I visited my local library today, as I do about weekly, and I also visited a B&N. Something bothered me as I browsed both places. "Standing-out" has to be a life-long aspiration for writers. It is what we are attempting to do now in seeking publication amidst a sea of slush. It is what we will be doing once we become published and our nameless little story or novel first appears on the shelves among the ocean of recognizable names. So, the question I propose is simply "how".
How do we "stand-out" now, and how does that carry over to then?
From what I have seen, and what research I have done, standing out among the crowd is hard.
Things such as title, and cover art can make or break sales. It is sad, but if the book doesn't draw attention it won't do as well. Next, the story content of the best sellers are very similar when you look deeply. They are the same old clasics, but different. It's the same story but done so that it is almost completely unrecognizable. They also hit or create a type of pop culture among readers.
Other then that I am not sure why one book succedes and another that may be a better story, in all rights, fails.
[This message has been edited by MikeL (edited November 29, 2010).]
quote:Write a good book. Then write another one. Then write another one.
Good books get read eventually, and if you write enough of them, you'll stand out. (Look at the regular NY Times bestsellers...they are all generally prolific writers).
So don't worry about it. Just write a good book, rinse, repeat
I've heard this sort of advice from time to time, including from some (usually long established) writers. It doesn't wash with me - it assumes that ignorance is effective and has led to a number of writers losing their chance after first publication based solely on the sales of a single opening month. I can understand the need to follow up a good book for return sales, and I can understand honing your craft by writing. But to ignore the marketing side of being an author is asking for the book to be ignored by the public (unless you are in the brilliant 1% of published authors, like maybe Greg Egan). Yes, the publisher knows a lot more about how to sell than most (especially first time) authors, but they usually are quite amenable to a cooperative marketing push with the author.
One way for a book to stand out is to ensure that the book has a branding. Mostly that is creating a link between the author and the potential buyer - and that is where book signings and talk shows, internet presence etc. come in. Other potential branding include titles (do you know the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?) and, of course, cover art.
This is one of those things new writers have been asking since books were invented maybe even while we used scrolls.
I think part of the answer is where you mean to stand out. I thought you meant in the slush pile but a further comment makes it sound like you mean at the bookstore.
There's two different answers even though they are related. As someone said for the slush pile you write good books. Your writing will get you noticed.
If you mean on bookshelves part of it is your previous books--if any-part is the cover which you have no say about, part is the title, part-maybe the largest part-is what the book is about. You can not control what a reader is looking for. You can aim for what is selling at the moment but that could change by the time your book is on a shelf. There are so many variables, some of which can change without notice, I don't think there's any one thing will make you stand out. Of course book signings, radio and TV shows and now the internet can help but I don't think any of those are a sliver bullet.
Terry Brooks thinks it was luck that got his first book out at the right time. He's a good enough writer that some publisher would have bought one of his books sooner or later but he does have a point.
How many book tours and how much blogging and hand-selling did Stephen King do? Or Terry Brooks? Or Nora Roberts? Or James Patterson? Or Janet Evanovich? Or Jennifer Crusie? Or Tom Clancy? Or Michael Connolly? Or...or...or...
I'm going to stick with writing a good book or 50 (probably at least 50...). Beyond having a website (so people can google you and find your books) and maybe a blog if you feel like it, trying to hand-sell 10 or 100 extra copies of a book that your publisher will likely sell 5000 or 50,000 copies of isn't worth the hours of my time. That's just my feeling on the matter. There's multiple paths to getting noticed, of course. I prefer writing.
Persistence is the personal trait most often referenced by successful writers as what differentiates them from their un- (or poorly) published cohort.
So write, and then write again, and then write again. Don't keep reworking one thing, but keep writing new things so you have more to go to (and so you get better, or at least write about different things so you can grow as a person.)
Marketing? Bah, that's really up to the publisher and what they decide to put behind a book, IMHO. Either they push it (and guarantee you the interviews and the celebrity treatment) or they don't. Sometimes books just pop regardless of what a publisher does, but mostly the books with the big marketing muscle behind them from a publisher are the ones we hear about (and, not coincidentally, the ones getting the "face out" treatment at the bookstore, which is often paid for by the publishers, similar to the way the grocery store end cap is a feature space that manufacturers pay for, and that rotates through the popular or newest products/manufacturers over time.)
And remember, any time developing your marketing plan is time you're not spending writing. I don't mean ignore the idea of marketing entirely, you should have a good story to tell (the book you wrote) and your own story to tell about it (why you wrote it/how it all came to you in a dream/how ever since you were young and wondering about your Cherokee heritage you've researched the native american tribes/how you've collected pop-tops since you were 4....whatever.) You should have some type of online presence and be professional in your appearance there. You should consider a website if you can, though LinkedIn profiles and reasonable Facebook pages can suffice in the interim. But more than that? There are entire departments at publishers devoted to marketing. If they want the author's input, they'll ask for it. Most often, though, what they want is for the author to keep writing, seeing as how that's what the writer is an expert in. They'll let their marketing people be experts in marketing, as it goes.
