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The goal of every writer is to write a novel or nonfiction book that is a bestseller. But a good idea and great writing skills will not guarantee a bestseller. Nor will landing an agent or finding a publisher to market and promote your book. There is a certain amount of “luck” in becoming a bestselling writer.
In this post, I will discuss the idea of “writing a bestseller.” The following topics will be covered:
- Difficulties in publishing a bestseller
- Characteristics of a bestseller
- Finding an agent
- Responding to rejection
- Responding to poor book sales
Difficulties in Publishing a Bestseller
Writing a bestseller is exceedingly difficult. Often first-time writers cannot find an editor or publisher. Why? Selling a book that is written by a well-established writer is much easier than publishing a book by an unknown writer.
Fewer and fewer people are reading. Instead they are spending their leisure time on the Web, playing video games, going to movies, or attending sporting events. Thus the demand for books has decreased for many types of genres.
Many books that have won the Pulitzer Prize were not bestsellers. Book sellers are reluctant to buy books that might not sell. Many novels that are now considered “classics” were not bestsellers.
Many writers who have exceptional writing skills and great ideas have not been able to write bestsellers.
The publisher cannot guarantee that your book will become a bestseller, no matter how much the publisher promotes or markets the book.
Essentially, there is no formula for writing a bestseller. Often, luck or chance is involved.
Characteristics of Writing a Bestseller
There is no formula for writing a bestselling novel or memoir. However, there are certain characteristics of a bestselling book. Here are a few:
- Writing is exceptional or literary. The novel or memoir is not poorly written. There is no use of clichés, hackneyed expressions, or a stilted style.
- Economic use of language. The writing is clear and concise. The writer uses the fewest words possible to write the story.
- Development of vivid and plausible characters. The reader can visualize the characters and identify with them.
- Suspension of disbelief. In a work of fiction, the reader is convinced by the writer that the story is plausible.
- Strong voice. There is a belief in the mind of the reader that the narrator can talk the way the story has been told.
- Good opening. The story captures the reader’s attention and compels him/her to continue to read.
- Exceptional storytelling or narration. The story has a protagonist, inciting incident, conflict, obstacles in the protagonist must overcome, climax, and resolution to the story.
- The narrative is original and engaging.
Finding an Agent
Most publishing companies only accept submissions from an agent. For this reason, it is important that you try to land an agent who will represent you. Your goal is to find a person who will work hard for you and who is well-connected in the publishing industry. The function of the agent is to sell your literary work to a publisher. It is strictly a business arrangement.
How do you contact an agent? It depends. Each agent has different submission guidelines. Your objective is to send a query letter, which requests that the agent will represent you. If the agent wants only a query, you send a query letter. If the agent requests an email query, then that is what you must send. You must following the agents submission guidelines.
You should choose an agent who is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives. A good resource for finding an agent is www.writersmarket.com .
An agent finds writers to represent through a number of methods. The obvious method is through direct contact with the writer. Another method is from a referral from a publisher or editor. Agents also get referrals from their other clients.
Often agents will reject the request to represent the writer. A weak query letter will not land you an agent. You need to write an engaging query letter.
Sending a query letter to an agent who does not represent your genre is a waste of time and energy.
If your writing is poor, you will not land an agent.
Knowing who is going to buy your book and why readers should buy it is helpful in landing an agent. You need to be able to sell yourself and your work. Don’t assume that the agent is going to recognize the target market and the benefits of reading your book.
Responding to Rejection
A good book will always find readers. If your manuscript is rejected, you might need to change your style, genre, content, plot, characters, and so on. You might need to revise the opening or ending. The important thing is to keep trying, even if editors continue to reject your manuscript. But at some point, you will need to be honest with yourself. If you cannot find an editor or agent, you will need to revise your manuscript to get it published. You might even need to start over.
Responding to Poor Book Sales
What if your book is published but sales are poor? Don’t give up. Instead, learn from your mistakes, and then write a second book. While you are writing, build a writing platform. Here is how:
- Find a good editor.
