Why do you write?
To express yourself.
To explore an idea.
To create a character that interest you.
To explore a difficult topic like immigration, abortion, war, alcoholism.
To weave a spell.
To leave a legacy.
To explain your life to your grandchildren.
To explain how to do something.
To scare someone.
To make someone swoon.
The reasons we write are endless, they are personal. And each reason is valid. But if you want to cross over into the published world, you need one more reason: to sell. To think commercially is a problem for many writers.
For example, let’s say you want to write nonfiction books for kids. The National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council released their list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for 2013, about 58 books they deem literature that can be used in science classrooms, the best of science and the best of literature combined. I was lucky enough to have my picture book, Desert Baths, named to the list.
It has been interesting to study the list of about 58 books to see if there are common themes that make these books commercial. Overwhelmingly, the topics are about nature, especially animals. The second most popular genre was biographies, especially of scientists. Some combine the two, such as Wild Horse Scientists
, from a series about contemporary scientists and their work. There were some technology books (about the bomb, the Mars rover, or other space topics), one chemistry book, one about the importance of oil, one on botany, and one about forensics.
In other words, there are big gaps in the scientific disciplines covered and there’s a possible window there for a topic, if it’s done well. On the other hand, nature/animals/biographies are proven best sellers, so it may be best to stick to those categories. Ultimately, the decision is up to you, but these are the sorts of things that you need to consider about when you think commercially.
Or, take for example, the popularity of The Hunger Games
. Are dystopians still selling? Yes. But their popularity is probably waning a bit and by the time you write, sell and have published a dystopian, it may be the tail end of such books. Thinking commercial means going beyond just a description of a genre to the inner workings of the story to see why it worked. It’s a story of self-sacrifice, courage, facing unbeatable odds as an underdog—and finding a way to come out on top. Its themes are war, authoritarian governments, personal responsibility. The characters are realistic, engaging, sympathetic.
What if you keep those story elements, but recast them as you switch the genre to science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction or even a contemporary. Thinking commercially does NOT mean copying the latest fad. Rather, it’s working to connect with a wider audience. Is your book about an alcoholic step-mother? How can you connect that to a wider audience? What if the story plays off the Hansel and Gretel stories, the step-mother is the witch? Would that stretch out the scope of the story enough to bring in a wider audience? What if the President of the US is the father and his new bride is the step-mother?
Thinking commercially means finding niches in the marketplace that you can fill; it means reaching for a wider audience than your first attempts; it means lifting up your eyes from the keyboard and looking out at the reader to ask, "How can I tell a story that touches you on a deeper level?" That is thinking commercially.
Darcy Pattison blogs about how-to-write at Fiction Notes
and blogs about education at CommonCoreStandards.com
This week, I’ve let writers tell their own stories of alternate publishing. Today, I tell my story. This is part 8 of 8.
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Write Revise a Novel
In 1999, I started teaching the novel revision retreat, unknowingly kicking off a fad in writing retreats of addressing a whole novel, not just a chapter of a scene. I became known for the shrunken manuscript technique, which enables writers to “see” their entire novel at once. The success of the retreat was gratifying, with many writers seeing their debut novels come out and establish their careers.
Novel Revision Retreat in a Book: Uncommon Ways to Revise
There was always a workbook, but it was a work in progress for about eight years. Then, it was time to look for a publisher for it. But here’s the problem: most publishers go for the beginning writer market. It makes sense. For every 1000 writers who set out to write an entire novel, about 100 make it. Of those, perhaps 10 will realize the need for revision and perhaps one would actually buy a book about revision. The market was small and publishers like Writer’s Digest couldn’t successfully publish it.
But given my built in audience and the buzz surrounding the retreats, I thought I could publish it and make money doing it. I established Mims House, a niche publisher, named after the Historic Quapaw District house where I have my office. From the Blue House, I published, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: Uncommon Ways to Revise. As expected, it hasn’t sold thousands, but it has sold hundreds–over a thousand copies–and continues to sell at a steady pace, intermingled with spikes when I teach a retreat and participants go home and tell friends about the book. (Word of Mouth is still the best way to sell bo
Continuing the series about Alternate Publishing. This is part 3 of 7.
Dodging Trends: Why I Turned to Self-Publishing
Guest Post by Chris Eboch
“If a book is good enough, it will find a home.” I’ve heard that a lot in the publishing industry, especially from editors and agents.
There’s just one problem. It’s not true.
