Want to Get Published? A Publisher Needs to See a Viable Audience

Note: This is the third post in a series of four posts: 3 Things a Publisher Must See.

3 things

Let’s say you do find yourself on an elevator face to face with an acquisitions editor from your dream publisher. She’s heard your pitch, is interested and asks you who will buy your book.

Do you know the very worst answer you can give her?

“Everyone.”

While you think it might be what she wants to hear, it isn’t. It really isn’t.

Jonathan Merritt, a savvy friend of Margot’s, explains, “If you aim to write a book for everyone, you’ll write a book for no one. But if you write a book for someone, then you’ve written a book for everyone.” Your book will be most effective if, as you write, you are imagining one person—Reading Rita or Literary Lou—and write to the heart and mind, questions and concerns, of that one person.

Know your audience. Editors want to see that you know who is reading your book and are writing to them. So you need to be able to describe your audience demographic: How old are they? Male or female? Education? Married Parents? Church attenders? Listen to Christian Radio? Etc.

Most often, people don’t buy books they think they should read. ($16 to learn that the best way to lose weight is exercising more and eating less? No thanks.) Books that sell are ones that meet a reader’s felt need. ($16 to learn that the best way to lose weight is by eating pizza every hour on the hour. LOL. Just kidding. But not really. #bestseller.)

In your proposal, you demonstrate that there is an audience for your book by letting a publisher know that it is meeting a real need for readers.

There are all kinds of creative ways to communicate readers’ felt needs to a publisher:

  • Description, “In the last month, five of my friends have had this problem…”
  • Statistics show that….
  • The top-selling books of 2015 were…
  • Etc.

In the writing, of course, your book must actually meet the readers’ felt needs. There needs to be a benefit to the reader who reads your book. (This is what makes readers rave to their friends about your book over coffee and on GoodReads!)

Here’s how: On every page, be asking, “What is the reader feeling? What is the reader thinking? How can I serve the reader with this story, page, chapter?”

To convince a publisher that there’s an audience for your book, you must communicate clearly that it offers value by meeting a need readers really have.

Exercise: Draft a character sketch of your book’s target reader, Reading Rita or Literary Lou. What keeps this reader up at night? What does this reader care about? What concerns does this reader have? Tape this list to your computer screen so that you remember to write every page with Rita or Lou in mind.

Cheering you on,

Margot

 

How to Get Started Writing: Hamster Wheels and Hurdles

type lettersOf all that a writer can and should do—how, actually, does one get started?

It would be possible, in assembling writing advice from just a handful of the people who are giving it, to come away with the impression that making it in this business requires doing everything all the time.

You must, people say, build and maintain a platform. Start or re-start your website. Pin to boards. Make things that other people will pin to boards. Attend conferences and conventions. Join groups. Pitch ideas. Hone your message. Know your audience. Study writing books. Edit incessantly. Post blogs. Find a writing schedule that works. Tweet and re-tweet updates about all of this. Plus string tens of thousands of words together and hope somebody will see fit to make a book of it. That’s just phase one.

Phase two is its own hamster wheel. With a book in publication you must, people say, promote like crazy. Speak at events. Do interviews. Pursue interviews. Write accompanying articles. Track reviews. Deal with disapproval. Build friendships with booksellers. Have catchy marketing stuff. Improve on sales. Aim for bestseller lists. Figure out your next project. Pin, post, platform-build, edit, update, and speak some more. Promise to tweet and re-tweet, always and forever.

The general question: Who can possibly manage all that?

The specific question: How, possibly, can I?

The general answer is that likely nobody can manage it all, when trying all of it at once. The other answer is that you, specifically you, can work toward all of this by doing so incrementally.

You will not start out on bestseller lists. You’ll begin at the beginning, with the whole unrelenting shebang left to do. Tweet This

There will be potential failures and rejections at every corner and turn. But if you begin—if you sit at a computer or a typewriter or even a small slip of paper, and if you start putting words down and then keep putting words down, you will be writing. Often it is as simple as that.

hurdleHere is a personal example. After having published three books by 30 (two as author, one as collaborator), late last year I didn’t have a single writing project to speak of. I wasn’t sure I wanted any, because being submerged in the mire again—see above paragraphs—seemed exhausting. Other concerns demanded my focus and time too, namely: my husband was on a seven-month combat deployment to Afghanistan, we had moved our lives across the country twice in less than a year, and I had just given birth to a baby, our first. Some days, accomplishing just laundry and dishes seemed out of my league.

But I knew that God had given me a love for writing and the opportunity to publish. He was percolating words in me that I wanted to put down. So on one harried morning, I dared draft an article query. On another day I bravely emailed some book ideas to my agent. It was just a baby toe stepped back into the pool, but from where I stood it was the all-important start, a jump at the big, looming hurdle.

That was trajectory, finally, and in a matter of weeks and months I was actually writing again: ideas flowing, plenty of potential projects on hand, a few materializing, and even (always miraculously) another book contract waiting in the wings. Perhaps more importantly, I was learning to chip away at this job, little by little, reminding myself that it would not be accomplished in a single swing. The laundry and dishes were waiting longer than before, but I figured I could deal with that.

Have you wondered, frustrated, how to get started writing? The solution can be as simple as a little trajectory. Tweet This

Stop trying to figure out how to start writing; instead, start. Aim at a goal and have the courage to start imperfectly and incompletely. As you get a handle on one area, add another. You will likely surprise yourself with all that can be attempted and accomplished. Writing is far more doable when you’re doing it.

Author FAQs

It doesn’t matter where I am. A party. The vet. Getting my teeth cleaned. Whenever people find out for the first time I’m an author, one of three questions pops out their mouth…

How are your sales? How much money do you make?

Really? Are plumbers asked this? Does anyone ever ask the Walmart greeter what he or she nets for pay? I’m guessing not, so why?

Why do people feel comfortable asking writers how much money they make? 

Because, doggone it, everyone has a book in them, and they’re curious how much money they can make. It’s really not about the author, to shame them or to pry. This question simply flies past the curious lips of people who have a secret hope they can pound out their story and become a millionaire.

Compassion is needed to answer this one. Sure, the Rowlings and Kings of the world do make big bucks, but most authors don’t. It’s a dream-crushing bit of information, so remember that sometimes truth stings. Be gentle.

How many chapters is your book?

This one always stumps me. Not because I’m on mind-altering drugs and don’t know how many chapters I’ve written in any given book, but mostly because chapters are subjective. Haven’t readers figured that out by now?

Apparently not. Apparently garden-variety readers award badges of honor to books with lots of chapters.

So I put on my teacher’s hat and explain in one-syllable words that publishers don’t require mandatory chapters; they look at total word count. At that point, I whip out my sunglasses because a brilliant light bulb flashes on.

I wrote a book, too. Can you help me get it published?

This is a tricky one. I love to help others. Who doesn’t? But the brutal truth is, I am a lowly writer, not an acquisitions editor.

Much care is needed in the answering of this question. The danger is you’ll get cornered for at least an hour listening to the synopsis of an entire epic saga. I’ve found the best way to handle this situation is to offer sources other than yourself. I frequently recommend joining ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) for networking purposes. I also advise author-wannabees where they can attend local writer meetings or possible critique groups they can check out.

Those are the top three questions I get asked. How about you? What’s your FAQ?