- Become a subject matter expert, and write articles in magazines or newspapers to gain public awareness.
- Create a blog and start blogging about your upcoming book.
- Get others to blog about your book.
- Build a website to promote and sell your book.
- Schedule a speaking tour to promote your book and build an audience.
- Go on a book tour, such as a book fair or book festival.
- Teach a course on creative writing.
Writing a bestseller is difficult. But a good book will always find readers. If your manuscript continues to be rejected, you will need to strengthen it. There is no formula for writing a bestseller. There is a certain amount of luck.
You can improve your odds with great writing, excellent storytelling, and a book that is original and captures the reader’s attention.
In this post, I discuss self-publishing. There are two methods of self-publishing. First, you can use your own money to publish a manuscript for a book. Secondly, you can create a website or blog and publish your work on the Web. A blog is good for publishing shorter works of creative writing, such as your poetry, flash fiction, short fiction, personal essays, literary journalistic essays, book reviews.
Self-Publishing a Manuscript
Most new writers will have a difficult time publishing their manuscripts. There are several reasons why. First, the editor might not want to publish your book because he/she doesn’t like it.
Or, the editor might not want to publish your book because he/she believes there is insufficient interest in the genre you are writing about.
The editor will also be reluctant to publish your book because you don’t have a platform (website, blog, published work, teaching credentials, education, and writing portfolio). Essentially, you are an unknown commodity.
Sometimes the editor will enjoy your book but won’t publish the book because it won’t sell in the current book market. What does the aspiring writer do? You could do what Charles Dickens did with the Christmas Carol: Publish the book yourself.
Whatever the case, first time writers are going to have difficult time publishing their work.
If you really want to publish your work, you have a few options.
When to Consider Self-Publishing a Manuscript
When might you consider self-publishing? If you have the money to pay for the costs of publishing, you can consider self-publishing. If you just want to publish for the pleasure of it, you can consider self-publishing. If your book is written for a small audience, you might consider self-publishing. If you believe there is a larger market for you book, you might consider self-publishing. If you want to build your writing platform, you can consider self-publishing.
Drawbacks to Self-Publishing
The big drawback of self-publishing is that many in the book publishing industry see it as a form of self-promotion and shoddy way of getting published. Often you won’t be taken seriously as a writer.
The other major drawback is marketing. You need to be able to get the word out—to make the public aware of the fantastic book you have written. You need money to market your book. Most writers don’t have the money to pay the marketing costs. You also need a place to sell your book. Most retail book chains or independent stores will refuse to sell your work. So, you will be forced to sell your book at the Farmer’s Market, flea market, or book fair.
Tips for Self-Publishing a Manuscript
- Only consider self-publishing if you have the money.
- Only consider self-publishing if you have the time to market and sell your book.
- Before you print your book, be sure you have edited and proofread every page.
- Research the market to be sure that people will be interested in your book. Your book needs to be unique.
- Use a reputable publisher to print your manuscript.
- Be sure to find out the costs of publishing the book.
- As an option, check out e-publishing.
Self-Publishing on the Web
Many writers are now using the Web to market and promote their work. Established writers usually have websites that include a summary of the book, book reviews, and additional information related to the book.
More and more writers are also turning to the Web to blog or write about their passions on a Website. For instance, creating a blog is a very good way for the aspiring writer to self-publish poetry or short stories or personal essays or literary journalistic essays. The writer can do the same with a website.
Here are a few suggestions for self-publishing on the Web:
- Use free software to create your blog or website. The ideal tool for creating a blog is www.wordpress.com . Just follow the instructions, choose a theme, add your features, and start blogging.
- Learn how to write for the Web. Unlike the printed page, people scan or skim Web pages, looking for useful information. They don’t read for every word. That means you need to chunk your information in small paragraphs, use headings and subheadings, use bulleted lists, and link the reader to related content. (For more information, see my article on “Writing for the Web.”
