Happy New Year! The arrival of 2012 has me thinking about the writer's journey and what I've learned. Several years back, writing was little more than a hobby for me. It is amazing how a critique group and the feedback of other authors changed my perspective. I have gained from the experience of turning a mild interest into a goal for publication, but knowing the following truths beforehand would have aided my journey:
Nothing guarantees traditional publication. As much as your agent may champion the writing, there are other reasons the manuscript has not sold, factors beyond his or her control. There is always the possibility that the work, while good enough to attract an agent’s attention, is not up to a publisher standard. An editor may be interested in a manuscript, but is the chosen genre already overly saturated genre or focused on an old, tired topic? The publishing house might have already chosen the six vampire-related books for release in a particular year. Perhaps the market is too small and the book is not commercially viable – as much as the editor may like the project, a publisher will not invest in a manuscript that does not scream limitless potential. The only factor within the author’s control is to write the best book possible.
There are many paths to publication. A Chinese proverb states, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” Whether starting out with a submission to an agent or editor in the hopes of landing a traditional contract, or taking the steps in self-publishing, the aim is to find others who see value in the final manuscript. Along each path, there are the proverbial forks in the road, each requiring a choice. Those decisions often hinge on the idea of control – how much must be maintained or surrendered in the accomplishment of the aim. Whatever the path toward publication, the goal remains the same: to gain readers.
“Build it and they will come” does not apply to readers and reviews. Even if a book is well written and promoted by various marketing efforts, it may not capture a large audience. Readers do not have limitless money or time. While the author’s objective is to convince readers that the book is entertaining, inspirational or perhaps even life changing, the intended audience may still be asking, “What’s in it for me?” For those books that do well, getting the word out is critical. Reviews are an integral part of promotion, but writers often wonder why it is so difficult to obtain them. The reader needs a reason to review – perhaps the writing touched an emotional cord, or gave instructions that are not otherwise obtainable. Gaining an audience and getting their vital opinions all starts with the book.
Trends fade, but readers’ desires remain the same. Why do we read? Of all the things we could each be doing with our valuable time, what satisfaction does reading a good book provide? Whether it involves getting lost in an alien or unfathomable world or finding spiritual strength through another’s journey, reading fills some void inside each of us, by expanding our knowledge and awareness, or entertaining us. To increase our visibility, it may seem that authors have to focus on certain markets. Yet, all writing should start with passion and interest. If we do feel any enthusiasm for the topic in the first place, how can we convince readers to invest their time? When we write, we invite readers into our experiences and imaginations. Let them know the time spent was worthwhile.