Friday, August 27, 2010

Look Before You Leap

When writing a book, most writers begin by doing just that. They bury themselves in researching their topic or story and spend months, if not years, writing about it. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? But how many of them actually get their book published?

In general, most people feel they have something so important to say that every publisher will want to publish their book and every reader will run out to buy it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

This attitude of self-importance originates way back in school—as far back as first grade. Most teachers don’t mean to instill this in their students, it sort of happens through a process of educational osmosis. The teachers had it instilled in them by their teachers in a never-ending educational process. So what is a book writer to do? Market research.

Whether you plan to write a non-fiction or fiction book, it pays to take a look at the market for your idea—not your book. Take a trip to a good bookstore and browse through the books on your topic. This will tell you what’s being sold. Remember, most of the books on the shop’s shelves originated at least two years prior to you seeing them. Now stroll over to the sale tables. The books on these tables are remainders—leftovers that didn’t sell during the book’s most recent run. Many may be terrific, but for some reason didn’t hit the mark. Take notes, being sure to nor publishers names.

Next surf on over to, the world’s greatest book depository. Search for books on your topic. Amazon has practically everything in print. Do the same at their competitor, Barnes and Noble’s Web site. Take more notes, again being careful to note the names of publishers.

After all this research, review your notes and draw some conclusions about how viable your topic really is. Generally, too many books on your topic means the market is overloaded. Too few often means not enough readers are interested or the topic hasn’t been explored to any great degree by writers.

Armed with your conclusions, you’re ready to proceed with your book, modifying the topic to reflect market trends. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t cater to your topic’s market but be driven by it. Doing so will greatly enhance your chance of publication.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Total Immersion

I began my writing career over 25 years ago writing short articles for local newspapers. At the time, I thought spending a week working on a 1,000-word-or-so article was a long time.

Over the years, I continued to write articles, eventually graduating to longer more complicated magazine pieces. Churning these out one after another became the norm. Each required some research and writing skill, but not as much as goes into writing a book.

Though I began writing shorter books early on—my first was one on solar energy that was 20 years ahead of its time—none of these projects demanded as much of me as the book projects I’m working on now.

My total immersion into book writing began in 2005. For about a year before that I knew deep down inside that it was time for me to move on to longer works, and as the Honda commercials so aptly put it, “Mr. Opportunity came a knockin’.” Then, instead of working on a project for a few days, I began working on ones that took 10-12 weeks or more.

This level of intense concentration on one subject was at first daunting. But after finishing my first 100,000-word+ manuscript–it actually was 130,000 words—my mind became used to the routine of 16-hour work days.

Working on a book necessitates that my mind be constantly working. While I’m writing one chapter, I’m researching the next, thinking about another, and editing the last. It’s not until about a fourth of the way into the writing of a book that the book’s concept begins to gel. It’s then that I begin to visualize the entire book as a unit.

So many beginning writers want to write books—I suppose for all the “glamour” and credibility that they perceive comes with them. But what they don’t realize is that no only are their writing skills not fully developed but neither are their thinking skills. And it’s because of the latter that 99 percent of the books started never get finished.

So before you set out to tackle those big projects, start out slowly with smaller ones. Sharpen your writing and your thinking skills and soon you’ll be on your way to writing success.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Promote Thyself

“Promote thyself” should be every writer’s motto. But getting out there and telling other people about your work is directly opposite to the writing lifestyle. Writing is a solitary profession, and except for interaction with your editors and perhaps people you interview, you write in more or less total isolation.

However, in today’s world of networking, it’s important to make you and your work known.

Sure, book writers—you’ll notice I didn’t use the term “author”—can present book signings here and there. While this may sell a few more books regionally, it doesn’t do much to get a book known for the average writer. Perhaps your book becomes a bestseller and Oprah invites you on her show. It becomes an instant success. But what about all the rest of us who don’t get that golden opportunity.

Whether you write books, articles, or short stories, you need to create a plan for promoting them. You’ll discover that it’s inherently easier to promote non-fiction than fiction. First, you can easily produce articles on the same topics as your books or articles in which you can promote yourself as a writer in other topic areas. Publishing these in print or online will definitely help get you noticed.

And what about creating your own Web site? People in businesses of all kinds have Web sites today. It shouldn’t be any different for a writer. You have two ways to go there—developing a professional Web site through which you can engage editors or a more personal site to engage readers.(I’ll discuss creating your own site more in a future blog.)

Even if you don’t have a Web site, you can offer your work to Webmasters of other sites—either ones that deal with your chosen topic or ones that focus on writing, itself. Don’t do this haphazardly, however. Instead, target good sites with higher visitor counts or rankings in search engines like Google.

And finally don’t discount social networking sites like Facebook. While all the”friends” you emass on Facebook may visit your fan page regularly, are they doing much else to further your career, like buying your books or reading the magazines in which your articles and short stories appear. Only you can decide if the time and energy you’ll need to put into a social networking page will be worth it in the long run.