- Post useful content. Don’t write about yourself, unless it will entertain or interest your audience. You can include your poetry, flash fiction, short stories, personal essays, and literary journalistic articles.
- Edit and proofread your work before posting it.
- Your website or blog should have a specific theme. Only post content that is related to the theme. For instance, this website is about creative writing. Only poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, digital media, and how-to information are posted to this blog. Nothing else.
- Provide links to related information. If there is a useful website, provide a link on your blog.
- Add content to your blog or website on a regular basis. If readers are aware that you are adding information to your blog on a regular basis, they are more likely to revisit.
At the very least, self-publishing is a way to build your writing platform and writing portfolio. But, there are drawbacks. Before you consider self-publishing, you must weigh the pros and cons.
Many writers still believe that the only option for publishing their poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction is in a magazine, literary journal, or book. Yet, there is another option: a web-based publication or online literary journal.
There are numerous literary journals that publish only on the Web. In other words, they don’t publish content in a magazine or print-based journal. According to Writer’s Magazine, there are more than 300 Web-based literary journals. And, with the trend toward Web-based publishing and the increasing popularity of various types of digital media, more and more publications will be moving to the Web.
Online publishing has exploded for several reasons. First, it is much less expensive to publish a literary journal on the Web than to print and distribute it.
Secondly, the Web-based publication has global reach. It can attract readership from all over the world. Anyone who has Web access can read the publication.
Finally, digital media, like the iPhone, Kindle, and iPad are making it easier for people to access and read information on the Web.
The Web is the future of publishing, whether it is a magazine, newspaper, or literary journal.
Benefits of Publishing on the Web
The Web offers several benefits to the aspiring writer who wants to publish his/her work.
First, it is easier for you to publish on the Web than trying to publish in The New Yorker, for example. Often, these online publications are looking for fresh material from new writers.
Secondly, many of the online literary journals publish avant-garde or experimental creative writing.
Thirdly, by publishing on the Web, you have a potential of reaching readers from all over the world.
The following are examples of some of the best web-based literary journals:
- The Adirondack Review ( www.theadirondackreview.com )This Web-based literary journal publishes poetry, fiction, essays, and interviews.
- Allegory ( www.allegoryezine.com) This online literary journal publishes fiction and nonfiction.
- Anderbo (www.anderbo.com )This literary journal publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction.
- The Barcelona Review ( www.barcelonareview.com )This online literary journal publishes contemporary fiction.
- The Big Ugly Review (www.biguglyreview.com )This literary journal publishes fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.
- Contrary Magazine (www.contrarymagazine.com) It publishes poetry, fiction, and reviews.
- Drunken Boat (www.drunkenboat.com) It is an online journal that publishes art and literature.
For a complete list of online literary journals, go to Poetry and Writers online at www.pw.org
You have completed your education in creative writing. You have read lots of books on how to write poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. You have spent many hours writing, revising, editing, and proofreading your own work. Now you want to see if you can publish your work in a magazine or journal. The first task you need to do is analyze the various publications—-to find the right fit for your work. Here is how to analyze a publication:
1.Check the credentials of the writers. Review the bios of the writers who have contributed to the publication. Ask yourself the following:
- Is the writer established or well known?
- Has the writer published any previous work?
- Does the writer have expertise on a topic? Perhaps the writer is a public intellectual or politician or professor.
- Has the writer won any major awards?
2. Check the content of the publication. You don’t want to submit your work to a publication that doesn’t publish your type of creative writing. Determine what types of creative writing are published in the journal, magazine, or online publication. Printed-based or online publications can publish any of the following:
- Short fiction
- Flash fiction
- Personal essay
- Literary journalism
- Book reviews
- Social criticism
3. Assess the editorial preference. Most magazines prefer a certain type of writing style, language, topics, and themes. It is your task to determine what types of writing the editor has a preference for. To do this, you first need to find out what types of journals or magazines you enjoy reading. Ask yourself the following:
- Do you like what you read?
