several months and often years. As you wait, keep working to improve as a writer and building your platform.
Is blogging your book a good idea? If you blog your book, why will people buy it? Logic suggests they wouldn’t, but the reality is that most people will.
Let me share what I’ve learned from other writers. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who felt their blog posts hurt their book sales. Even when their entire book is available on their blog, they still think their posts help sales, not hurt it.
My conclusion is that it comes down to convenience. It’s easier to read a book than to page through a series of posts on a website. Also, the purpose of blogs is for short, intermittent reading, while books have the opposite goal. Therefore, blogging your book is okay.
The next step is finding an agent, who will find a publisher. To get the attention of both, many writers first hire—and pay—a developmental editor, copyeditor, and proofreader to help them make their work the best it can be before the agent or publisher even sees it.
The author also needs to conduct market research to write a compelling proposal. For nonfiction authors, success in all this, however, largely hinges of them having a platform, from which they can sell their books. Fiction authors don’t face as much pressure to have a platform, but it still helps.
Landing an agent, who will hopefully land a publisher, doesn’t mean the author’s job is done, however. Once the book is published, which could take a year or more, the author must also promote, market, and sell their books. Yes, the publisher will do this, but they’ll expect the author to do most of the work.
No one will be more passionate and have more at stake than the author. This may involve hiring a publicist.
In addition to writing a great book, the traditionally published author needs to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset, handling the following tasks:
Build a platform
Conduct market research
Hire a developmental editor, copyeditor, or proofreader
Find a publicist
Handle marketing and promotion
Develop and execute paid advertising
The days of sending your manuscript to your publisher and letting them take it from there are over. Even with a traditional publisher, the author still has a lot of extra work to do. Maybe self-publishing isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Should You Bother to Pursue a Traditional Publisher?
Traditional publishing requires less of the author, will likely result in more book sales, and carries the prestige of a publisher selecting your book for publication. The negatives include the effort to find a publisher, the length of time to publish the book, and earning much less per copy sold—if anything at all.
A commonly sighted reason to not indie-publish is the requirement to market and promote our books. While it’s true that if we self-publish our books, we must market them if we expect to sell any, traditional publishers also expect you to help promote, market and sell your books. If you can’t or won’t do that, the publisher is unlikely to decide to publish your book. In short, they want authors who can move books.
There is no one right answer. It depends on the goals and priorities of each individual author. Also, some authors do both, depending on the book. They’re hybrid authors, going with traditional publishers for some books and indie-publishing (self-publishing) for others.
Authors are advised to treat their writing like a business
If you write solely for the fun of it or treat writing as a mere hobby, then don’t read this post. Seriously, it will just make you mad.
But if you want to succeed as a writer, regardless of how you define success, then this post should give you some ideas to consider. Please read on. Then let me know what you think about it.
Writing is a Business
When we treat our writing like a business it means we strategically pursue actions to meet the needs others have. We hope to earn a profit in doing so. This need we strive to fill is information, inspiration, or entertainment. Maybe all three. For nonfiction, we know things (or can find out things) that most people don’t know. For fiction we tell stories others want to read. We write to fill these needs. When we charge money for meeting the needs of others, we ensure we have the means to write more—and meet more needs.
A Book Is a Product
Yes, our books are creative works. Books are art, but they are also products; books provide a service to our audience.
A Series is a Product Line
If one book is a product, then a series is a product line. This is why beginning authors need to stay within one genre or one theme, so they can develop a product line and build a following around that line.
A Book Proposal is a Business Plan
At its most basic level, an author’s business plan is a book proposal. Look at the elements of a proposal. It outlines the theme and purpose of the book (the product), it lays out a vision for what it will accomplish, it talks about the need for the book, and it addresses the competition. It also proposes follow-up books (a product line).
At the very least, a book proposal informs our writing and guides us in producing a marketable book (product). No business will ever produce a product people don’t want. An author shouldn’t either.
The purpose of a business plan is to raise funding, to procure investors. When it comes to publishing a book our business plan (our book proposal) is the means to get a publisher to back us, to invest in our product (our book).
In theory, an advance is a money to live on while we develop the product (write our book). Our publisher will produce the book for us, distribute it, and sell it.
If we self-publish our book, we may go to Kickstarter to raise funds or solicit friends and relatives. They’ll want to see a plan before they fork over the cash. Even if we self-fund our book, we would be foolish to do so without treating it as an investment.
