When writing a book, it can be easy to feel like your problems are as unique as your story. But the truth is that all authors tend to wrestle with the same challenges. This is a good thing—if others have trod this ground before, that means there are tested solutions out there. When it comes to problems, you don’t want to be unique.
There are three common problems that stop new authors in their tracks and can keep you from ever finishing or successfully publishing your book. Solve these and you’ll write stronger drafts, improve your chances of publication, and enjoy more positive reader reviews no matter how your book gets to market.
Problem 1: Writing for “Everyone”
You’re at a writer’s conference. Someone asks, “So who’s your book for?”
You reply excitedly, “Really, it’s just a great story, everyone will get something out of it.”
But that isn’t how book publishing works.
If you’re hoping for a book deal, you need to be able to tell agents and publishers in one sentence precisely how your book fits into the marketplace. They want to know if your book is a good fit for their upcoming catalogs and how they will position it to sales reps, and if you aren’t clear on what exactly your story is or who it’s for, they aren’t going to figure it out for you.
If you’re marketing the book yourself, it’s even more important that you understand how to categorize your story and identify your ideal readers.
Most indie books are bought and sold at Amazon.com, considered the world’s third largest search engine. Readers type in keywords or key phrases to find what they want, and Amazon directs them based on a combination of their own classification system and the details authors put into their book listings—including words that relate to who the book is for.
Imagine how romance readers would feel if they finished your “romance novel” only to discover the hero dies at the end. Or what a middle grade reader (and her parent!) will think of your very adult-themed novel that’s marked for readers of all ages.
Free resources on how to identify your “client avatar” or “target audience” abound online, so just do a search for those phrases along with variations like “how to find my ideal reader.” At the most basic level, you need to know:
- which categories are appropriate for your book (this list is used by major publishers and booksellers)
- the keywords or key phrases on Amazon that will direct the right readers to your book
- the demographics of your ideal reader such as age range, sex and/or gender, where they hang out or live online and offline, and what else they like (other books, TV shows, etc.)
If you aren’t sure how to get started, begin by looking at these details as they relate to other books like yours. You can learn a lot by what your competition is doing. You can also look for books or workshops about audience expectations for your genre. (HINT: Just start with what you think your genre is. These educational platforms will quickly reveal if you aren’t writing what you thought you were.)
Problem 2 – Letting the Muse Take the Wheel
Many people love the romantic notion of being inspired to write like a lightning strike from above. But that approach won’t result in a marketable book until it’s paired with good structure.
Despite what you’ve seen in movies, successful writers don’t wait for the Muse to visit. They plan. They outline. And those who don’t are usually so practiced that they’ve internalized their knowledge of structure—in other words, they aren’t just winging it, even when it seems like they are.
Writing a book without educating yourself about good story structure often leads to significant problems: You’re more likely to get stuck and abandon your project or invest a lot of time in an overwritten draft that needs to be dramatically trimmed. Your plot or character arcs may have insurmountable issues that editing won’t resolve without complete rewrites, which can be exhausting not to mention disheartening.
Better planning up front leads to less wasted time at the end, and sometimes less wasted money too, if you’re hiring a freelance editor who will need to wade through that mess with you. So while it’s fine (and fun!) to let inspiration fuel you, at some point, incorporate how-to books or a workshop focusing on structure into your process. The sooner the better.
Problem 3 – Focusing Just On Writing
Learning how to write a marketable book can take years and multiple drafts to master. So, it’s understandable that when you start out, you may want to bury yourself in your craft and put off thinking about what comes next until you’re closer to The End.
Unfortunately, it’s a huge mistake to wait until your book is done before you start thinking about how to market it.
Many elements of an effective book launch require months and even years to develop, especially when you’re talking about building a mailing list and a network of other authors and industry influencers who will support your launch.
Consider the difference between:
- Writer A who spends two years drafting her novel and then starts to network with other authors and begins building a mailing list and social media platform.
- Writer B who spends three years drafting her novel, spending some time along the way to nurture relationships with other authors in her genre and create an active platform she can tap into when the book’s ready.
Who do you think is in a better position to launch their book when it’s finished? Would you rather put your book aside for a year while you prepare to publish, or build that platform while you write even if takes you a little longer to finish the draft?
Yes, it can be challenging to balance all your writing-related activities with your actual writing, not to mention everything else in your life. But no one said this was going to be easy (and if they did, they lied!). The key to solving this problem is mindset: Writing your book is the priority, but if you want to be an author, you need to embrace the full scope of what that lifestyle means and not get bogged down in whining about how much there is to do or skipping important steps.
By Allison Machate, The Writers Ally