- Do you like the topics that are covered?
- Do you like the writing style and language?
- Do you like types of poetry, fiction, personal essays that are published?
You can also get a sense of the editorial preference by determining the tone of the publication. Ask yourself the following:
- Is the publication a literary journal?
- Is the tone of the publication serious or humorous?
- Does the publication use satire, irony, exaggeration, and so forth?
- Is the tone of the publication optimistic or pessimistic?
- Does the publication use slang, vulgarity, or profanity?
- What are the themes and topics covered by the publication?
4. Check out the submission guidelines. All publications have guidelines for publishing. You need to find out what they are, and then follow them. If you don’t, your work will not get published, no matter how good it is.
Before submitting your work to a publication, do you homework. First, determine the credentials of the writers who have contributed work. As an aspiring writer, you want to submit your work to journals or magazines that accept work from new writers. Secondly, determine what types of creative writing the journal or magazine accepts. You are wasting your time if you submit poetry to a publication that doesn’t publish this type of creative writing. Finally, determine the editorial preference. Submit your work to magazines or journals that you enjoy reading and reflect a tone that is similar to the tone of your writing. By following these suggestions, you will improve your odds of getting published.
You are never going to get rich by composing and publishing poetry. There have been many poets who have had day jobs. So why write and publish poetry?
First, composing a poem is a marvellous form of creative expression. Secondly, poetry is one of the pillars of creative writing. In most creative writing programs, courses are offered in poetry writing. Thirdly, writing good poetry can be rewarding. You can enter contests. If you are really good, you could win an award. Fourthly, many respected writers are a skilled at writing poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Finally, composing good poetry will get you recognition as a writer.
With the emergence of the Web, you can now publish your work online rather than just in a printed publication. Many writers publish their poetry on their blogs. For instance, Sage Cohen, who has published a very good book on how to write poetry, has a blog where you can read and write poetry. You can visit this blog by clicking the following link: www.writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com .
Let’s assume you have been writing poetry and have a collection of poems you want to publish. How do you go about getting your work published?
Here is how:
- Research the market. Find out where you want to submit your poetry. A very good resource for finding publications to submit your poetry is the Poet’s Market. You can purchase this publication at Amazon.com or visit this publication online at www.poetsmarket.com .
- For both printed and online publications, read the publication to see what kind of poetry the publication is publishing. If the publication doesn’t publish your type of poetry, there is little point in submitting it.
- Request the submission guidelines from the publisher, read them, and follow them. If you don’t, your work will not be published.
- Always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. If you request your work returned, make sure to include a large enough envelope with adequate postage.
- Send a cover letter with your poetry. Keep it short. Your bio should take up only a few lines; don’t explain your poetry; it should speak for itself; don’t ask for or expect to receive feedback on your work.
- Send only three to five poems, unless stated otherwise.
- Before you send your poems, proof read your cover letter and poetry. There must be no typos or spelling errors. Your work must be perfect.
- Be aware that it often will take a long time for publishers to respond. Be patient. Don’t call unless it is to inform them your work has been accepted by another publisher.
- If your poetry doesn’t get published, don’t be discouraged by the rejection. Many well-known writers have experienced rejection of their work. Submit your poetry to another publication.
Do you need an agent? No. You can submit your work to journals and small publishing houses on your own. In fact, very few poets ever work with agents. However, the big publishing houses — the ones whose books you see in every bookstore — publish very little poetry at all, and almost exclusively through the mediation of agents. Many good agents, meanwhile, won’t even return your call unless you’ve already published a book.
How much does it cost to publish? Publishing your work should cost very little, no more than your own expense to produce and submit your poetry — paper, envelopes, and stamps. If you want to publish online, you need a blog or a website.
However, some contests and awards require that you provide a small entry or reading fee. Once a poem or manuscript is accepted, the publisher typically covers the cost of publication and promotion.
Some writers choose to self-publish their work. If you choose this method of publishing, you will have to pay the cost of publishing your work.