Jim Butcher does book tours and book signings still. He keeps coming to a city five hours or so away from me...I still want to go to one.
But KayTi is right about writing. Unless you're going to be your own publisher and with epublishing you can be-than leave the marketing to the publisher. Even if they don't pay the extra to give your book face time that doesn't mean it won't sell. Many times I buy books I see just the spine of. I usually try to look at every new book when I go to the book store. And I know others that do the same. That is how I discovered many of the new writers I am reading now. Oh yeah, another way to market is word of mouth and I'm working on helping in that area.
But if you do decide to do it yourself you need to learn that part of the trade first and realize you will be taking away from your writing and learning time.
I could get a list of lotto winners names too. It won't make my ticket any more or less likely to win.
Yes, those authors are great authors, either by winning awards or by sheer numbers of books sold. And yes, aspire to emulate them. However, don't expect that simply by writing good, even brilliant stories that that will make you stand out. Why? Because you are competing with even more brilliant stories, written by authors that are much more well known.
You may think that cream rises to the top. But remember, if you are cream, on your first publication, you are still the bottom of the pile of cream that has risen well before you did. Writing good stories doesn't move you any further up the pile - (nearly) everyone in the published pile is a competent author. See this article (by John Gregory Betancourt) to see what I mean, and ask, why does the SFWA need an article targetted at authors who can't sell a second (or fourth) book? Perhaps because of this point (from that same article)
quote:Letís face it: books are a commodity from a publisherís standpoint. If youíve failed as a writer before, a publisher will view you as damaged goods. After all, why take a chance on relaunching an established low-level writer when a new writer might REALLY take off? (Yes, I am paraphrasing a real SF editorís words here.)
So, if you sell your first story to a publisher, don't spurn the opportunity to work with the him/her to market the book. If he is any good, he will know lots of ways to use you to improve sales, if you are willing. The publication of your second novel is based as much on how well your first book has sold as it is on the quality of the second story - perhaps even more so. (And if your publisher says to you to just go and write another book and leave the marketing completely to him, then how do you know whether he also sees any real marketing of your book as a low priority? He's taking a gamble with you, yes, but he is also going to put the bulk of his resources to the authors that are most likely to sell.)
All of this doesn't answer philo's question, but it does show that it is a very pertinent question for early career authors. And it should be a question that aspiring but unpublished authors also should ask, if they are in any way serious about getting multiple publications, or even a career in writing.
[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited November 30, 2010).]
Let me first state that I often find TIME as my greatest enemy. Between obligations of work and family, it is very difficult for me to grab an hour here or there to actually write. That said, my only option is to make the best of the time I do have. Time has to equal quality or else it is wasted. So when I ask what must be done to "stand-out", it IS out of necessity. I don't buy the "just write" argument. The prospect of writing mindlessly in a frenzy to produce something to submit to anywhere does not appeal to me. That is not to say this is what is being suggested, but the statement "just write", by itself, implies that one will succeed by simply putting something out there. I don't believe this is the case.
As I searched the shelves, certain names appeared: Adams, Asimov, Bear, Brooks, Card, etc. I thought about what separates them from each other. I thought about what separates them from the names that weren't as prominent upon the shelves, names that fell between these better known writers. I wondered how my name would appear, if at all. The whole experience made me think about how I could stand-out among others at my current level - the unpublished.
The question of "how", which I posed, was somewhat rhetoric in nature, but I wanted to get others' thoughts about it. I believe each of these writers brought something unique to the table when presenting their material to publishers, whether it be great characterization, unique stories or structure, superior wording, strong emotive appeal, and the list goes on.
I believe the hook (and apparently the title to some editors) can get a story read. But what then? What moves us past the slush? I believe it is much the same thing that separates published authors. My question was meant to spark thought about what we can each do, individually, to be unique.
I am currently working on something that I'm finding to be somewhat unique. I haven't found anything quite like it. I'm also trying to make the voice unique, at least among modern writing - kind of Mark Twainish. I don't know if any of it is working - it is not progressing as quickly as other stories I have written, and I'm afraid I might end up trashing some of it. However, I feel the need to do something unique - to "stand-out". My question was meant to generate thought about what each of us can do to accomplish this - basically to recognize our individual strengths (or weaknesses).
