Writing isn’t, for most authors, a full-time job. Book projects tend to be lumpy and tend to leave quite a lot of free time in between. Consequently, many writers, incuding many good ones, offer their literary skills on a consultancy basis. If you have a literary project you want help with, retaining a consultant may well be a good idea for you. But take care – this is a partnership you need to manage right.
Writing is a scary old business but of all the scary things about it, perhaps the scariest is getting the concept right.
I mean, you will spend hours, days, years writing the book itself. Getting the characters right. Tweaking your prose. Labouring with the plot. But what if the whole book is just an unsaleable idea? How do you know before you start?
When new writers don’t get taken on by literary agents, they often complain, “So-and-so never even read the whole thing.” Whenever we hear that, we know that person hasn’t understood some basic truths about the whole literary business.
In the good old days, everyone knew how to carry out publicity. A few months before publication, you met with your publicist. You discussed various possible publicity angles (about the book, about your own story, and so on). Your publicist tried to arrange a serialisation deal (where newspapers print extracts before publication). You whacked out review copies to all the major newspapers. Perhaps you hassled around to get a little PR on local or national radio. Maybe even TV.
The first crucial rule in writing to sell is a simple one: Know Your Market. It’s such a huge, obvious and often-neglected rule that I’ll repeat it: Know Your Market. I see a lot of first time manuscripts and I’d say that a good thirty percent fail before they even start. They’re books which are mish-mash constructs, neither one thing nor another, pleasing no one.
As an author and manager of a large editorial/writing agency, I’ve had experience of numerous ghostwriting projects. Some of those have gone on to become national or even international bestsellers. Some of those have proved to be a horrible waste of time and money. So here are our tips on making something work:
It’s easy to think that because you’re writing a crime novel or thriller, you need an agent who represents crime thrillers. And that’s logical enough … except that isn’t, as it happens, how the industry really works.
University courses in creative writing have become ever more common, in both the US and the UK. But are they worth it? Personally, I’m sceptical. I think most people who do such courses are let down by them. I think the teaching is often far too removed from the market, and the writers who graduate are often hopelessly underprepared for market realities.
As a rough guide, once you reach the final fullstop of your manuscript, you’ve reached – at the very best – your halfway point. I’d say that by now (I’m on my seventh novel and fourth non-fiction book), my time spent editing is less than my time spent writing, but that likely won’t be true for you. If rewriting your book takes you three times longer than it took to write it in the first place – well, that’s completely normal.
Getting ideas – where the heck do they come from? And how do you know if they’re any good? These are big questions, but let’s see what we can do to help.