About six years ago, a small publisher offered me a contract to write a book on the perils and pitfalls of writing and publishing. He even offered a small advance. You writers out there know how rare that is. But I have not written the book yet because I still need a way to end it. When one reads a book about a problem, one expects a solution.
After almost fifteen years of writing novels, I still have not figured things out. And I am still a little surprised at the bias against fiction, especially non-genre, character-driven fiction.
I think that these are the six most difficult things for a writer of such novels to do (with one being the most difficult):
Sixth: Write a synopsis. Synopses used to be about 20 or 30 pages for a 350 page book. Now, they are usually one or two pages. We must tell what our book is about in about 500 words or less. Try doing that when you are not writing plot-driven fiction. Try fleshing out five or more characters in a page or two.
Fifth: Write a query letter. Make it engaging, yet professional, agents and publishers advise. List your background and qualifications, your book’s genre and word count, a synopsis of everything that happens in your manuscript from beginning to end, describe the target audience for your work (and no, all the readers in the world is not an acceptable answer),and by the way, keep it to one page, please. Also, if the margins are wrong, it will often be rejected out of hand. Then wait six months. In one case, I had a query answered four years after my book was published.
Fourth: Write a logline. This is your elevator speech, just in case a very naïve agent catches you on an elevator and asks you what your novel is about. I expect sometime in ancient times that actually happened, but nobody can prove it. In most of the big conferences I have attended, agents run for their rooms and lock themselves in just as soon as their presentation is finished.
Third: Write copy for the cover of your book. See numbers four and six. One would think we could use those for cover copy, but they are never the exact number of words and four and six are written for agents and publishers. This one is for readers.
Second: Get an agent or publisher to read any of the above. They look for blockbuster potential, and non-genre, character-driven novels seldom become blockbusters.
First (the most difficult): Market this type of book after it is published.
Yes, I know all the stories about unknown authors who finally hit it big. J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Stephanie Meyer and the Twilight vampire series, E. L. James and the Shades of Grey erotica series (some call it mommy porn), John Grisham selling books out of his pickup in Wal-Mart parking lots.
Many first-time best sellers came about because of a fluke, a happenstance, a key contact, or a tremendous amount of money spent on a fine publicist. I don’t mean to imply that the best-sellers are not good books, only that there are many superior books that never sell a tenth as well (if at all).
So all I have to do is make myself the beneficiary of a fluke, create for myself fifteen minutes of fame that will cause my books to skyrocket to the best seller lists. Stieg Larsson and his The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, etc… made it big by dying. Scratch that.
And yes, I do believe in flukes. I enjoyed one big fluke and a few smaller one when I wrote non-fiction. So for now, I will just continue to work on finding the solution so I can write the last chapter of that book.
Next week—more about marketing—the toughest thing.