The reason the "Just write as good a book as you can" advice is so often given is because that is the one thing most under the author's control. Whether a book sells is not - it isn't even under a pubilsher's control, or they would only ever bother to publish profitable books. The fact is, no matter the author, no matter the marketing, no matter what you try and do, there are elements that are way out of your control. You hit the right genre at the right time and you can make a fortune (King, Rowling). Writing a great book is no guarantee of success, but writing a bad one is a guarantee of failure (there is a difference between a book that some people don't like and a bad book, for the purposes of this argument).
Once you have got a publishing deal, do everything you can to improve your sales (this does not always mean hard selling, as a lot of people react very negatively to that), but your first job if you want to be a successful author is to write the damn book.
Let me add that to "write a good book" is an oversimplification. Did Stephanie Meyers write good books? Yes, to some - not so much to others. The same goes for Rowling. Even the same goes for Asimov - not everyone has liked what he wrote. However, there has been something about each of these writers that made them stand-out. Their novels did not become successful through either marketing or osmosis alone.
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After a couple of lapses in judgment in my early days, I'm inclined not to do anything strange or weird to "try to stand out" when I send something in to a market. For one thing, I'm told what I came up with wasn't particularly standy-outty. (One thing I once did was put pages in my MS in upside down---after a comment in an editorial about the practice, I stopped---but I sometimes wonder whether there's an editor out there who remembers I did that and hates me.)
I'm dubious about any number of so-called "professional" behaviors...but when I submit something (a rare thing these days), I just send in the MS in a manila envelope, without a cover letter, with a stamped-self-addressed return envelope, and with all the pages in the proper order.
(No, I don't e-submit anywhere right now---I probably will but right now I don't. So I haven't a clue as to what would stand out, or what would be bad practice to do, in an e-submission.)
I think the only thing you can do to stand out as an unpublished writer is to write a really good story and get it in the hands of an editor or agent that loves that kind of story.
Honestly, Twilight was a good story for its intended audience. And the only proof that is needed is the fact that it sold millions (of course not everyone who enjoys paranormal romance liked it, but clearly the majority did).
The problem with Twilight is that it became such a huge success within its intended audience that everyone read it. Now we have people complaining and bashing the novels because they don't get the appeal. Well, they are not Twilight's intended audience, so I'm not surprised they don't like it.
The point is that you need to get your amazing story to the right people. And this takes researching editors and agents to find out who publishes or represents books like yours.
I think this is all that can be done before you are published, well that and networking. The more people you know in the publishing world the better, but even then the novel has got to be really good.
I think after you are published there is a lot more you can do to promote your book. I haven't looked into yet because I haven't gotten that far, but if I ever do (fingers crossed) I won't leave all of the promotion up to the publishers.
No one cares about whether my book sells like I do. I think things like having an awesome web site, making sure popular book reviewing sites get a copy of my book, and shamelessly plugging it whereever I can. Stuff like that.
But even after writing an amazing book and getting it the right people and doing everything that possibly can be done to promote it without being annoying, there is no guarantee for success.
You just have to do the best you can and hope.
[This message has been edited by MAP (edited December 01, 2010).]
I'll take "standing out" to be with respect to stories on the top-sellers shelves of the bookstore (or top-loaners in a library).
Many of those titles I've been thinking of lately as "big idea" stories, which I think is a little different from "big concept" stories. One YA story I've started reading is Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. He has a young prince from Austria-Hungary in massive steampunkish war machines who will apparently face a young British lass who's pretending to be a boy so she can get into the British Air Command and their "Darwinian beasts," that are mash-up, designed creatures. So it is mechaniks vs. natural philosophy in the alternating chapters of the boy and girl.
That's a big idea, compared to a mystery about who keeps knocking down the neighborhood mailboxes.
[This message has been edited by WouldBe (edited December 02, 2010).]
I must add some thoughts here. When I read a novel, and I have read so many I can't remember a fraction of them, I am drawn to the books that create the 'real story'. Let me explain. It's one thing to write a story that is good. It's a better thing to tell the story in a way that builds a picture in your mind and draws you into the story. It is the masterpiece that creates the real story.
If a 'real story' is told - good verbage expected - it builds the picture in your mind and draws you in; but the most important fact is when it becomes a part of you, the reader. It creats a lasting impression that will never leave. The reader grows from the story. The reader uses the story in his or her life, without even realising it, at times. In a short phrase, the auther shares life and love with the reader through words. This comes with all the excitement, passion, suspense, action, etc, in said story.
It seems to make sense that most, if not all of the 'real stories' sold end up in the best sellers list. Others end up there as well, but in fiction most of those are the type I am trying to describe. Think of the similarities in the Lord of the Rings, Enders Game, The Eye of the World, Foundation, 2001 - Space Odyssey, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Dune, The Time Machine, etc... The things those books hold in common are the way it stikes the reader. They are all very different, not every one feels the same about them, but for many they tell a 'real story'. The readers FEEL it, HEAR it, SMELL it, and LIVE it; it becomes part of them.