Our marketing plan—often part of the book proposal—addresses how we will let others know about our book. Even if we go with a traditional publisher, they will expect us to market our book. If we self-publish, marketing is even more critical.
Writing and publishing a book requires thinking like a business person; we must become an entrepreneur, especially if we choose to self-publish.
Do you think of your book as a product? What do you think about treating writing as a business?
When pitching my book at a writers conference, one industry person said my length was perfect, while another wanted it 20,000 words long, and a third said it should have at least 25,000 more words. That’s a huge difference.
Finding the Ideal Book Length
There is no universal answer to the ideal book-length, but there are some generalities. To avoid wasting time and effort, we need to be close to industry expectations when we write. Here are some ways to find out how long your book should be:
If you have an agent or publisher, start there. What they say, goes.
Ask people in the book publishing industry who know.
Go to a library or bookstore and look at the length of books similar to yours. (A rough average is 300 words per page.)
Search online (like I did) and find a lot of conflicting information, but at least it’s a place to start.
The main thing is don’t waste time writing a book that is way too short or too long for anyone to ever publish it. The closer our book is to our publisher’s expectations, the easier it is to tweak to meet their requirements.
Have you ever written something that was the wrong length? How are you at editing something to hit a word count? Even if you’re good at editing to hit a target word count goal (like I am), it’s a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor.
That’s why it’s best to make a book the right length to start with.
Some authors start writing their book, focus on it until completion, work to publish it, and then promote it. Then they start their next book—assuming they have an idea for one. They have one book in their book pipeline.
Other authors are working on so many books that it’s hard to accomplish anything. I fall into that trap. I have about a dozen books in various phases of development. In reality, the number is much higher. It is insane.
One successful fulltime writer works on three at a time. Even though I don’t spend all day writing books, I tweaked his advice about having four books in my book pipeline:
The Planning Stage
Starting with a book idea, be it a title, a concept, a lead character, a plot, or an ending, we gather information. This includes research, making notes, taking pictures, outlining, and writing the book proposal. This activity is not our focus, but it must be intentional. Our goal is to be 100 percent ready to start writing when the time comes.
The Writing Stage
For this phase, we write the book from start to finish. We work on it every day. This is our focus. We don’t switch books. Bouncing from one project to another dulls our concentration and lengthens the time required to finish it. When we finish the book, we start writing the next one right away because we have already done all our prep work.
The Publication Stage
If we are seeking a traditional publisher, this phase entails writing query letters, fine-tuning our book proposal, and seeking representation. Once we have a publisher, we need to work with them to finalize the book.
If we are indie-publishing, this involves hiring an editor (or two) and reviewing their edits, having a cover designed, finding someone to do the interior layout, and so forth. This is our book, so we must be involved with every step.
Regardless of which publication path we pursue, there are lulls in activity as we wait for others to do their work. Our involvement happens in spurts. When it is time for us to act, we must make it a priority, all the while writing our next book.
The Promotion Stage
As the publication date nears, we switch into promotion mode. This could start six months in advance but at least one. Our involvement for this stage looks like a bell curve: there is a little bit of work leading up to the month before the launch, things peak—requiring much attention, and then a month or so after the launch things taper off. However, for as long as the book is in print, we should be promoting it to some extent.
Having four book projects in our book pipeline at all times ensures we will have a steady stream of output and hopefully some income to match.
How many books are you presently writing? What do you think about having a book pipeline?
Although it would take great effort, you might be able to put together a consortium of book writers. They can pool their collective talents to work as a team to produce each other’s books, with each author tapping his or her skillset for everyone else’s books. You could put together your own self-publishing co-op.
Let’s say you’re an editing ace, but are lousy with a camera and don’t have a clue about graphic design or interior layout. Find an author who is also a professional photographer and another who does interior book layouts for a living. Then locate a fourth writer who does book covers for their day job. You edit their books and they contribute their individual expertise to yours. Of course, a fifth author is helpful. This is someone who stays current with publishing options. They can serve as the logistical guru to keep abreast of production and distribution options. Then bring others into the group to handle other details, such as promotion, marketing, publicity, legal, and so forth.
Finding these people would be a challenge. But the Internet and social media make it feasible, providing you have the time and patience to find the right people.
Though I’m not aware of anyone who’s formed a book publishing co-op, I’m sure there are already people doing this in concept. If you have a book publishing skill to offer, maybe a book publishing co-op is an option worth considering if you want to self-publish but have no money to do so.