After 15 years in this business, 12 traditionally published books, and years as a teacher through the Institute of Children’s Literature, writing organizations, and local colleges, I think I’m a pretty good judge of quality. And yet I’ve seen too many great manuscripts fail to sell. Maybe some authors just need to keep trying, but when multiple published authors say, “I can’t believe her novel hasn’t sold yet,” you have to acknowledge that the publishing business judges by standards other than quality.
That’s not to say you can sell a terrible book. Rather, a manuscript has to be great AND trendy, or at least something editors and marketing departments predict will sell enough copies to make money for the company. When vampires were selling big, publishers released more vampire books.
I happen to like historical fiction. My first middle grade novel, The Well of Sacrifice (Clarion Books), came out in 1999. It’s an adventure set in ninth-century Mayan Guatemala, and because many schools teach the Maya in fourth grade, it’s still in print and I get a nice royalty check twice a year.
A few years ago, I wrote a mystery set in ancient Egypt. The Eyes of Pharaoh is better written than The Well of Sacrifice, since I’ve become a better writer. Yet wherever I sent it, I got one of two responses – “Historical fiction isn’t selling well these days” or “We already have an Egypt book.”
I do know writers who have sold historical fiction more recently—mainly literary novels set in America in the last 200 years. And a couple of young adult novels have touched on ancient Egypt (well, at least on Cleopatra, who isn’t all that ancient by Egyptian standards). But despite great feedback on my story, despite teachers telling me they wanted the book for their classroom, despite the l
Arthur Slade, Canada’s premier writer of young adult fantastical fiction, won the prestigious Governor General’s Award (Canada’s equivalent of the Newbery), the Mr. Christie’s Award, and has had books on the American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults and has been a finalist for the Edgar Award (Mystery Writers of America). Last year, he reisued his backlist as ebooks and reports on the results here: A glorious year of ebooking – Learn how he sold 6353 EBooks!.
Drawing upon that experience, Art gives tips today about taking the same route.
This is part of the continuing series on Alternate Publishing:
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5 Tips for Ebooks
Guest post by Arthur Slade
If you’re looking at self publishing your own work on Kindle or Kobo, or B&N or…well on any of those retailers here are 5 handy tips.
- Don’t be afraid. The world of epublishing is confusing. There are mobis, and epubs, and html and pdfs and… If you’re not into figuring out how to turn your book into these various formats then look for a formatting service. They’ll do it for you and you don’t have to sweat.
- Diversify. Amazon is the largest seller of ebooks, but it’s usually best to take the time to distribute your work to as many different retailers as possible. This allows you to reach a bigger audience. There’s nothing more frustrating for a reader with a Nook to find out that you’re only available on Amazon. And you never know, you may become a hit on one of the other retailers.
- Make sure your work is perfect. Yep, that should be a given. I’m assuming you’ve already rewritten it thirty times or so. Even the tiniest typos may upset a reader and give you a dreaded 1 star rating. So be sure your work is without typos and the gobbledygook that can spring up when text is converted to epublishing files. To do this it’s good to read your own work on a Kindle or your favourite device (an iPad is handy because you can use all of the various readers on one device).
- Put a professional cover on your book. You are entering the professional world and
Continuing the series about Alternate Publishing. This is part 5 of 7.
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Rich Davis is an illustrator extraordinaire, with a generous heart and amazing talent. After being laid off from years as a greeting card illustrator, he went freelance. He has illustrated a series of books for Viking and uses those drawing skills to pull kids into the art world. And in the end, he’s publishing his own education resource book, too. Read Rich’s blog chronicling his one year journey in making his next children’s book for Viking is at creatingtinybook.blogspot.com
My Alternative Route to Alternative Publishing
Guest Post by Children’s Book illustrator, Rich Davis
Three years ago, I ventured out into the self employment arena. It was not planned, it happened unexpectantly. One of the ways I wanted to try and earn money was through doing presentations for children at libraries and schools since I am a children’s book illustrator. I had drawn with kids quite a bit before this time and I had
seen firsthand that kids like a game….
I combined these three ingredients into one and invented a simple drawing game called Pick and Draw (if you go to pickanddraw.com, you can actually try it online to see how it works).
But I didn’t invent it to take into the market place, I invented it to use for my own presentations in libraries and schools. I didn’t know if it would work. At the first library that I used it, I was floored by the response of the kids (very excited and loved it…wanted more). I had made a large prototype deck and it was the only one there was. I did not know what I had and even excused the success of that first trial as a “fluke”…a good day. But when I tried it at the next place, it happened again…but with an even better response. And people began asking me where they could get it.
I had come from a creative background where I had been a “draw