I hope my thoughts help. Mike
[This message has been edited by MikeL (edited December 01, 2010).]
Yes! That's what I'm looking for! I appreciate what everyone else has said, but I'm wanting to know what draws us to certain stories. That and what we see in our own writing that makes us say - Wow! Did I do that?
Your characters are the most important part of the story. Yeah you got to have a good story line, plot lay, etc, but the characters make or break your novel. You have to know you characters better than you know yourself. Then be able to show them in their best and worst lights. They have to be real.
You have to know them to write them. I think I knew this already, and others have said as much in other discussions, but it just hit me how key it was to the creation of a masterpeice.
quote: So, if you sell your first story to a publisher, don't spurn the opportunity to work with the him/her to market the book. If he is any good, he will know lots of ways to use you to improve sales, if you are willing.
A bit late here, but this has been on my mind, when I wasn't speed writing, since I read it.
I didn't mean to imply and I have a feeling those that said about the same thing as I didn't either, that you spurn what the publisher tells you to do. I think of that as the part of their marketing strategy so of course you do it. But that doesn't mean you go out on your own to market the book nor does it mean that you think a book tour will guarantee success. It could help.
And as someone already said you write a good book because a good one will more likely be bought. No guarantee of course but if you write enough good ones one will be noticed some time.
Plus I add that it's always better to do the best job you can even if no one notices.
WEll, plenty of books have been written about how to write "great" fiction...
My favorite of these is "Writing the Blockbuster Novel" by Al Zuckerman. He lists 5 things that every best-selling novel has: High stakes, larger than life characters, strong dramatic question paired with a high concept, multiple POVs (3+), and an exotic setting.
Ever since I read that book I've been working to make sure my books have at least 4/5 of this list. I've also been working on the concept that "setting is character opinion" since I love strong characters and rich settings in the books I read.
Write a good book. Write another. Writer another. No amount of marketing in the world is going to make a bad book sell. Or sell a second bad book. And remember, if for some reason your career tanks after two or three books (which if you're writing awesome books is unlikely, but does happen on occasion for reasons outside the writer's control), you can just change your name and start over again (worked out for Robin Hobb and Mike Shepherd and many others...).
The biggest seller of books to end readers, according to that poll is a recommendation from a friend or a previously good experience with an author. Reviews hardly matter at all.
So the argument that you must write a great book is exactly right for those folks.
Of course, you have to get the notice of those early adopters so there is someone to recommend your book in the first place.
Reviews, cover package (cover, title, copy), blog connections, ads, PR. I did some PR work following Robert Sawyer's advice and sent a press release to the local big city newspaper. Suddenly I had a review in a local paper which drew readers to purchase my book, some of which showed up at a book signing. Larry Correia had massive connections from before via blogs. A lot of notice. A great book for that audience. And his book sold, sold, sold. I had a connection with someone who manages the book part of a large grocery chain. They picked up my book. That's a few hundred more places where my cover is face out. It was a conditional gig. The book must have sold well enough because that chain and four others carry the paperback. I sent out another press release to a university paper, got an interview. I blogged about my book's eligibility for an award. Readers nominated. Judges selected it as a winner. That got me more readers and PR in a number of papers. I've presented at local conventions. This helped readers notice me. Some of them picked up my book because of this.
I didn't get thousands of new readers from these things. But I got some, more than I would have otherwise. Right now, I'm in the business building phase. Just like any new business, it takes time to build up a clientele. I expect the first five thousand repeat customers to be harder to win than the second. So anything I can do now is better than nothing.
For librarians pre-publication reviews are king. So you have to write a book the reviewers will love. And you have to be published by someone who can even get the reviewer's attention. Read the post in the link above.
As for the content of the book, there is NO one right formula except that it provides the readers in the intended audience a great experience. HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET probably doesn't follow very many of Zuckerman's points. Yet it's been on the USA Today list for weeks and weeks.
BTW, Meyer was given something like $700,000 as an advance for Twilight. You'd better believe the publisher made a huge marketing push to get the book noticed and distributed. The story took it the rest of the way to create massive word of mouth. Then cumulative advantage kicked in (see post in link above).
So books are like any product or service. 1) You have to be noticed, and how you do that best depends on the quirks of your particular marekt. 2) The experience has to be satisfying enough that your customers come back for repeat business and tell others. 3) Most businesses take time to build a base of repeat customers.
[This message has been edited by johnbrown (edited December 02, 2010).]
Thank you, John. I am particulary interested in your insight, because of where you are in the process. You've cleared the "first and second humps" as I see them - short stories and now regularly publishing novels.
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